The Jedi Multiplayer Exception*

by Steve Bowler on January 9, 2008 · 5 comments

in combat,critique,multiplayer

Awhile back I mentioned that my number one rule in game design is: Gameplay is King. It will always be king. There is nothing that should ever trump it. Not the art, not the license, nothing.

Except for one thing: Jedi.

It goes without saying that Jedi are extremely popular in geek/nerdlore/culture. So, it seems sensible that someone could postulate that their presence in a game would be equivalent to creating a money printing device. However, this is not always the case. Single player? You’re golden. You want your player to feel like a god? Make him a Jedi! You want tough bosses? Make them Jedi (or Sith)! Whatever! It doesn’t really matter what you do here; you can always balance your game for your player to have a great time. He’s the only person you’ve got to worry about.

The problem arises when you attempt to inject them, forcibly, into a multiplayer scenario. Today there’s word that there will be Jedi in Soul Calibur IV. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I, like many sensical nerds, love me some Jedis. Especially ones that look as pretty as Yoda and Vader there. But the issue is that there’s already a gameplay device in place in Soul Calibur, which, heavily simplified, goes a little like this:

1). Attack enemy player with sword/weapon.

2). If enemy player is hit, deal appropriate damage for level of attack.

3). Repeat.

Jedi, however, don’t have swords or weapons. They have light sabers. Now, yes, there are all sorts of swords and bladed weapons in the SC universe. You’ve got fast little dagger things or nunchakus that deal a small amount of damage very fast. You’ve got short Greco/Roman swords and rapiers that do a medium amount of damage in a moderate amount of time. You’ve got big heavy swords that do an enormous amount of damage but take a lot of time to recover from. But light sabers? They don’t operate that way. They are the fastest, deadliest “sword” in the known geek universe. If you tried to inject it into the SC universe but still stay with canon, you’ve got a damage model which now looks like this:

1). Attack enemy player with light saber.

2). If enemy player is hit, remove appropriate appendage (even if head).

3). Look for new enemy player.

Soul Calibur doesn’t support that model, obviously. So, the designers will no doubt be forced to make the Star Wars characters follow the SC damage model. And now canon, and the most recognizeable nerd lore in the world, goes straight out the window.

This is pretty much what has happened with every multiplayer Jedi game in existence (that I can think of). Jedi inserted into a multiplayer game, which isn’t focused only around a Jedi multiplayer experience) will always be broken. It creates a mandatory lose-lose situation, because there are only two outcomes to the experiment:

1). The Jedi are “nerfed” to ensure that they are no more powerful than any other player class in the game. This defeats the purpose of having Jedi in the game, as canon is now out the window. The player and game would have been better served with a different license, or a different melee class, as gameplay cannot support just one class being a god.

2). The Jedi are as powerful as they should be, and canon is preserved. This now creates a situation where one player character is possibly five to ten times more powerful than any one other single player in game. If it is a scenario style game, this could be fun. Many multiplayer games support this through a “handicap” system, and allow for 1 very strong player to take on 4 very weak players. However, in any Massive or Fighting Game environment, it breaks game balance, and now gameplay is out the window.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a Jedi multiplayer game. It can be done, but I’m not sure the market would enjoy it/is ready for it. If you had a PSX, you might have already played its gameplay model, which went by the name Bushido Blade. One hit kills, the ability to hit your opponent’s arm and disable it (thereby modifying their fighting ability), you can even take out a leg (thereby ending the match as well if memory serves). The problem is that it just wasn’t a very robust fighter, and was more fun as a demo than as a full retail release title.

Will Soul Calibur’s Jedi be fun? Of course they will be. I have no doubt Soul Calibur IV will be an excellent fighter. Will the Jedi feel as powerful as Jedi should (and let’s be honest here, we’re talking about the two most powerful Jedi in the galaxy here: Yoda and Vader)? I guarantee they won’t. Which invalidates them as a proper choice for a license for that game, in this designer’s opinion. I would much rather see licenses of Miyamoto Musashi or Ogami Itto, or Caramon Majere or even Strider, or perhaps Inigo Montoya or the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Will they help sell more units? Probably not. Will the Jedi? Undoubtably, which is the sole reason they’re in the game in the first place, sadly.

* The Jedi Multiplayer Exception has a Superman Corollary. They are pretty much interchangeable.

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