We have just unlocked multiplayer for Old World, which is currently available in Early Access on the Epic Games Store. Although we took some extra time to make sure the technical challenges of multiplayer were addressed, multiplayer is actually how the project started way back in 2016. Because Old World functioned as a multiplayer game from the very beginning, we could play it competitively immediately, not just pretending to play against an embryonic AI. We could tell immediately if the Orders system was interesting or not, if one-unit-per-tile was the right way to go, and if our other major innovations (the resource market, the technology deck, tile improvements, etc.) made sense.
One important aspect of 4X multiplayer is that there are a multitude of ways to play the game, depending on each player’s personality and lifestyle, and we are aiming to support as many as possible. Besides the traditional synchronous multiplayer (with an adaptive turn timer to keep things moving), Old World provides the following options:
Hotseat: The original, oldest-school version of multiplayer goes back to before players could connect to each other online, back to when multiplayer could only be done in the same room. It is very out of fashion to just take turns out of the same machine, but that doesn’t keep this from being an oft-requested feature. A great option for couples and families!
Cloud Play: Shared cloud saves provide a more polished version of another old favorite: play-by-email. Old World passes the save back and forth between players automatically, notifying each one when it is time to play. This format is great for players with unpredictable schedules who take as much time as necessary to execute the perfect turn. Great for busy friends separated by time and distance.
Asynchronous: Epic turn-based games take a long time to finish, so one great way to play is with a persistent server that runs in the background, allowing players to jump in and out as fits their own schedules. Turn timers can be customized (24 hour turns? 12 hours? 6? Pause at night? On the weekends? Just on Thursdays?), and turn notifications will update players on what has happened since they were last online.
Teams: 4X games are free-for-all by default in single-player, giving players a chance to conquer the world on their own, but that is not necessarily the best way to do multiplayer. Eight players are likely to have a much better, or at least a more cohesive, experience in a four-vs-four match rather than an eight-player scrum. Games stay interesting for all players until it becomes clear which team has an insurmountable lead, which is a lot easier to determine when there are two possible winners instead of eight.
Comp Stomps: Team games don’t necessarily need equal sides, and Old World absolutely supports players who want to team up against the AI, either as cannon fodder (on “the Able”) or as a formidable challenge (on “the Great”). This format is great for players of significantly different skill levels – a parent and a child, for example – who still want to play the game together.
No Characters: For fast, competitive play, we support an option of the game with the characters, families, and events stripped out. Although these parts of the game are a major source of variability for single-player, that same randomness can be a major negative for players who want a pure test of skill. Indeed, we have a Mirror Map option for players who don’t want the map generator to give either side an advantage, no matter how small.
Turn Styles: In 4X games, personal taste determines how players prefer turns to be handled, so Old World has six different Turn Styles which control who can move which units and when. On one extreme, Simultaneous mode allows all players to move all of their units at any time. At the other end, Strict mode only allows one player to move at a time. Between these extremes are many gradations, such as Loose (no restrictions but players turns start at different times) and Tight (can only move non-military units during another player’s turn). Turn Style can even be changed during the game, if desired.
Other Options: Old World has many other options that can provide a different type of MP experience, such as No Fog of War (for a board game feel), picking Nations after the game starts (borrowing an idea from Offworld), and Observer mode (good for streaming competitive matches). Multiplayer can also be played with mods, so the community will be able to create ways to play that we haven’t even envisioned.