Some of the most popular new online multiplayer video games have an annoying problem: you need a very specific number of friends to play.
While you can play Overwatch by yourself, it's far more fun with a full crew of six. But it can be hard to schedule six people to play at the same time -- and if you luck out and get seven or eight, it's not fun to turn a cold shoulder to your excess teammates.
The same goes for the original Titanfall, Evolve, Rainbow Six: Siege and any number of other small-team, round-based multiplayer games. But the developers of Titanfall 2 believe they may have a solution. It's called "Networks."
While Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment didn't go into detail about Networks when the game was announced last week, I got to sit down with several of the game's designers behind the scenes.
What they told me about Networks was this: You'll be able to create a large group of players -- basically your own guild or clan -- and easily invite them to a shared room together. Then, the game will automatically try to match you up with your friends and teammates from that room, even if you've got more than the 5, 6 or 8 players-per-team that neatly fit into one of Titanfall 2's game modes.
What if you only have two friends who play games online with you? Producer Drew McCoy says Networks could also let you make new friends through their shared interest in the game -- people who you might otherwise never speak to again if you were matched up anonymously.
"Anytime that you're loading into the game, soon as you're in, you're in your home Network and the people that you want to play with are there," says Titanfall 2 multiplayer design lead Todd Alderman. You'll also be able to join other Networks beyond your home Network, according to Respawn.
Networks aren't the only way Respawn hopes to keep Titanfall 2 players together, by the way. McCoy says that Titanfall 2 buyers will no longer have to pay for additional maps for the game, after the original Titanfall's DLC packs wound up dividing players between those who paid for the additional levels and those who didn't, and made it more difficult to find matches.
One important divide won't be fixed in Titanfall 2, though: cross-platform play. Though Titanfall 2 arrives simultaneously on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC this October, you won't be able to play with friends on different platforms than you, or between console and PC.
That last decision isn't just about gamepad players having to battle against mouse and keyboard users, despite what you might think -- many features like voice chat and party systems simply don't work well across platforms yet, according to lead programmer Jon Shiring.
In fact, McCoy says he'd personally be open to the idea of console and PC playing together -- as long as Respawn's matchmaking system can appropriately match up people based on their skill level, regardless of their control schemes. "It's a problem that, in theory, you can solve that way," says McCoy.
During my conversation with the Titanfall 2 team, here are some of the other things I learned:
- Titanfall's infamous Smart Pistol will return. "The smart pistol does return," says Alderman, when I ask whether the controversial auto-aiming weapon will be killed off. "I think players on both opinion sides will be very satisfied with how we're going to implement it."
- The anime series Attack on Titan wasn't an inspiration for Titanfall 2's new grappling hook -- but some of the team does watch the show.
- The grappling hook will be even better in the hands of advanced players. "It's got physics to it, so you can swing around stuff. If you get really good it will actually bend around things. So if there's a building and a post on that building it will wrap around that post a little bit, change your momentum."
- The new single-player campaign won't feel like a Call of Duty. "It really isn't your average linear, for lack of a better word, corridor FPS. It's not like you're getting pulled through this series of explosions or people yelling at you. There's going to be very quiet moments where you're taking in a broad environment and you have to figure out how you're going to traverse it."
- Instead, moments in the campaign may feel like a "swimming pool." Steve [Fukuda, the game's director] says he wants it to feel like a big swimming pool and in the pool are enemies... you're diving in and out. You're attacking from one angle, you're getting out on this side, going around, coming back in, coming out."
- Many subtle multiplayer tweaks were made to make the game easier for less experienced players -- such as simpler wall running. "Oftentimes, players who weren't hyper-aware, they would try and make a wall run jump to another surface and not quite make it. And not know why, because last time they did it, they made it just fine. So we tried to really normalize a lot of these."
- There will be more pilot weapons than in the first game, but the objective is to still make them all feel different. They'll have a variety of mods and attachments, too.
- Each Titan has a distinct personality now and so you won't be able to customize their play style -- but there are six Titans instead of three. Ion fires lasers and sets laser tripmines, Ronin can dash about with a giant sword, and Scorch leaves flaming death in its wake. Three more titans have yet to be revealed.
- Beyond the grappling hook, Pulse Blade and Holo Pilot active decoy, four more potentially game-changing Pilot abilities have yet to be revealed. There are seven Pilot abilities in total, says the team. The original Titanfall let you see enemies through walls, activate a personal cloaking device or get a temporary boost of speed.
- Some of the new multiplayer maps will have more chokepoints and fewer climbable surfaces to allow for more predictable battles. "They give more predictable playspace so you can actually see a guy run around the corner, have an idea of what he might be doing so you can react -- rather than he runs around the corner, there's a million things that he could be doing."
- An engineer prototyped what Titanfall would be like in VR. "The company shut down for a while and gave us time off, and he spent that time adding Oculus support to our engine. A lot of us got to try putting on the Rift and looking at a Titan." The team says ejecting out of a Titan wasn't so fun, though: "It'll make you hurl!"
You can read more about Titanfall 2 at our sister site Gamespot.