Hi, I am Pandaqi, an indie game developer who almost exclusively creates local multiplayer games.
I've been trying to create those kinds of games for several years now, which means I've hit every obstacle and roadblock imaginable.
In this article series I want to explain ...
Why I created "Pizza Peers" (and the underlying system)
How I created it (with some code, some nice images, and a bunch of text)
And why I think it might be the best thing I ever made and will be creating many more games like these.
If you want to know more (including explanation of the game), visit the official game page: Pizza Peers - Tasty Multiplayer Fun
If you want to play the game, simply visit the server in any browser: Pizza Peers
If you're reading this as a programmer, you're in luck: I made the full source code publicly available! (I even did my best to clean it up and comment everything nicely.)
These are the different articles in the series:
The problems with multiplayer and how to solve (some of) them; the article you're currently reading
The problem with multiplayer
I want to create local multiplayer experiences for the whole family. The games must be accessible to all ages, to both gamers and non-gamers, and most of all: cooperative multiplayer.
(Not always, of course. I make single player games and competitive multiplayer. It's just that cooperative is the best choice for families and non-gamers, because they don't tend to go well with competitive environments ...)
First thing I ever tried: one person using the keyboard, one using the mouse. As you might expect, this was a mess. (And didn't scale to more than two players, obviously. Nobody is going to attach four mice (mouses?) to their computer.)
Second try: two people on the same keyboard. In fact, I even made games for three and four people on the same keyboard. While this worked and was kinda fun, it's just very cramped and doesn't feel fun. Pressing tiny buttons with letters on them is not an intuitive way to control a game.
Third try: controllers / joysticks / gamepads (however people want to call them). Controllers feel the most fun and intuitive when playing a game. The number of people with at least one controller is quite high (in my experience), and this scales perfectly to higher player counts.
I really like playing with a controller, and so does everyone around me (they are visibly having more fun if each of them gets their own controller), so this seems like the perfect option.
However, not everybody has a controller, and certainly not more than two. Additionally, to non-gamers a controller feels "intimidating". They immediately get the feeling that this game is going to be difficult and that they won't understand it.
(Additionally, the setup can be draining. Having to connect all the controllers to a system before getting to play a game, and having to explain the buttons, costs a lot of time and energy. By the time the setup is done, half the people have already lost motivation.)
Fourth try: what if ... we could use people's smartphones as the controller?
I know about the Jackbox games, but those are mostly (social) turn-based games.
I know about AirConsole, but that service uses a server that introduces noticeable delays, and the games on there are -- in my probably worthless opinion -- not that exciting or accessible. (Plus, it costs money. That's not a criticism: it's fair to ask money for such a service. It's just that I don't personally have the money to spend.)
Instead, I remembered an old technique that now seems long forgotten in the gaming world: peer to peer. (I'll explain this more in the third article.)
If you are playing on the same Wi-Fi network, using a peer-to-peer connection is as good as instant. And indeed, in all the games I've played using my system, everyone immediately forgets that they're playing over the internet because everything happens as if you were holding a controller.
Suddenly, everyone with a smartphone can join the game within 5-10 seconds! Most people have a smartphone and understand how it works, which means these games are not intimidating and do not require you to buy loads of controllers.
So, what is "Pizza Peers"?
That's what Pizza Peers is: a cooperative multiplayer game in the web browser, where everyone can use their smartphone as the controller.
More specifically, you'll be running a pizza place and trying to prepare and deliver pizzas throughout the city.
To start the game, all you need to do is visit https://pizza-peers.herokuapp.com on a computer. Press the "create game" button.
Now, everyone can whip out their smartphone and visit the same address in their browser. They simply enter the room code (displayed on screen) and a fun username, and then click "join game".
It only takes 5-10 seconds to fully create and load the game. It also only takes 5-10 seconds for players to connect (which they can do simultaneously, by the way). No need to download or install anything, no delays, you're playing in no-time.
I can't stress enough how important this is. With my previous games, I'd need to ask, "do you want to try my game?", and if they said yes, it would take a good 10-15 minutes to setup everything and get everyone ready.
Now I can ask that question, point everyone to the web address, and within a minute we're already playing. Needless to say, I've already playtested this game more often than many of my other games.
Remark: in hindsight, though, I probably should have started with a simpler game. Pizza Peers is essentially a slightly different and watered-down version of the game Overcooked. Trying to create a fully-fledged game on your first peer-to-peer try isn't ideal. I should have made multiplayer pong or something, or multiplayer flappy bird (however that might work), but oh well.
Why I wrote this article series
I would love to see a world with more games like this. Games you can play with anyone, games that are extremely easy to start and access, cooperative multiplayer with everyone being in the same room.
(Sure, you can also play remotely if the host screenshares his computer. But that will introduce delays and probably not make the game more fun.)
I'm sharing this project, my source code, and my ideas behind it to show people what is possible and to hopefully help other game developers.
It's not that hard. Seriously, the code for connecting people and sending signals through peer-to-peer is only a few hundred lines. (Which includes error handling, comments, lots of whitespace because I like whitespace, etcetera.)
Additionally, I haven't found anyone else talk about this or share these kinds of ideas. I might be the first one to do this, although I highly doubt that.
It opens a whole new world of possibilities.
A smartphone, for example, is not static (like a controller). You can change the interface during the game, you can send chat messages, you can shake the phone to do something in-game, you can even livestream everyone's camera to the screen if you want. (Not sure how you'd use that in a game, but you can!)
I've tested this game on a nearly 10-year old iMac (as the host) and my own 5-year old smartphone (which was the cheapest available at the time). Surely everyone must be able to play these kinds of games :p
So, let's get started! Topics like web sockets and Node.js servers, what an exciting time!