Max Payne 3: Rockstar Discusses Its Greatest Multiplayer Yet
Max Payne 3 marks the evolution of Rockstar Games as a multiplayer developer. We chat with the studio about perks, modes and crew integration with GTA 5. Read on to find out more.
Published on May 3, 2012
Max Payne 3 is, at base level, fashioned around old concepts. After all, it’s a third-person shooter with a slow-mo gimmick, and by all accounts it should feel like a relic of generations past. Looking back at also-rans Stranglehold and Total Overdose should underline the fact that this formula isn’t exactly new.
But leave it to Rockstar to evolve and reinvent what has gone before in a bid to make it relevant again. The publisher has, after all, been doing this for years through reiterating the GTA franchise with glittering success. We can now confidently add Max Payne 3 to this list of Rockstar’s many achievements.
Getting this much detail into Max Payne 3 multiplayer was vital to Rockstar. it has succeeded.
The ability to repackage a concept without making it feel stale is a talent that few possess and even fewer get right, but in Max Payne 3, Rockstar has once again proven that it has the skills and a keen eye for quality. It’s this kind of dedication that can make any concept – regardless of how much it has been run into the ground – radiate excellence.
This trend of reinvention and growth is most evident in Max Payne 3’s multiplayer component, and it underlines Rockstar’s increasing proficiency as a competitive online player. Through GTA 4, Red Dead Redemption and now Max Payne 3, Rockstar has fast become a multiplayer force to be reckoned with.
We decided to go straight to the source and spoke with Rockstar’s lead multiplayer designer Charlie Bewsher to learn what it means to fashion an inventive multiplayer in a sea of cookie-cutter shooters. Read on to find out what he had to say.
Max Payne 3 multiplayer was a learning curve for Rockstar
Rockstar set out its stall early on with Max Payne 3 multiplayer, explaining that it strived to create an online component every bit as competent and polished as the single player campaign.
Bewsher explains how his team approached this lofty goal, “I think the main difference here was all the energy and creativity that we normally pour into our open worlds was distilled into these very tight levels and shooter mechanics – and this requires a different approach and different solutions.”
“We’ve really drilled down into the details here and it’s challenged the way we normally work – for instance our streaming tech has to work within very small tight levels, whereas in other games it works across cities.”
It makes sense that Rockstar wouldn’t simply shoehorn the open world formula of Red Dead Redemption or GTA into the arena-based multiplayer of Max Payne 3. This would be a square peg, round hole nightmare. Instead, Max Payne 3 needed a smart and calculated revision of past efforts.
“We actually brought a lot of what we’d done before into our arena level design”, explains Bewsher, “the large maps have many smaller areas, each with their own unique feel and gameplay experience. At the same time we’ve focused on making the levels really flow and be easily navigable, while offering loads of tactical possibilities.”
But some Rockstar habits are impossible to break – namely, a sense of open world freedom – as Bewsher explains, “We never wanted the arena walls to be a constraint the player felt, so we ensured our game modes, mechanics and HUD pushed players together.” Being a team-based experience, this approach makes perfect sense.
Max Payne 3’s multiplayer bullet time integration was a real challenge
How Rockstar would make bullet time function in multiplayer was a real question mark that hung over Max Payne 3 for some time. It’s not an easy mechanic to nail in an online setting, as Bewsher knows full well.
“Bullet time has frankly been an enormous challenge. Nailing the first initial spec took a lot of design and discussion and we came up with a dozen different versions on paper", Bewsher explains.
“Then we started working out how to implement the chosen solution was hugely difficult.” Bewsher reveals, “As was tracking all the different players potentially running different time streams for movement, cameras, particle effects, audio and so on.”
Even with the chosen formula cemented on paper, Rockstar toiled with bullet time to ensure it was perfect, as Bewsher explains “We tuned and tweaked [bullet time] for over a year, to ensure it was advantageous to the user without being annoying to the target, or any other players.”
“Finally we developed a whole range of ‘Bursts’, of which Bullet-Time is one, to ensure it wasn’t this single power, but was part of range of strategies the player can adopt. We’re extremely happy with the results.”
Rightly so, as Max Payne 3’s bullet time works perfectly well in multiplayer, operating on a line of sight basis. Once someone executes bullet time, you will slow down to a near halt if you’re in their line of sight, making you an easy target. It’s a tricky mechanic explain on paper, but it works surprisingly well in practice.
Max Payne 3 doesn’t conform to existing multiplayer modes
It would have been so easy for Rockstar to throw in a bunch of archetypal game modes into Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, slapped a price sticker on the game’s box and watched the money roll in. But that simply isn’t the way the studio operates.
Innovation, functionality and creativity are all unspoken watchwords that apply to Rockstar’s approach, and this has given rise to multiplayer modes such as Payne Killer, in which two players adopt the role of Max and his buddy Passos, while the rest of the lobby hunts them down.
Whoever inflicts the most damage on Max or Passos before they die will respawn as them, giving them the power. Whoever is Max or Passos longest during the game will win. It’s simple, but utterly ingenious mode design at its finest.
Bewsher echoes this sentiment, “One thing Rockstar would never do is release a ‘me too’ multiplayer game, or a multiplayer component that was there to simply tick a box. Max Payne 3’s multiplayer had to feel integral to Max Payne while also offering the gamer something new. So we really had to develop multiplayer from the ground up.”
Then of course you have Gang Wars, which is a series of five-round matches that have their own narrative linked to the many Sao Paulo gangs Max will be facing in the single player campaign. Each of the five rounds focuses on a different game mode, best out of five wins the match.
It’s a great addition to the multiplayer roster, but Rockstar won’t be getting complacent once Max Payne 3 ships, as Bewsher confirms that his team will continue its dedication to DLC and free multiplayer updates post-launch.
Max Payne 3 multiplayer doesn’t copy Call of Duty or Battlefield
We’ve already touched on the way Rockstar masterfully takes old or existing concepts and makes them its own, and in some ways there are elements of Call of Duty and Battlefield present in Max Payne 3, but the similarities are threadbare.
Sure, you have things like perks, custom load outs, levelling up and the chance to prestige – called ‘Legendary’ here – but as we said, these are very sleight similarities.
Bewsher explains, “I think so much of what makes Max Payne 3 feel fresh simply comes from the core game, in that it’s a state-of-the-art shooter, with incredible movement mechanics, Bullet Time and Max’s unique gritty feel.”
In this sense, Rockstar has absolutely fulfilled its goal of conveying the quality of Max Payne 3’s single player quotient into the online arena, but it was also a chance for Rockstar to rectify elements it felt many others get dead wrong.
“From a multiplayer point of view, we wanted to tackle a few areas that made us feel unsatisfied.” Bewsher reveals, “For example, playing with strangers who always remain anonymous to you – and you to them.”
Bewsher continues, “There is also the lack of consequences in multiplayer shooters – normally all you can do is change your own stats and score. These were design themes that we continually returned to throughout the game’s development.”
What Bewsher refers to is the sheer level of customisation in Max Payne 3’s avatar creator and gear unlocks. Do you want your guy to have a gravity-defying afro, aviator shades and a football top? Done. In short, you’re not just another faceless goon running around with identical comrades.
Max Payne 3’s crews can be transferred to GTA 5
The ties between Max Payne 3’s multiplayer and GTA 5 are interesting, as few games have offered crossover in this fashion. Rockstar’s crews – large clans that can band together and win rewards by cooperating online – can be imported between Max Payne 3 and GTA 5, giving us a taste of what to expect from Rockstar’s return to San Andreas.
Bewsher sheds light on the crew system, “Well, there are going to be two types of Crews – private crews that you and your friends can create and customise to your liking, and Rockstar-created crews that are open to everyone."
"Private crews hold up to 250 members and public crews are unlimited, so thousands of people can join the same crew and start reaping the benefits.”
“There are also a range of in-game rewards and mechanics that impact crew cooperation”, Bewsher continues, “such as HUD identifiers, customisable emblems on in-game equipment for opponents to see, dedicated crew assist-style awards and the Crew feud mechanic to name a few. This last one creates automatic feuds between different crews, to see which is the meanest.”
The concept is intriguing, lending social interaction and genuine cooperation to the arena shooter format where similar games would have you running and gunning as a lone wolf. Once again, Max Payne 3 demands teamwork.
Reconfirming cross compatibility, Bewsher adds, “You may have read recently that we also announced that crews created in Max Payne 3, and any feuds you have going with other crews will be fully transferable into Grand Theft Auto 5 and beyond.”
Max Payne 3 gives us a clear view of Rockstar’s future titles
Note that Bewsher said, “Beyond”. This confirms that Rockstar is making big, sweeping changes to the way it does business online in Max Payne 3, making its multiplayer offering all the more relevant. Sure, Max Payne 3 can be seen as a test bed for multiplayer ideas, but when has Rockstar ever done things half-heartedly?
As this crossover between games exists, many will be asking what Max Payne 3’s multiplayer means for Rockstar’s future titles, “We’re always thinking about the future,” Bewsher explains, “But we won’t really be able to answer that until long after Max Payne 3 has been released.”
Bewsher concludes, “The community needs to establish itself and we will of course be entrenched in it, constantly watching and reviewing."
"That said, with our Crew features and the way all the friendships and feuds and rivalries players create in Max Payne 3 can be transferred over into GTA 5 and beyond, it’s clear that we’ve got big plans for future Rockstar releases.”