Playing online games with friends can be a frustrating experience. If the game is hosted on a server, you have to depend on the availability and stability of that server. If the game is hosted peer-to-peer, the host may need to actively play the game or have a machine at home that they can use to host a server. Obsidian’s Grounded, however, has found a brilliant way around all of this – and it’s something other developers should look to replicate wherever possible.
WARNING: There’s a close-up photo of one of Grounded’s bugs, but we’ve omitted any spider photos.
Grounded recently hit 1.0 after spending a lot of time in Early Access, and what Obsidian has given us is one of its most polished games ever. The basic conceit is simple: take the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and turn it into a survival game. You fall as one of four children into a world where the grass is as tall as trees and the trees as tall as skyscrapers. This game can be played with up to four players, and it’s meant to be a persistent world that anyone can log into at any time. Grounded is on Game Pass, so there’s no additional buy-in to get started, and no servers that the developer or publisher can’t possibly shut down because it’s peer-to-peer.
When you start a new save, you have the option of making the save a single or multiplayer map; you can change this later. Once someone you have invited joins the server, they can either join when you are hosting or host for themselves.
Instead of being hosted on a server, Grounded is hosted by the first player to start the world as a peer-to-peer connection. Once these players gain access to the world, however, they and anyone else who has played in that world will have access to a synced save that any of them can use and sync to and from. Every time you log in, you get a persistent world that contains your progress and build, and you can play whether the game author is available or not. You can host on your PC or Xbox, or join another friend who is hosting, and it’s all there.
In other words, it’s all the convenience of a game hosted on a server, without any cost.
Compare that to Satisfactory, a great game about building conveyor belts on alien planets for the sake of all capitalism. Satisfactory is, like Grounded, hosted peer-to-peer. However, you still need someone to host an active server to play, and saves don’t sync like that – in other words, when your friend goes on vacation for a week, you’re out of luck until until he comes back. The other option is to build or rent a dedicated server, which can be quite expensive, with many options costing $12 or $15 per month. If you decide to host the server yourself, you need to learn all the commands to handle it and make sure to keep it running all the time.
This method wouldn’t work for all shared multiplayer worlds – despite its simple appearance, a game like Minecraft can quickly bloat to take up several gigabytes of space. On a populated server this means that your connection will always be in use by one user or another, and they will be transmitting a lot of data, which is not ideal in this age of bandwidth caps. Hosting on a shared backup doesn’t make sense. But for many other multiplayer games like this, it’s a great option. It takes advantage of the cloud saves that most major gaming platforms now offer, it saves power by not running a game that no one is playing, and it equalizes access by ensuring that no one owns the game more than anyone else. And since users must be specifically invited, only your friends can sabotage your backup. So it’s really up to you to make sure you have trustworthy friends.
While multiplayer games themselves and their servers come and go, more generalized servers like those hosted by Microsoft, Valve, etc. aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With no servers to keep alive, Grounded doesn’t depend on Obsidian or Microsoft to maintain game-specific servers, and players don’t have to worry about a hosting company offering an option for a specific game. And in a world where electricity is becoming more and more expensive in terms of monetary and environmental costs, not having to run a server all the time is going to become more and more important in the years to come. With the popularity of shared-world multiplayer games, Obsidian is putting major forward thinking into the future-proofing of its new game to ensure people can access it for years to come.
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