Nearly 18 months after release, players still compete in The Conduit's multiplayer. That's quite a surprise to its publisher. "Usually, online modes [on the Wii] die pretty fast after launch. Two, three, four weeks and you've got five guys left," says Sega PR rep Fabian Doehla. "We still have clans out there. The actual hours they're playing…it's kinda impressive."
We're at Sega's San Francisco office watching High Voltage Software's Matt Corso destroy bots in Conduit 2's new multiplayer mode. Chief Creative Officer Eric Nofsinger talks me through it.
But grandma! What shiny, poly-carbon battle armor you have!
"Unlike The Conduit, where multiplayer came online pretty late in development. With this game we've had multiplayer since day one," Nofsinger tells me. "We've been play testing and tweaking and balancing since June of last year."
They've also bartered to get waivers from Nintendo, securing their chosen platform's permission to do the things a first-person multiplayer shooter normally does. Nintendo's strict developer guidelines can read like a determined effort to keep a successful Halo or Call of Duty-type multiplayer off on the Wii, but High Voltage is determined to work around or within those restrictions and deliver an A-class game. One refrain gets repeated often: They're keeping promises this time.
For starters, Corso's Wiimote features a very conspicuous WiiMotion Plus dongle. That's a big carrot for eager fans who saw Plus functionality teased then cut from the original game.
That's not the only fan-requested change. A sprint found its way into the move set, and crouches toggle on/off. More importantly, Conduit 2's environments include some much-needed variety. "We focused the first game in Washington D.C., and in this game we open it up to global locations," says Nofsinger. A war-torn D.C. is still on the menu, but now it shares time with places like Siberia, China, and the lost city of Altantis, which also serves as your hub of operations. That translates to more multiplayer maps spread across 14 different online modes.
A high-tech headquarters also means players won't be stuck with a preset arsenal. "There's a replicator built into Atlantis," says Corso. Once you find its blueprint, "You choose your loadout before each mission, not only in the single player — but also in the multiplayer."
Those weapons, from returning bullet-spitting guns to freaky alien ordinance, are key to the new Perks system. Players score money throughout the game and spend it on boosting their character's abilities: explosives focus, ballistic focus, faster recharge on energy weapons…or a heavier, fully customizable armor." You have four slots to use, so the idea is you buy these and equip them to make your character more badass," says Corso.
The do-it-yourself Disco Inferno kit.
As for who that character is, that's up to you, too. Returning hero Mr. Ford is available, but Corso's playing as a Trust solider, a member of the Illuminati-like group central to The Conduit's conspiracies. They haven't nailed down an exact number, but I'm told Conduit 2's multiplayer will offer a lot of character models to choose from, including female avatars. It's also likely the alien Drudge will be well represented.
"Later in the campaign, we introduce the concept of free Drudge, which are these aliens that have broken free, and they actually fight alongside you," says Nofsinger. "This makes the game a lot more interesting than just wave after wave of guys coming at you." Though players will get that, too, in Conduit 2's all-new "horde mode," Invasion…which only allows for local team-ups.
That's where High Voltage runs afoul of Nintendo's rules. True-skill matchmaking is easy; parties are tough. Corso's pretty sure it's against regulations to team up in any online mode, but they did secure a waver to partly bypass it and to circumvent the sticky Wii Friend Code issues.
"We have a Rival system that allows you play with people who aren't just your friends," says Nofsinger, and it will be chat-enabled using the upcoming Headbanger headset. "Not the greatest name," he admits, "but it's actually a pretty good device. Nintendo told us to not use WiiSpeak."
I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Dave. Nintendo was very specific.
They've also incorporated an entirely new system of patching under Nintendo's watchful eye. "We had some systems in place with the first game, but this time those systems are much better," says Nofsinger, "and because we can do those updates this time around, it opens up a whole new level of things you can do."
Such as downloadable content? "We have the structure in place for DLC," says Nofsinger, "We're not announcing any DLC right now."
But you can tell he wants to. Downloadable content on the Wii for something other than Rock Band or Guitar Hero is almost unheard of — a lot like Wii-specific, hardcore shooters — and would go a long way to delivering on those promises the first game made.
Even unfinished and in the middle of a major interface revamp, the visuals are fantastic and the gameplay intriguing. "We've worked closely with Nintendo to be within their guidelines," says Nofsinger, "but to also to have the best player experience possible."
At times, those might seem like two different priorities, but Nofsinger and Corso's enthusiasm for their sequel shines through. Either way it plays out, I've got my fingers crossed for them.