November 27, 2022

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Multiplayer co-op saves get a brilliant reinterpretation with Grounded’s shared worlds system

4 min read

Playing online games with friends can be a frustrating experience. If the game is hosted on a server, you must rely on that server to be active and stable. If the game is hosted peer-to-peer, the host may need to actively play the game or have a computer in their home that they can use to host a server. However, Obsidian’s Grounded has found an ingenious way around all of this – and it’s something other developers should try to replicate if possible.

WARNING: There is a close-up of one of Grounded’s insects, but we’ve omitted any spider images.

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 core idea is simple: take the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movie and make it a survival game. As one of four children, you immerse yourself in a world where the grass is as tall as trees and the trees are as tall as skyscrapers. This game can be played with up to four players and is intended 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 eventually has to shut down as it’s peer-to-peer.

When you start a new save game you have the option to make the save game a single player or multiplayer map; You can change this later. Once someone you’ve invited joins the server, they can either join if you’re hosting or host for themselves.

Instead of being hosted on a server, Grounded is hosted by the first player who boots up the world as a peer-to-peer connection. However, once those players have access to the world, they and everyone 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 containing your progress and buildings you’ve created, and you can play regardless of whether the game’s creator 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 server-hosted game without the expense.

Compare this to Satisfactory, an excellent game about building conveyor belts on alien planets for the benefit of all capitalism. Like Grounded, hosted peer-to-peer is satisfactory. However, it still requires someone hosting an active server to play, and saves don’t sync that way – in other words, if your friend goes on vacation for a week, you’re out of luck until he comes back. The other option is to build or rent a dedicated server, which can be quite expensive as many options are $12 or $15 per month. If you decide to host the server yourself, you’ll have to learn all the commands to manipulate it and make sure it stays active all the time.

Multiplayer co-op saves get a brilliant reinterpretation with Grounded’s shared worlds system

This method wouldn’t work for every shared multiplayer world – despite its simple appearance, a game like Minecraft can quickly take up several gigabytes of storage space. On a busy server, this means your connection will always be busy with one user or another and lots of data being transferred — not ideal in times of bandwidth limitations. Hosting on a shared save makes no sense. But for many other multiplayer games like this, it’s a great option. It uses the cloud storage that most major gaming platforms now offer, it saves power by not running a game that nobody is playing, and it balances access by ensuring that no one person owns the game more than everyone other. And since users must be specially invited, only your friends can sabotage your save. So it’s really up to you to make sure you have trustworthy friends.

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While multiplayer games themselves and their servers come and go, the more generic servers like those from Microsoft, Valve and the like aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With no servers to keep alive, Grounded isn’t dependent 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 in which electricity is becoming more and more expensive, both financially and ecologically, it will become increasingly important in the coming years not to have to run a server all the time. Given the popularity of shared world multiplayer games, Obsidian is showing some forward thinking in future-proofing its new game to ensure people can access it for years to come.

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