Will games ever evolve to become truly immersive experiences for more than one player?
There are plenty of games that offer up a multiplayer experience, that allow you to join forces with people from across the globe and have enormous fun creating mayhem together. However, most of these games don’t yet tap into the enormous potential offered by gaming platforms to play with friends in collaborative and co-operative scenarios.
It’s not easy to define co-operative gaming within our current framework – you can count any game that allows you to connect with people online – but what I’m thinking of are games that run on the same principle as, say, a Murder Dinner. There you are at home with three mates playing a game on the Xbox that adapts to each person’s individual moves and reactions and fully utilises the power of the Xbox’s four-player abilities.
Imagine playing a horror game that has your friends killed off by the masked killer/zombie/lunatic because of mistakes they’ve made, and the storyline adapts to this. You could be the last one left standing, Jamie Curtis style, against the nasty man with a chainsaw, or you could be killed off early because you decided to snog your in-game girlfriend in the dark cellar instead.
Left4Dead is a game that has taken this idea and run with it, kindly bringing the PC into the mix - four players tackling the zombie horde together with the game adapting to their choices with brilliant swiftness. And its success is proof that gamers would love for this to become a regular feature of games, or perhaps even a genre of its own.
The potential is huge but is it going to become a phenomenon?
Jon Hicks, editor of Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine, has this to say, “I think that collaborative, co-operative experiences are going to become more common. I’d certainly love for them to become a phenomenon but I wouldn’t bet on it happening anytime soon.”
The problem is that creating such titles costs more money and takes far more time and, in a market that is rapidly evolving and an economy that’s becoming increasingly unfriendly, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
“Valve are uniquely willing to playtest their games until all the problems are resolved,” says Jon, “but I expect most developers don’t have the time or budget available to develop a game that would engage four players at once. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes roughly more than four times the effort.”
There is something incredibly exciting about the idea of true co-operative play, being able to interact with fellow players on multiple levels. It has the potential to take gaming to the next level and to reinvent the market across all platforms.
“Now that the main gaming platforms are constant and well known, increasing numbers of developers are striving for games that are more affecting rather than just bombastic, and co-operative experiences are an obvious way to do it,” explains Jon.
He has a point; developers aren’t sitting back and letting the market run itself, they’ve taken notice and slowly titles that offer up many of these elements are starting to enter the market. Left4Dead2 is ambling onto our screens and the upcoming Brink looks promising.
Forget the MMO – yes, you’re playing with friends online in a collaborative way but ultimately it isn’t the right level. You don’t want to have to endure the ramblings of some idiot who you don’t know from a bar of soap in order to achieve your goals - you want to meet up with real friends in a real-time environment and kick some ass. You want to have the game react to each person’s choices and adapt accordingly.
“It’ll take a lot of time and a lot of playtesting to buff out the variables,” says Jon. “It’ll take extraordinarily sharp writing and programming to set up a story that responds to multiplayer as effectively as the likes of Dead Space or Bioshock responds to one.”
The room for growth is huge. You can take any movie or series or book and turn it into a collaborative game. There you are, a member of the team in Aliens, tackling the horde together as you race against time to get off the planet and “nuke it from orbit”.
It would be an excellent way to encourage kids to play together instead of slumping, alone, in front of the TV for hours on end. Recent research has had experts claim that children who spend too much time gaming are actually demonstrating weakened language skills. In co-operative play this wouldn’t be much of a feature, especially if it encouraged team work and group decisions to move through the game.
“I think it’d be a brilliant genre,” concludes Jon. “I ‘m just not sure many people have the skills to populate it, or the time and money to get it right.”
It’s good to know that experts agree - co-operative gaming is something to hold out for, Now we need only pray that more developers follow in Valve’s footsteps to create more titles and that the economy stops behaving badly for long enough to make it a reality.