Single player has always been an important part of the video game experience, whether it was the engrossing story of Final Fantasy Tactics(PSone) or the fun gameplay of the Mario series or the challenge of the megaman games. Single player, up until recently, has been the benchmark for whether you game was considered a worth the time to play, or just a waste of time. Single player has provided many people with memorable experiences and memories albeit many times the same ones. When someone says, 'oh remember Omaha Beach?' or 'remember that final mission in GTA: SA?' you would probably be like, yeah I remember that and remember '(insert something else about the same part of the mission/level)' and the conversation goes as such. While this is all well and good, the recent surge in xbox live and the recent customization craze, people seems to want everything to be tailored to them, and memories and experiences are no different. Enter the multiplayer experiences, while this is nothing new, it certainly has grown in the last couple of years to nearly, if it hasn't already, eclipse the single player experience. Case in point, the Battlefield series has been known to have some of the best multiplayer around, even if its single player seems to have been dreamt up by monkeys. Why is it that even when the single player is bad people will still flock to a game, as stated before it is the desire for unique and non-set piece memories and experiences that drive the urge to play multiplayer. Suppose two people that played Battlefield had a conversation about the game, one person might say ' oh it was so tight, I was flying in a helicopter while rockets were exploding all around and then one hit us, we crashed but I survived and had to defend and wait for help, eventually one of my teammates came in with another copter and took out the enemy, I got into the copter and we flew off, blah blah blah' the other person might say 'nice, that hasn't happen to me but one time me and my pal were riding down the road full speed, taking out enemies and trying to dodge bullets, well right as we were about to reach the objective deep behind enemy lines a plane came out of no where and shot our vehicles, we got out before we could take to much damage fought off some enemies for awhile before our ammo ran out, lucky for us our commander dropped some supplies and we were about to get out of there alive' and the conversation continued in this manner. The real question is, which conversation would you rather have? Many people of the RPG and other genres traditionally dependent on the single player would most likely have the former conversation rather than the latter, while people of the FPS and RTS genre would rahter have the latter conversation. But really, most people would rather have the latter conversation because it has more room for more thing to be talked about just from the virtue that each person had a different experience and they can share that experience knowing that it is unique to them. This thought of uniqueness, when playing in multiplayer, is more real that any customization option or avatar will give you because it was really you and other human beings who created the experience, there is no pre-scripted runs or attack patterns, most of the time it is on the fly, spontaneous or random. And this is why multiplayer will soon, or is, eclipse the single player experience. But one interesting thing to note, is how the creators of single player experience are using the knowledge of why multiplayer is fun and putting it to good use, one case in point being the Indiana Jones game corning out in 2007. This game is using an engine were the actions that the NPCs carry out aren't really prescripted, the animations or the actions, go here for more. This is great because it opens up the possibility of unique experience to happen even in a generally pre-scripted single player mode. It is great to see this happening, not only from this game but from many other including games like Medal of Honor: Airborne Assault and others. The greatest example of this fusion of single player pre-scripted restrictions on uniqueness of memories and the multiplayer creation of unique memories is Guild Wars. The game at its core is a single player RPG that can almost be play through without actually using the help of any companions, even though it is a MMO. The interesting thing that comes into play is that even single player missions can become multiplayer missions, all you need to do is have a party with you. And this is where the great fusion of single and multi player comes into play, you can still participate in the semi-pre-scripted fun that the single player offers while simultaneously creating unique memories with your friends. Remembering killing the hoards of drakes and other creatures with only yourself is uneventful and usually boring, but add in the group dynamics and general fun associated with taking out the hoard with your friends, and it will probably be remembered better and more fondly. The recognition of why many people now prefer playing the multiplayer over the single player will greatly assist the makers of single player experiences of recognizing their goal of giving the player the sense that they are fight along or against real player while not actually doing so and in the process provide the randomness that is inherent with playing multiplayer games. In the creators of single player experiences will have to evolve to embrace the idea that unique memories that multiplayer can produce while still keeping at their core the stories and memorable missions( like Omaha beach) that have defined single player games.
I will post the enierty of my On Gaming Culture series from my Opera blog. Just so you know this series on ongoing and I will update when I can. Here is part 1: One thing that it always fun to note abut games is the way, especially in the case of PC games, the players grow the game beyond what the developers probably intended. Lets take Halo and the fan made(with some help from Bungie) Halo: Custom Edition. This is a great add-on to an already great game, with many new level constantly being created by members of the community. While some of the maps are truly genuine and top-notch in terms of quality, many of them are un-complete or are just unimaginative. One map that went in style for a while was a map called Hugeass, and as the name implied, it was huge. You are probably thinking to yourself, yeah its probably a couple hundred meters big, but this would be a big understatement. This map is 5 or more kilometers big, to travel by foot on this map from one side to the other would take at least half-an-hour, and with people flying over in jets, Longswords and pelican you are unlikely to make such a journey without dying. If you happen to have halo, pick up this map and play it, this is what truely top-notch maps ought to be like. Now back to the point(you might notice that I tend to stray from the topic a bit but oh well), developers, I think, should support such projects. For any of you that own UT2004, you know what I am talking about, this game as received some of the best developer support around, with them releasing new map and expansion for free online. While developers do sometime improve the game beyond what was released at shelf time and gamers do their part to extend the life by adding new thing, I think one area were gaming needs to really evolve, though some promising new games show this model partially in action, is to give the play complete control over the economy, building the world by themselves. Let me take a step back, suppose that the developer created a server, on that server they put the basics needed to make a building, maybe start a new city if you have enough players. Now then lets say that the developers set up the world so that it has continents and such that stay the same. Then lets say that the developer gave people the tools to build whatever they want using a simple, yet powerful item development tool, of course as you build the item it calculates the cost, based on what materials will be used and how long it will take to build. Then lets say that since the economy will be global that the prices of things will shift. one thing I would like to add is that unlike many other games like this, say Second Life comes to mind, this game won't start in a specific time period. The game would start in the ancient times and slowly but surely time would advance. now since people control inventing new things and such, since we already know how to do stuff the gamer could theoretically advance the game world much faster than the real world. But of course since this is a different world all the laws of physics might not be the same and from server to server they might shift. At this point the fact that there are different servers all hosting distinctly different world brings to mind one great idea, leave a couple blank servers that hold the space between the planets and if the said people on one planet become strong and technologically advanced enough they could travel to another planet. Of course this brings up all sorts of possibilities to mind, such as war and communication differences(not from being in different countries on Earth but the game makes a different language for each world though people from the same world can understand each other in the same language) and other possibilities. In On Gaming Culture, Part 2 i will explorer some of the mechanics of a game like, how you die and what happens when you do. Hope you come back for future post on my musing on gaming culture(not all will be on ideas of games). Here is part 2: Now, those of us who follow the game scene, well know that Elder Scrolls IV has turned out to be a great game, it is hands down the best Xbox360 game out now. But imagine how many people it took to create that lavish , albeit static, world. Even though the world is huge it is also never going to change, when you start a new game the world won't be 'different' par se, it will be the same world, with maybe a little changes here and there because of your actions. I think that more game developers should look toward the demoscene( programmer who try to make great programs, including very nice FPS's, using as little space as possible, take this site, a 96k FPS that has great grahpics and is pretty fun to play). The reason, as you all probably know by now, is that game development cost are skyrocketing and any way for developers to cut back on cost would be great. The first, and one of the most innovative, developers to take up this idea is Will Wright/Maxis. If you haven't already seen the video demostration of Spore being played by Wright, go over to goglevideo and search for the game. Using mathematical formulas and procedures, he has created a game in which whole object that are created by the player are recorded procedurally, so that when they are stoed they only take up 1k, very nice. Now even though this idea of procedural generation is nice, for some games this would obvoiusly not work. Take a FPS, the developer, unless they create crazy smart AI, would not be able to control what the AI would do if each time you played the game the world changed. But in contrast to that imagine an RPG in which each time you played the people, towns and places changed everytime you started a new game, or if the laws of physics in a, lets say combat, game changed each time? How fun would that be, to never really have the same experince twice. One of the greatest benifits, RTS's already do this with the random map generator, would be if in a FPS multiplayer you could select an option for the computer/console to create a map all on its own, so each map would be different and a new experince. But like most things in life this is easier said than done, but hopefully it will be done at some point in time. Thats all I have to say for now, next I will talk about a game series I thought up called envision(add noun such as Life, Tennis, Navy so i.e. envisionTennis or envision Navy) , who knows maybe a game developer is creating a game such as that right now. Here is part 3: Competition, it is the bases of many games, without it would there be a Halo2? A UT2004? But what about games that encourage things beyond competition, such as cooperation. Can there be another way to interact with a game besides either of these two factors coming into play? I can't answer this question because I'm born and raised( like most of the human population) with the notion that you are either in competition with someone or in cooperation with someone. We are also taught the safest route which is usually neutrality, but how can you make an interesting two-player game were each player is alway neutral to the other, neither being able to help the other. This too I cannot answer but I will say this, what if a game was made that was all about cooperation, were no human players are in competition with one another? Would this be possible and if so would it be interesting? In short, I think it would, though this depends on your outlook in life. Imagine that everyone started with a plot, of let's say, farm land. Now the first thing that usually comes to mind is competition, all the farmers want to outproduce the other. But let us say for now that none of them are in competition but they are really all in cooperation with each other, all trying to reach a certain goal, whether that be in the output of materials or just how well they live. By now I'm sure some of you are getting socialist/communist vibes emitting from this article, but that is not all I'm trying to portray. Now since all these farmers are in cooperation with each other you might think, what's the point of playing if you can't beat another person, or you can't win? And this is were I see a future problem with the gaming industry as it moves along. Unlike other mediums, such as movies or art, gaming is interactive, so if the person taking part in the experience is not having some kind of physical and mental stimuli then the game isn't all that good. While on the other hand this is not the case with art or movies, which you just watch. If in a game there is no competition, either by way of two-players/one-player versus the computer or player versus player, then the game usually won't last long. Why is that? How can it be that without beating someone a game can't be fun? Now some might then point to the Sims, which is a great example of a game that has no real competition, besides the occasional other person going after your boy-girl-friend thing, but at the same time it is still a blast to play. The gaming industry should use this example, of a game that has no real competition but is still fun to play none the less. Now I'm not saying that the game produced from this idea has to be in the same genre as the Sims, but it should at least try to emulate that feeling you can get without having to defeat someone. Another great example some might point out is tetris or the puzzle genre at large. A lot of these games have you competing, though in a slightly less obvious way. Most you are either competing time or competing with the computer and how fast it can make blocks fall on your board(even in teris this is true, though there is no computer opponent there is still the faster rate at which the blocks fall). Or even sometimes you are playing or trying to beat yourself. In conclusion it would be great if a gaming company would stand-up and offer up a couple of games that don't have you beating someone or yourself. Wouldn't it be great if we could have a game were we didn't have to win, but we could still have fun nonetheless? Here is Part 4: Why is it that recently, though this is open to debate, many people within and outside the industry are declaring it dead, void of innovation and having no clear path as the where to go next? Why is it that people complain about sequels, ports and games that just get the job done? Why is it when a Madden 20xx comes along people cry foul at the dominance of sequels and ports but at the same time these sequels and ports do so well. Why is it then that gamers themselves cry for innovative new genres and games yet the top selling games are usually not those innovative ones? It is within this framework of mind that I will try to paint a picture of what is right, and wrong, about the current state of the people commenting on the industry and the industry itself. When people say that the industry is stagnant I really don't get what then mean, especially after the success of the DS and the great looking things coming from the Wii, plus all the great and generally fun looking games coming out across all platforms. It is possible then that these people, who sit on their silver pedestals and declare innovation dead, are really just not looking hard enough, and are expecting something where there is nothing. Why not perfect( or get as close to perfection as possible) the current genre's that have flourished for so long. It still seems that for every Tactics Ogre there is an Onimusha Tactics, for every Rise of Nations there is a Empire Earth( I like the game, but many key elements fall short). All the people say that the industry has no where to go, but how about we cover the base first. Really would a military start researching a new technology while its current technology is partially broken and doesn't always deliver reliable results? They might but they would rather( hopefully) cover there bases, pun intended, than seek out something new and risk losing them. The same thing with the gaming industry, I hope to see many of the current genre's refined to near perfection while at the same time see others forge new path, after more of the same, but better, isn't in any way bad. Now of course people will ask, give us an example of such a genre tha could be perfected or near perfected, in the near future, the easiest place to look I think is the RPG. I'll use square-enix rather than Atlus or Nippon Ichi as an example, because they have a much larger catalogue( that I'm familiar with) to draw on. If you read reviews on many of the square-enix games out right now, mostly many of the less big name ones, you notice that many of there reviewers talk about how one element of the game excels extremely well, whether it be the battle system, the story, the look of the game/art style, the adventuring, the small innovations. Now consider if square-enix was to bring together all the best aspects of each game cohesively, imagine the possibilities. Now of course since it was so many people and directors that probably oversaw each of these games this would be hard to do, but if they even if got many of these parts right it would still make a fantastic game. Of course that all depends on whether they can bring these pieces together while still making a great and fun to play game. Another place in the industry where there seems to be a lot of failure is combining two or more genres( besides the rather good combos of RTS/RPG). But what seems to happen more rarely is for a game to forget that it has two of more genre's flowing through its veins and instead of just letting them operate on there own, they try to mash them together. Why have a FPS were the RPG elements are forced upon you, why not have the game separated into different segments, with adventure parts being primarily RPG while the FPS parts can be made for just the 'random encounters' or other forms of combat. While this is sometimes done, many times the RPG element of the game is shoved down the throat of the player when they just feel like playing an FPS. It is hard to describe but it seems like some games are taking this up more, one game in the past that did this combination of genres well but without squishing them together is X-Com. Play that game and you will see what I mean. On the other hand you can look at all the things that the gaming industry is doing right at the moment, and looking and the nice flow of good games I would say that we are far from stagnant. But while many games push to have better 3D visuals that might add another layer to the games, many times these new graphics effects are no more that eye candy, and they in no way contribute to adding the the experience other than added 'realism' What I really hope to see, Super Paper Mario can be seen as an example of this, is people to use this new graphical power for things other than HDR lighting, 1000 different filters per pixel and other things associated with 'next-gen' games. Wouldn't it be great if someone were to use this new power to create an adventure that doesn't have all the sheen and blinding light that seems to dominate most current games? How about a game that can look as good as any of Hayao Miyazaki's motion pictures, imagine a world as colorful, vibrant and fun to explorer as the worlds that Miyazaki creates. I'm not saying that someone isn't already doing this, many people are trying but as development cost rise it will be a rare commodity to see, a game such as Kurayami looks like it might fall in this category. At the same time this gets to the heart of the problem with many people who comment on the industry, they talk about how the increase in graphics and the new coat of paint is bad, that it further degrades the quality of games, because they will now focus on the look rather than the substance, and I have to disagree with many people here, because in a sense it is almost a cliche by now to say that. People always think of the old days, how how if games were simpler they would be better, but many times this isn't the case and nostalgia plays fiddle with our brains. Why can't these people really be open-minded, instead of trying to sound open minded while really being close minded about the future of games, a future where innovation thrives and sequels wither and die. As is known, this will never happen, so why not instead focus on the games that deliver more of the same, games that refine what we already know and love, rather than ditch what we have in a headlong race toward 'innovation' which is truly only seen in the eye of the beholder, after all what I consider innovation, might not be innovation to you.
Since I would rather keep this as my gaming profile, I would rather people go to: http://my.opera.com/GaaraZanta/blog/ and view my real blog.