Like many social outcasts who don’t tend to jump to further social interaction when attempting to escape social interaction, I play almost exclusively solitarily. My introversion can be such a strong force that even in games that are renowned for their multiplayer I nearly always choose to play with or against computer players. As it just so happens, I’ve sunk hundreds of collective hours into Left 4 Dead, Empire: Total War, Civ 5, Sins of a Solar Empire, and Battlefield 2 and the times in which I connected those games to other human players most likely numbers under ten. To me, multiplayer options often feel unreliable and rigid, on top of being shoehorned into games that could have potentially been stronger single player experiences had the multiplayer development money gone into the main campaign. This, of course, directly opposes the opinions of most, as many games, I understand, are bought solely for their multiplayer, be it competitive or co-op. I know, though, that there are those, like myself, who are distant from this realm. Here, in as friendly a manner as I can muster, is a guide to creating multiplayer modes that even I would abandon my solitude to join.
Never Forget Local Multiplayer
In a way, I partially lied. I’m not totally free from multiplayer gaming. Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and the multiplayer in Catherine are all games that I return to regularly, and I play all of them with other people in the same room on the same console. Local multiplayer has always been something of a rare gem, growing up as the only gaming member of the family. When I could join friends in a shared space, suddenly the game becomes more than just a competition or a cooperation. The experience becomes defined by interaction at a personal level that simply can’t be shared through headsets or text boxes. What made New Super Mario Bros. Wii an unforgettably fun experience was how it forced my four-man player group into a roaring fit of collective laughter whenever one of our clumsy control of our characters bounced off of each other, to the doom of the group.
It’s such a simple thing to achieve, really. It’s ultimately just mixing cooperation with competition, and allowing the players to express their dismay, joy, and oftentimes horror in a shared space. Yet so many games that would benefit greatly from implementing local multiplayer are revoked of their opportunity. The reason why isn’t truly irrational, though, as many games publishers see a game with local multiplayer as one $60 game shared among four players instead of an online game that requires each of the four to buy their own copy of the game for a total of $240. It’s basic business stuff, and yet I can’t help but mention that New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the only Mario game to encourage its players to find some friends to join in is the 10th best-selling game of all time with a staggering sales total of nearly 26 million.
But a really strong recent example is a game I have yet to play. But based on description, I can already tell that it’s exactly what I’m looking for. It’s called Artemis and it’s essentially a simulation of the starship Enterprise. You and a group of friends sit in a room, computers connected together. Each of the players has a specific role in the ship’s control. One is in charge of weapons, another with navigation, and so on. The captain commands his team but has no control over anything. He or she can only see a screen of information about his or her ship. This is a game that demands physical, vocal interaction to the nth degree, and its asymmetrical gameplay is sorely underrepresented in today’s games. However, it looks as though the Wii U will do something to improve on that.
In short, introverts like me really only feel like having a social interactions in one sphere of life and solitary experiences in the other. I do not want social elements in my single player games, I want social games for the hours in my day I spend with people. It’s that simple.
Let the Players Determine Their Adventure
This is something I see a bit too much. Shoe-horned multiplayer as a gimmick, a feature to list on the back of the box that does nothing to actually extend the player’s enjoyment of the game. We see this a lot with shooters that perhaps delegate effort away from the single player campaign in order to make a multiplayer gimmick that can’t hope to live up to the popularity of Call of Duty shooty-fests or Gears of War co-op.
And then every now and then, there’ll be something that does something new with multiplayer. Or more specifically, a game that lets its players make their own, new experiences. Sometimes, games will let you run wild and free with the tools and worlds they’ve built. Let’s take a second to talk about Red Dead Redemption.
I loved Red Dead Redemption. But it wasn’t until long after I played its engrossing story did I realize the genius of its multiplayer. An open world. Filled with all the randomly generated fun of the single player experience. All with competing tribes of players. This was for me at the time, the ultimate example of what a multiplayer game had to be to engross me. Instead of games failing to use multiplayer to truly expand their play experience, here was a game encouraging players to invent their own with the tools provided by the game. It meant players could design their own objectives and discover their own conflicts (and create conflict for other players).
Another game to recently employ this is DayZ, a brilliant mod that you’ve probably already heard of and therefore needs no introduction. What I find the most intriguing about such a concept, just like with what I found in Red Dead Redemption, is in the player-invented alliances, conflicts, and adventures. It’s not like you get funneled into a color-coded team with a clear objective that you’re fighting for. No, the game is merely about survival and you’re free to interpret that in any way, shape, or form.
These are games that are truly exemplified by their inclusion of multiplayer. DayZ could have technically been a single player game, with just you in a world filled with zombies and computer-generated survivors. But it makes it so much more by having the deeply human element thrown in. Encountering another human player can be the cause for such chagrin, as you never know what the other players’ intentions are.
I can think of several areas of games where this fluid style of play is important. But none more so than with multiplayer. When I can break away from the rigidness of regular Battlefield 2 matches and sky dive with a random person with the fighter jets on an empty map for three hours, you can bet it’s going to be buckets more fun and memorable than what I’d normally be doing.
Here’s where I may come into the most conflict with other people. I like my Smash Brothers on an assortment of interesting stages with all the items turned on high. I absolutely cannot stand playing with no items and only on Final Destination. Doing so refuses to play with all the anarchistic joy that, to me, Smash Brothers is all about.
As I’m sure, this completely goes against the whole competitive gaming culture that is so about preserving perfect balance. No single player should ever be given unfair advantage even if arbitrarily or randomly and items in Smash Bros. can most certainly do that. But to me that just sounds boring. I’m going to enjoy a match far more if something wild and unexpected happens than if I win because I just happened to be better than my opponent.
Maybe I’m being overly anti-competitive, but again I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this. There are plenty of people who play these games not to best their friends, but instead to experience something fun together, laughing in unison over the crazy unpredictable nature that Smash Bros can be if you let it.
Not Everything Needs Multiplayer All the Time Forever
On a final note, I think it’s important to point out that not everything truly needs multiplayer. Yes, the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer was well constructed and I appreciate that it influenced the single player game. But if I had the choice between having multiplayer that was mandatory to get certain endings or no multiplayer at all, I may have very well picked the latter. I don’t like feeling like I’m forced into multiplayer. I want to be compelled to join, not dragged along like a child to a dentist appointment.
Recently, I was asked if I would like the idea of Nintendo making Pokemon into an MMO someday. It didn’t take much thought for me to answer with a forceful no. The idea of being forced to share my region with others sounds like such a departure from what I get out of those games.
But more importantly, Pokemon doesn’t need the MMO treatment because, quite honestly, Pokemon has been an MMO since Red and Blue. Think about it. In a way, the real world is the Pokemon MMO. Yes, you train your team in a single player setting, but you can carry them with you at all times, encounter other players in the real world, battle, trade, and even compete in real world tournaments. By adding a complex built-in MMO to Pokemon, it would kind of defeat the whole point of having it be a strong handheld experience, as there’d be no point anymore to carrying it around with you and having the rare but meaningful interaction between players synching their handhelds. It would cease to be Pokemon. In a greater sense, it would cease to be what separates it from everything else.
I think I’ve gone on long enough about my own personal tastes and dislikes with regards to multiplayer. Feel free to disagree. I imagine that I may be the vocal minority on this one.