Thursday, 13 December 2012

Feature: This Generation - Part III

Left 4 Dead 2
For the purposes of these features, "This Generation" refers to software found on the following hardware: Wii, DS/3DS, PSP, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Trends found on the PC platform will be addressed but because the demarcations between PC hardware iterations can be foggy, establishing what is of this generation is much more difficult to finalize. 
"This Generation" includes major trends or evolutionary notes that will, in this writer's opinion, be identified strongly with this generation of games and hardware for years to come.
Third  item to hallmark this period of gaming: Co-Op Gaming.
If there's one thing board games nailed ages ago, it was the facet of cooperation, even if it often takes a backseat to straight-out competition. Working with a partner or teammate can suddently turn the mundane into something fun. One can use a deck of cards for the solitarity experience of Solitaire or get more people invovled to play cribbage with multiple participants.

Halo 3
Admittedly, there are co-operative card games, but there's still a definite element of competition. Four players in a game of Bridge do not work together to reach a goal.

Until this generation of consoles and games, it was often the case that games separated the single-player experience entirely from casual and competitive multiplayer. Or the game would focus on one of those aspects in isolation. Counter-Strike (1999) was a title that lacked any single-player element. The player was always online and playing with other human beings for or against the terrorists on closed maps with no story to string the areas together in any meaningful way. Unreal Tournament did the same thing, though one had the option to populate the maps with bots to practice against.

This generation saw titles like the Gears of War games (2006, ,2008, 2011), Halo 3 (2007), Team Fortress 2 (2007), Portal 2 (2011), Starhawk (2012), and the Left 4 Dead games (2008, 2011) allow players to work together in a cooperative manner from the start of a story to its conclusion. Especially in a game like Left 4 Dead where coordination and working together is essential to a positive outcome.

Rather than creating a schism between multiplayer and single-player, some developers embraced the idea that a traditionally single-player experience could be inflated to support multiple characters working toward a goal that would traditional be approached by a lone hero.

World of WarCraft
That same cooperative spirit extended to the likes of Resident Evil 5 and 6 (2009, 2012), Army of Two (2008, 2011), the upcoming Dead Space 3, which is to say nothing of the proliferation of MMO's during this generation like World of WarCraft (2004), Age of Conan (2008), and City of Heroes (2004), that required cooperation on the "end game" raid scenarios. The level of cooperation and need to work together far exceeded the kind of co-op that was present in the hey day of 16-bit sidescrolling beat 'em ups. Plus, those old games required players be present in person rather than thousands of miles away connected by Xbox Live, Playstation Network, or a PC client, like Steam.

In fact, if there's one reason that co-op took off in such a big away across multiple platforms it's the entrenchment of online services for consoles and the penetration of high-speed Internet. As Internet speeds increase and computing horsepower rises, I expect that co-op -- not just with a handfull of players but in a number and variety largely unpredicted just 5 years ago -- to proliferate. The challenge is creating stories to make that co-op meaningful so the game doesn't just settle on being an endless-skirmish MMO.

A Battlefield game with thousands of players on each side with the winner influencing the story being experienced by the players? With games like Planetside 2 already tapping the thousands mark, it will be very interesting to see where we are 5 years from now.

Planetside 2
Or what about the integration of the first-person shooter Dust 415 on Playstation 3 with the PC-only strategy game EVE Online? The cross-over aspect of this kind of cooperation has never been attempted quite like CCP Games is doing.

Co-op games or games that feature a strong integration of co-op play show no signs of going away, which is what makes it part of what has defined this generation.

- Aaron Simmer