State of Single Players

_If you’ve ever used the internet, you’ve probably seen more your your fair share of “Best games of all time” lists. We all know the usual suspects – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Super Mario Bros. Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy 7. Super Metroid. Resident Evil 4. Metal Gear Solid. Your own personal list might look similar. But ask most people, and you’ll find that a pattern starts to emerge…the games generally regarded the the “Best of all time” are primarily single-player experiences.

_There’s something wonderful about a well crafted single player video game. I just got done explaining a lot of the reasons I love multiplayer gaming, but there’s just as many things I love about a good solo offering. I love a good story. I love a good puzzle. I love a strong musical score. I love exploring. I love challenging myself for no reason other than to see what I’m capable of…to a point ;-D All of these aspects are missing from multiplayer gaming. Even if everybody is on the same page, people tend to play at different speeds. Who has ever played Halo co-op and never been warped when their buddy progresses too far ahead, or had the host skip a story segment you hadn’t seen yet? When was the last time a World of Warcraft players told you they played for years because the Warcraft lore was just THAT interesting? How many Call of Duty players didn’t know that the game actually has a soundtrack due to multiplayer matches not having music? Online gaming is a lot of fun…but there’s just so much missing from it that is often unobtainable from single player games.

_A great single player game is like a good book. Everybody that has them has the same basic thing. The game code included in every cartridge or disc is more or less the same. The words in any given copy of a book are the same [Well…depending on the edition, Nigger Jim]. But everybody experiences it in their own way. Some people might rush to the end. Others might take their time and absorb every detail as meticulously as possible. Most of us will fall in random spots in between. Unlike books, though, video games offer us something unique to the genre. Books tell a story and let us use our imagination as to exactly how the people look, how they sound, the topography of the land. One persons vision is never the same as another. But we all get the same imagery in games. The appeal of video games is more visceral. We’re not living out the experiences, not even coming close to it, really. But even though we preform a jump by pressing the A button, the jump is still something done due to our actions. We’re the ones dictating the actions, even if there’s really only one possible outcome [Unless you’re horrible and die all the time. I guess that’s a second possible outcome].

_That’s the difference between video games and other mediums of storytelling, the interactivity. “A plumber travels to a faraway land to save the princess from a monstrous reptile.” Yeah, Super Mario Bros. isn’t quite a storytelling masterpiece. And yet we love it anyways. We just need a good enough reason to do whatever we’re doing. “Save the damsel in distress? Good enough for me!” Sure, we’re harder to please now, but most games give us something a bit meatier. Super Mario Sunshine saw a plot involving an imposter Mario, slandering the original’s good name, complete with dialog and voice acting. The Uncharted games aim to give you Indiana Jones-ish adventures, complete with treasures that melt faces, grant immortality and cause crops to grow [Not really, but the same kind of vibe persists. “We’re looking for mythical items which might have an origin in reality, then it turns out they’re legit magic!”]. If it was a film, the writing would probably feel a bit underwhelming, and the gameplay set pieces might not translate very well…but you don’t really think about that while you’re actually playing the game. It’s only when thinking back on the game do you realize these things. While you’re in the midst of the game itself…you just feel like you’re in the middle of an adventure serial. There’s a tangible difference felt when you’re not just sitting back and watching these things happen, but actually have some kind of input.

_It’s probably obvious from reading this that…it’s hard to fully quantify what makes a single, self-contained video game experience so enjoyable. But what is obvious is that while they both fall under the category of “video games,” multiplayer and single player gaming are two totally different beasts. Liking one doesn’t mean you’ll like the other. There are a lot of people who like to claim that single player games are dead. “Everything has to be online.” “Mobile phones are the future of gaming.” Sure, developers are shifting a lot of their focus to those areas at present. But there will always be a place for a traditional video game experience. After all, that’s what brought us all to this dance in the first place.


1 Comment

Filed under Playtime, Thoughts

One response to “State of Single Players

  1. corvak

    Single player games are the ones that are still relevant years down the road. If you’re writing a top list with the intention of telling people what they should check out, A multiplayer game doesn’t offer the same experience now, as it did ten years ago.

    Right now, a multiplayer game lives and dies based on its first month or even first week sales. Hundreds of games support Xbox Live, but generally, there are about four big ones people play more than once or twice. (PSN is the same, but Xbox publishes a list of the most popular games being played online) And as such, this means you can jump into a game immediately, instead of having to hope someone else is playing. However, co-op is an entirely different beast. It’s the reason I even bother subscribing to Xbox Live. It takes your single player experience, and gives you the option of making it multiplayer, giving you the best of both worlds.

    Sometimes, multiplayer is forced into a game, often to give them a reason to create an online pass. Dead Space 2 did this but…the thing is, creating an online pass that only unlocks terrible content really doesnt discourage used game sales at all. Dead Space 2 is a great game, but you can’t go from a survival horror style TPS to competitive multiplayer without losing a lot of what makes the game great. A multiplayer experience can’t just be forced in, it has to fit the game as well. For DS2, I would’ve put in a more co-operative “horde mode” than the current setup.

    I’ve heard people argue both sides about online passes and restricting content from used copies…but when I had to sit and download Catwoman DLC for Arkham City on launch day, I decided I hate online passes. If the online pass content IS there, put it on the disc. Theres nothing worse than putting a game in, and getting hit with a hefty wait time, as anyone with a PS3 will tell you regarding day one bug patches.

    Personally, not against used game sales at all – the only ones i’d argue are losing them sales, are when someone returns a game a week later, and gamestop sells it for a whole $5 less than the new copy. But I like the used game market simply because I missed out on a lot of games, and I like that i’ve been able to find them used.

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