Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No excuses pt. 2

The beauty of console gaming, and what it has to offer over a PC, is the experience to sit around and play a game together with your friends. Co-op, as a “mode” takes advantage of this experience and really provides for some great experiences together.

A lot of games are shirking the ability to include co-op on the same console, and I’m noticing a trend here. Games that typically used to offer a co-op experience, like Call of Duty, no longer do (for the purposes of this article, and in keeping with the true spirit of co-op, it must be splitscreen). You think this is scary, start looking at how many games may include 2 player co-op, but now strip away more than 2 players together, anywhere? The list of offenders grows immensely: Gears of War, Borderlands, Call of Duty…and that’s just multiplayer. God forbid anyone let more than 2 players play a campaign together, on the same screen.

Other consoles are switching to almost pure cooperative experiences, like the Wii. This entire console is built around bringing people together in the same room, so why are other consoles suddenly pulling away?

My first guess is that this is a marketing thing. If I, as a developer, remove a co-op option from my game, it forces others to go out and get the game in order to play together. This may not cause a huge boost in sales, but it’s doubtful people will boycott games without co-op either, so why not?

My next guess of why this is starting to happen is because it’s starting to seem like cooperative play just isn’t cool anymore. The Wii is fun, sure, but it’s something you could have fun with your grandma. That’s not serious gaming, it’s a friggin’ Wii. Are consoles like the PS3 and Xbox360 trying to move toward a more “hardcore” experience, where players are more isolated and involved with their games? Is that what the target audiences of the PS3/Xbox really want?

Maybe it’s a technical thing, perhaps it’s just too difficult for the framerate on a screen to split it, or divide it into quadrants. Maybe if the game will just get too small to see or play effectively with four people, or even two people. If this is the case, and technology is evolving to push these machines to their absolute maximum so that it’s impossible to split up the screen, then I rescind my above commentary.

Developers claim that you cannot ensure a truly immersive gameplay experience when co-op was involved. This was the basis for Infinity Ward’s decision to remove a splitscreen co-op option and include a bunch of “special ops” missions that allowed co-op. This is really the tradeoff for cooperative play on the same screen. The players lose out on aspects of narrative and immersion in order to enhance their experience of playing with someone else. The game becomes (and I’m really generalizing here for a lot of people) more of how my friend and I will beat it than how we are participants in the story.

If designers are really worried about wanting to craft a careful experience for a single player, why not just include an unlockable co-op on the completion of the campaign? This in itself doesn’t make me too happy, but at least I could understand it.

I’m just starting to really get worried when game after game starts hacking away all the possible players that could play on the same screen. I’d love to have a co-op option in every FPS game out there, and a lot of others (but that’s another story). If that can’t be done, why can’t four of my friends play multiplayer against each other on the same screen? It’s no co-op, but it’s something.

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