Thursday, January 8, 2009

Player 2 has joined the game

So I spent the Christmas holiday playing video games. I mean the whole thing, one straight week of nonstop gaming.
I was back in my hometown with my friends of yore, we had two TVs and two Xboxs and were prepared to beat the following games or die trying: Gears of War 2 Co-Op Campaign, Gears of War 2 Horde Mode, All 4 Scenarios in Left 4 Dead, and Castle Crashers.

Needless to say we did it, we beat them all. But where did we get the energy to keep going? The resolve to believe it could be done? Let's call it 'Multiplayer Magic'

I've always found that a multiplayer game is better than a single player one, heck, the single player game can be complete shite and still the co-op is amazing, it's that sense of camraderie and the certain knowledge that someone else is having the same amount of fun as you, and they've got your back.

Of course there's always versus multiplayer, but sometimes that can be the most fun of all. Every night of that game-a-thon week, after the dust settled on whatever epic game we had been playing and it was time to shut the system off and catch some Z's we would look at each other and nod and one of us would say "call Nick"

Shortly after Nick would be downstairs, controller in hand at 2 in the morning and Bomberman HD would be on the screen with bombs and expletives flying everywhere until 6 or 7 in the morning. By the way, have you ever played multiplayer Pac-Man, where 3 players control ghosts with limited vision on gameboys? DO IT.

It comes down to complexity I think. All games have a certain level of complexity and you move through the games environment interacting with whatever complexities those may be. Once you figure it out it's all the same. Toss another living breathing thinking human into the mix and suddenly things become interesting.

It's like that quintessential movie scene where the hero and his sidekick are suddenly ambushed by enemies and separated, running in opposite directions from the explosions the hero looks back to see his sidekick overwhelmed by the bad guys before continuing his mission. He disarms the bomb and turns to leave only to find himself staring down the barrel of the enemy commanders gun. BANG! moments pass and the bad guy slumps down to reveal the sidekick, who made it after all, just saved you. That's co-op gaming.

So, why is multiplayer more fun? When you consider that just about every non-video game is a social activity and that people have been playing games for thousands of years then you start to realize that maybe the social aspect, the shared experience, is the heart of gaming and it's soul.

As technology and understanding of video games, which is a relatively new thing, advances we've begun to see more and more refined gaming but his isn't new. Looking to board games as an example, would you rather play 'Monopoly' or 'Settlers of Catan'? 'Sorry' or 'Munchkin'? 'Hungry, Hungry Hippos' or...well the Triple H stands alone. Yet, my point remains, video games are only going to get better and, therefore, so shall our enjoyment of them.

What about Artifical Intelligence you ask?. Besides being the subject of many an Aasimov tale, A.I. is what makes single player games work. But it's based on a series of controls and responses. Chess is a pretty basic game and so, at it's most basic level you can compare just about any other game to it 'The way pieces move' is the function of the game, you ultimately don't play against your opponents pieces, you play against the opponent. The gameplay is simply the other persons input, and everyone will generally play it differently. When you switch out another person for a chess A.I. things change dramatically, as the A.I. is only capable of working in terms of pre-programmed move sets, probabilities and basic reactions.

I wanted to talk about how MMO's and "four dudes on a couch" compare but I think I bounced around topics enough this week, so you'll get that on Tuesday maybe.

Until next time, remember that not all A.I. is evil.

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