Monday, December 1, 2008

Always Connected: Cooperative Play

Always Connected is a series of posts I plan on doing about Online gameplay. From particular subjects related to playing games online, to personal experiences I have had and any other feelings I may have about the subject, they will be discussed within this series. Part one begins with a focus on cooperative play and how it's changing the gaming experiences of the industry as a whole.

Most games these days feature the option to play through their respective stories or campaigns cooperatively or if not that, then a separate campaign created specifically with Co-Op gameplay in mind. The fact that consoles can now connect to the Internet has played a big part in that. Multiplayer gaming of any kind is no longer relegated to sharing an experience on the couch or via a LAN in the same room and while a lot of us may miss these shared, in-person experiences, the fact that we can now play with friends in different states or even overseas is definitely a good thing for the industry as a whole.

The last couple of years has seen games with Co-Op experiences increase tenfold, with games like Gears of War, Halo 3 and more recently Left 4 Dead providing polished, enjoyable gaming experiences that are arguably more fun to play cooperatively than they are as a solo experience. These sorts of games have, in some ways, changed the perception of how games are played. Games are no longer played by the typical stereotype of a gamer in their bedroom or in the basement, alone with no communication or interaction with the outer world as they play their games. The ability to share the story of a game as an experience, or even just a particular gameplay mechanic has been welcomed with open arms by gamers and allows people to actually participate in some potentially awesome moments in these games instead of hearing about it at school or work the next day.

Of course, the ability to play these games online means that it is not just friends who you can potentially play with. There are thousands, if not millions of gamers out there who you could end up cooperatively playing with and this in turn can lead into some bad experiences. Not knowing these gamers could mean that the differing play styles that you have might clash and hinder your experience rather than help it, or that these people could choose to not help at all knowing full well that they can get away with it due to their anonymity. It could also go the other way though and you could end up working together really well while you tackle the game's obstacles and challenges. Who knows, you may even make a friend or three. Arguably, choosing to play a game cooperatively online means that you are taking a risk and that the experience can go either way. You wouldn't have made the choice though if you were not willing to take a risk and as such, one can only hope that the risk was worth it and that the participating gamers can all have a good time. Sometimes, what would be regarded as a bad experience could end up being a good one in an indirect way such as this Left 4 Dead example.

People who have been gaming for many years will always have a soft spot for playing games with their friends on the couch and would also argue that it is a better multiplayer experience than any online cooperative experience could ever be. Perhaps that is true but the general direction recent games have been taking us in by providing the opportunity to share a game's experience over the Internet is definitely a good thing for the industry and something I hope continues to be pursued in the future.

Note: I apologise for the lack of posts last week. I was sick and just couldn't focus my thoughts enough to read anything in-depth, let alone try to write anything in-depth. Thankfully I seem to be over it now and as such, posting now resumes.


Jorge Albor said...

As is obvious with some of my own posts, I love coop and I am really excited games are now created with coop specifically in mind. Though I lament a lack of story, coop games have the unique ability to make the story personal when it comes to shared experiences with friends. Left 4 Dead is such a raging success because it does exactly that. After only two hours of playing with friends, we each had personalized renditions of the hardships we both adored. It was amazing. (And if either of you play L4D on PC let me know your Steam ids)

Steven O'Dell said...

It really does extend and build upon the whole 'water cooler' moment doesn't it? As both a gamer and a viewer, if you will, to the industry, it amazes me how something like online co-op can potentially make a game more enjoyable than ever before and as I said in the article, that's just fantastic for the industry.

With regards to Left 4 Dead specifically, I unfortunately haven't had the pleasure of playing it and only know about the game through reading about everyone else's time with it. I am definitely keen on buying it in the future though. It might not be recognised for it but it does seem like an important game, similar to how Portal was last year.