Thursday, July 15, 2010

LittleBigRevelation - Bringing a Solo Gamer Back to the Fold..

Also on Chocolate Lemon!

I'm not a multiplayer kind of guy.

No--scratch that. For as long as I could remember, I've always enjoyed playing games with others. Fighting games, shooters, adventure games, if a game had some sort of multiplayer, I was game. This went on until around 2004, when I'd gotten Xbox Live for the first time. After years of Halo, and Need for Speed local sessions, food and insults being passed around, it was all slowly coming to a close due to the advent of online gaming. Why play Burnout with half the framerate? Why play Halo on my (then) cramped screen when I could have one all to myself? It answered itself.

But with this revelation, with this newfound convenience, came it's own form of double edged sword. My friends and I started hanging out less, and more online. My beloved Halo--the first FPS I'd taken seriously enough to learn its nuances and play at a competitive level-- had a sequel with a insufferable campaign, and was seemingly focused only on its (newly broken) multiplayer. I started seeing great games being neglected for lack of multiplayer (Oddworld:Stranger's Wrath), or being played solely because of it, despite strong campaigns. I've even seen a game lose its integrity in favor of a strong multiplayer component (Conker: Live and Reloaded). It was a problem. It seems, for every great experience I had playing Doom 3's fun co-op, or even Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory in counter-ops, I had a bunch of other reasons disenfranchising me from the whole endeavor. Annoying online brats, braindead allies, shoddy mechanics, apathy towards individuality, and lag were at the top of a very long list of reasons to just let it all go.

Flash forward a year or so, and it stuck.

I don't buy games for multiplayer anymore. In fact, it's the very last thing I'll buy a game for, and my years since have been spent indulging in the campaigns of various games, playing them to completion at my pace, on my terms. I've also very much enjoyed my solitude, sparingly indulging in strong co-op centric expriences like Crackdown, or Gears of War, but largely maintaining my stance. After all, games that had multiplayer seemingly tacked on despite quality elsewhere (The Darkness), games still with insufferable campaigns but robust multiplayer (Halo 3), and games still losing integrity in favor of strong multiplayer components (Resident Evil 5) continued to exist. Sure, I still played the odd racing or fighting game here and there, but my days were still long since past. I can't even stand the thought of multiplayer, and attempts to the contrary with games like Modern Warfare 2 still just cement the notion in my head.

You know, that insufferable notion of buying a game against one's judgement solely for it's online modes, playing them for a while, and never even finishing the campaign due to latent disinterest? I've been there.

But something still nagged at me, because, it isn't as if I didn't enjoy playing with people. I just think I was simply tired of the compromise that online gaming had saddled me with. If a game had a strong single player component, the multiplayer usually suffered. If it was strong in multiplayer, it's easy to see in single where the compromises were made. Even mediocrity was being settled for if the multiplayer was functional (Aliens vs. Predator). The stigma more than anything else got to me, got under my skin, and left me with an extreme distaste where there should've been joy at being able to enjoy rounds with my friends and company. I had no problem with multiplayer as a whole, but when it started to compromise the way games were being made and appreciated on a fundamental level, I took offense. Even so, while I was still up for even a good co-op experience at the very least, my heart wasn't fully in it. Even the most recent Transformers: War For Cybertron, with its co-op component front and center, is something I'll admit to be great fun, but it's something I won't rush to invite friends to right away.

Then, a bit of change..

I bought my girlfriend LittleBigPlanet a while back, and even though I'd personally had the game for well over a year, I'd never finished it because it was simply one of those games I'd bought to play with friends, and eventually dropped out of unintentionally because other experiences simply took precedence. Getting it for her however, made me pick it up for a bit, and while I never denied the game's strong design all around, playing it filled me with a different kind of feeling than before.

I invited her, a friend of mine, and we were off. It was a great, fun night, one we running around, solving puzzles, pushing each other into pits and amicably competing for points. That night, I went to bed that night with a few pictures, memories in hand, and an odd feeling that I initially ignored. The next night fared better, I jumped back on and played with her for a few hours, logging more adventures in my head, and after we parted ways, I jumped onto my 360 and played Blur. While it was strange and odd to me at first, I was suddenly bombarded with great thoughts that helped clarify. I was actually looking forward to more nights of LittleBigPlanet, more nights, more games where I could gather a few friends and have a good time. I also started to reminisce.

I remembered running around Pacific City with my best friend in Crackdown, watching them toss gang members with ease, and fondly remembered leaping across rooftops. As weak as I considered Resident Evil 5 to be, I couldn't have named it "Chris and Sheva's Racist African Handcannon Tour 2009" without the help of friends. How did I ever forget Castle Crashers, and its old-school, 4-player mayhem? Did I forget the hysterical fun that rhythm games like Rock Band have brought me? Blur and it's impossibly stable 4-player mode?! Had I taken them for granted? There was a certain tangible, lively energy that went along with this kind of gaming that I'd long since forgotten during my tenure of solitude, and I felt almost as if I'd unfairly snowballed my bad experiences into the whole of the genre. There were worthwhile co-op experiences. I'd just been too cynical to notice or appreaciate them fully since I'd been so put off to playing with others for so long.

(My lady's LBP pod, adorned with pictures of our adventures does much to help this sentiment as well..)

While it seems like a very abrupt shift, and I can't completely undo years of anger and bias against the entire endeavor (though, I did forget to mention, I do respect those who have the stomach for it), I certainly do think very differently now, and look forward to sharing experiences with my friends moving forward. While competitive multiplayer likely won't be something I'll seriously devote myself to moving forward, I definitely still have a soft spot for the co-op experiences. To think I'd almost forgotten the memories, stories, and even the run home enthusiasm that comes with social gaming!

It is, after all, a large part of what helped this industry grow. Shame on me. :)

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