Thinking back on the video games I’ve played, I realize that “hate” is a pretty rare and strong word in my gaming vocabulary. I’ve played bad games, uninteresting games, and great games that just didn’t appeal to me. But to say I actually hate a game, well…that’s really saying something. This brings me to The Adventures of Cookie & Cream (2001). “Hate” does not even begin to describe the feeling that makes my blood boil as I reconsider this wretched, horrible game that nearly destroyed the greatest relationship ever in the history of all humankind! That of me and my husband. [Okay, okay…insert *sad trombone.*]
The Adventures of Cookie & Cream was released in 2001 on the Playstation 2 to very favorable reviews that described it as innovative, enjoyable, and a fun if challenging party game. It had 3D and 2D elements, unusual for a game of this era, adorable pink and orange bunnies as the main characters, and a fairly stylish setup with split screen, co-op play.
Why is it so difficult for a multiplayer game to hold the attention of the gaming populace? Many of us who’ve been gaming for a few years can list plenty of single-player games that left an impact one way or another, but despite the apparent popularity of multiplayer games (shooters in particular) not many ever seem to make that same list. It can’t be that mulitplayer games aren’t as fun as their single-player counterparts, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing the ever-growing push towards multiplayer and social components in games that’s been taking place over the last several years. No, the reason must lie in one of the fundamental differences between single and multiplayer games; that difference being one of goals. One wants to provide a memorable experience, while the other wants to provide a lasting experience. They sound similar, but it’s a trick; they couldn’t any more different.
Single-player game has a singular goal: to provide you with an experience that you’ll remember. They’re journeys we undertake that are filled with story reveals, memorable characters, or gameplay that captivates the mind, keeping hold even long-after we’ve stopped playing. They’re finite and intentionally so. They don’t care that you’ll stop playing after reaching the end, that’s one of the goals of the design: to end and give the journey that much more impact. We’re always left wanting more, which keeps us enthusiastic about them even years later.
Multiplayer games on the other hand want to keep us playing. It’s not difficult for a well-made multiplayer game to keep its players engaged, just look at Call of Duty . And while we may wind up logging more time into these types of games than any single-player offering, the nature of their construction often inhibits their ability to leave a lasting impression. Really it comes down to the fact that each match is short and self-contained. It’s a great structure for getting players into the action and providing opportunity for improvement and intensity inspired by victories and defeats, but not so much for leaving a lasting impression. Breaking the experience down into self-contained matches makes it difficult to take the experience as whole, reducing it all down to unrelated flash-in-the-pan moments which in turn get watered-down from sheer volume. We’ve all pulled-off a great many things we thought were incredible in multiplayer, we’ve all also had absolutely horrendous and rage-inducing matches that at the time we were certain would live forever in infamy. After so many games and matches though, all that gets left is the impressions of each, nothing more. It’s all a symptom of the multiplayer design. It achieves its goal of keeping players playing, but at the cost of losing any sort of specific impact.
It’s likely that this won’t always be the case though. Now that we’re seeing cooperative play gaining popularity and stories being woven into otherwise detached multiplayer, perhaps multiplayer games will eventually leave the same sort of impact that only single-player experiences can provide. (A man can dream right?)
Have you seen this contrast between single and multiplayer experiences over the course of your own tenure as a gamer? Is there anything you would change about multiplayer games to make them more memorable?
If you follow me here on UWG, you may have caught an article I wrote last year in which I outlined how my husband and I, though gamers we be, don’t generally play games together. We both like different kinds of games, we have different play styles, sometimes we get a little too competitive, and so on. Well, at the time, I felt pretty certain that we were both going to happily continue leading our together-but-separate gaming lives, and all would be alright with the world.
Well, here we are not quite a year later and I’m here to tell you that over the holiday, we took a chance on playing not just one but TWO games in co-op modes, and we both survived to tell the tale. (And everything is still alright with the world.) Never in a million years did I think we’d ever find common gaming ground again, but we did, and it had everything to do with LEGOs. Yep, those little plastic bricks in the virtual forms of Harry Potter (LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4) and the superheroes (LEGO Marvel Super Heroes).
My fondest memories of cheat codes and unlockable content are firmly rooted in the Playstation One era. Video games had finally made the transition to disc-based media, and this upgrade provided developers with even more room to flex their creative muscles. Fighting games featured hordes of hidden characters and modes. Role-playing games became multi-disc epics; chock full of art galleries and enemy encyclopedias. A traditional platformer could provide players with hours of additional gameplay well after the main quest was completed. These were the glory days of the video game secret, where the hype machine of the gaming industry lacked the resources to spoil mysteries for the sake of publicity. Every disc seemed to have unlimited potential. There could even be a game hidden within a game.
As one of the two titles that were purchased with our PS1, Parappa the Rapper was a big deal for my brother and me. We loved its off-beat and colorful art style, along with the innovative gameplay it provided. At that time, the concept of rhythm games was still in its infancy and Parappa’s six little levels left us hungry for more. When the sequel hit store shelves, we bought it immediately, ready to rock our way through another goofy music game.
Um Jammer Lammy was a complete upgrade to Parappa the Rapper. The game featured smoother animation, more levels, and an unlockable two-player mode. For every level that was completed in the single-player campaign, that stage would be added to versus mode and a co-op campaign. My brother and I could shred through the story mode together, or face off in epic guitar-solo duels. Eager to unlock every stage for the multiplayer modes, we barreled through the single-player campaign. Upon completing the final concert, a familiar face stepped out of the adoring crowd: Parappa the Rapper!
At first, we thought the presence of our favorite rapping canine was merely a cameo, a polite nod to fans of the first game. To our delighted surprise, Parappa Mode was unlocked for play. The single-player campaign was made fresh with rap versions of every stage. Not just simple remixing, but a full re-purposing of every stage and its music to suit Parappa. New multiplayer modes were unlocked as well, featuring co-op and versus stages between the protagonists of each game. Finally, my brother and I could settle our age-old feud between rap and rock music in the arena of video games.
The existence of these extra modes came as a total shock to my brother and me. There were no hints, previews, or shameless advertising that let slip the presence of Parappa in Um Jammer Lammy. It was like an entire sequel was hidden within the game, just waiting to be unlocked and sweeten an already spectacular experience. These days, that sort of content would be leaked months before the shipping date as a means to create media buzz and overzealous promotion. A worthwhile extra like Parappa Mode would be packaged as marked-up DLC, or worse yet, as a ludicrously priced expansion pack. So instead of longing for a sequel for these beloved characters, I take comfort in my memories of a simpler time; when a video game could still hide a secret on its disc.
October 1998: Dial Up Wide Area Network Games Operation (DWANGO) shuts down. In the days before the Internet (yes, there were days before the Internet), how in the heck did people play games together across the expanse of this great nation? Well, if you enjoyed DOOM in New York, you might have connected to your DOOM-playing friends a few states over via DWANGO. Originally called the DOOM Wide-Area Network Games Operation, this fee-based system initially had players dial into servers based in Houston, Texas, in order to access DOOM‘s multiplayer features. DWANGO proved popular enough that its creators eventually set up almost two dozen servers across the county.
Good thing this community post came along because I was running out of ideas. Okay, so our first community post is about co-op. I thought I knew what this was, but just to be sure, I checked it out on Wikipedia (I am not big into multiplayer and thus am not overly familiar with all the terms). It appears my understanding was correct. Yay. Okay, co-op. Cooperative play. Unlike other forms of multiplayer, this does not involve trying to blow your friend’s brains out, but rather, working together. As fun as incinerating your friends sounds, co-op has its own appeal. Sometimes it can be quite fun to actually work together with other people to reach a common goal, instead of trying to prevent someone from achieving victory. (It’s also not fun when you’re like me, and your friends repeatedly wipe the floor with you.) Co-op can be quite fun indeed (and it’s the only way I can beat “Super Mario World”), and there is actually something I just realized not long ago about it. Co-op, in some cases, actually has the ability to make bad games good.
Take a SNES game you have likely never heard of called “Joe and Mac”. This game involves controlling this caveman or cavemen through a bunch of levels, killing dinosaurs and Neanderthals. The game can be pretty darn annoying, and it doesn’t help that there are no save points. Plus, some of the sound effects and creature designs were just plain creepy. (And I could just never get over the fact that Joe and/or Mac regain health from the meat left over by the Neanderthals. Isn’t that cannibalism?) Despite disliking the game, I’ve kept it because it is a good challenge. Nevertheless, I still really very much don’t like it at all. Continue reading Community Post: Co-Op Makes It All Better→
My husband and I have bonded over lots of things during our years together. And early on, we found common ground in video games in that we each liked playing them. We’re both continually interested in games, new and old, and we do our best to stay in the news loop concerning games. But what we don’t really do is play games together. We do lots of things well together, but video games are not one of them. So when I tell other gamers that yes, we play video games but, but no, we don’t play them together, they seem to get very confused and something like the following conversation ensues: