So I was thinking about games in the past, recently, and I began thinking about how the introduction of multiplayer games has affected the development of current and next-gen games.
You see, we now have a situation where faster internet connections have made it possible to feasibly play online multiplayer games and even download full retail titles from the comfort of your own home.
Last time, all games were singleplayer only and they had to be developed in a certain way, in order to be successful. Think back to the original Mario games. Or even further back to Pacman and Space Invaders. You’ll probably notice a few common things.
Firstly, the graphics were very simple. You wouldn’t find things like anisotropic filtering, high dynamic range lighting or even, 3D models. Heck, there’s was no such thing as anti-aliasing.
Graphics were not the main focus of the game. They just needed to suit the theme of the game and be accurate representations of their functions.
Gameplay was as much about reflexes as it was about level knowledge and tactics. Some games had strong story, some didn’t.
But as the years went by, story telling became as much a core element of the game as the actual gameplay. Enter games such as The Legend of Zelda and you’ll quickly see story become a very strong element. The same can be said about Final Fantasy or Deus Ex.
In fact, games became about creating entire worlds around a story. Look at The Elder Scrolls, for example. There’s a game created with a whole world crafted specifically for the story telling aspect of the game, as well as to provide enough content to completely immerse the player into the lore.
Fast forward to today. We see games that were created for multiplayer only. Singleplayer then became an afterthought. Maybe even a tutorial at the most. But, never to be taken seriously.
One example that comes to mind is the Battlefield series. It started out life without any singleplayer story mode to begin with. All you would have are the same multiplayer maps with AI opponents dropped in. This started with Battlefield 1942 and carried on until Bad Company introduced an actual story.
Does that mean singleplayer is back on the rise? Maybe. But I don’t think Battlefield may be the best example. After all, it’s core game is still the multiplayer aspect. The singleplayer, despite what devs say about it, is really nothing more than a few hours of distraction compared to the online multiplayer.
But, with the recent and well-received singleplayer titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, The Walking Dead and The Wolf among us, there’s significant evidence to suggest that singleplayer only games can still see success in today’s world of Call of Duty and DOTA.
The key trend in the successful games in this market, however, is down to the powerful and compelling storytelling, sometimes at the expense of gameplay. Games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls play more like interactive movies and don’t feature much in the way of actual gameplay.
However, is this all actually a good thing? Sure, a good story in a game is a fantastic thing. But, the underlying fact is that it is still a game and I’m not sure that I want to see singleplayer games become a series of interactive storybooks. A good game is one that serves its purpose on its own merits. That applies to both multiplayer and singleplayer games. If a game needs certain conditions to played in in order to achieve its objectives, its not a good game. Let’s hope the developers in the future know what to make of this.