Sharing is Caring

Think of your most important multi-player game experience over the years.  How you define “important” is up to you.  It could be most exciting, most enjoyable, most intimate, most eye-opening, or most something else positive that I haven’t mentioned.  Who was there?  How many people were there?  Which game were you playing?  How long ago was it?  But, most importantly for this discussion, how many controllers were there?

I recently began playing through Red Dead Redemption again.  It wasn’t long before my roommate plopped down on the couch next to me and asked me what I was playing.  He had heard of RDR but had never seen it being played before, so he sat and watched me play for a few hours.  We both laughed at the comical characters and exclaimed at the stressful parts.  We experienced the game together although he was only spectating.  Sure, he wasn’t physically pressing buttons to make the player move, but he was helping me make decisions.  And, most of the time, I’d do what he asked me to.  Could we consider this a form of cooperative multiplayer?

After all, there are a lot of people who post playthroughs of games online, and they receive many views.  The player enjoys sharing their experience with others, and the viewers enjoy piggy-backing on the player’s experience.  Since games are an incomplete art form without the player, the viewers can experience the art being completed without needing to play it themselves.

Frog suit was da bomb!

See, a long time ago in a galaxy that is exactly this one, co-op gaming didn’t exist.  Well, at least it didn’t exist the way it does today.  Super Mario 3 was the first game I can remember playing with someone.  It’s a take-turns version of co-op, but I think it still technically qualifies as co-op since each player is working toward achieving the same goal of unlocking the path to the castle.  (I understand Super Mario 3 also had scores which represented a competitive component as well.)  The more modern understanding of co-op is two (or more) people playing simultaneously in order to achieve the same goal.  It wasn’t until recently (for me, the Halo: Combat Evolved) that this simultaneous version of co-op had made its appearance.

I can remember going over my friend’s house, putting in Silent Hill 2 (along with many other games), and playing it together by passing the controller back and forth.  This rarely happens anymore thanks to modern co-op, but it’s something I miss.  The two of us shared the exact same victories, the exact same curiosity, the exact same surprises, the exact same fears, and we completed the game together.

Did anyone see which way it went?

At certain moments in Silent Hill 2, a new monster would appear and scare the @!#$ out of us.  Some giant, demon, baby face with tyrannosaurus legs would peek at us from around the corner and start charging.  This nearly always prompted whomever was playing to pause the game and throw the controller at the person on deck.  Sometimes “I’m not playing this part.  It’s too scary.” was a comment made.  (I could get into a whole new talk about how cool that quote is.)  In other games it was “I can’t beat this part”.

But, no matter what the reason for sharing a controller like that was, I feel like it was usually a more intimate experience than playing a co-op game with two controllers.  When playing simultaneously, it always feels like the other person has too much of their own thing going on to be able to experience the same exact emotions I am.  Maybe it’s just me, but when I play Gears of War (I haven’t played 3 yet… yet!) co-op with someone, even a friend of mine, it’s difficult for me to keep up with everything they’re doing.  I’m constantly preoccupied with keeping myself alive and gunning down enemies.  The most interaction I normally have with my friend is if I get lost and forget which direction I’m going, or if there is a split path which requires one person to help the other out.  (The first game did a much better job at the split paths than the second, imho.)

Gears of War is a series designed specifically to accommodate modern co-op well.  The characters talk back and forth to one another creating the illusion that the characters are paying attention to one another.  (The game/characters will always do a better job at that than humans will.)  When an ally goes “down”, you or one of the NPCs will need to rush over to your “downed” teammate and help them up.  This promotes teamwork, but why doesn’t the combat?  I still feel like I’m playing my own game next to someone else who is playing their own game.

The squad based combat ruins the very thing that modern co-op gaming was created for.  NPCs are programmed to take the exact same role your friend would if they were playing in game.  Because of this, it’s hard to tell how your friend is contributing since it doesn’t look or feel any different than when you were playing alone.

It’s not very rewarding to play co-op when your experience is exactly the same as playing solo.  Proof of this to me is when I was playing on xbl with a friend and he said “Alright, I’m back” out of the blue.  I had no idea he had even left.  Tell me thats never happened to you.

Crapped myself when this came out. True story.

Even Halo: Combat Evolved allowed for some turn-based gameplay.  Come on.  We’ve all done the “I’m gonna stay back here while you go and clear the room out so when you die you’ll just come back to me.”  thing.  It was a cheat, but admit it, some part of you enjoyed sitting and watching your friend play.  Unlike GoW, H:CE was more of an experiment in modern co-op than a “polishing” of it.

You had your own thing to do in H:CE, but I feel like it was easier to interact with one another.  I think a lot of this had to do with the well executed pacing of the game.  You weren’t constantly bombarded with enemy wave one after another, but were instead met with exploration in between waves.  The  balance of combat and exploration is what makes the game enjoyable for longer.  Too much of one, and the excess becomes stale quickly.  But, I suppose that rule is true for playing solo as well.

In short, I’m torn.  I think that co-op gameplay could be just as rewarding as “pass the torch” gameplay, but there are very few good examples of this.  Am I missing something, or is the old school co-op just more rewarding?  Did adding a second controller for campaigns help us enjoy a game together more, or did it separate us?

15 Responses to “Sharing is Caring”
  1. James says:

    You need to come join Ryan and I on the weekend of Nov.15 when do out Halo: HD LAN party.

  2. i kinda agree co-op has made sharing a game impersonal to play halo did have the idea witch would of been good to stick with everybody would of took heed instead of be like well were going to do our own thing because we don’t want to come off like a were copying halo..( but then they all don’t have a problem with copying horde mode and adding vehicles to every game now a days.) i think the only game that ( well i’m lieing there a couple other but i won’t go into it now) is New Mario World . i had so much fun with my wife, her sister , and her husband playing this game kinda screaming at each other and routing the other one on when everybody else died but that person.

    • Ricky says:

      Cool! Glad to see that I’m not the only one who misses playing with just one controller. I thought I might’ve been for a second, haha.

  3. Miles says:

    A few games I remember passing the controller include Advance Wars (sooo many hours battling friends in the same room passing the DS around), Worms on the PC, any fighting game really (Street Fighter, MK, Smash Bros. – a little different than co-op but there were usually more people in the room than controllers so we passed em). There are many games that are just as much fun and “intimate” without passing the controllers being in the same room – Gauntlet, Zelda Four Swords, GoldenEye, Mario just to name a few. Online co-op makes the feeling quite different for sure.. however one of the recent online games where I felt that intimate feeling again was Left4Dead. Fighting zombies and trying to get through by helping my close friends while we were in the comfort of our own homes… It’s tough to say if one method of co-op is better than the other, but passing the controller definitely had a uniqueness to it.

    • Ricky says:

      Good call with Left4Dead. I agree, that promotes teamwork very well. Do you think your experience would be different playing split screen with your friends as opposed to online? Better or worse?

  4. sam says:

    Toejam and Earl for the Genesis needs a shout-out here. It was one of the earliest co-op games I played, and is still one of my favorites. Humor, challenge, random level layouts, and a totally viable option to go out on your own and screw your friends made this game a ton of fun. Why more games don’t use the TJ&E system of dynamic splitscreen is something I’ll never understand. Also, games like 7th Guest or Myst were usually co-op for me as well. Two (or more) friends crowded around a CRT trying to solve mysteries. Thems was the good days.

    As for modern co-op, I really admire the way that Perfect Dark: Zero worked. There were a lot of times where you’d be playing together in the same area, but almost an equal number of instances where you’d need to split up and accomplish different tasks simultaneously. You had to play co-op if you wanted to get the full game experience, and it definitely felt different knowing that the AI who was supposed to help you along had been replaced by a real person.

    My favorite co-op experience in recent memory was Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I’m not a huge fan of Tomb Raider games, but this one really did it right. The powers of the two separate players must be used in tandem to surmount obstacles, and on top of that it was just a damn fun game with very solid level design. It was a bit short, but in that short time never once felt stale or repetitive. I didn’t give a damn about the story, but I was always anxious to break through to the next level and see what puzzle was around the corner. Oh, and you get to fight a T-Rex. I mean, come on – that’s awesome.

  5. Ryan says:

    Burnout was the last great memory of “Pass the Torch” gaming for me. Just trying to out-crash the previous person and all being in one room, in one sweaty cloud of man musk. THAT IS WHAT GAMING IS ALL ABOUT!

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