Friends You Will Never Know: Anonymous Cooperation In Games - Birds are dumb Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Friends You Will Never Know: Anonymous Cooperation In Games

Modern games have been putting a heavier emphasis on the multiplayer aspect of gaming for awhile now. You will often hear how the once dominant single-player campaigns in games are suffering from developers devoting time and interest in separate multiplayer sections. There are certainly plenty of games that feel like the idea of players joining together was tacked on, but the ever increasing trend of joining people together in video games has a lot of creative potential.

Cooperative gaming has experimented with what it means to interact with other players far more than any competitive multiplayer has. Though a good ol' fashioned fragfrest definitely has its charm, getting a group of people together with a common motivation and objective has delivered far more unique gaming experiences.

I recently played through Journey, a PS3 game, for the first. Like thatgamecompany's previous title, Flower, Journey relies on a mixture of stirring music, stunning visuals, and simple to control and understand mechanics to evoke very particular emotional responses (if most games are trying to get you to play a story, Journey seems more like it's trying to get you to play a poem).

One of the most fascinating aspects of the game is how it incorporates cooperative gameplay. While you're traversing vast sand dunes in Journey, another player can randomly show up into your game-world (assuming you're connected to the internet of course). Players enter your game very subtly. There's no warning or loading screen. The other player's character doesn't just blink onto your screen either. Instead, one moment you'll pan your camera to an area you weren't looking at before, and a another faceless sand-carpet guy will be there.

Your new ally isn't given any kind of identity. You both look exactly alike, and the only means of a communicating are these tiny chirp sounds that can also be used to recharge a jumping ability for one another. Despite the lack of identity, it's incredible to see how much personality can be exhibited. Players drop in and out of your games quite frequently, and it is interesting to see how people have the smallest differences in the way they control their characters.

Of the six players who joined my game during my first play-through (upon each completion of Journey, you receive a list of the players who accompanied you), each one seemed like a complete individual simply by the way they played. Some would follow behind closely while others would drift past me. Some mashed the circle button repeatedly, making chirp sounds in rapid succession while others only occasionally held down circle to make a huge chirp sound. They were minor details of interactions between two identical looking avatars, but it was fascinating to see how each player created a different experience using the exact same tools.

The anonymity and lack of vocal communication is what stresses you to focus on those details. You're working with another person without the ability to talk, so you'll use any tool to make any point. In a way, you're forced to create your own kind of language to communicate, making for a very engaging cooperative experience.

Last year, Dark Souls (as did its predecessor Demon Souls) had a similar take on cooperative online gaming. There was a little less randomness and anonymity when it came to Dark Souls' cooperative play, but a lack of formal communication was an important part to the experience. Your character was able to make gestures, but they were quite limited in terms of communicating strategy. Like Journey, a lot of the personality of your allies came by way of how they controlled their characters. Some might help you with a boss or hallway of enemies. Others might just kill you for the fun of it. You understood who your companions were by their actions rather than their words.

One of the few times you'll feel like you've got an edge in Dark Souls is with a cooperative partner

What makes these cooperative experiences so unique is how they meld into your single-player game. There's no alternate menu or explicit game-mode to indicate a departure from your personalized game-world. The seamless transition blurs the line between traditional single-player and multiplayer experiences.

It makes me wonder if any other kinds of games could benefit from an instant and anonymous mesh of cooperative and single-player gameplay. Imagine just about any shooter campaign having a clumsy, A.I. controlled ally seamlessly turning control over to a far less clumsy human player. The possibilities seem quite vast in the open-world style of games. Random friendly players joining your quest or even taking a page out of the Dark Souls handbook by creating competition, trying their best to put an end to your quest.

When you break it down, the concept isn't too wild. Cooperative gaming has been presented in all kinds of interesting ways. However, it's the seamless transition that I admire most. Taking my single-player experience and colliding it with another player's single-player experience. That's what I would like to see more of. 

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