The Circle of Life??

I’ve been feeling a bit glum about the state of gaming for the past few months, and I just need to get this out in the open on the off chance someone out there feels the same way I do. Just to be really clear, this post isn’t about Massively Multiplayer Games, for reasons which should quickly become apparent.

When I was, oh, 13 or so, I got really hooked on wargames, mostly those produced by SPI. I couldn’t wait for every new issue of Strategy & Tactics to come so I could see what new game was bound inside. There was just one problem: I had no one to play against. I grew up in a rural area and my friends were more interesting in going hunting or fishing than in playing any game that had more than a page of rules. I could coerce them into a game of Monopoly on a rainy day, but that was as complex as they were willing to go.

So I made up all kinds of systems for playing wargames solo. When D&D launched, I started rolling up characters for it, drawing maps, creating dungeons…none of which were ever played. I aced my senior high school English class when I wrote a paper called “On Creating a Consistent Universe” which was based mostly on my D&D campaign creating. (This was before you could just buy a campaign.) But D&D was way WAY too ‘out there’ for my friends to grok. It was something I hid from them, in fact.

I wasn’t alone in this predicament, and as I hit my late teens S&T started running articles and questionnaires about the possibility of somehow using personal computers to act as the AI. I was fascinated by the possibility, but it took a few more years beyond then before Atari brought out the Atari 400 and I scrounged up enough extra $$ to buy one. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the quarter-century or so since then, I’ve played a *lot* of computer (and later video) games. I took (and take) great joy in the fact that I could sit down anytime and fire up a game. No longer was it all about waiting for a rainy day to find someone so bored that they’d actually play a board game. I could finally experience D&D, after a fashion, when SSI grabbed the license and started producing the “Gold Box Games.”

But lately, things are changing. More and more, games are moving away from being single player activities. Shooters come out with shallow single player campaigns and rich multi-player components. Resident Evil is designed to be played Co-op, Left4Dead is designed to be played with a party of 4. I loved the first Lost Planet, but the next one is going to emphasize co-op mode.

I was looking forward to deeper, smarter AI, but instead, AI is getting pushed aside in favor of multiplayer (both vs and co-op). It feels like single player gaming is a dying activity.

And that’s damned depressing. I still don’t have friends who’re interested in gaming, really. Not because they’re hunting and fishing now. It’s more because they’re just too damned old to be bothering with games. They’ve got kids to put to bed and American Idol to watch, dammit! And frankly, I don’t *want* to play with other people. I’m old and curmudgeonly and hate like hell to be held to someone else’s schedule or pacing. I’m a crotchety old man, dammit. You kids get offa my yard!

But I feel like I’m pushing counters around again, only this time there’s no way to fudge things. Resistance: Fall of Man was an excellent shooter. Resistance 2 is an ok shooter with great multiplayer. Killzone 2 has an ok single player and terrific multiplayer. RE 5 I mentioned. And of course there’s all kinds of interesting MMO worlds being created.

The one saving grace I have is that I probably have enough single player games stockpiled to last me the rest of my gaming life, literally (I figure at best I have 15-20 years before something deteriorates far enough that I can’t game). But those stockpiled games aren’t all good, and a lot of them are already showing their age. By 2019 they’re going to be ancient, as will be the hardware that can run them!

I sure wish there were more people like me left. People who like just ‘curling up with a good game’ without it having to become a big social outing full of trash talking and pauses for another round of beers. I want to get lost in the games I play, become part of the world I’m playing in, and that’s hard to do when there’s the garbled static of someone yammering in your ear. But the developers aren’t interested in my demographic. They’re interested in the endless hordes of youngsters who’re only interested in gaming together.

Rest in Peace, Single-Player Gaming!

9 thoughts on “The Circle of Life??

  1. This is why I cant wait for Dragon Age: Origins and Diablo 3 to come out. If I cant pen and paper RP due to friends being far away, these games are the next closest thing to escape MMO’s

  2. I think a big part of the trend away from pure single player gaming goodness is due to the difficulty of building an AI — not really happy with that term, computer player perhaps — that plays like a real human. It’s a hard problem. So game developers opt for the easy way out. Replace computer players with human players.

    To a lesser extent, the developer perception of the piracy issue comes into the picture. Multiplayer options mean that players are forced to use developer/publisher online matchmaking services — I hear that Blizzard may not implement a LAN play option for Starcraft 2, it’ll be through their matchmaking service only — thus reducing the impact of piracy. If you want to play their game, you’ll have to be a registered player.

    It is a pity that it’s trending this way, but never fear, the games not over yet.

  3. There will always be room for single player games. There will always be demand for them. I, for one, will always be demanding them, and designing them. I talk a lot about MMO design on my blog and around comment threads, but I’m not even completely sure why that’s on my mind, as I’ve always been a solo player, even in these silly MMOs. Give me a great solo experience, and don’t skimp to make it multiplayer, and I’m a happy camper.

    I do enjoy the occasional group in an MMO, or a night of Smash Brothers with a friend and my brother, but the games I spend the most time with (and am most likely to spend money on) are the great single player games.

    Two of the game designs I’ve got on my back burner are solo games, by design. One can only ever be solo, and the other has optional multiplayer (it’s a Tactics game, not unlike Advance Wars). These are where my biggest game design interest lie. Since they are half-baked, and ideally commercial someday, though, I write about other things.

    In other words, I agree, and fear not, single player gaming will not die. We’re just… quieter than those blasted kids out on the lawn.

  4. Pete.. I have a similar history. From middle school to high school (80’s). I had a close group who we played RPGs (D&D) and some board games.
    After leaving all that I also found I wanted the RPG experience and was immediately drawn to PC games On Commodore 64 at first (good old MicroProse games).

    I still think for RPG single payer tops MMOs so they should still be around. And I think Fallout 3 proves that point. Turn Fallout 3 into an MMO and I know it will not be the same experience. I also wish TF2 and LFD had bots to platy against (I so get LFD if it did).

  5. I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to know I’m not the only one who still enjoys a single player game. Fallout 3 *is* a great example, and now that I think of it, so is Fable 2.

    I too am looking forward to Dragon Age: Origins. In fact, I’m reading the prequel novel and it isn’t half bad.

  6. I posted recently about games you return to because of the character(s) because I feel that & the storyline are the things that make me want to play a single-player game over a multiplayer/MMO. I have to agree that these elements are being overlooked in normally traditional single player titles, just so the devs can attatch an average multiplayer experience to the overall package.

  7. The point I get is that AI in games has really not progressed anywhere near the rate that graphics and sound and presentation have.

  8. Oh.. Dragon Age is in my sights also. As for AI. I don’t want it to smart. I work all day and don’t want to over extend my feeble mind to be a god like warrior in a game. I like a stupid AI as it makes me look good.

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