Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Drop The High Scores

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 19 Jun 2012 16:00
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The main benefit a game reaps from multiplayer is a theoretically endless variety of gameplay experiences, but asynchronous multiplayer allows for that benefit without the inherent problems, that is to say, dipshits. It's like exclusively interacting with people through a brick wall dividing your prison cells or with semaphore from opposite rooftops. There's no chance of physically griefing one another but the sheer novelty of finding any social interaction on this level makes things somehow automatically cordial. A good lesson for dealing with people generally, actually: if you want them to get along, keep them apart as much as possible.

The sole mandatory communication between players in Dragon's Dogma is what gift your pet NPC comes back with when they come back from a job, or 'trick' as I believe is the term, and whether they bring back a super potion or an interestingly-shaped rock it gives some impression of what the client thought of them. And I'm certain it wouldn't be as endearing if you actually conversed with any of these people.

Where Dragon's Dogma kind of misses its potential for me is that there isn't enough variety in the NPC whores. They're all one of essentially three classes, spouting essentially the same dialogue lines and chances are they'll all be wearing the same clothes and silly hats that they pretty much all wear at a certain level, the game could conceivably replace all the player-owned NPCs with randomly-generated ones and no-one would be the wiser. With a greater degree of creativity in terms of attitude, abilities and appearance, people could compete to create a truly memorable sidekick. Perhaps it would have been wiser to go in an even more Neopets-y direction and base the game around pimping monsters. You could customise all the colors and body parts, like in Spore, and perhaps buy and install interesting character traits, like a tendency to break wind during tense moments.

Triple-A games could take a lot of cues from the Facebook-style asynchronous gameplay, and it's relatively simple to add. Another example that comes to mind is Demon's Souls and the ability to leave messages for future players, but the missed potential there is that there's no incentive to write the things. Take the idea further and add a mutual benefit. If you're playing a shooting section in a game and you've got a bit of ammo to spare or some of those grenades you never use, drop a small cache where you stand. Randomly-selected other players will find those caches in the places you left them, and if they take them, you get an XP reward. Perhaps even a bigger one if the other player really needed it. Everybody's happy and gameplay is magically more emergent and replayable.

But you needn't just help each other, you could enhance each other's gameplay with challenges, too. Picture that supervillain sandbox game idea I've banged on about in the past. Maybe one of the things you have to do is set up a base. Pick from a variety of room layouts, and then buy doors and security measures to lay out in such a way that you yourself can still access the vital contents, but intruders have a harder time. Then, as a side mission, you're randomly given other players' bases to raid with your gang of goons. The other player doesn't lose anything from this, but they get some kind of bonus for each of the intruders' goons their security measures manage to block or disable.

It'd be like the custom levels in Infamous 2 except you're actually required to do it as part of the single player. It's easier to get people to create this kind of emergent gameplay for others if there's something in it for their game, too. People are still shit, you see. Nothing will change that. But just the evidence of their presence can add a new dimension, where their actual presence would just detract. It's the difference between getting a flirty wink from a classy dame on a passing bus and having to sit opposite her while she picks her nose.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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