Lonely Gamer

Gaming for those who hate other people.

Massively Singleplayer…

with 3 comments

This is just an idea and, though I think the term has been used elsewhere and before, it is pretty much the only description I can think of. Massively singleplayer games.

I’m not really a big fan of multiplayer games – they can be good, but I don’t see the point in boasting to people who I’ll never meet and who hide being l33th4XX0r names. If I’m multiplaying with friends, sure, but that rarely happens. What I do like though is talking about games and playing singleplayer games.

So, how about massive singleplayer games – an idea stemming from the RPS article about Pathologic – or, one specific bit at least. I’ll quote directly instead of bludgeoning the point with flimsy interpretation. Pathologic is a game with three seperate characters who you can play one at a time, but the key is that in any one game the PC will follow the quest path of the remaining two characters because you need to work with the other two characters in order to complete the game.

I played through the game at the same time as a friend. He chose the Bachelor, and I was the Haruspicus. Because we played at the same rate, we had the chance to discuss developments in the plot each day. This went wrong fast.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” he asked me after we’d both finished day three.

It took me a few seconds to figure out he was referring to the Haruspicus. In his game he’d been sent to investigate a body of one of the infected citizens that had been sliced open and left in the street, and his investigation ended up pointing to me as the perpetrator. But there was no evidence as to why I’d done it. Whereas in my game, yeah, I’d snuck up on a doomed man and cut him open, but I knew it was justified. For thousands of years the Haruspicus had held the right to open the dead in situations like this; what I’d done was the most natural thing in the world. To try and save the thousands of men, women and children in the town who were at risk, I’d brought one death on just a couple of days early. Sue me.

“I needed to see the infected organs” I told my friend, realising as I typed that this defense probably wouldn’t hold up in court.

We bickered for a while, each of us oddly firm in the beliefs of our own characters. He called me a murderer, and I called him pathetic. We left it at that.

When I was playing the game the next day I ended up going to a meeting with the Bachelor. The NPC called me a murderer, and our characters bickered. He wanted nothing to do with me. He said that, as doctors, we could never be justified in killing people.

Now, imagine that idea as applied to a mainstream and more fluid game – something not as oppressively bleak as Pathologic. Take BioShock as an example, where the game could have two campaigns with players starting seperate but intersecting at certain points and working to either opposite or similar ends. It’s not co-op because the PC will take on the role not filled by the player. It’s kind of like the relationship between the expansion packs and main game in the original Half-Life, except taken to an illogical end.

On it’s own it isn’t all that great, but the kicker here would be that the game is designed for players to play in clans, with each player taking a different role – in that regard it’s like co-op, but with player communication forcibly removed. The game would then force players into a particular mindset, but different players into opposing mindsets and groups with the idea being to provoke a discussion and see how people can be manipulated by the game.

Commercial? Really not, but an interesting concept none the less. Massive singleplayer emotional experiments. You get your two best friends together and agree to play through a game and meet up when you have all finished the fifth level to discuss it. Each player has a different role – A is a secret agent trying to stop an evil madman, B is a madman trying to change the world for the better by force, C is an agent for the madman who is in the process of betraying him to aid the spy. Each one however is presented the game world from the point of view of that person – so each believes he is the hero, despite any objective reality.

Hell, you could even fiddle with the entire look of the game. The madman is playing something like Evil Genius, the spy is playing something like GoldenEye and the traitor is playing a point and click adventure.

At the end the three players meet up and talk. The game has a set path – lets say the traitor is betrayed by the spy, but not before the madman is tipped off and the spy is caught – so the players have a common ground to talk on. What they do though is discuss the motivations of characters. Player B has come to think of the madman as a brilliant and misunderstood hero, while A thinks B is evil. C on the otherhand appreciates both sides but is primarily concerned with himself.

As a concept, it has potential. Think about how much fun you have when you and a friend compare tactics for a game like Deus Ex and you spend ages saying “Well, I saved Alex Jacobson from UNATCO when I left and used him later…” or “This is how I saved Tiffany Savage…” and the other player often did it in a utterly different way.

This is just that idea, but applied to philosophy and not tactics.

Out, LG.


Written by Joe Martin

April 11, 2008 at 7:02 pm

3 Responses

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  1. It is quite an interesting concept but unfortunately I just can’t shake how solid the fact is that it is not commercially viable, and so hesitate to entertain the notion. I also wouldn’t really call them massively singleplayer games; I think “offline co-operative” is more descriptive.

    I had the same social experiences you described with Deus Ex when playing through a friend. We’d be all, “How did you do this part? And what happened because of that?” whilst playing through the game at the same time and at the same pace. Of course, you ultimately arrive at the same conclusions and so the discrepancies between play-throughs become less important.

    What I would love to have seen – and this fits in better with your massively singleplayer / offline co-op notion – is if one player took control of JC Denton, whilst the other player could play as Paul Denton. At least the for the first few levels. With this you’d have the situation described above; Player A as JC trusts Player B as Paul, but Player B then finds out he’s going behind Player A’s back with the NSF. Player B undertakes the same missions with Player A as JC but Paul completes separate objectives, such as sabotaging the operation at the warehouse, which Player A is then yelled at by Manderley for.

    So after this mission takes place, Players A and B meet up in real life and discuss this turn of events. “What the hell is wrong with you, why did you screw up?” asks Player A. B replies “I’m sorry A, I can’t tell you, it’s classified” or some such. This sows the seeds of distrust between the two players, much like their in-game roles, and allows for an external element to add to the suspense of the game.

    Obviously Deus Ex isn’t the best complete example as you run into numerous problems with this format when considering events such as Paul’s possible death. But a game designed with this offline co-op scenario in mind would be a great social experiment. These games could even support their own metagame style content, with their own message boards or flash interface that allows communication between the two players outside the game, yet still in the context of the game world. Imagine if each character carried a mobile phone, and using the online functionality Player A could send a message to Player B who would receive it whilst still in-game. Even if the computers in Deus Ex could actually send and receive email would be pretty cool.

    This kind of singleplayer online functionality will be seen in Spore whereby the central database of player-created content and creatures is used to populate everyone’s offline game world, periodically synchronised to keep up-to-date, so the whole offline co-op thing isn’t too far fetched. It may be extremely niche, but I for one am part of that niche and so would love to see the concept taken further.


    April 15, 2008 at 1:55 pm

  2. Having played Spore, it’s really not close to what we’re suggesting here – but I take your point. I also think Offline Co-op is a great descriptor.

    I’ve done some digging and the closest thing I can find is No One Lives Forever 2. The singleplayer is linear, but has some gaps where the narrative breaks – i.e. Kate is injured and blacks out. She wakes up in hospital and the story progresses.

    Unless you play the co-op game, where two or more agents are tasked with going in and rescuing the injured Kate before she bleeds to death. The co-op game is short, but weaves in and out of the singleplayer game. To get the full effect all you need to have is two people playing just the co-op game and one person playing the singleplayer game, meeting up after every intersection.

    I’m toying with the idea of making a simple platform game at the moment, which would be an undertaking and a half. I’d definitely like to explore this concept though and if anyone would like to lend a hand then I’m open to offers.

    Lonely Gamer

    April 23, 2008 at 5:05 pm

  3. […] No, this isn’t the idea in full. The whole concept plays on the previously mentioned idea of Massively Singleplayer games which I’ve since relabeled to Offline Co-op and I’m ready to discuss that at later […]

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