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Single-Player Gaming: Decline or Evolution?

Valve recently made a statement regarding their work on single-player games, according to Geoff Keighley's shadowing behind the scenes of the creation of Portal 2. Kotaku reports of Keighley, "Portal 2 will probably be Valve's last game with an isolated single-player experience. What this all means is something Newell is still trying to figure out" (Totilo, Kotaku.com). Later, Newell himself clarified what this paradigm shift means by coining the term "Single-player Plus." While single-player games such as Half-Life would continue to be developed, Valve is taking into account the social aspect of gaming.

Newell states, "Single-player is great, but we also have to recognise that you have friends and wanted to have that connected as well.

Itís not about giving up on single-player at all. Itís saying we actually think there are a bunch of features and capabilities that we need to add into our single-player games to recognise the socially connected gamer. Every gamer has instant messaging, every gamer has a Facebook account. If you pretend that that doesnít exist, youíre ignoring the problems that youíre taking on." (Newell, Kotaku.com).

When I first heard of this story, I did what a lot of Half-Life fans did who have been waiting patiently for the next installment in the series, whether that is Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or a full blown Half-Life 3: I got nervous. Half-Life 2 remains to this day one of favorite games, as well as my favorite first-person shooter. No other game has brought forth such intense combat, believable characters, or player-avatar integration. How could they "give-up" on my favorite franchise?

As much as I enjoy Valve's multiplayer-oriented games like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead 2, neither of those games held a candle to the single-player experience of Half-Life 2 or Portal 2. With the creation of such great games, why would Valve take such a stance and "crumble" to the whims of the emerging "social-gaming" market?

I've always been primarily a single-player gamer. When I look for a game, I look for an adventure I can delve into for hours upon hours. Offer me a quality adventure, whether it is exploring a haunted mansion with a vacuum cleaner, flying a high-tech aircraft over the skies of Farbanti, hunting a bear near my farm on the outskirts of Blackwater City, or stopping terrorists from acquiring a walking tank with nuclear capabilities. While I enjoy the occasional Starcraft 2 random, a Team Fortress 2 session, or even a brief dungeon run in World of Warcraft, the single-player adventure and experience always calls me home.

Upon further reflection, I must realize that Valve is hardly the first developer to "switch gears" and integrate a multiplayer experience in their primarily single-player franchises. Some developers focus on creating a cooperative adventure akin to the coop portion of Portal 2. Various titles come to mind, including Resident Evil 5, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, and Halo 3. Each of these franchises originally focused on the single-player aspect of their games. However, a coop mode was not only added to the game: it became a significant part of the game's identity.

Every map in Red Alert 3ís campaign mode is designed with cooperative play in mind: there are always two armies on the field, and two bases to look after. (Ralph, wired.com/gamelife)

Some traditionally single-player titles attempted to integrate some social aspect through the pursuit of a death-match style experience. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, followed by Metroid Prime: Hunters, became the only Metroid games to offer a multiplayer experience. While Echoes provided a fairly generic and limited death-match experience, Hunters expanded the multiplayer experience greatly, offering online as well as local play, seven characters, seven gameplay modes, and 26 maps (metroidwiki.org).

Other single-player adventures took a step further, defining their entire existence as a mulitplayer game. Nintendo's recently released New Super Mario Bros. Wii comes to mind, as it is not simply the only main-series multiplayer Mario game: it's very structure is built around the multiplayer aspect. This was certainly not Nintendo's first attempt to offer a "single-player plus" experience.

Nintendo's attempted integration of the Nintendo Gamecube and the Gameboy Advance produced several games that focused on the use of the combination. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords became the first Zelda multiplayer as an additional experience when offered with the rerelease of A Link to the Past on the Gameboy Advance. Four Swords spawned a new sub-franchise within the Zelda universe, including The Minish Cap and the second notable game to use the GCN-GBA setup, Four Swords Adventures.

While solo play is certainly possible, the experience offered with four friends playing this game together could not be matched. While the game certainly felt different from your typical Zelda adventure, including the use of linear levels and temporary health and item upgrades, the Zelda experience still remained, particularly the quaint sense of humor and great gameplay mechanics. This multiplayer experience has transcended the Four Swords franchise, as multiplayer can be found on both Zelda DS installments. However, the multiplayer experience found within that game acts as a traditional multiplayer "death match" experience separate from the primary game.

Prior to Four Swords Adventures being released, Square-Enix developed a title that also used the GCN-GBA connectivity, and this title also spawned a franchise within the overarching series. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles became one of the first Final Fantasy titles to offer multiplayer, as well as one of the few titles within the franchise at that time to have real-time combat.

While one can argue that the GCN-GBA connectivity games were ultimately harmed due to the rigid requirements of having a GBA for each person, as well as the appropriate cord that connects the GBA to the GCN, these games still remain as examples of franchises that originally focused on the single-player experience, but experimented with a multiplayer aspect and created successful titles, to some extent.

All of these examples show the various approaches developers can take when implementing or integrating a social/multiplayer experience to their games. Some developers take the "easy" approach and simply tack on a deathmatch oriented game, such as seen in Metroid Prime 2, Uncharted 2, and Dead Space 2. Others integrate the social experience within the game so much that the multiplayer aspect of the game becomes a primary part of the experience, such as Resident Evil 5, Red Alert 3, Four Swords Adventures, and Crystal Chronicles.

Seeing all of these previous franchises and their attempts at integrating some form of multiplayer, my nervousness of Valve's statement of "single-player plus" has been quelled to an extent. Most of these franchises I mentioned I enjoy greatly. Going further, you could say I enjoyed experiencing their attempts at the world of multiplayer gaming. While single-player games have always been my "first love," I will look to the future with optimism to see how this approach of "single-player plus" will impact the games I've loved and enjoyed, particularly Valve's next installment in the Half-Life franchise.
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About Gilded Coronaone of us since 9:41 PM on 05.15.2011

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