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Serial [port] gamer – Multiplayer retrospective

August 20th, 2011 by

I noticed an interesting headline on Eurogamer the other day: ‘’Single-player only games gone in three years’’. This hit a bit of a chord with me and in turned spurred me on to examine the array of statistics associated with my Steam account. I found three really great games which had soaked  up over a hundred hours of my time but had uncompleted single player campaigns. After a little pondering I faced a few very interesting truths.

Firstly, and it’s a little disheartening to actually admit it to myself, I rarely have the self discipline to play singleplayer games through to completion. It’s not that I have a short attention span, or even a lack of time to play, it’s that in essence I don’t enjoy the experience of playing games in isolation. I find myself missing the camaraderie and diversity of gaming online with friends and whilst there are some notable exceptions, for the most part I enjoy sharing the experience of in game events and experiences with others rather than on my own.

Secondly, as hard as developers try, and titles such as Bungie’s Halo Reach and Bohemia Interactive’s Arma 2 show that they really are trying, the cunning  strategies deployed by a human opponent in-game when compared to Artificial Intelligence generally make for a much more interesting and rewarding experience.  Whether it’s the annoying twelve year old camper in Call of Duty or the thirty eight year old neck bearded ganker in World of Warcraft ‘powning n00bz’ from his mums bungalow, they are all human traits which add variety and unpredictability to a game environment which AIs find difficult to replicate with any degree of authenticity.

I’ve found this especially prevalent when playing the current love of my life, Blizzard’s Starcraft II. It’s a complex game which requires a lot of practice and competing with the AI should be the perfect way to hone your skills in preparation for online multiplayer. Regrettably though every time the AI’s difficulty level is ramped up he simply arrives right outside your front door with a bigger and better army. There is no real sense of sneakiness, he doesn’t try any underhanded cheesy tactics or arrive with a bizarre mix of units to harass you from multiple directions, it’s just bigger numbers and better units. Consequently playing the AI becomes useful to practice build orders and learn which units counter opposing units, but it’s predictable and systematic and in the real world it has little value. Conversely playing against a human opponent you should expect the unexpected, no two player’s methods are ever the same - unless you get the same player again, obviously.

Before the internet however, multiplayer gaming was not quite so easily accessible and AI was often all we had. On home computers multiplayer was very local and fairly limited in its implementation, It tended to be real-time or turn-based on a single screen,  real time split screen or serial cable link. I didn’t play much split screen as it was mainly used in driving games and whilst I played a lot of turn based strategy it was usually single player, everyone I knew was far more interested in playing Sensible Soccer than Laser Squad. THE BIG TIT HEADS.

Multiplayer Networking’s where it was really at.  Long before the days of Doom, LAN’s, clans and the internet it was all about the RS232 25pin serial link, connecting computers together with big grey cables like real men, none of this namby pamby wireless nonsense.

My introduction to networked gaming coincided with acquiring a copy of Geoff Cramonds (my spell check keeps changing it to Geoff Tampons) Stunt Car Racer, the 16bit, ten polygon, five shades of beige homage to the likes of Cryterion’s Burnout Paradise. Having spent four weeks pocket money in Tandy’s to buy a fifteen meter long serial cable, risking life and limb I ran it out of my bedroom window along the guttering and into my friends bedroom next door networking our Amiga’s together. Now admittedly Stunt Car Racer ran at around six frames per second and was about as responsive as a Robin Reliant towing a caravan around a Donnington but the feeling of competing with another human instead of Beryl (I called my Amiga Beryl) was at the time exhilarating. The pleasure of hearing Shaun screaming ‘’You absolute massive bastard face’’ out of his bedroom window in the quiet of night as I beat him for the 15th time in a row was also undeniable.

Sadly the serial link was short lived. It was disconnected by my parents after they became concerned it was affecting my performance at school. This was triggered following a particularly heavy stint on Bullfrog’s Populous II when I came down for breakfast with QWERTY embossed on my head having fallen asleep at the keyboard again.

And so I had to make do with single screen multiplayer gaming.  Looking back with giant Timmy Mallet sized rose tinted glasses on my favourite was a title by Infogrames called North and South.  For all intents and purposes, it was the 16bit predecessor to Sega’s Total War series.  Two armies made up of slow infantry, a canon and fast moving cavalry.  Both sides meet on various maps and in real-time do battle. For a game with such simple mechanics and rudimentary graphics it had incredible depth and longevity. It was the multiplayer aspect that really excelled though, both players sat side by side thrashing fire buttons and shift keys as you fight your way to the narrowest of victories.

I would frequently launch into a victory dance around the bedroom (to be fair my victories were so few and far between it was all I could do not to put my knob in his ear) as my opponent sat dilapidated, insisting he only lost because I gave him the effeminate pink and green Competition Pro  joystick to play with. To be fair it’s my bedroom, it’s my computer and I’m not playing with the pink joystick…. or the Cheetah 125+ with the broken auto fire for that matter.

These days almost every game release has an element of multiplayer. Sadly local is now a bit of a dinosaur these days, evidenced in my case by never having bought a second controller for my Xbox 360. The halcyon days of face to face mockery following a victorious bout on games such as The Bitmap Brothers Speedball 2 are all but gone. It’s all about online these days with excellent services like Xbox Live and Steam making dropping into a 32 player gun battle a doddle.

Hopefully I will finish the singleplayer campaigns at some point, I have greatly enjoyed playing through games with excellent stories like Mass Effect 1 & 2, Bioshock 2 and L.A Noir but when a title  has a good multiplayer aspect and an element of strategy, exploration or squad play, the singleplayer campaign doesn’t get much of a look in; I would rather be out there playing in the big wide world with all you lovely sexy people.

This Community Content article was created by ShatnerzBassoon, a member of our community. Community Content is your way of getting long-form writing and opinion out to the Midlife Gamer audience, an open platform to get something off your chest. For full guidelines on our editorial standards and how to create your own post, click here. The views expressed within are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Midlife Gamer Staff.

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7 Responses to “Serial [port] gamer – Multiplayer retrospective”
  1. avatar Greg Giddens says:

    I used to play North and South. Great game!

    It, along with a few others, encouraged my world domination fixation. I owe videogames a lot, and one day so will the rest of the world mwahahahaha…

  2. avatar Adamski UK says:

    Great piece Shat.
    My first real experience of the multiplayer was Day of Defeat. I couldn’t understand why there was nosingle player campaign…but then I played it….and played it some more….until the sun rose again and the birds swarted to sing.

    For me, I crave the splitscreen co-op. It’s the only decent chance I get to game these days when I have a regular bromance session with a gaming buddy. A few chilled ciders, a controller each and the determination to play a splitscreen game; even if it means we each play on what is effecivly a 15 inch screen from 6 feet away.

  3. avatar Toxic Buddha says:

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading that.

    I personally always go through the single player campaign of any game before going online as I like to use it as an extended training course so that I’m primed and ready for the multiplayer.

    The thought of the gaming industry removing the choice of playing either single or multiplayer would be disappointing. Some games are best suited for only one style whereas others are able to morph between the two.

    FPS’s and some RPG’s will always benefit from having multiplayer campaign and I personally am disappointed with the lack of choice of 4 player campaign currently avail on the XBOX and look forward to this improving over time (blowing stuff up is always so much more fun with witnesses to the carnage you create.)

    I do also like to play single player games that don’t have any multiplayer achievements as you get a longer campaign/enjoyment, so me it’s always better to have the choice rather than it be chosen for you.

  4. avatar oo PeatLoaf oo says:

    Some games I had on the PC I didn’t even go into the single player mode. Why bother when the multiplayer was so good! Boot up the game and choose single player or online mayhem? Online wins nearly every time. When I got my xbox it got even better especially with xbox live, it’s so easy to get into some online fun. But, saying all this I am a bit of an achievement whore & that drags me back to the single player modes from time to time. I did however have an absolutely fantastic time playing Halo 3 split screen on legendary with my son. He was only 9 years old at the time but he is a natural at it. Sometimes it felt like I was just following him through the game feeding off his scraps. Anyway, it was a great way to have some ‘family’s fun and grind out some achievements.

  5. avatar oo PeatLoaf oo says:

    Oh, forgot to say, great article I really enjoyed the memories of trying to get early ‘multiplayer’ games to work! So much effort!!!! Also your user name Shatnerzbasson is totally fuct up I love it. :)

  6. I still remember the spine tingling fear that the arrival of the phone bill would bring once I figured out how to get my 56K modem working with Quake.

  7. avatar ShatnerzBassoon says:

    Thanks for the comments you lovely people…

    @unrulyruffian – I’m with you there brother, the first bill my parents had after getting me my 56k modem and Quake resulted in me learning a whole array of new swear words from my dad and an immediate switch from pay as you go Internet to the £25.00 a month BT deal that disconnected you every 60 minutes which was an utter pain in the arse lol….

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