Tag Archives: online gaming

Why co-op gaming is the way forward | Opinion | Gaming

EvolveI’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.

Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Being Human

Left 4 Dead 2
Going it alone in Left 4 Dead (or its sequel, pictured) is a speedy shortcut to Dead City.

Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.

The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.

At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.

Getting it together

With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.
With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.

What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.

On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.

In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.

When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.

In your own little world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Many have lost hundreds of hours to Skyrim, an entirely single player experience, but will they lose more to the Elder Scrolls Online?

That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.

The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.

James Michael Parry

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The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry

Gaming: Top 5 Xbox LIVE Games

Online gaming is massive, something I’ve touched on previously in my blog, and nowhere more so than Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE, but for those of you who are yet to be bitten by the bug, yet to see your Xbox 360 reach it’s full potential, I bet you’re sitting there thinking: “Paying a fiver a month to play online? Why should I?”
The answer, is quality. The Xbox LIVE community thrives because of the people who make it what it is. Only last month we heard the story of players continuing to play Halo 2 after Microsoft decided to shut original Xbox LIVE down. Nowhere else would you get the same sort of devotion, except perhaps the most dedicated hardcore Counter-Strike servers.
So to initiate the unconverted, I’ve decided to pick out the top five games which show the best of what Xbox LIVE has to offer. While there might not be many surprises on the list, and there are many many more excellent games to be enjoyed online, these five together give the most enriching and entertaining all-round online experience.

1) Halo 3 (Developer: Bungie // Publisher: Microsoft)

So first up we have the big daddy of modern online gaming, the game that took the idea to a whole new level. By March last year over a billion matches had been played on multiplayer and it still ranks highly on the weekly Xbox LIVE play figures, reaching number three on week May 24th according to Major Nelson.
But just because a game is popular, doesn’t mean it’s automatically good, we all know what sheep people can be. In Halo’s case though, the Bungie team have learnt from the multiplayer in Halo 2 and improved everything about the matchmaking and game types to provide as wide a range of game types and general destruction as possible.
Standard deathmatches are all well and good, but fancy driving around the map with explosions everywhere from infinite ammo rocket launchers? Well you can thanks to the ‘Rocket Race‘ gametype – although it is rare to come across these days – as well as the more traditional ‘King of the Hill‘, ‘Gladiator‘ and ‘Team Swords‘ all being hugely enjoyable modes.
Another feature which in many ways was underused is the infinitely customisable ‘Forge’ mode, in which players can customise any of the maps in the game with additional crates, explosives, weapons, vehicles, practically anything in fact, leading to some inspired custom levels.
The latest DLC pack ‘Mythic‘ – released with Halo ODST – included a map called ‘Sandbox’ with large areas above and below the actual map for exactly this reason, sadly Bungie made little effort to introduce the best custom levels to the rest of the community and so the level failed to fulfil its potential.
Despite that Halo continues to be consistently fun to play despite being released in 2007, and the generally team-based play means the learning curve isn’t too steep.
2) Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (Developer: DICE // Publisher: EA)
While many of you at this moment are no doubt incensed with anger at me choosing this game in place of the astronomically successful Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series.
The reasons this game tops it for me are two fold: firstly – Modern Warfare is hard. Now I’ve no problem with things being challenging, but Call of Duty is not a game you can just pick up and enjoy, you have to unlock the higher ranks for decent weapons and perks and though the Death Streak perks on MW2 initially give you a tiny edge, it’s easily the most frustrating game I’ve ever played for the sheer “Here we go, oh no I’m instantly dead”-factor.
On Battlefield though, team play takes a new meaning as you can spawn on your team mates. Of course they still die just before you get a chance to appear, but you find you can get out of a fix pretty quickly if you just hide in the foliage for ten seconds.
The multiplayer is based around a class system, namely Assault, Engineer, Media and Recon, and are as self-explanatory as they seem. There is some range, but not enough to make any one class miles better than any other, and a good balance in multiplayer is key.
The maps on the game are nicely varied, and the destructible environments give a certain uneasiness, since a place of safely can be deleted in an instant by a stray tank shell.
The vehicles themselves are what make the multiplayer so enjoyable. You and friends commanding the skies from a HIND helicopter or creating a Tank convoy to storm the enemy position. Not that vehicles make you invincible either, meaning a solid defence can take them down.
The lack of multiplayer modes, which are set to be increased come the next DLC instalment, don’t make the game repetitive or dull at all, and you really get a sense of a prolonged skirmish even in short games because of the amount of time in the action, though if you get the timing wrong when spawning you can find yourself with a long walk to the objective.

3) Left 4 Dead 2 (Developer: Valve // Publisher: Valve)

If you prefer the dead to the living, then zombie dismember-em-up Left 4 Dead 2 is right up your street. Not only is it the most varied zombie game I’ve ever come across (though Dead Rising 2 is shaping up very nicely) it gives you the chance to be a zombie, and not just a trudging brain-muncher either.
The ‘special’ infected (the game’s term for zombies) have fantastic powers, from releasing your tongue as a lasso to ensnare your victims, covering them in toxic gunge or pouncing on them from a nearby rooftop to claw up their face.
It may all sound a bit brutal, but this is a battle for survival after all, and this game like no other makes you value your life as you manically swing a cricket bat, or gnome, to defend yourself from hoards of evil nasties.
The bedrock which the first game set down has been well build upon this time around, with ‘Survival‘ and ‘Scavenge‘ modes adding some variety to the usual run-of-the-mill campaigns, which themselves are very varied and enjoyable in their own right. ‘Realism‘ adds a challenge for veterans of the first game, taking away helpful pointers such as weapon highlighting and friends’ outlines when out of view, making things instantly more treacherous.
Xbox LIVE is woven into the structure of this game, it would be a shadow of itself without the help of random online strangers, however tool-ish they can sometimes be.
Learning how and when to use the special infected, particularly in the short sharp bursts that ‘Scavenge‘ offers, is even more enjoyable than tearing through the infected with your AK-47 as one of the very vulnerable survivors.
As much as it’s fun to work with your friends, it’s even more fun to hunt them down and devour them, with the sadistic pleasure we all feel seeing our friends in some mild peril – albeit in video game form.
This game also gets the ‘Pick Up and Play’ award for simplicity as Valve, with their considerable experience in first person shooters (stand up and take a well-deserved bow Half Life), have created the most intuitive control system, keeping things simple to make the learning curve as shallow as possible, and it pays off – gruesomely.
4) Red Faction: Guerilla (Developer: Violation Inc // Publisher: THQ)
Computer games give you the ability to enact your greatest and wildest fantasies from the comfort of your own sofa, and who in their right mind hasn’t liked the idea of blowing up everything in sight?
Thanks to Red Faction: Guerilla that dream came one giant jet pack flying leap closer, with Violation Inc’s highly impressive ‘Geo-Mod 2.0‘, a gameplay engine which dynamically maps the destruction of buildings, allowing you to cause the roof of a building to fall crushing the building beneath it ad other such havoc with the game’s various structure-deleting equipment.
In multiplayer this engine takes a more significant role in gameplay as towers fall to become bridges and the building you’re safely hiding inside quickly crumbles around you, forcing an energetic and varied style of play.
Game modes here are more inventive than most games too, but all containing a fair amount of destruction for good measure, naturally.
The highlight is the ‘Destroyer‘ game mood, which is pretty much as it sounds, one player tries to destroy as many buildings as possible while the rest of the team protects them, and the other team does the same. There are bonus points on offer if you kill the enemy destroyer.
It tends to work better on some maps than others, since sometimes people are too efficient and blowing things up and there is nothing left on the map by the end of the game, but it makes for some interesting matches.
Another key thing to mention is that the standard weapon is a sledgehammer, adding a satisfying twist to the standard melee attack, not to mention some amusing unlocks as you reach higher levels (ostrich-hammer anyone?)
5) Splinter Cell: Conviction (Developer: Ubisoft Montreal // Publisher: Ubisoft)
As the lone wolf of stealth action, Sam Fisher is getting on a bit, but at the risk of ruining his ‘one-man-army-super-badass’ image, Ubisoft decided to bring in some now acquisitions for their highly-addictive cooperative mode ‘Deniable Ops‘.
Players control either ‘Archer‘ (American, cocky, sarcastic) or ‘Kestrel‘ (Russian, cold, calculating) in missions in secret complexes, installations and generally other covert things. What makes the game mode work is the free-roaming parts, which allow you to work with your partner to navigate a large area filled with enemies by working out a strategy.
Of course you just wing it a few times, but then get separated and killed pretty quickly so decide perhaps a tactic or two wouldn’t be a bad thing. As much as it sounds like a lot of thought, after a while it becomes second nature, depending on how good your partner is, and you find progressing cooperatively even more rewarding than pumping your friends full of lead.
One place where the game really favours the coop mode over the standard campaign is the much touted ‘Mark And Execute‘ system, which allows players to highlight a certain number of enemies depending on the weapon they are using them, and then press a single button to kill them all automatically in a matter of seconds.
Because the two games are connected together there is a bit of leeway between one player pressing the button and the other, meaning you can often watch your characters executing half a dozen enemies through various walls and other obstacles, suggesting their bullets have suddenly gained wall-felling powers.
What began as feeling like a bit of a tacked-on option in the run up to the game’s release flourished considerably, thanks to – or even cause of – some significant delays, and made the title overall far better value for money.
So, if you’re Xbox-ing away at home on Mass Effect 2 for hours on end, blissfully unaware of the outside world, try connecting your Xbox up to the magical wonderment that is the internet and watch your games instantly become even better.
James Michael Parry