By Steve "MagicMan" Thoms
Note: This is my opinion and mine alone. It does not represent the opinion, the direction or the stance of Nihilistic Software or any of its other employees.
he single player first person shooter (FPS) well has run dry. I do not believe that light halos, lens flares, specular lighting, fog, true curved surfaces, 9000 poly models, bump mapping, or whatever the next buzz feature to jump out at us further the single player experience as much as innovative multiplayer options will. The eye candy in games (most recently, Forsaken and Unreal) definitely looks great and I love it just as much as the next gamer, but it doesn't change the experience. That leaves the developers no choice but to extend the experience through gameplay. Without crossing genres, I'm not sure it can happen.
Many developers will try to do something different. They will tell you what they're doing right now is something new that the FPS market hasn't seen before. Quake 2 did something different with its unit-based missions. SiN is going to give us what they have been calling ABO's as well as some powerful scripted events. Half-Life looks like they'll be offering an entirely new single player experience with plenty of scripted events and a "real world" setting. Other games will pick up on pieces of those that work and extend it I'm sure. All of this is definitely something different (and usually makes things more interesting), but it doesn't really change the basic gameplay. In the end, a FPS boils down to killing everything in sight, finding a "key" to let you proceed, then repeating. And that, in itself, is enough to satisfy the majority of gamers playing single player (myself included - I play and love the single player part of most games when I get a new shooter just like everyone else).
So, where does that leave developers? It forces them to focus on multiplayer to be innovative. I'm not saying any of this is a Bad ThingTM. The FPS is where my passions lie and probably always will. More specifically, however, my passions lie in the multiplayer aspects of these FPS games. Developers that leave the multiplayer portion of the game out or include it as an afterthought, are going to be sorry. The good thing is that I think most developers know this already and are doing something about it.
For the longest time, the multiplayer portions of the game have been secondary or done as an add-on (if done at all, that is). The beginning of the end for that train of thought is here. More and more games have been touting Internet play or LAN play before you even hear about what's going on with the single player aspect of the game. And more and more gamers are clamoring for Internet play every day. Descent (not a "true" FPS in some definitions) was the king of online experiences after Kali arrived. QuakeSpy (now GameSpy) did the same for Quake and Quakeworld. The market is shifting and if support for programs like GameSpy and Kali continue to be as widespread as it is even at these early stages, you'll see the majority of the FPS games coming out feature a scaled-down single player experience and a scaled-up multiplayer experience. I think this is a Good ThingTM.
Developers are constantly looking for that "replayability factor". How can we get the game player to stay with this game for the next 12 to 18 months while we pound away at the next one? There are few things more replayable than multiplayer. I understand that a huge portion of the sales of games come from the "average consumer" who only plays single player. But, we're going to see a decline in those numbers as well (or more correctly, a shift). The number of home gamers who have access to the net is rocketing upwards and nobody would dispute that. Cable modems, ADSL, or a newer technology not yet up to full speed will be widespread in a relatively short time (I'd be shocked if every community didn't have easy access to high speed net connections one or two game development cycles from now). This basically means that more and more gamers are going to be drawn to the online multiplayer experience. Where the gamers go, the developers go.
Lovers of the single player experience are going to be shortchanged in the upcoming years. Games will still include it and developers will still say they're focusing on it, but the reality is that multiplayer is what will sell games in the not so distant future. Be prepared for it. Embrace it.
- Steve Thoms is a level designer for Nihilistic Software
|Credits: Guest Editorial logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Single player? We don't need no stinkin' single player! is © 1998 Steve Thoms. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, god dangit.|