Blurring The Lines Between Single Player And Multiplayer Is A Good Thing

Blurring The Lines Between Single Player And Multiplayer Is A Good Thing

In the future, there may not be any more single-player games — but that doesn’t mean what we seem to think it does every time some big publisher opens its big mouth and tells us that single-player games are dead. Epic, story-driven campaigns aren’t going away; it’s just that new forms of multiplayer are evolving in tandem with those experiences, rather than in opposition to them.

Developers are exploring this new frontier in gaming, and it’s the most exciting thing in the gaming world right now.

At Bungie’s Seattle press conference for Destiny, the Halo creators hinted that they’ve redefined the concept of the main menu. What I took from that was that in the future, we won’t have to choose between “single player” and “multiplayer” when we’re starting a game. It’s all going to be the same thing, and nothing will be sacrificed to accomplish this. Games will only become more immersive as time goes on and this principle is widely adopted.

Dead Space 3 provides a great example of this. The series had already done a decent job of integrating most menus into the play experience; opening your inventory projects a hologram in front of the characters’ faces and doesn’t pause the game, and their health is illustrated by lights integrated into their armour. It’s progressive.

But Dead Space 3 went much further by integrating multiplayer directly into the campaign experience. It did away with Dead Space 2‘s competitive deathmatches (by now it’s clear to most involved that shoehorning competitive multiplayer into games that don’t need it isn’t pleasing anyone). Instead, a second player can jump into a friend’s solo game at any checkpoint throughout the campaign. The story adapts, the game folds into itself, and suddenly you’re not alone. It’s really kind of amazing. And as was noted in Kotaku’s Dead Space 3 review, it makes the game better.

Why go to the trouble of creating a totally separate campaign just for co-op, like what Ubisoft did for Far Cry 3? Would the main storyline really have suffered if Jason’s friends had occasionally picked up a flamethrower and lent him a hand burning down pot fields? Instead, a whole lot of effort was put into a secondary story with little worth of its own, its only value in the very fact that it was a cooperative experience.


The Halo games played a large part in spearheading co-op in console shooters, and now Bungie is aiming to take things several steps further. You’ll be able to play solo in Destiny if you want to; they’ve been clear on that fact. But I believe you’ll be missing out, because playing with other humans sounds like it will be the real adventure. And according to the vision that Bungie has shared so far, it will happen effortlessly, with matchmaking taking place in the background and other players popping in and out of your world organically. Their goal is to make the seams all but invisible. It’s the same thing thatgamecompany did with Journey, where other players would naturally appear in your game — and you in theirs — only on a much larger scale.

At the press conference, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones asked, “How do we take this genre that we love so much — the first-person shooter — and turn it on its head?” But they’re not just innovating in the shooter space. I think they’re contributing to a larger trend that will eventually overtake the entire medium.

It’s all about the human element. That’s a large part of what’s so good about Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. I put 50 or so hours into Skyrim and got bored, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the Souls games, which are technically much smaller. I’ve been over the exact same environments countless times; I know by heart the location of every enemy and treasure. Yet I keep going back for more, because the human players that invade my world or summon me to theirs make it feel fresh every single time. That’s what’s going to make games exciting moving forward — not better graphics or gimmicky control schemes, but that irreplaceable human element. It’s everything that’s good about MMOs, but applied across the board in every genre.

That’s what’s going to make games exciting moving forward — not better graphics or gimmicky control schemes, but that irreplaceable human element.

And it’s happening all over the place. The Arma 2 zombie survival mod Day Z took the industry by storm from the bottom up last year, inspiring compelling, unpredictable narratives about experiences between players that could never be replicated by AI, no matter how advanced it gets. And though I can’t be sure, it sounds like Crytek is espousing some of the same principles with its upcoming free-to-play shooter Warface (it’s big in Russia), which will be integrated with a new social platform called GFACE; in an interview with VentureBeat, CEO Cevat Yerli said that “the only place where you’re alone [in GFACE] is on the login screen. Once you’re logged in, you’re in a realtime ecosystem.”

Yerli called Warface “the world’s first social FPS game,” which to me sounds like an echo of Bungie’s made-up genre label for Destiny: the “shared world shooter.”

Some of what I’m saying here is hypothetical. Destiny could turn out awful, and Warface might be more freemium crap. But that doesn’t temper my excitement at the idea of seamless, persistent multiplayer becoming the norm.

To be able to play together without having to shoot one another in the face or actively seek out co-op partners is going to be a game changer. It’s a bold new frontier, and one that’s dependent on technology keeping up with the industry’s wistful ambitions. But the rewards when our play experiences burst through the barriers between our separate screens, houses, countries, and worlds, without us ever realising how gargantuan that accomplishment really is, will be well worth whatever growing pains are necessary to get there.


  • As long as there is an option to disable drop-in Multiplayer or whatnot and retain a singleplayer only experience. While there’s something to be said for stories modifying as players integrate in to the experience but I generally feel that there are 2 different games happening in my head. One where I’m the only player, and one where others are playing. And unless the “other” I’m playing with is the same as the game progresses it just doesn’t feel “real” enough to be compelling. If I’m experiencing a story, let me experience it with the same people over time. Not friend Eddie one day and then some random stranger from Timbuktu the next.

  • no….its not, not untill EVERYONE gets a stable enough internet connection without caps up the ass

    the fact is no matter what you do the game has to ALLOW for the multiplayer aspect, so in the end those who want to go for single player get half an experience

  • I like to play games with mates, but not randoms.
    Any game with these drop in features I will typically disable straight away.
    For me, Gaming with mates ≥ single player >>>>>>>>> playing with randoms.

    I wouldn’t want to play a story focused game with other people.
    Most of my top played games I’ve played (mostly in) single player too.

    • Absolutely so. I refuse to play online unless its with real life friends now. Or people I’ve known online for a decent length of time.

  • A single player campaign designed to be incorporated into the multiplayer experience will never be as immersive. Co-Op does not need to be over-explained all the time. Why? Because often simplicity is best. My friends and I play Saints Row 3 as The Hulk and The Joker, running around blowing shit up randomly for fun. Why are the Hulk (Marvel) and The Joker (DC) suddenly running around Steelport able to blow everything up? Where’s the storyline? There is none! Who cares? If you’re having fun, genuine fun, the story really does not add much to the experience.

    Thoughtless co-op can often be the best kind. A second person is there for no reason. GTA 4 does this in a fantastic way. Sandbox roaming is so much fun. Saints Row 3 as well, doing missions with a friend in SR3 makes the game so much more fun! DayZ has zero narrative and it’s incredibly fun. A campaign designed specifically for Co-op can be good but often I personally find that just jumping straight into co-op and having fun is the best way.

    Oh and co-op skyrim would be pure sex…

  • On this topic, while there are some interesting online modes in ZombieU, one interesting way other players appear in singleplayer is their undead corpses appearing in your game where they died.
    As in Demon Souls, you can also get cautionary/helpful messages, but I haven’t encountered as many of those.

  • I remember playing Medal of Honor, landing on Normandy with hundreds of soldiers.. If I didn’t make it over the ridge, throw the grenade into the machine gun nest, blow up the tank or almost get killed to plant the explosives on a bridge, the war would be lost.. lots of potential for multiplayer story. But there still needs to be good AI to pick up the slack if 1 man hero can’t run half way across the map infront of said tank to grab a conveniently placed rocket launcher..

  • It’s a good thing, for certain games and certain games only. Also as far as I’m concerned, if a game blurs the line of single and multiplayer gaming to the point that the game literally does not function as a capable single player game when nobody plays together then it MUST be advertised in the same way as MULTIPLAYER ONLY. To me, the developers of Diablo 3 and Simcity 5 and Destiny are LYING about their games being single player and are actually making MMOs.

    I’m all for games where multiplayer and single-player are blurred as long as the game will still function as an enjoyable single-player game when disconnected from the internet. See Journey, see Demon’s Souls etc.

  • demon souls and dark souls had a very unique MP idea, and i hope most future SP games follow that. watch dog is already dong it . SP>>>> MP for me

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