Month: May 2018

The Importance of Playing Alone

E-Sports.

There’s a word you’re probably hearing a LOT these days – a buzzword, if you will.  Sure, the concept of large competitive gaming tournaments being broadcast isn’t a new thing.  (There was a time when ESPN aired the National Scrabble Finals, after all.)  However, this concept of broadcasting massive video game tournaments has grown to heights I never would have envisioned as a child.  My experiences in video game tournaments were all small mall/store-based events, but hey, I ALMOST won the Blockbuster Video Game Championship II at my local Blockbuster in Donkey Kong Country!  (Alas, history doesn’t remember second place.  Or second banana?)  Nowadays, it’s so much more.  It’s a Twitch streamer broadcasting Fortnite with Drake and getting 1,000,000+ views.  In fact, even my therapist and manager know what Fortnite is now!  It’s Blizzard’s titular multiplayer shooter Overwatch being big enough to have its own professional league with teams in 8 different cities – and having players get public punishments for misconduct.  (Just like a real sports league!)  It’s Evolution, the world’s largest fighting game tournament, broadcasting the Street Fighter V finals from Mandalay Bay on ESPN2.  Perhaps most impressively, it’s a League of Legends World Championship filling a stadium and having the kind of stage that would make you think less of a video game tournament and more of a WrestleMania.

Seriously. Tell me that doesn’t look like a pay-per-view!

This goes beyond e-sports, though.  With games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Rocket League surging in popularity and MMO/live-service games like Destiny 2 and Elder Scrolls Online getting plenty of attention, gaming as a social experience is bigger than it’s ever been.  The point being – multiplayer gaming is all the rage right now – do people still say that? – and companies all around are trying to get a piece of that delicious e-sports pie.  Developers find themselves scrambling to be the next great multiplayer game and many gamers are left to wonder – what about those who just want to play by themselves?  Is single-player dying?  It’s easy to become worried about the future of the single-player game when the gaming press seems to constantly be reporting its death.  Be it EA’s decision to close Visceral Games and re-purpose their planned single-player Star Wars title into a “live service” game (read: Destiny: Star Wars Edition) or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s decision to forego a traditional single-player campaign and add in a battle royale mode called Blackout (read:  Fortnite Battle Royale: COD Edition), single-player games seem to be dying all around us.

I’m here to tell you, friends – the rumors of single-player’s death has been GREATLY exaggerated.

“Who said single-player was dead?! BOY!!!”

Needless to say, Sony Santa Monica’s recent revival of God of War, in my opinion at least, is a stellar single-player experience.  However, that’s just my opinion – let’s look at some facts, shall we?  Consider the Game of the Year Award that’s been handed out every year at The Game Awards since 2014 – in that time, only ONE multiplayer game has won the Game of the Year Award and that was Overwatch.  Every other year, it has been a strictly-single-player game: 2014 awarded the top prize to Dragon Age: Inquisition, 2015 gave it to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, and 2017 handily awarded the trophy to the modern Nintendo masterpiece, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  Whether you love those games or not, the trend of single-player games as king holds true.  I can even take that a step further and refer you to the nominees in this year’s Game of the Year running.  Of the nominees, yet again, only ONE game was a multiplayer game (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Super Mario Odyssey rounded out the nominees.  (Here’s a comprehensive list of the winners and nominees.) If you want to step away from The Game Awards (and given some of the cringe involved in that show, I wouldn’t blame you!), consider that the current top 3 Playstation 4 games in sales are all single-player games or have very strong single-player elements:  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.  (See current stats here – thanks, Wikipedia!)

Clearly, single-player still sells and sells VERY well, but why do we keep hearing about the death of single-player games?  Well, given the examples I provided earlier, let’s go ahead and say it – neither EA nor Call of Duty have ever been about single-player games in recent memory.  EA thrives on Madden and FIFA (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and Call of Duty campaigns have largely been an afterthought for most gamers and for the developers as well.  A recent report even suggests that less than half of people ever finish the campaign of a given Call of Duty title (See the IGN report here.).  Those developers clearly haven’t made single-player a priority, so looking to them as examples of the death of single player doesn’t really hold up.  Why do we only hear about multiplayer then?  Why does my therapist who doesn’t play video games at all know what Fortnite is?  Short answer: multiplayer games are the games getting broadcast on TBS and ESPN2.  They’re the games that draw massive audiences to Twitch and TV.  Basically, sponsors find those games sexy.  This doesn’t make single-player games any less relevant to gaming.

I don’t know about you guys, but while I have my favorite fighting game and my favorite multiplayer shooter, I don’t always want to play a game with other people.  Just like I sometimes want to read in the evenings in peace, I often just want to enjoy tearing up Draugr with Kratos or blasting zombies with Jill Valentine by myself.  Sometimes, at the end of a long day, all I want is a hot cup of evening tea.  A good single-player game is like the gaming equivalent of that cup of tea – I can enjoy it peacefully and on my own time and get just as much enjoyment out of it as I would a cold pint with friends on the weekend.  Single-player games will always have their place in gaming – they’re what started gaming, truly.  Those long nights in front of a glowing monitor stomping Goombas, gobbling dots, or even running from Evil Otto (That’s a Berzerk reference, kids, and no, I don’t mean the anime!) are what I remember most from my youth.  In fact, I even recall times with friends and family, huddled around game consoles as beating a game became something to bond over and accomplish together.  In a strange sort of way, I guess even single-player games can be multiplayer.  Funny, that.

At the end of the day, gaming will always need both single and multiplayer games – games to play with friends and games to lose ourselves in.  Single-player games aren’t going anywhere.

 

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Thinking Outside The (X)Box #1 – A New PC, A New Adventure!

So, real talk – a lot of you reading this bought more games in the last Steam Summer Sale than I have ever played seriously.  That may sound ridiculous, but the truth is I’ve never been that big of a PC gamer.  Sure, I enjoyed the original Tomb Raider and Jedi Knight on my parent’s Windows 95 box back in the day, I’ve known the grind of World of Warcraft, and I enjoyed long nights of co-op play in Left 4 Dead 2 with the few friends I have that are into PC gaming (and on a PC I built, no less).  I’m not averse to PC gaming in any way.  I’ve just always been drawn to consoles more.  Ever since my parents bought me an NES at the tender age of…5?  6?  Whatever it was, I was young and impressionable and the games I played on that console made me a Nintendo fan for life, which made me a video game fan for life.  I played 99.9% of my games on consoles and that trend followed me into my teenage years.  Some people grew up having LAN parties playing StarCraft or Counter-Strike into the wee hours of the morning, but me? My Saturday nights were spent drifting around turns in Mario Kart 64, laughing maniacally after blasting a friend from behind a grate in Goldeneye 007, and, eventually, blasting new friends on an Xbox LAN setup of Halo: CE.  Basically, I just didn’t have the time or money for PC games.

This scene was on my TV a LOT.

Well, now I’m 33 years old and life looks a little different.  I have a mortgage and car payment that come due every month, I have a job that I report to Monday-Friday, and some of those medical commercials I giggled at as a kid suddenly raise legitimate concerns.  (Maybe I DO urinate too frequently…)  Hey, don’t worry, it’s not all bad.  I also have more money and I have a lovely wife to come home to who just happens to love games as much as me.  The funny thing is – she does a lot more PC gaming than I do and I’ve had her and my fellow Playback cohorts trying to court me to the realm of PC gaming for some time.  Funny enough, my passion for console gaming is what has led me to this.  As a Twitch streamer, having a more powerful rig is beneficial to supporting that process.  So when it came time to replace my PC, I figured “go big or go home.”  I didn’t go ALL out, but my new rig is very powerful.  Intel Core I7 processor, GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, 16GB of RAM…I haven’t had this much power before and a certain web-slinging teenager would tell me that great power comes with great responsibility.  This time, that responsibility is to explore PC gaming.

So let’s talk about my first gaming experience on my new PC: a little platformer from Studio MDHR called Cuphead.

Yeah, that one.

I had hoped to one day own this one on my Xbox One, but by the time they finally released it, I’d traded my Xbox One in to buy a replacement Switch, but that’s another story for another blog post.  This PC gave me the chance finally experience the game, but I knew a keyboard and mouse wouldn’t suffice for a game with platforming and shooting THIS demanding…but what other options did I have?  That’s when a Google search revealed a mind-blowing revelation – I didn’t need anything special to use my Xbox One or PS4 controllers.  No wireless dongles, no surfing the Web to search in vain for the correct drivers…all I needed was a USB cable.  Steam instantly recognized the controller and it just…WORKED.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that, outside of special controller adapters, only gaming on PC will you have the ability to use Xbox and PlayStation controllers on the SAME PLATFORM at the SAME TIME.  (In fact, by the time you’re reading this, Steam will have beta support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller!)  I had avoided PC gaming for so long, fearing the headaches of getting games and peripherals to work…yet everything worked flawlessly.  I immediately showed my wife this revelation with glee and showed her the first level of Cuphead like a young man running to show his Mom Super Mario Bros.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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