Sunday, November 25, 2007

If co-op can make the "fart-in-a-bag game" fun, then...

Early on when I played some of the less than stellar Xbox live co-op offerings I remarked to a friend that co-op can even make the "fart-in-a-bag-game" fun.

I came up with the original "fart-in-a-bag" metaphor when I was idly talking with friends about Phantom Menace. Specifically I said that I was so excited about the idea of Samuel L. Jackson as a bad-ass Jedi Knight that if the movie simply had him perform one cool light saber fight, the rest of the movie could just be George Lucas farting in a bag for 2 hours and I'd go away satisfied.

Let's just say I didn't walk away satisfied from the piece of turd that was PM.

This is just a long way of me saying that adding co-op to a game is a lot like adding Samuel L. Jackson to a game. It can make a good game great and a great game into a legendary experience. But, if you give him terrible lines and upstage him with characters designed to sell Gungan shaped lollipops to kids... Then, well, shame on you for missing out on a great opportunity.

Gears of War, to me, was a "good" game. I played a bit of the single player and enjoyed the polish. I was in transition from east to west coast when it launched so I missed out on a lot of the initial multiplayer and co-op excitement. But, tonight one of my good friends from Baltimore invited me to help him through some of the single player game on Insane difficulty -- and it was a blast. It really worked on multiple levels:

  • As a great learn-as-you-play experience: I had an experienced guide with me. He could share tips and strategies as I needed them ("hey Brian, how do I do X?")
  • As a way to layer on cool elements of strategy ("you pin him down, I'll flank!")
  • As a way to take the edge off of setbacks ("unintelligible giggling and laughter as we get slaughtered, yet again")
  • As a way to discover new tips and strategies ("holy crap, I never thought to aim my grenade that way")
What was really cool was that even on Insane difficulty, the level design and balance was such that one experienced player plus one relative noob could have enough time to draw up a plan and execute it. We had to be efficient and couldn't mess around too much -- but there was just enough pressure to keep things exciting without ever feeling frustrating. There's a lot to be learned from the way the folks at Epic structured the co-op experience.

Hopefully I'll dive a bit more into it at some point!

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