Ready Player Two! – Playing Single Player Games with Two Players

Over the last two generations of gaming on-line competitive and co-op has become the new wave. Games that probably shouldn’t have had an online mode have had them shoehorned in, and other games are essentially only online modes. Back in the day, the only way to play with multiple players was to have another player there in the room with you, playing with a second controller.

My friend Mike and I (who have been playing games this way since the early 90s) used to go head-to-head in Street Fighter 2-Alpha 3 and co-op’d the HELL out of Streets of Rage and Final Fight.

During the Playstation era and beyond we found there were actually fewer games to play that way, though Twisted Metal 2’s co-op still ranks as one of the best co-op experiences we’ve ever played. As the industry started to release different kinds of games, we found different kinds of ways to play. We became avid players of Resident Evil and that was one of the first games we started playing what I call “single-player two-player.” Essentially, one player plays, the other watches, gives help with puzzles, provides amusing color commentary, and takes over when the first player is stuck, tired, or fails. This method of playing games has been the source of some of the funniest and best play experiences we’ve had and inside-joke memes that we still reference more than a decade later.

Mike was Thumper I was Outlaw in one of the few PS1 games we could play 2 player co-op.

Over the years we’ve played Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, Code Veronica, 4, the recent “remastered” version that way. We spent hours playing the original Mercenaries, swapping off for different missions or on character death. We’ve even played RPGs like Suikoden like this, though I was admittedly playing the original PC Aliens vs Predator game through some of that one.

Recently Jim-F*cking-Sterling-Son introduced me to the terrific Angry Joe Show and I was amazed to see that other players play in the same way. Watching Angry Joe and Other Joe play Daylight and The Crew reminded me of the days when this was my favorite way to game. It makes social gaming a blast without all the anonymous nonsense or detached remote distance that can comes with modern online multiplayer. The setup is far easier too. All you need is:

  • ANY game console, since you can play this way with anything from Atari 2600-Alienware PC.
  • A friend or friends who like(s) to play games
  • ANY game
  • Snacks (optional but recommended)

That’s all. No internet connections, high-end PC components, expensive TVs, or the newest consoles.

Ever since being reminded of the fun of single-player two-player I’ve been eager to get back into it. Mike and I have queued up Outlast and Evil Within to try out, one is probably going to scare us, the other more likely to just be a swap off RE-style kind of experience.

If you’ve never played this way I can’t recommend it enough. It’s directly social, not the way online social activity takes place, you can mix in other things like board games when you want a break, and you actually go through a game narrative, which is often sorely lacking in many online multiplayer games. In my opinion it’s one of the best ways to play video games with friends and can even turn a mediocre game into hours of great experiences.

As a bonus here are some of the strange comments made during our two-player play throughs of random games:

  • “Why’s it gotta be you?!” – Said by Mike while fighting the Warlord of Blood in Diablo.  He led the WoB around a solid structure for a long time occasionally hitting one of his minions.  He turned once and the Warlord himself was there, causing Mike to flee in terror with those words.
  • “Not so much fireballs…” – A comment I made while playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 and showing Mike Karin’s “counter” ability, explaining how it could even block some special moves.
  • “F*ck me in the goat ass, he’s doing it again!” – Mike shouted this during a play through of the original Mercenaries where we traded off every time one of us died.  During a mission around a bunch of tanker trucks there were a dozen RPG enemies who fired their rockets, not caring if they killed each other or themselves, as long as they killed us.  After surviving one such barrage and feeling around a truck, another enemy raised his RPG, and Mike uttered those immortal words.
  • “You can’t quit during a cinematic!” – Said during our original play through of Resident Evil 2.  I said I wanted to get some food when a cut scene played and Mike remonstrated me with those words.  Funny aside, it wasn’t even a cinematic, just the first pan up after entering the police station.
  • “BUDDY!” – What we say every time we turn a corner in Outlast now.  Because Trager…because f*ck Trager…
The lobby in Resident Evil 2…a supposed place for a “cinematic”

Remembering Iwata: Thoughts from an NES Kid

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I was an NES kid. Starting with Atari Computer I was a gamer from a young age and I came into the true world of console gaming, as many of my generation did, via the NES.

Admittedly I haven’t been a fan of Nintendo for the past decade or so. Attribute it to personal taste more than anything, but the franchises and input methods proffered by Nintendo just don’t grab me anymore.

That being said, Nintendo is the only game console and game publisher who truly concentrates on making games. While AAA publishers scramble for DLC, cliche storytelling, and the biggest and best engines and graphics, Nintendo has been essentially making the same Legend of Zelda game since 1986, just in varying wrappers and finding success.

More than anything I feel Nintendo has a continued focus on what made games great when the modern console industry began in the 80s. Their games almost never put anything above pure entertainment. Of course it doesn’t always work but even in their failed attempts the game is a game, designed to entertain. No blown up pretentious nonsense, just fun.  They can have extended depth but almost never at the expense of the fun.

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The loss of Satoru Iwata this week gave me a moment to really think about the gaming industry as a whole. Nintendo’s success with the Wii (even though I didn’t care for the system) and the handheld market shows a totally different kind of thinking than other hardware companies. Nintendo has always felt inclusive rather than exclusive in its design and marketing philosophy. Even in the 8-bit days the games could be played and enjoyed by an eight year old or by a thirty-five year old. That still holds true, even after their latest hardware was toppled from primacy in the current generation, I know as many adults who love their Wii-U as I do kids.

Iwata always seemed to embody the whimsical spirit of Nintendo. He had a playful personality that undermined the stoic “cool” personalities on display from competitors.

Every company can make mistakes, read consumers wrong, and even unintentionally alienate fans with decisions. During this week too many have focused on the recent failings in Nintendo’s policies. Even as a current, distinct non-fan of Nintendo I feel Iwata’s loss was a tremendous loss to the whole of the industry. He was the human face of the “fun” side of gaming. And in an environment where frame rates, exclusivity, and fan-boyism can spark shocking hate campaigns the fun of gaming is something I think everyone could use far more of. It’s entertainment, people, and Iwata’s philosophy was that it should be entertaining always and first. It should always be just for the fun of it. Like him I’m a gamer at heart and I’ll miss him.

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Welcome to the New Age Part 2: Gaming in the Current Generation

Last week I described how I took a bold step into 2014 and got a current generation console.

This week I thought I’d share some thoughts on the games I’ve played so far and general thoughts on the generation as a whole. I actually jumped in at just the right time as I was able to get a lot of big releases at discounted prices since most of them had been out for months when I finally got my PS4.

  • Shadow of Mordor: As a Lord of the Rings fan this one looked fun and even had the chance of doing predatory stealth without the strange Assassin’s Creed background or the baggage of being Batman…again. It’s a new story with a new character and takes place in a formative stage in the Middle Earth history not often covered. The gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had doing 3rd person combat. You can string long chains of attacks, defenses, counters, and kills without missing a step and it makes diving in and carving up Uruk Hai as much fun as sneaking up and jamming a broken sword in their skull. The Captains of Mordor mechanic is both brilliant and diabolical depending on the extent of the player’s OCD and wrathfulness. Since I am both OCD and wrathful I obsessively hunted down captains and evilly and relentlessly hunted down any of them that had the luck to best me… A great game, but it didn’t feel like a big leap to the new age.

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order/The Old Blood: I played these in reverse order as I got Old Blood first and beat it before getting New Order. Both are terrific fun, and I don’t even care for 1st person shooters. I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since they were corridor shooters that could be played from a floppy disk. It says something that these games had the “new” 1st person feel but still captured the strange charm and 90s attitude of the original games. Old Blood especially had the classic sensibility, and even had a boss fight with a big armored dude with Gatling guns on each arm. I actually recommend playing the prequel before the original game. New Order is a deeper, more complex game and Old Blood’s simplistic game play got me back into console shooting again without having as many mechanics. Again it didn’t feel “next gen” moving up from PS3 but is still damn fun.

  • Bloodborne: Good god. I haven’t played completely through a souls game since Demon’s Souls but it was my second favorite game on PS3 (the first being Valkyria Chronicles). It was tough, rewarded patience and thinking, and was ruthless in its player correction. You make a mistake…you pay. And not in the lame Heavy Rain way, in a gameplay way that makes you even more careful and extremely tense. I played Dark Souls but it was at the end of my last console gaming phase and I stopped halfway through. Bloodborne is a work of art. It’s beautiful, brutal, fast, and aggressive. The level design is truly extraordinary and this is a rare game that can make you cuss like crazy out of frustration as some human-sized hunter owns you in seconds…then moments later makes you cuss in admiration as you exit a tunnel only to appear in a location you last saw 9 hours ago in a place that was previously gated. It’s is wonderfully balanced, intuitive in its controls, and masterful in gameplay execution. It’s the first and only game I’ve played that has truly felt like a step into a new generation from PS3 era.

The system is far, far from perfect and the choice of games really shows how much things have changed. My PS2 had dozens of titles I couldn’t wait to choose from. This system has only a few games coming out over the next two years that I will probably end up with (though I DID pre-order the Pipboy Edition of Fallout 4 thank you very much). It may be the change in the industry as a whole, like the difference between boxing now and boxing in the 50s…Sugar Ray Robinson might have fought 10 times a year…but Manny Pacquiao only fights once or twice a year. Games have become too much money and too much development too much investment to release bunches of titles in a year to support a console.

This is where Steam on PC and the indie and small games on PSN have it right (though I really want some of those Devolver Digital games to hit PSN…) These smaller, more reasonably priced games can fill the gap between the more expensive releases and make a system more cost effective. I don’t care about 90% of the AAA releases coming out, but with the smaller digital games I can get plus the other 10% I can only play on PS4 I get my money’s worth.

The Alamogordo dump site in New Mexico where a number of Atari products were laid to rest after the crash

With the advancement of PC as a gaming and market delivery platform I wonder if the console market will ever be the same. I don’t know if it’ll ever crash like it did in the 80s, but it feels like console as market king that we saw in 90s and early 2000s might be slipping away as companies force us to buy weakened versions of PCs with proprietary software, exclusivity limitations, and features many TVs and media players can accomplish with less trouble. The reason I don’t feel there will be an Atari-scale crash is that always be a market for console gaming due to its relative simplicity (you can always play the game you buy at the appropriate settings without having to mess with hardware, video output, or file structure) but as each generation becomes more tech-savvy those limitations become less onerous and more normal, relegating consoles to the lowest of the gaming spectrum.

I probably won’t ever buy one of these…so console gaming may be where I land for “current gen” titles.

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a “current gen” system and it is a vast improvement over its predecessor, just in design and usability. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I decided to go back and play my PS3 and PS2, but I can always find time to load up Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis or Dragon Warrior on the NES. Even as the graphics get better, the features more extravagant, and the games more “realistic,” I feel the major games that drive these systems have lost some of the iconic beauty of the games drove their forebears. I’m sure there will always be a place for “current gen” on my media shelf. Whether or not each generation stays on the shelf after their time is past remains to be seen.

Welcome to the New Age: Kicking and Screaming into Current Gen Console Gaming

Toward the end of the PS3 generation I started to become exceedingly disillusioned with the gaming industry.

Games that started as well-paced horror franchises became absurd action shooters, beloved turn-based RPGs became mash-up amalgamations of MMOs and action games, platforming vanished (except the three franchises Nintendo makes every year), and everything became about all the additional content you could buy once you bought the original content.

On PC it was even worse; franchises I grew up with had morphed into poisonous, hateful incarnations of themselves. Diablo 3 came out with no use for weapons (despite the original Diablo having a memorable dev quote “When I pick up an axe I want it to look like an axe”) and that awful real money auction house. Sims 4 and SimCity arrived with forced online and reduced content, not to mention broken states. Not to mention the mess that Steam has become.

So I essentially gave up. I played my NES and Genesis more than any system, reliving the old days when games were just games, not virtual market vectors for publishers to extort money.

Luckily Warhammer and other table top games kept me pretty satisfied, because at least those price vectors give me physical products with palpable advantages.

So when the current gen started I decided not to get a new console and that my days as a modern console gamer were over. I’d been one since the Atari days and I’ve participated in every generation since so it was a momentous decision. I never even considered an Xbox One. Despite their desperate back-pedaling, the fact that Microsoft even considered limiting used games, tried to force always online, and initially forcibly bundled with Kinect made me completely dismiss it as an anti-consumer product. Sony’s new pay wall for some features didn’t make me happy, but everything I normally use still came with the free online so it wasn’t too off-putting. Still nothing was out that I cared about so I wrote off console gaming. Until…

Walking through a local Target with Miss Misty I decided to check their clearance section. There, in a box, with a little red tag…was a PS4. I stopped and actually said, “Is-is that a PS4?” It was and it was 289.90. More than 100 off. It was noted as being “repackaged.” I rolled the dice and took it home.

After setting it up I found someone’s account info was still in there. No funding data, but there were some kid’s gaming install info. “Huh…must’ve been a return…” I thought. Then scrolling through the games, just before factory reset, I saw there was a little disc symbol on the GTA5 icon. I selected the “eject” option and sho-nuff, the GTA5 disc popped out. Even though I’m not a fan of the franchise, a free game in system added to the value of the purchase. Essentially I got a slightly used discount bundle.

Fortress of Games
PS4 with free GTA5 at home with my other systems. The PS3 was moved to my gaming room so I could have a Bluray/Netflix player in there too.

I’ll talk about some games in the next post for now here are some late-to-the-gaming thoughts on the system itself:

  • Aesthetics/System Functions: It looks nice. It looks more solid and dense than the PS3, though the front buttons are a pain to get to. Also the constant glow is a little much especially for creatures of the night like me. It isn’t loud and doesn’t get as hot as I thought it would.
  • User Interface: The PS Vita style UI is much more effective than the old XMB. So much so that when I turn on my PS3 and navigate it I realize how clunky that interface is. I like the sorting of icons, and applications, and find it far easier to use. Also the PS Vita style continuation function, where my videos will pick up where I left off, my games will pick up where I left off, etc., even when changing applications or putting the system in rest mode is glorious.
  • Controller: Yes it has that weird touch pad button that I haven’t found a use for yet, but the controller actually feels better than the old PS3 version. One thing I don’t like about it is there is no turn off for that LED which means it’s always glowing all the time. I do like that the PS button is the only one that can turn it off and on…I can’t tell you how many times I kicked the PS3 controller only to have the system start up by accident and have to wait for the system to load just to turn it off. The battery life is pretty good and the first time it made sound during Shadows of Mordor scared the s**t out of me. I could use a media remote tho, as I still use the system for videos more than games.
  • Network: The network took a LONG time to set up. Not the actual process of me setting it up, pretty standard actually, but it was about 24 hours before the system recognized my network and gave me internet access. So much so that I thought it was why the system was returned. Once it was set up the network has actually been more reliable than the PS3 one (though that might be my aging PS3) and navigating the network options and network applications is much better thanks to the UI mentioned above. The PS Store STILL needs work. It takes a while to load and the lists of games on there are organized in such a way I still can’t find stuff I know is there. The PS Vita store is much more user-friendly.
  • PS Plus: I never even considered this as a feature. I don’t like paying for intangibles and this always seemed like a Book-a-Million discount card or Gamestop Rewards card: pay us money for a bonus or discount. If you DO happen to own a PS3, PS Vita, and PS4 you really do get your money’s worth. Two games for free every month each system. Even though they usually aren’t MAJOR titles (depending on your definition thereof anyway…) there are a TON of great games that show up for free. What talked me into PS+ was when I first went into the store Oddworld New and Tasty was free so…sold…

Next week I’ll do a short list of the games I’ve played. I came in at just the right time where a lot of good launch titles are now discounted and the generation is hitting its stride in terms of software support.

Building the New Gaming Room

As I mentioned in my Gaming Table post after discovering Warhammer 40k I developed a new love for table top gaming.

After finally getting to move to a new, bigger place, I decided to dedicate my second bedroom to my hobbies, one of the first and foremost being table top gaming.  With my new 6’x4′ table ready to go I put it in my smaller, auxiliary room and made what I think will be a great space for gaming! (And as I recently found out also a good place for building, painting, and going over rules!)

20140719_100117The room had a strange 45 degree angle, but the table fits in nicely with only one corner not really accessible.  It can easily seat six players I believe, and maybe eight if everyone crams in!  This shows a the old poster I had between the two curio cabinets (The one on the left is full of 40k armies, the one on the right is MOSTLY Warhammer Fantasy, though the bottom shelf is my little Blood Angels army.  The poster in the middle is an old Codex: Armageddon poster I got on eBay.  It features Ghazghkull Thraka and Commissar Yarrick in combat!

20140719_100127The two book cases at the bottom of the frame I’ve had since I was a kid.  One was my sister’s and one was mine.  My dad stripped and refinished them for me.  The posters here I got from a guy on eBay who I believe used to work in a Games Workshop store or retailer.  On the far left is a diagram of a Stompa (baneblade on the reverse) the diagrams of a Predator tank and Land Raider.  The one nearest is the great Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes and the ones above that came in White Dwarf Weekly during the 7th Edition launch.

20140719_100155The bookcases house all my Black Library fictions, audio dramas, old codexes, and magazines.  A BIT of room to spare.  That’s my Danish War Axe on the left.

20140726_211504I replaced the Codex: Armageddon poster (it moved to a wall left of this frame under a Dark Angels poster that features the cover of the 5th Edition Codex) with my Imperial Aquila flag.  The small poster under it is the famous Emperor confronting Horus.  I love the Burn In Designs painting and supplies station.  it’s been great for housing ALL modelling tools with my bigger stuff in the cart underneath.

20140719_100206Last but not least my gaming closet. These metal cubes are fantastic and are perfect for game storage as they easily fit MOST standard games and are sturdy enough to hold big box games on top.  My bits bin is right underneath Fortune and Glory and the Horus Heresy!

What kind of gaming space does everyone out there prefer to game in?

 

 

 

Building the New Gaming Table

After discovering the world of Warhammer 40k and later the proliferation of board games stemming from Wil Wheaton’s Table Top I have discovered a love for table top gaming as a hobby that greatly surpasses any other purely entertainment hobby I currently have.

Moving into a new place I shed the limitations of space and decided I wanted to have the proper environment to play all the games I love. To do so I needed a gaming table. And since I have yet to find enough money tree seeds or magic beans enough to buy one, I turned to making one as the next best thing with the added bonus of making it to my personal specs rather than finding one that’s “close enough.”

My own carpentry skills are minimal at best. My friend Mike and I once tried to make a smaller skateboard from a bigger one and created something that was somehow completely incapable to be placed in either the “skate” or “board” category. Mike said we wouldn’t even be able to make a 2×4. In his words we would end up with a “2×4-5-6.”

My dad however is quite skilled so I enlisted him to do a lot of the woodworking, with me there to support and guide design.

I originally wanted a large 4×6 table (standard games of 40k, big enough for full Arkham Horror) with pull-out player places and shelves underneath. The realities of moving a table that size quickly set in and I went with basic 4 legs, solid top, moulding on the edges. All in all it worked very well and after a coat of red chestnut stain, it has a nice antique furniture look to it:

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The top is sanded ply, light, strong, and surprisingly attractive.

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My dad’s design for the legs made them right angles that wedged into the corners of the table. This makes them very strong and prevents shaking or bowing as much as possible.

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The moulding on the top is actually crown or window moulding. It gives the table an attractive finished edge and provides a natural lip to prevent cards, board, or game pieces from sliding off and even a place to firmly hold a Realm of Battle should I ever buy one.

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The legs are bolted on with two decorative bolts each. This makes them removable so the table can fit through doors and down hallways.

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By forgoing shelving underneath it ended up being very spacious and it’s a comfortable 30” high.

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After all was said and done the cost was between 150-175 after stain and brushes. The largest single expense was the sanded ply, which was $49.99 the rest of the wood pieces being pretty inexpensive, especially seeing as how several of each were needed.

It was a great project and will hopefully be the home for many good gaming sessions to come!