Gun Monkeys is a recent indie deathmatch game from Size Five Games (creators of two of my favourite modern adventure games), and today the developers announced an interesting attempt to tackle a problem that plagues many multiplayer games: a lack of players.
Size Five’s solution is to generate Steam keys for players who sit in an empty lobby for too long, allowing them to gift the game to friends, and presumably then play with those friends in the absence of other players. I’m not sure how well this will solve the problem of a lack of Gun Monkeys players. But what is clear, is that it doesn’t really address the underlying issue: that designing a multiplayer-only game means your game can’t be played without a certain number of players. Because the thing is that making a multiplayer game means that the experience of playing your game is entirely contingent on the people playing it. And that applies whether the multiplayer game in question is a multiplayer-only standalone game, or the multiplayer part of a game with a separate singleplayer component.
I’m writing more game reviews these days, but with my PhD work taking over more of my attention, I’m not writing about the other games I’m playing very much. I’ll often talk about what I’m playing on Twitter, but it’s the nature of Twitter as a medium that any comment is fleeting, and gone in an instant. The restriction of thinking in 140 characters is also not particularly good for any kind of nuance or specificity, which is a big part of why I started this blog in the first place.
In the hope of correcting this, I’m taking inspiration from a music blogger I know, and aiming to write 200 words about 200 games, as I play them. They won’t be reviews, but thoughts on a game, and these won’t just be new games, or even games I’m playing for the first time. They’ll just be whatever I’ve been playing recently. I’m hoping that a strict, short wordcount, and a strict, frequent timetable will force me to write as I play, rather than feeling like I have to develop these thoughts enough to fill out an 800-1200 word blog post before writing anything at all. I’ll be posting these pieces roughly every five days, so that’s once or twice a week, and I’ve built up a little bit of a backlog in case I get slack.
The first one will go up tomorrow morning.
I wrote a review of the new Space Hulk for GamesOnNet. I was actually pretty pleased with this one.
Cyborgs are a fixture of cyberpunk games like Deus Ex and Shadowrun Returns, tragic figures who’ve made a Faustian bargain, trading humanity for machine capabilities. But I think they’re actually sort of ridiculous figures to present in contemporary video games, because they fly in the face of the joining of machine and human that those very games rely on and take for granted. I think what we need instead is games that engage with the machine-humans we already are.
The recent release of Shadowrun Returns has made me once again think about cyberpunk as a genre of fiction, and what it means. Cyberpunk began as a reaction against earlier utopian sci-fi that envisaged a Buck Rogers future where technology has eliminated most of the problems a contemporary reader of the 40s or 50s would be familiar with. In contrast, cyberpunk depicts a future in which corporate greed has run rampant, where humans and machines meld together, and where the outcome is decidedly not for the better. It’s often said that cyberpunk is based around the idea that technology will not solve our problems, only create new ones or perpetuate existing ones.
But in many ways, the future that cyberpunk envisaged from the early 80s through the early 90s already looks ridiculous. It’s a retrofuture, a paleofuture, a future as imagined by people who, for all their efforts could not move past the assumptions and ideas of their era. And their era is rapidly fading into the past. Neuromancer, William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, is as old to us now as the future of the pulp sci-fi magazines was to him when he wrote the book.