Co-op and the Need for Innovation

Portal 2 came out just two weeks ago, and Valve’s latest effort has been met with plenty of praise. The single-player campaign is fantastic, but perhaps even more impressive is the cooperative multiplayer component. It tries to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished with co-op, and rather than look at it as some kind of anomaly, perhaps this should lead developers to recognize co-op as a vessel for more creative and unique ideas.

The co-op is cooperative. It’s not as simple as saying more teamwork is required; you must rely on your partner in order to proceed. This is an idea you won’t necessarily find in games like Call of Duty: Black Ops or Valve’s own Left 4 Dead series. Obviously there is a level of reliance established in the aforementioned games, but each player’s experience still feels somewhat separated. One particular player could carry the team or someone else could contribute little and the odds of success still aren’t changed.

Obviously implementing Portal 2‘s co-op framework for genres like third- and first-person shooters would be more difficult. Portal 2 benefits from its distinction as a puzzle game, which allows for more freedom in non-traditional play conventions. But rather than focusing all the attention on Portal 2 and what it does right, we should set our sights on a bigger question: What else can developers do to better innovate cooperative multiplayer?

When Infinity Ward introduced the perk system with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it changed the landscape of competitive multiplayer and paid off in spades. That level of RPG-like persistence was a fresh, new idea that gamers attached to. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a AAA shooter without some variation on this system.

It seems like cooperative multiplayer could benefit from that same kind of forward-thinking approach. This is especially important as the popularity of co-op continues to rise. It’s still relatively new to games when compared to competitive multiplayer, and if developers want to take that next step in influence and widespread appeal for cooperative play, then a new idea or even a series of innovations need to be introduced.

That’s not to say games like Borderlands and Uncharted 2 that feature co-op modes are outdated and obsolete. The simple fact is that these kinds of games could benefit from a little inventive thinking. In the case of Borderlands, perhaps there could be bosses that require each team member to use a different kind of gun or special power simultaneously with one another. And imagine if in Uncharted 2 you could hold an enemy from behind while your partner throws some melee attacks. These are minor improvements, but when you add up a large number of them, the impact is more substantial.

Bringing Call of Duty 4 back into the conversation, maybe a new take on that persistence and reward system could be integrated into co-op modes in an interesting way. Merging the Call of Duty 4 methodology with Bulletstorm‘s recent introduction of a reward system based on creative kills seems like an intriguing prospect. An action game that results in experience points for the coolest kills possible worked quite well for Bulletstorm, but it was missing a strong team emphasis. So taking that idea, focusing more on cooperative elements, and including the effective perk system now found in the Call of Duty series seems like something that might interest gamers.

The biggest problem with this method is that it doesn’t cater to the casual crowd, which has become an increasingly huge market in the videogame industry with the introduction of the Wii. That’s why there will always be room for games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns that don’t actually force cooperative elements on the players.

Obviously the ideas presented here aren’t the most spectacular, and developers know more than I do when it comes to reinventing the wheel, so to speak, but there is certainly a lot to gain from bringing innovation to cooperative multiplayer. The need isn’t necessarily immediate since, as pointed out earlier, co-op is on the rise, but developers, gamers, and the videogame industry in general would likely benefit from exploring creative new approaches to cooperative play.


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Author: Anthony LaBella View all posts by
My first experience playing a video game blew me away. The fact that Super Metroid was that game certainly helped. So I like to think Samus put me on the path to video games. Well, I guess my parents buying the SNES had a little something to do with it. Ever since then my passion for video games has grown. When I found that I could put words together into a coherent sentence, videogame journalism was a natural interest. Now I spend a large majority of my time either playing video games or writing about them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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