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"Game Together Or Die Alone" -- Issues And Expectations With Capcom Co-Op

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Posted May 14, 2010 - By pklepek







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It took all of five minutes to realize Lost Planet 2 wasn't for me. In that same time frame, I recognized Capcom's development team approached the sequel with a similar philosophy to Resident Evil 5, a game I spent hours trying to enjoy before ultimately giving up, realizing it was a game designed for someone else. By someone else, of course, I mean someone else playing with me. Lost Planet 2 and Resident Evil 5 are adventures meant for co-op, both a response to co-op dominance in Western games, but has Capcom taken the wrong lesson, a simple matter of miscommunication, or both?

Here are the last few games I've played co-operatively and really enjoyed: New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead 2, The Beatles: Rock Band and LEGO Batman.

Gears of War 2 is the first modern game I played from start to finish with another person. Take a look at that list of games. Most of them encourage swapping between single-player and co-op. I play games late at night, once the girlfriend is sleeping, and because we're in a small apartment, yapping into a microphone isn't really an option. I'm also someone who primarily enjoys single-player games -- if you've watched Feedback, you're well aware of my multiplayer aversions -- but I often welcome co-op as a fantastic addition to the game.

What I don't like is being lied to. In the case of Lost Planet 2 and Resident Evil 5, I felt tricked by Capcom. Both previous installments in each franchise, Lost Planet and Resident Evil 4, were strong single-player adventures. The former dabbled with multiplayer. The sequels promised to be bigger, better and incorporate gamers playing with one another from the very beginning. Historically, Resident Evil has always been a strong single-player franchise, and the addition of playing with a partner sounded exciting. As it turned out, though, it was nearly a requirement to play, as the A.I. partner was so poorly implemented that you ended up working around them to play.

Lost Planet 2 shares the same issue, except it's across four-player co-op, not two. It's worse.

The two games have a common link in Capcom producer Jun Takeuchi. Lost Planet 2 arrives a little over a year after Resident Evil 5, meaning the games have been developed mostly side-by-side. Takeuchi explains how Lost Planet 2 went down this path in an interview with VG247 last summer:

"The number one item for the players’ wish list was co-op play. So I discussed the possibility of incorporating it with the team, and came up with a new gameplay style. As a result, the Campaign mode, which started as a straight forward single-play, has changed into the different gameplay that would evolve by the players. And I think this was a part of evolution that LP2 has achieved too."

If Capcom had communicated, "Look, these games have a single-player component because it'd be insane to leave it out, but you're going to have trouble playing the game solo, since we designed the whole experience for multiple people," there would be less of an issue. It didn't. You don't realize the problem until the game begins. The issues in both games could have been easily lessened with better partner A.I. As it stands, much of the frustration in each game comes from your A.I. teammates not being able to do their job correctly, enforcing an unnecessary You're Doing It Wrong mentality. Required co-op is understood when engaging multiplayer-only games or an online experience like World of Warcraft. There, you're signing up for gameplay that requires other players to fully engage in.

Clearly, Capcom's feedback shows gamers are want more co-op in their games, but Capcom then diverged from the two central Western-based design philosophies for co-op that I've been able to trace.

One, design your game so that it primarily works single-player but is enhanced with co-op.

Two, ignore the idea of co-op entirely in the main campaign and construct a separate mode.

Gears of War 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii are supremely enjoyable games without anyone else playing, but when someone else is added to the mix, it only increases the fun. Splinter Cell: Conviction and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are two games where the developers literally created a separate co-op mode. Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet 2 choose the first route but flipped the traditional design approach, crafting the experience around multiplayer without balancing for single-player.

Here's how Infinity Ward community manager Robert Bowling explained the decision to include co-op, but remove the experience from the main campaign, traditionally a Call of Duty single-player affair:

"Spec Ops started out as as co-op through [the story]. But it really broke the cinematic experience, took the immersion out of it, out of the story and the pacing and everything we'd spent so long crafting. It just ruined the experience we were aiming for, so we took it out, kept the single-player for that one player intact and polished it. But then there were moments that were really fun with two players, so we took those moments and put them in Spec Ops."

I don't mean to propose Capcom are necessarily Doing It Wrong. While I do believe the legacy of both franchises rightly misled my expectations for their sequels, Capcom's fundamental philosophy towards co-op isn't necessarily incorrect. I do believe it's a philosophy institutionalized by Capcom's success with Monster Hunter, a series that has sold millions overseas but struggled for acceptance elsewhere. In Japan, Monster Hunter is a social experience; Japanese gamers are often near each other, making local multiplayer the expectation, rather than the exception, as it is here. Heck, it wasn't until Monster Hunter Tri that the series even included online play. It would seem natural for Capcom to note gamers' desire for a more robust co-op experience and look towards their own success with co-op when conceptualizing them for the rest of the world. Lost Planet 2 especially feels like a sci-fi Monster Hunter, with players tackling massive enemies together in an almost MMO-like instanced fashion.

The title of this article is a riff on "Live Together or Die Alone," which came to mind because I can't get Lost off my mind lately. The phrase, uttered when Jack Shepard assumes leadership of the survivors of Oceanic 815, underscores how gamers need to work together in Capcom's world of co-op. The speech:

"It's been six days and we're all still waiting, waiting for someone to come. But what if they don't? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. A woman died this morning just going for a swim. He tried to save her and now you're about to crucify him? We can't do this. Every man for himself is not going to work. It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. Now, I found water, fresh water up in the valley. I'll take a group in at first light. If you don't want to come, then find another way to contribute. Last week, most of us were strangers. But we're all here now and God knows how long we're gonna be here. But if we can't live together, we're gonna die alone."

Maybe Capcom's approach to co-op means their single-player isn't what it used to be. I know that for Lost Planet 3 and Resident Evil 6. Because most of the time, I want to die alone in my video games.

Have something to share? Sitting on a news tip? E-mail me. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Tags: Videogames
"Game Together Or Die Alone" -- Issues And Expectations With Capcom Co-Op
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