Co-op effect

Mass Effect 3

So it’s finally official, Mass Effect 3 is to include a multiplayer mode. When the news first broke yesterday, no one quite knew what the details of this mode and naturally the fears of a compromised single player campaign floated to the top of the internet. After all, it has been said that ME3 will be the most accessible for newcomers or a wider gaming audience and tacking on a multiplayer mode would certainly help this. But before things got out of hand, BioWare forum aficionado Chris Priestly posted on the official site that the multiplayer component will actually be a co-operative mode, mostly separate from the campaign. I say mostly because, as Priestly stresses, the new addition is designed to compliment the campaign not withhold content to solo only players. The better you do in co-op, the higher Commander Shepard’s ‘galactic readiness’ stats go up but you can just as easily do this on your own in the campaign.

Good news then. If you want Mass Effect 3 to be a one player only game then you can have just that. And the development hasn’t been affected either. A new studio was formed in Montreal to take care of all things multiplayer while the folks at Edmonton got on with the main game. Remember that infamous job posting from June last year? This is the result.

The co-op mode will allow up to four players to, well, all that’s been said so far is fight in what’s being called the Galaxy at War System, influencing Shepard’s stats as they do so. Sounds like it could very well be a horde equivalent which would fit within the concept of Mass Effect. And if it is to be as minimally intrusive to single player as BioWare promises, a horde mode that doesn’t necessarily need much narrative feels right. What the co-op will also do is introduce a brand new set of characters to develop because Shepard is exclusive to the campaign and his story ends with Mass Effect 3. But the franchise will not. Bringing in new characters that players can directly interact with is a great way of bridging future Shepard-less titles. And why no deathmatch or usual multiplayer modes? Because that would be stupid.

More details will be coming soon but at least the will they won’t they saga of Mass Effect‘s multiplayer has come to an end that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Well, here’s hoping.

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Randy’s solo campaign

Publishers are forcing developers to waste time on multiplayer modes just to plump up a game’s feature set believes Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford, who criticised the practise to Edge yesterday. He states how there’s an obsession within the industry to keep up with the blockbuster releases like Call of Duty instead of treating each game differently depending on their content.

“Let’s forget about what the actual promise of a game is and whether it’s suited to a narrative or competitive experience,” he said. “Take that off the table for a minute and just think about the concept-free feature list: campaign, co-op, how many players? How many guns? How long is the campaign? When you boil it down to that, you take the ability to make good decisions out of the picture. And the reason they do it is because they notice that the biggest blockbusters offer a little bit for every kind of consumer. You have people that want co-op and competitive, and players who want to immerse themselves in deep fiction. But the concept has to speak to that automatically; it can’t be forced. That’s the problem.”

Call of Duty, particularly Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, may well be the driving force behind a lot of eager publishers nowadays but a forced multiplayer mode is something that’s affected game’s throughout this generation. In the early days of the Xbox 360, The Darkness was an FPS that featured a beloved single player campaign and awkward multiplayer due to this need for online action. Some critics even verbally shook their fists at BioShock because it neglected multiplayer functionality which no doubt brought about the inclusion of one to the second game.

But Pitchford does understand why publishers decide to learn on developers for multiplayer content, casting aside the artistic integrity. It’s because games are a business. Research data suggests adding more features to your game will boost sales and unfortunately review scores. I say unfortunately because to me, if you have a great single player campaign then anything in addition to that is a bonus not a necessity to get say a nine instead of an eight out of ten. A good example that Pitchford uses is the Dead Space series whose first game was purely a solo affair yet the sequel was not: ”It’s ceiling-limited; it’ll never do 20 million units. The best imaginable is a peak of four or five million units if everything works perfectly in your favour. So the bean counters go: ‘How do I get a higher ceiling?’ And they look at games that have multiplayer. They’re wrong, of course. What they should do instead is say that they’re comfortable with the ceiling, and get as close to the ceiling as possible. Put in whatever investment’s required to focus it on what the promise is all about.”

It’s interesting that Pitchford used EA’s Dead Space as it was the same title website Develop used when speaking to EA Games label president Frank Gibeau. He said the company are working towards making their game ‘better connected’ with things like co-op or multiplayer modes. Develop proposed that Dead Space had neither and worked fine with Gibeau and the PR manager clarifying how their studios won’t be forced to include these features but instead educated on how to do so. Like the possibility of Facebook or Twitter interactivity. However even those seemingly harmless additions would take up developers’ time and resources. It’s a debate which will continue for a while yet I’d imagine.

Free Red Dead Redemption: Outlaws to the End DLC out now

Today sees the world of Red Dead Redemption get a tad more busy with the release of Outlaws to the End co-op mission pack DLC for absolutely nothing. Yep, the multiplayer add-on is free and available now on Xbox Live and PSN. The pack consists of six brand new missions for up to four players including The Kidnapped Girl where Fort Mercer gets been taken over by a rival gang who are holding a farmer’s daughter hostage. It’s up to you and some friends to storm the fort, rescue the damsel and return her to the worried farmer while fending off all enemies who stand in your way. Sounds like a hoot!

Earthworm Jim HD confirms co-op

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Wonder no more to what an online Earthworm Jim HD would be like now that a trailer has been released featuring that very mode (via Destructoid). Up to four-player co-op will be on offer with each player having their own coloured Jim and the chance to whip, shoot or generally annoy one another. A snippet of the new levels are shown too with what looks to be a boss fight against a blind, keyboard-playing cat. I’ve never wanted Earthworm Jim HD anymore than I do right now.

Mass Effect goes multiplayer?

According to a now removed job posting for BioWare Montreal, Mass Effect is more than likely to be getting a healthy dose of multiplayer game modes. The post was found by Cinema Blend who quickly grabbed a screen of what is a rather telling. It’s asking for a Multiplayer Programmer for the Mass Effect franchise which, right now, is a single player only game. Chat rooms, client/sever games, player matching, stats etc are all part of the desired programmable skills and the ability to take existing single player experiences and make them multiplayer safe is another wanted attribute.

Could this be part of the plethora of DLC that is promised for Mass Effect 2 or even the unannounced aspect for the franchise which is coming in 2011? Multiplayer modes for Mass Effect 3 is also a possibility since co-op play would be a great addition but not necessarily needed – much like any form of multiplayer gaming for franchise. The biggest concern is that focus could be shifted from the solo campaign to make way for anything else. Until an official announcement is made, fears or excitement of just what this job posting means should be suppressed, ready to burst out when the time is right…. but boy, wouldn’t hunting the Reapers with a buddy be awesome!?

Castle Crashers PS3 adds arena battles

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The lovable chaps at Behemoth have graced the PlayStation blog with more details about Castle Crashers for PS3. We’ve already seen footage of the sweet looking volleyball mode and now the announcement of four-player Team Arena matches too. Either 2-on-2 or 1 vs 3 scenarios are available allowing you to team up with a friend of just take three of them on at once! Because Behemoth had to rewrite the code when porting from XBLA to PSN, they were able to include these additional features with relative ease. Castle Crashers is still lingering somewhere between external testers and Sony so no solid release date is being spoken of yet but it could quite easily be headed to PSN in the next month or so. For now, we’ll just have to make do with these new screenshots (found after the break) and trailer showing the Team Arena mode. Life is cruel sometimes.

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