A Response to Yahtzee’s “Does Online Multiplayer Always Make Sense?”
Yahtzee is one of the few video game reviewers worth looking at. Unlike most, he actually talks about gameplay instead of playing “name that influence” or babbling about the time he met this one girl at an arcade in 1995 and how it’s more important than the game he’s ostensibly reviewing. Games journalism is typically so terrible that someone who merely stays on task stands out amongst the rest of the rabble. That is unbelievably pathetic and one of the reasons why the public in general still thinks video games haven’t evolved in the 33 years since Pac-Man.
Anyway, Yahtzee has several gimmicks: talking very quickly, being British, and hating seemingly everything. But he’s more reasonable and open-minded than people give him credit for; he always looks for some nugget of positivity even in the dreariest of games he plays. And his non-video articles often contain truths that seem obvious in reflection but no one else on the internet has mentioned yet, like the one where he made fun of baffling sequel names or when he said Mario should be retired because he’s obviously not in any good games any more. The latter is the type of writing that crosses the fine line between truth and troll so expertly as to produce hundreds of thousands of page views.
Then sometimes he writes something like “Does Online Multiplayer Always Make Sense?” that is completely off the mark.
“Is there really much point in a fighting game – a one-on-one type like Street Fighter or, to a lesser extent, more brawler-y stuff like Anarchy Reigns – having online multiplayer? It just seems like a terrible waste of effort.”
Online play was the best thing to ever happen to the fighting game scene. Before that you had to live in a big city to have any chance of being good at all. For someone living in a small Iowa town that smells like rotten vegetables, improving at competitive games of any sort was not an option before broadband became commonplace. Yeah, lag sucks, as Yahtzee pointed out, but online is the great equalizer. People want to be ranked and you can do that with online play.
“Well, that’s my outsider’s perspective, and as I say, probably very ignorant. I have a hunch, though, that if you did some kind of scientific test in which fifty humans play against AIs in a fighting game and another fifty play against humans in different rooms with no communication or contact, then no-one would be able to confidently tell which of the groups they were in. And if that’s the case, why even bother?”
I can’t count the number of times I was playing Street Fighter IV online and telling my curious roommates “the CPU would never make that mistake” or vice versa. I’m not even that good at the game and I can beat CPU Seth (who is stronger than the playable version) on the hardest difficulty with T. Hawk every time, whereas a no-talent noob on Xbox Live playing Seth and spamming fireballs and cr.HP will murder me most of the time. There is a huge difference and it’s pretty obvious to anyone who plays the genre.
A computer opponent will probably never drop Geese Howard’s Deadly Rave or spam Shoryukens infinitely. Consequently, even the best AI tends to be incapable of improvising, developing new strategies to adapt to player movements, or abusing the metagame (all exceptions duly noted). It’s a tradeoff and one type is not necessarily better than the other, though it all depends on the genre and the particular game.
I have to admit that now there seems to be less difference between a perfect human player and a computer, as opposed to something like Street Fighter II or III where the computer had a distinct playing style. But they wouldn’t hold tournaments like EVO or God’s Garden if there weren’t a difference in skill levels between the computer and the best human players.
Yahtzee is right when he gripes about game creators all too often neglecting single-player modes for the inevitable multiplayer rush. Too often we social recluses are left in the ditch while the teeming masses of frat boys get their video game wishes come true. A poorly made single-player campaign is typically overlooked in first/third-person shooters because the majority of time spent playing them by the average user will be online. On rare occasions they’re capable of satisfying both, like in Dark Souls which is perfectly enjoyable (assuming you’re not a baby casual who is ruining EVERYTHING shut up I hate you) whether you want to play online or not. Its creators catered to two different markets and somehow succeeded.
But in fighting games, single-player is nearly worthless if you want to be challenged. Even unbelievably difficult games like Art of Fighting 2 have been completely explored and mastered by those with the dedication. If you don’t have a friend who lives nearby, there’s a limit to how much fun you can have beating M. Bison or Jinpachi Mishima for the quadrillionth time. Online play, as flawed as it is with its lag and ragers, is the best solution to the problem. More players gives a game life, sometimes even extending its lifespan beyond what would normally be expected. Would anyone care about Marvel vs. Capcom 2 if it didn’t have such a strong competitive scene since 2000? Nay.
Online play is hugely important for fighting games, and downright essential for the majority of them. There is the minor exception of SNK bosses, those unfairly overpowered fighting game challenges designed to beat you into submission. A holdover from the days when you needed to spend money to continue a game, super-strong bosses can be entertaining for a time, but dedicated fighting gamers will quickly overcome them. Is anyone challenged by Magaki in King of Fighters XI anymore, even though he was considered nearly unbeatable on release? I’m too unskilled at real-time strategy to beat StarCraft’s campaign mode, but it is child’s play to any professional player of the genre, and the professional players are the people a game should be judged by.
At least Yahtzee admits the possibility that he might be wrong, unlike most internet tough guys. That saves him. (I always make sure to leave myself that loophole so I only look 75% moron rather than full retard whenever a commenter proves me wrong.)
I realize that Yahtzee doesn’t care for the genre of fighting games, but his statements on the subject were quite mistaken and needed to be corrected. And I’m not even a big fan of multiplayer. I generally prefer to play offline, by myself, in a darkened room filled with the flashing lights of exploding polygonal aliens, so I understand exactly where Yahtzee is coming from. But with some genres and some particular games you need that human interaction for the best experience. What’s a better card game, Solitaire or Poker? Not that dumb Texas Hold ‘Em; it’s Five-Card Draw, the preferred game of Yosemite Sam and John Wayne. Even for introverted nerds, multiplayer is not always a bad thing. Fighting games, real-time strategy, and MOBA are basically worthless without it.
My point is not that Yahtzee is a big stupid-head. He’s right most of the time and I appreciate the reasonable look at video games that he provides. He’s wrong on this one issue, but he has a good enough attitude about it that he would probably change his mind when given the right evidence. In other words, he’s a reasonable adult, and therefore has no place in the land of video gaming.