This blog post has been reposted from Urustar website. You can find the original here.
I grew up in a world without the Internet. The very first game I played was Asteroids, I was six or so. When I was a kid, I saw the first two-player arcade games. It was a time where being able to have a tag team in Double Dragon or Renegade – fighting for coins in Mario Bros. or trying to cross the finish line in Super Sprint – was one of the best gaming experiences you can have. In my teen years I remember running on the small circuits of Micro Machines, hitting the first in line with a shell in Mario Kart and having the first drunk nights while playing Mario Party. Meanwhile, the Internet started becoming popular and the first online games started to pop up. At the time I was the game designer for an Italian company which was aiming to make online games. I played some Everquest, then Dark Age of Camelot came out. It has been the last online multiplayer game I’ve played for a consistent time.
I’ve always thought that online experiences are not so different from the ones you can have in person. I have made friendships online, worked with people, and of course played. With games, though, there’s a difference. And that’s precisely why I think local multiplayer games are still worth making, and worth playing. The main difference lies, quite obviously, in the space. While the game happens on the screen both in local and online games, there is another space to take into account. In local multiplayer games the physical shared space works as an extension of the game itself. The cheering of spectators, the laughing and mocking other players, the psychological tricks, even the deliberate physical actions a player can take to obstruct an opponent are very limited or plain impossible in the virtual space of a Teamspeak conversation.
There’s another element, though. Usually local multiplayer games are very easy to pick up and play. Online games, on the contrary, tend to be quite complex from the start, and require a certain commitment to keep up. Even if you have a circle of friends which you periodically play with, missing two or three game nights in an online game could mean a severe penalty. That’s true not only for RPG, where your character’s stats can grow a gap difficult to fill out. Very often online multiplayer game require to constantly exercise a certain set of skills (much like in sports). This can result in people with limited free time giving up before even starting.
Local multiplayer games, on the other hand, don’t require all this. There’s always a way to have fun even if you play with more trained opponents. And this happens exactly because you’re not only sharing a game. You’re sharing a space, some food, an experience. They are human centred in a way online games couldn’t possibly be.
That’s why here in Urustar we have started experimenting with local multiplayer games. One of these games is called Asso 91, and it’s a prototype we made to explore how part of a local multiplayer game can be transported into the physical space of the room. If you’re interested, Asso 91 is part of our B*Sides collection that you can find here.
Asso 91 starts as a rather simple WWI dogfight game. You play against one opponent and score a point if they are hit. Then, a minigame starts. This minigame is meant to symbolise the way these pilots where used to brag about their achievements and often brag about them while hanging out in bars between one mission and another. We chose cards as the medium to deliver a similar experience, based on bluff and on game theory.
The minigame is super simple. Every player have to play a card. They may choose between an ace of spades and an ace of hearts. Then the cards are turned. If the same cards have been played, the game continues with another match. If they are different, the game is over and the current game score is the final one. Putting this simple game on top of the current score, can enact a variety of social dilemmas: is the winning player willing to go on playing? Should I declare to play spades and instead play hearts so the game can stop here? And so on.
We’ve found that this simple mechanic can enhance the game by further moving it to the physical space of the room. Usually players try to outbluff each other, while spectators cheer, give advice and so on. This kind of rich social interaction can add a lot to the fun, and it’s simply not replicable in an online environment.