Multiplayer Archive: Week Two

Multiplayer: 360, One Year Later — What's Up Next?

How will the Xbox 360 fare in the next big year of gaming?

One year ago today (November 22) the "it" system lighting up eBay wasn't a Nintendo or a PlayStation. It was the Xbox 360. "Perfect Dark: Zero" was the next-gen first-person shooter of note. And Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski was promising people his baby, "Gears of War," would arrive in the Xbox 360's launch window, which he defined as lasting one year. Cliffy B made it, with two weeks to spare.

Last year seems distant, a "big year" in gaming that doesn't seem so huge when now there's just one next-gen system in the rearview mirror and two outside the driver's side window. Somehow, though, next year could easily be bigger yet. This year brings a Wii and a PS3. Next year brings the first next-gen "Mario," "Halo" and "Grand Theft Auto" — all safe bets for the fall. Critical overachievers "Metal Gear Solid" and "Metroid Prime" get new chapters next year as well.

Hype always threatens to blow things out of proportion, but the gaming world truly spins swiftly. A year ago, the PSP was America's darling handheld, staving off the chunky Nintendo DS and whatever love people had for "Nintendogs." A year later, game makers publicly (EA) and privately (I can't say, but they're big), grumble at what they see as the PSP's stunted potential. Meanwhile, the DS has been redesigned and now consistently outsells the PSP in America and Japan. That new DS — the ubiquitous Lite — was little more than a faint rumor a year ago. A year ago, Nintendo still called the Wii "The Revolution."

In the next year, the 360's ability to hold off the PS3 will be tested. What will be the value of Microsoft nabbing an exclusive on "BioShock" and the next "Splinter Cell"? Will the 360 benefit from getting "GTA IV" the same October day Sony's system does? Will Microsoft's standard of charging gamers for online multiplayer competition be undone by Sony's PS3 practice — carried over from the PS2 — of letting it be free? And will the 360's new TV- and movie-download service, activated today, get hot enough to make Apple sweat?

If you doubt the difference a year in gaming makes, just rent "Lego Star Wars" and its successor and experience how a game made in 2005 compares to one made in 2006. Or find someone who bought a Dreamcast at launch in 1999 and ask them how they felt come 2000.

The calendar may say that there are six weeks left in the year, but this year's biggest games and systems have launched (well, except for "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops"). The Xbox 360 has turned one, and now has to share the crib. The next year promises to be full of sibling rivalry. Happy new year, gamers.

Once a week Multiplayer will provide a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:

The Stock Report:

» Number of games at MTV HQ: 187

» Last three games to arrive: "Monster Bomber" (DS), "Capcom Classics Collection" (PS2/ Xbox 360), "Smackdown vs. Raw 2007" (PS2/ Xbox 360)

» Last system to arrive: PS3

» Last swag to arrive: "Viva Piñata" miniature piñata

— Stephen Totilo

11.21.06

Multiplayer: The Joy Of Visiting The 'Yoshi' Museum

Finding fun in watching, rather than playing, games.

A game developer once told me that one of the things players like best is to watch two characters they don't control beat each other up.

This was an innovation born of the kind of artificial intelligence that started showing up in games about a decade ago. It was shocking when distant enemy dinosaurs and soldiers in "Turok: Dinosaur Hunter" proved short-tempered enough that they could be tricked into turning on each other instead of trampling toward you.

Since then games such as "The Sims" and "Nintendogs" have made bundles by playing the role of high-tech fishbowl. The games can be interacted with, but they can also be mesmerizing just to watch. What will those Sims do today in the house I built for them? What moves is my Nintendog making in the local park?

Games, of course, are meant to be played. Or so everyone says. Interactivity is key. Controllers matter. There's even a common saying that gameplay matters over graphics. This is all likely true, and it's what sets games apart from TV and the movies. But a few days ago I was playing "Yoshi's Island DS" and found myself having great fun just ... watching.

I had stumbled across the game's "museum" function, the kind of extra feature that doesn't get mentioned in ads. "Yoshi's Island DS" is a side-scrolling platformer, each level dropping Yoshi onto colorful terrain populated with odd little bad guys. The museum is just another piece of landscape, but with fewer bad guys. Instead it has a welcome message — "Come gawk at the strange creatures that are native to Yoshi's Island" — and a bunch of doors. Behind each is a hall split across the DS's two screens. The lower screen hosts a passageway through which Yoshi can trot. Overhead, the top screen shows cages for enemies defeated in the main game. I'm only 13 levels into the game, so most are still empty. But a few have bad guys in them, each character showing off a signature move they would usually use against Yoshi. Monkeys clamber over vines. Piranha flowers snap at each other. Two guys with baseball bats stand at opposite sides of their cage batting a boulder back and forth.

I've toured other games' bonus areas too, gawking at hundreds of statues in the "Super Smash Bros.: Melee" trophy room, walking a museum inside "King Kong" and tossing virtual carrots at creatures captured in the "Pikmin 2" Piklopedia. Through it, I've come to realize that the heat of action isn't always where a game's characters and graphics are best appreciated.

So other people can have their screenshots and movies. I'll take video-game museums. Find one and take a tour. See what you think.

— Stephen Totilo

11.20.06

Multiplayer: The Problem With The New 'Zelda'

How much innovation is required in sequels to a wildly popular game?

There's a problem with Nintendo's new "Zelda" game.

I discovered it this weekend when I wolfed down enough of "The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess" to bulge my play time to 17 hours and nine minutes, taking a break long enough to notice the message board furor that erupted after a reviewer at GameSpot filed the first major review score for the title lower — if just barely — than a nine out of 10. He cited a lack of originality.

I sympathize with the reviewer and have come to a conclusion: The problem with Nintendo's new "Zelda" is that it's a game made for the Xbox 360 and PS3. For more than a year, Nintendo's leaders have castigated their competitors at Sony and Microsoft for suggesting that the future of gaming is simply a graphically richer, more epic, widescreen presentation of what has been in games before. That's not the Nintendo way as far as the wacky Wii is concerned, but it defines the development of "Twilight Princess" to a T.

"The Twilight Princess" is, at least in the first 17 hours I have experienced, a beautifully rendered, tightly programmed, joyfully polished remix of "Zelda" games past. That is the best that can be said and the worst of it.

At a glance this is a whole new "Zelda." After all, Link's never been a wolf before. But Link's wolf sense functions an awful lot like the Lens of Truth did in "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time." Link still needs to nab a slingshot, a bow and a boomerang during his adventure, as he has in so many past "Zelda" games. There's something from everyone in this new "Zelda" game, enough elements analogous to old "Zelda" games that you could make a "Twilight Princess" series of SAT questions.

In fact, "Zelda" fans, try these out once you've played the new one.

» The Skultullas from "Ocarina" are to ______ from "Twilight Princess" as the weapons trainer from "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" is to ______ from "Twilight Princess."

» Ocarina from "Ocarina" = ______ + ______ from "Twilight Princess."

» The flower-cannons from "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" + the Gorons from "Ocarina" = ______ from "Twilight Princess."

Movie sequels get panned if they fail to innovate and simply tread the same territory as the original film. But for two decades, many game sequels got a pass for repeating the old stuff. "Mario" and "Madden" didn't really need to reinvent themselves and scrap their old clichés so long as they were making the most of better graphics, sound and new controllers. Some franchises overhauled themselves regularly anyway, like the convention-defying "Final Fantasy" series. Even "Zelda" flipped the script with the time-pressured adventure of "Majora's Mask" and the sea-based "Wind Waker."

With "Twilight Princess," Nintendo has produced a wonderfully fun game. I even hear that a lot of brand-new stuff kicks in during the back-half of the 60-hour adventure. But let's consider the 17-hour opening bit. Nintendo has preached innovation. Yet their flagship game on their most innovative console instead has demonstrated the potency of renovation: staging an old masterpiece anew with the details just rearranged, like people do with Shakespeare plays.

Is that still the way for game sequels to go? Or is it time for Nintendo, with "Zelda" and the rest of its famous franchises, to abandon familiar ground and start practicing what it's preached?

— Stephen Totilo

» Read the current Multiplayer column.

» Click here for last week's Multiplayer run.

About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.