Multiplayer Archive: Week Sixteen

Multiplayer: Is 'EverQuest' Sexier Than 'Street Fighter'?

Popular games go head-to-head in Game Developer's Conference challenge.

SAN FRANCISCO — Is "World of Warcraft" more social than "You Don't Know Jack"? Is "Street Fighter II" a better-looking game than "Sim City"? Is "WipEout" more realistic than "Breakout"?

Harder questions may not have been asked during the weeklong Game Developer's Conference.

At 9 a.m. Friday (March 9), game designers Warren Spector, Marc LeBlanc and Jonathan Blow; academics Tracy Fullerton and Jesper Juul; and gaming writer Clint Hocking gathered in a large hall at the Moscone Convention Center and split into two teams to compete in the Metagame, a trivia challenge in which the only "right" answers are opinions about video games. Clearly this was a game designed for combat.

New York indie game designers Eric Zimmerman of Gamelab and Frank Lantz of Area/Code designed the game and hosted the competition. They projected icons of 54 video games onto a large screen, their game board. Each icon was connected to a few others, allowing connected pairs to be compared. For any comparison, the teams had to choose one of three possible ways to compare the games and then cast judgment on them. For example, "Parappa the Rapper" could be compared to "Grand Theft Auto III," "World of Warcraft," "Grim Fandango" and "Lemmings" to see which game looks better, has better audio or created a greater cultural legacy.

A few hundred GDC attendees watched the contestants battle out the issues. Is "World of Warcraft" more social than "Asteroids"? Three of the panelists — the Blue Team — said yes. The Red Team didn't challenge. But did "World of Warcraft" create a more intense subculture than "Asteroids"? The Blue Team said yes. The Red Team considered challenging, whispering that "Asteroids" did help develop arcade culture. But they weren't feeling lucky enough to challenge.

The Blue Team then tried to claim that "Guitar Hero" created a more intense subculture than "World of Warcraft." The Red Team challenged. The audience was consulted. Did anyone think "Guitar Hero" created a more intense subculture than "WoW"? No one clapped. The Red Team won the challenge.

The teams had trouble getting off the subculture question, but the tricky rules finally let them switch things up. New proposition: "Guitar Hero" is more culturally sophisticated than "Parappa the Rapper." The crowd needed to be asked again, and the level of applause slightly favored the opinion that "Parappa" is more sophisticated. That didn't stop a comment from one of the players that "Guitar Hero" is for "the lowest common dominator," which generated some hisses.

Then the Blue Team noticed a problem. The rules now forced them to apply one of the following three statements to "Civilization III" in regards to "Parappa the Rapper": "Makes better use of audio," "Makes better use of writing," "Has better characters than." If you know the games, you'd see why this was a disastrous situation. Problems included that "Civilization III" doesn't really have characters or writing or signature music. The Blue Team surrendered their turn.

Throughout the hour, a few more conundrums came up. Is the old PC adventure game "Oregon Trail" more emotionally rich than the PS2 racing game "WipEout"? The Red Team said so. Some Blue Team members wanted to challenge. But seriously? The Blue Team couldn't possibly think there is more emotion in a futuristic racing game than in a game about settling the American West. "I think we need to save our challenge juice for something we can win," Leblanc said. (A turn later, the teams narrowly missed a chance to argue that "Oregon Trail" is sexier than "Virtua Fighter").

The game was close. The Red Team won, but no one was really counting. After the game, Zimmerman and Lantz were talking about creating a Web version. Not only had the game proven to be fun, but it was thought-provoking. "We could build a body of knowledge with this," Zimmerman pointed out. Indeed, the discussions of what makes a game realistic had sparked some good debate.

Other key findings? The crowd cheered that "Street Fighter II" is sexier than "EverQuest," to an overwhelming degree. As LeBlanc said, "Two words: Chun Li."

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: 'LittleBig' Sensation

Could new game be most graphically advanced side-scroller ever seen?

03.08.07

SAN FRANCISCO — In yet another sign of the video game industry acting a bit abnormally here at the Game Developers Conference, the big new game everyone has been buzzing about since Wednesday morning is neither a big-name sequel nor the product of a big-name developer. It's something called "LittleBigPlanet," a little PlayStation 3 title from Media Molecule, a handful of barely recognizable British developers that last worked on 2005 cult favorite "Rag Doll Kung Fu."

I first saw the game at Sony's secret media briefing Tuesday night, an event expected to be highlighted by the console maker's Home service for the PlayStation 3 (see "Sony Unveils Big PS3 Secret: Gamers Get To Go 'Home' "). Impressive as that was, the reporters with whom I took a bus from that event to a late-night EA showcase were more interested in chattering about the 16-minute "LittleBigPlanet" demo that had immediately followed the unveiling of that Home stuff.

"LittleBigPlanet" is a side-scroller, possibly the most graphically advanced side-scroller ever seen. Mario ran across cartoon mushrooms. Sonic blazed through a primitively rendered forest. The big-headed heroes of "LittleBigPlanet" — like the tiny guy who resembles a miniature teddy bear made with a burlap sack — run across brick walls that look real enough to scuff at the touch, and bump into oranges and soccer balls programmed to bounce and burst with realistic physics. Another little character wears a scarf that shows detail down to the individual stitch. The game may be a better advertisement for the image-improving advantages of upgrading one's home TV to a high-definition set than any of the realistically rendered wreckage and snarling armored aliens of "Gears of War" or "Resistance: Fall of Man."

Part of what may make the growing excitement for this game so surprising is that little if any goal has yet to be displayed for the game. It would be fair to ask what its point is, even. Like side-scrollers before it, players are encouraged to run their character from left to right and reach a goal. And the game allows multiple players to hop through the courses together. But the demo for the project indicated no scoring system and no princess to be saved. In fact, the developers focused more on what you the player could do rather than what you needed to do. The game is greatly customizable. Players are encouraged to make their own levels.

The Tuesday night "LittleBigPlanet" demo course featured wooden fences to climb, giant iron cogs to treadmill across, sewn cloth cubes to topple and a skateboard to surf down a slope, all cobbled together by the game's creators using an in-game editing tool. Running through isn't supposed to be all the fun. The making is supposed to be part of the appeal. As demoed, you tap a few PS3 buttons and your character plants an orange atop a soccer ball, a shiny sticker on a draping cloth backdrop, a smiley face on their friend's character, and so forth. On Tuesday night, one member of Media Molecule ran their character in place atop one of those cog wheels. As they did so and the wheel quickly spun, another developer stuck pink flower petals all over the cog's teeth.

Sony and Media Molecule reps showed that users will be able to share the levels they create with other PS3 owners, enabling a community of comments, rankings, popular builds and so forth. This isn't much unlike another indie gaming darling, the YouTube-popular PC title "Line Rider," which is also light on goal and high on creativity. "Line Rider" also has users draw side-scroller levels as if with a pen on white paper and then watch how a little skateboarder flies through it. That game is now set for release on the Nintendo DS and Wii. Having no goal but that of creating something to amuse other people online might just suffice. Isn't that what makes YouTube itself a hit as well?

PlayStation Home got strong applause when Sony PlayStation's head of worldwide studios, Phil Harrison, demonstrated it for GDC attendees at his keynote address Wednesday morning. "LittleBigPlanet," by the end of its demo, elicited a roar. The game came up as I chatted with developers outside GDC panels throughout the day. It came up at dinner with other reporters. It was the talk of a meet-up of video game message board posters from NeoGAF.com that I stumbled into. I told those guys I could see myself enjoying running through levels but not taking the time to make them. Two GAFfers I spoke to strongly disagreed. They want to make stuff. The game was a popular topic at another EA event I went to later at night. People there want to play.

"LittleBigPlanet" is announced as a downloadable game for late this year, possibly in demo form only at first. A full disc-based product won't ship until 2008.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: What We're Not Playing At Game Developers Conference

Event is mostly hands-off for our gaming expert.

03.07.07

SAN FRANCISCO — Ask me about my job and I'm quick to point out — and maybe even protest too much — that my work does not involve playing games all day. Really. I don't play in the office much at all. Nope, I'm busying reporting all day, I tell people.

That may well be, but out here at Game Developers Conference 2007, my job description changes yet again. I've been spending a good amount of time the past few days watching other people play. Imagine that as a job.

GDC is primarily an event for game makers, so there aren't hundreds of kiosks set up E3-style for every attendee to play. There are some. Nintendo and other game makers will open small demo areas Wednesday (March 7) at the show, but you're just as likely to see a game in action because a guy sits next to you at a table in the lounge area of the Moscone Center, flips open his laptop, and demos his great new game concept to someone he wants to go in business with.

On Monday, I watched some Xbox Live Arcade developers do the laptop demo for a pirate-based party game. On Tuesday, I walked up a classic San Francisco hill to reach a hotel where Peter Molyneux, in suite 203, was playing an early build of the Xbox 360's "Fable 2" for reporters like me to watch and agree to not write about for another couple of days.

You can get your hands on some stuff. The Xbox hotel had a third-floor suite where Xbox Live Arcade games were being showcased. In that room you could play the stuff, just not film it. Microsoft Casual Games Project Manager Chris Early jockeyed through a few of the games, handing off the controller to players not distracted by the hotel room's free M&Ms. He passed the controller to one guy who wanted to try EA's Live Arcade game "Boom Boom Rocket," which plays out like "Dance Dance Revolution" controlled by fingertips instead of foot-taps on a dance pad. The reporter he handed it to did OK in my book. Early said the writer was the best he'd seen. People who demoed "BBR" for me in New York a few weeks ago said the same thing to me when I played (see "GameFile: EA Struts Its Stuff, WiiCade.com Gets An Upgrade & More"). I think they say that to everyone.

What do you do when someone else is playing and there's no refrigerator to visit to fetch a distraction? I quizzed Early on anything that popped into my head that might involve his job, like those $4 Xbox 360 Burger King games that sold a couple of million over the last few months (see "Burger King Video Games: Savvy Or Creepy?"). The Casual Games team at Microsoft helped put that deal together. Early told me the games had initially been considered as downloadable titles, but Burger King higher-ups thought requiring people to go to their restaurants to get the games on disc would be better for business. Now, Early said, all kinds of companies are trying to get involved with Microsoft on this. How about a return for the King? "Burger King is definitely interested in doing more," Early told me.

I did play one game in the XBLA suite. Microsoft's studio Rare will re-release one of the group's early games, the 1983 title "Jetpac." I played the remixed version, which has nice high-def graphics, swirling lights and vortexes. The gameplay's still basic and fun. You fly a spaceman through one fixed screen of play, gather rocket parts and drop fuel into the rocket. Once it's assembled, you hop your spaceman onboard. And then you land again and build another rocket. Aliens fly around the whole time trying to kill you.

On Tuesday night, I went to an EA event on the 15th floor of an expensive hotel frequented by the beautiful people of San Francisco. On 15, waiters were serving shrimp, some other fancy foods and small milkshakes. Plus it had an open bar. I could have played some games, but there was little elbow room. I did clear some space for Valve's upcoming remake of the student game "Narbacular Drop," remade by those same students into "Portal." I'd explain how this game warped my brain, but EA requires reporters not to talk about the game for another day. As you can surmise at this point, there are a lot of rules involved in covering GDC.

If watching someone play a game is one step down from playing it yourself, what's the next step down from that? I think it would be merely knowing about the game, hearing its title and seeing a screenshot. A step down from that is hearing an announcement on the 15th floor of a hotel frequented by beautiful people that MTV's very own Harmonix Studios, makers of "Guitar Hero," will be releasing their next music-based game from Electronic Arts. And then they don't say a word about what it's called, what it's about or when it's coming out.

Possibly one step down from even that is being so booked with interviews and panel discussions that there's no time to write about these games whispered about and played at GDC. I apologize for not posting a Multiplayer entry on Tuesday. At least readers will know that it's not because I was busy playing games.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Which Games Travel Well? Our Reporter Investigates ...

Rhythm games and PSTwo leave a lot to be desired — when you're trying to play them on the road.

03.05.07

SAN FRANCISCO — On the road again, I've abandoned most of my video game collection in New York to attend the Game Developers Conference here. I'm prepping for a week of events that includes a major PlayStation 3 speech on Wednesday, a peek at the Xbox 360's 360's "Fable 2" and even a lecture by a former developer of the "Thief" series about how game creators can free game players of the need to compulsively save their progress every few minutes of a game.

Before all that, though, I had to plan on which parts of my game collection would make the trip with me. What are the gaming road rules? What travels well?

» Rhythm games don't. For this week's journey I foolishly packed a 2006 favorite, the Japanese Game Boy Advance "Rhythm Tengoku." The game is a product of the sugar-rush design tastes of the makers of "Wario Ware," a rhythm game cooked up for people with ever shorter attention spans. I'll probably regret packing this. Airplane engines and subway motors hum just deeply enough that even while wearing headphones I can hardly hear well enough to catch the rhythm and tap buttons or stylus very much on beat. This is good for hotel play, but it's a bust for the six-hour plane rides.

» DS games do travel well. Nintendo will win no environmental awards for packing each single DS game in snap-tight plastic cases the width of more than four DS cartridges and the height of three. They could sell these things in matchboxes, though such packages would be barely visible on store shelves. The one consumer benefit of the overly large box is that it can be stuffed with extra games. The inside of a DS box is designed for one DS game to snap into a small plastic cradle. Three plastic ridges above that cradle are shaped to hold a spare Game Boy Advance cartridge. Gutters on both sides of those two slots are just broad enough for two DS cartridges each. The games don't lie flat, but they come close enough that the game box can snap shut around them. For this trip I brought the box for the new new "Wario: Master of Disguise," and loaded it with "Wario Thief," "Final Fantasy VI" in the GBA slot, and "Elite Beat Agents," "Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin" and "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice For All" in the gutters. I loaded "Hotel Dusk" into my DS. And I managed to fit a second GBA game, "Final Fantasy V," in the "Wario" case as well.

I wanted to bring "Pokemon Ranger" for the DS as well, as I'd enjoyed it back in the fall and have been meaning to go back to it. But I can only find its box, not the cartridges. I checked all my other DS boxes too, in case I'd tucked into another gutter. No such luck. It now joins the 1980s Commodore 64 game "The Train" as the second video game I've ever lost.

» The PSTwo does not travel well. One fine way to manage sleepless, jet-lag induced early morning hours in a hotel room is to surf YouTube for something amusing. Another could be to play the way-too-many games one might stuff into a DS case (tell me why I brought two "Final Fantasy" games again?). A few months ago, however, I had an epiphany that the skinny redesigned PlayStation 2 — dubbed the PSTwo — would make a good traveling companion. This was at a time when I was eager to plunge through the pool of Autumn 2006 PS2 titles. A week based in a hotel room in Texas could either delay my great progress in saving a few virtual kingdoms and galaxies, or be a place where I could really focus. Make fun of how much I play games on the road all you want — I'm not the reporter who takes two laptops with him on trips, one for journalism and one for "World of Warcraft." That's another guy. I've sat next to him on a plane.

Here's the problem with the PSTwo plan: slim and easy to pack as the console is, many hotels block or disable the jacks on their TVs so you can't plug it in. The concierge at a hotel in Texas told me this was done at the request of the pay-per-view company that services the rooms. I told him it didn't make me want to order PPV. In other hotels they've got a Nintendo 64 wired up — based on some old Nintendo deal that oddly continues to this day — and that's the gaming system you have to deal with. (My current hotel offers the likes of "Mario Party 3" and "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" on the N64 for $6.95 per hour alongside PPV movies such as "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Dream Girls" and the evocatively titled feature films of the Adult Desires channel). So as ideal as it sounds, PSTwo is out for a lot of major hotel travel. Now, if I were staying with friends ... well, then I'd probably feel like a goof for bringing a game console across the nation.

How much will I actually play the games I brought? Some of it is for the plane, where I made good progress in "Hotel Dusk" and compulsively saved enough that I feel obligated to attend the "Thief" guy's GDC lecture. I really only expect to play some of one "Final Fantasy," picking "V" or "VI" to play deeply into and consigning the other to the pile marked Life's Too Short. What will I actually accomplish? I'll report back in a week.

— Stephen Totilo

» Click here to read the current Multiplayer.

» 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.