I’ve recently returned to a popular Xbox Live Arcade game from last year, the puzzling platformer Splosion Man. I’ve been looking for a co-op game to enjoy with Joe DeLia, especially in lieu of the five hour-long nightmare devoid of even an iota of pleasure that was our disastrous Too Human session.
Thankfully, Splosion Man is an excellent game to play in co-op. Any frustration with its lofty difficulty level is engulfed by the satisfaction taken from laughing at each other’s misfortunes, this providing the platform for the game’s quirky humour to really shine. There are intelligent, inventive ideas specific to co-op too, particularly the synchronized 1-2-3 countdown that removes any hindrance to teamwork from lag. All in all, it’s a better game in co-op, as so many games prove to be.
As we played through a few levels, Joe begrudgingly noted that I was constantly reaching the finishing line before him. It wasn’t that there was any bonus for finishing first; as long as one of us finished the level, we both made it through to the next one. It’s just that, apparently, he wanted a piece of the imperceptible glory too. I told him that he had to earn it, and from there we made a game of it: whoever makes it to the finish line first wins. So, we helped each other through the next five levels – you have to, such is the nature of Splosion Man’s platforming level design – but when it came to the finish, all teamwork was abandoned in a madcap dash for the line.
It reminded me of that scene from the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, when Gimley and Legolas are defending the fort. The pair decides to make a game of who can kill the most enemies. Just like Legolas trashed Gimley, I left Joe biting the dust with a final 4-1 result.
This is the emergence of competitive play within co-operative play, where the competitive play works towards the aims of the co-operative play, despite being emergent and essentially disconnected. More than that, it amplifies desire to achieve the goals of the co-operative play by providing another motivation to do so: to beat your partner. Actually, it’s more than just emergent play. It’s the emergence of a game within a game. There are rules, win conditions, boundaries, etc. That the sub-game not only works with the objectives of the main game, but actually amplifies desire to achieve them, is quite fascinating to me.
Then again, think of all the times you’ve had a bet anything like who would score the most goals in a football match for your team, or who would run their part of the relay the fastest. Co-op remains fairly fertile territory for video games, but outside of them this type of play is not so unusual.
Does competitive play within co-operative play work better when it’s emergent? I’m not sure. I haven’t really given it enough thought, but I will note that I more enjoyed the artificial competition we made for ourselves in Splosion Man than any more imposed competitive play I had with my girlfriend in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Sure, it was fun to push her off the edge once in a while, but ultimately that game was tough enough without squabbling between us. I think that analysis reveals that drawing any conclusions from that comparison would be foolish. It might be something worth exploring, though, and a subject I will probably return to in a future post.
Still, it was something that interested me and I thought I would share it instead of plunder further along in the world of Final Fantasy XIII’s Cocoon. On the tenuously segue way-based subject of grand games with theological ideas, I was wondering if Amiga classic Mega-Lo-Mania provided a good example of the reverse i.e. co-operative play within competition.
In this real-time strategy game – although players familiar with its time-bending play will understand why that description is misleading – you fought against up to 3 AI opponents for control of sectors within a map. You could strike alliances with them, if they were willing, and indeed break these alliances at will. The AI could form its own alliances too. To keep things fair, this was more often than not completely random, and the unpredictable AI made for captivating battles and outcomes.
Obviously this isn’t emergent, but you do have temporary co-operative play that amplifies the goal of the competitive play. The key difference is that the example for Splosion Man was purely in the name of fun, while this example is with strategy in mind. I’m not sure it’s even a legitimate example, but again I thought it was worth exploring. There may well be better examples to cite.
I’ve written in my planned notes to have some sort of conclusion here, but I’m not sure there’s one to be drawn, really. Maybe that emergent competitive play within co-operative play is kinda cool. I just wanted to share an observation, really.
Oh wait, here’s a conclusion: Joe sucks at Splosion Man – hah!