A few weeks ago, David Wong wrote this excellent article about landmark moments in video games that make playing them a worthwhile experience. But if you look carefully, you'll notice something: Not a one of them was about multiplayer. In fact, though we write about gaming often at Cracked, none of us seem to have any positive opinions about the multiplayer aspect. Now, there's an easy explanation for that: We're all socially stunted, misanthropic bastards who hate our fellow man as much as we fear his almost assuredly superior physical strength.
But shit, that hasn't kept literally everybody on Xbox Live from multiplayer gaming. And you know what? Despite the fact that I honestly may never enter a match again, I look back on my history in gaming and have to admit that some of the most fun I've ever had was due to multiplayer. But amidst that drunken retrospection, I noticed something odd. Was it just the whiskey dementia twisting my memories again, or was I on to something?
Was every truly great multiplayer game I've ever played completely and totally broken?
Let me show you what I mean:
4Grand Theft Auto IV
I love sandbox games: You give me a city and free license, and I'm all set for an afternoon or 40. I'm not picky about the environment or the atmosphere, I'll steal whatever -- car, spaceship, horse cart -- and I will ramp that shit into the police station and run away laughing while my truck/skiff/stallion burns. That's all I want: The ability to destroy small parts of society without all that pesky walking. Luckily, we've had some great ones lately: Saints Row 3 understands fun like possibly no other game in history. Around the time they give you the actual Burt Reynolds as a partner, a gaggle of remote mines and a speeder bike like in Return of the Jedi, you can't help but give them all of your money and maybe, just maybe ... a little piece of your heart. Just Cause 2 built a gigantic, remarkably varied country ... and then let you tether a man's face to a jet and air-surf all the way across that nation and into a skyscraper like some sort of terrorist Teen Wolf.
Source.Stiles is whipping around behind it like a meat windsock.
And then there was Grand Theft Auto IV.
I have some conflicting opinions about GTA IV: I think everybody should own it, because what Rockstar accomplished with the living, breathing city they built is a feat that transcends gaming and ventures into science fiction territory. It's just too bad they layered an irreparably broken game on top of it. The controls were awful, the missions were lifeless and repetitive, and they generally seemed to lack any kind of creativity or imagination with which to fill their staggering technical achievement. Just a tip, guys: Next time you build a rich and believable environment, remember that we can already jump into a beat up old Bonneville and drive our fat cousins to the bowling alley. That is not the realm of fantasy; that is the realm of New Jersey on a Saturday night.
Source."Welcome to a rich fantasy world, cousin! Now, let's pick up my wife's blood pressure medicine and fall asleep watching soap operas!"
And yet, despite itself, GTA IV possessed what might have been the most fun multiplayer mode of any current generation game. So what was so ingenious about this new and novel mode?
They didn't do a damn thing. They gave the player a Grand Theft Auto city and allowed multiple players in the same space. The end. No objectives, no scores, no penalties -- just you and a dozen of your friends, all with infinite lives, set loose in the most dynamic landscape built in video game history.
That's the definition of fun: Just let us do whatever we want, whatever it is, with no rules, and we'll make up our games along the way. Whether that's just an endless, pointless brawl; hanging out and exploiting one of the many glitches (like launching cars from the infamous swing set); going garbage truck jousting; or my personal favorite, playing Hello Copter, where the entire point of the game is to steal a helicopter, hover just above one of your oblivious co-players and then bail out, shouting "Hello, Copter!" just as your body smashes into the pavement next to them, followed a split second later by an exploding helicopter.
Source."GREETINGS, HELICOPTER! Shit, did I do it wrong?"
But a complete absence of objectives or rules does not normally make for a good gaming experience. Don't believe me? Just go out on any playground and tell the kids you've thought up a new game called "playground" and the object is to "be on the playground they're already on." Then step back and smile at the confused blinking. A good game is a thing you can win; it's a set of rules for you to master and operate within. It's like Rockstar already knew that the objective-based games they included in GTA IV would be too glitchy and awkward to play, so they threw up their hands in frustration and said "You do better!"
And you know what? We God damn did.
When I was a kid, I loved fighting games best. Street Fighter II was my fucking jam -- why, I once came in "best non-Asian in competition" at the local arcade's round robin -- but I played every other major entry in the genre, too, all the way up to the Guilty Gear series. Then that game let me kill a transvestite nun with an electric guitar solo, and I knew it was all downhill from there. I haven't played since.
Although maybe that's more due to online multiplayer replacing in-person multiplayer: That switch, from personal to digital, raised a whole host of problems. Not the least of which was the inability to punch your friends in the arm after defeating them, or to simply look deeply into their eyes when you tell them to suck it. That eye contact was important, you know; how else could they see into your soul and know -- truly and fundamentally understand at a cellular level -- that you really, really, really thought they should suck it?
Or maybe it was because, with every match being against an international, limitless player base, you were most likely to wind up going against the people who played the game the most (and were therefore transcendentally better than you). When every match both begins and ends with the same 12 billion hit unblockable super combo, and your only recourse is to reverse uppercut cancel at the 14 5/6 second point --after the teabagging animation ends but before the curb stomping animation starts -- it starts to not be as much fun anymore.
Source."Stop complaining, n00b, you totally have a six millisecond opening before he moves his foot." -The comments section
But Bushido Blade was the direct opposite of modern fighting games: It was based entirely around one hit, one kill moves -- all of which were possible with the right training, patience, honed skill, or random sneeze/thumb spasm. The game was massively innovative, and featured some entirely new concepts for the fighting genre, like realistic, accumulative body damage (you slashed the tendons in their knee and they couldn't run; a hit to the arm would take away their ability to execute certain attacks). Bushido Blade even featured linked stages, meaning that you could sprint off the right edge of the screen and emerge on the left side of the next stage. In theory, this would make for the most dramatic, realistic sword-fighting game possible. In practice, this made for the longest, most absurd, bloody game of tag in history.
The second anybody started losing (or if they just thought you were funny when you were mad, and didn't really have any place to be that day), they would turn and sprint away, leaving you no choice but to follow. This led to every "deathmatch" being comprised mostly of two dudes in bathrobes jogging equidistantly for 40 minutes straight. Eventually, the fleeing party would get hung up on the corner of a bridge or a pole of bamboo or something, and you chopped them in the back of the head. They died instantly, the next round began, and repeat. It was infuriating.
And that's why it was so much fucking fun: No matter how skilled you got at the game, the playing field was no more than slightly in your favor. The absolute and undisputed master of Bushido could only ever have a marginal advantage over a determined stroke victim or an excitable little girl, which may sound shitty, but it meant that you always had opponents who felt like they had a shot and wanted to play. That shit was invaluable, because 99 percent of fighting game matches end with somebody throwing the controller down and saying "This is stupid, I don't want to play anymore." And without a live opponent on the other end of that controller, sitting in a dark room watching a heavyset Japanese guy power-fist a little British girl until she passes out is somehow nowhere near as fun as it sounds.
Source."I mean, sure, I'll masturbate to it, but I'm not going to like it."
It was an utterly broken, unbalanced, unmanaged mess of a fighting game, but you always had a line waiting to play it, and every single match ended with screaming swears and wild cheers.
Because, while Bushido Blade's marathon foot-chases were mostly boring and aggravating, the end was always worth it, when either you got the vindication of finally mowing down that little bastard with a well-placed swing, or they'd get bored and unexpectedly turn to fight. Either way, it was 40 minutes' worth of boring buildup that always ended with one minute of pure, unbridled, bloody excitement.
And Bushido Blade invented that formula six years before Battlestar Galactica came out.