Black Ops II multiplayer
Black Ops II (Credit: Treyarch)

Multiplayer is Rubbish, Give me Godus - Why I'm rooting for Peter Molyneux and 22Cans

Console multiplayer today represents something...unsavoury. In the nineties, in the controller port/multi-tap days, it represented friends, getting together, having fun. Now - now that we all play via internet connection and headset - it means insularity, selfishness, paranoia.

Beyond an obscure and generally badly spelled username, you don't know the people you're playing with and the games are rigged to encourage individuality. I'm thinking of things like Battlefield and Call of Duty especially, where you're given points for the amount of kills YOU get; where the game revolves around the accumulation of new gear for YOU. It's all about levelling up, looking after yourself, being the highest scoring player on the team. This is why we have the term "kill stealing."

Multiplayer today reminds me of an old joke: "What do you call five geniuses all playing solos at once? Jazz."

Rather than something cohesive or teamwork-based, multiplayer's become a total free-for-all of flag capturing, point scoring and kill streaking. It's a mess; it's like improv or scat-singing. There's no harmony, just a group of people doing their own thing in the same room. It's why I loved Curiosity, and I'm looking forward to Godus.


Say what you want about Molyneux but he's really thwacked it into the bullseye with this one. Multiplayer has become kind of worthless. When Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network Adapter first rolled out I was ecstatic. I thought it was going to be like multiplayer on the PC, where people formed clans and chatted on Ventrilo and negotiated enormous battles like in EVE. But it wasn't. The grand idea of connectivity boiled down to idiots bellowing at idiots how they just got uber pwned, and went downhill from there.

Halo 2
Halo 2, one of the first games you could play over Xbox Live. (Credit: Bungie)

Today, on consoles, mobiles and even, I think, the hallowed PC space, multiplayer has been infected by this kind of uselessness. Everyone being connected to one another now, it seems, amounts to nothing but being able to view each other's achievements, which no-one does, and look at online leaderboards. There's no interaction; there's no substance. You log in, kill some people you don't know, update your character and log out. No-one plays multiplayer because they want to meet or play with other people; they play it to insult and play against other people. Like I said, it's insular and aggressive. It's kind of sad.

So back to Molyneux and Curiosity and Godus. I think these games represent a better kind of multiplayer. I don't want to sound like I'm advertising for 22Cans here, but the way players are shoved together in Curiosity and Godus means more to me at least than it does in Call of Duty.

I think of Curiosity and how, in dozens of large and small ways, it was co-opted. The big picture was that we were all working on this enormous, indelible task and that without the help of hundreds of thousands of other people, we never would have done it. It was multiplayer by default; it was impossible to do or enjoy without other people. A lot of online games have these kinds of team games but you're never really out for anyone but yourself. A team deathmatch is just a vaguely more structured version of deathmatch - you're still only in it for your kill count and nuts to everyone else.

Me, me, me

And then there were the small ways Curiosity knotted players together. I'm not one for all this pappy "create and share" gas you hear from social networks and tech giants these days; I don't think your child's drawing of the Sun is something the world needs to see. But Curiosity had a sense of humour.

Curiosity cube
Well said, the cube. (Credit: Onthecube)

The stuff people would draw on the side of the cube (admittedly often crude sribblings of willies) was stupid and kind of mischievous, then someone else would come along and add to it, or ruin it just for kicks. It was fun, it was playful. It was people mucking around together. I don't see that a lot in online games now. It's, as I said, all anger and possessiveness and me, me, me.

Anyway, Godus is the one I'm interested in now. What Molyneux et al have set up there is the opportunity for spontaneous narrative. You know like with EVE, where the battles fought between players are about to become the subject of a TV series? That's what Godus is going to be: It's going to be its own story. There's already the formation of a society, of an hierarchy; there are opportunities for players to organise and rebel. It's not like a lot of online games which just wash away when the round ends.

Godus is going to be this long, chartered, narrative thing acted out by the players. Figures and characters will form organically; events will transpire before they're written. And none of that would be possible without multiplayer. At the end of Godus you'll be able to look back and see what the multiple players actually achieved, what they did, and that gives the connectivity some meaning.

At least, that's what I'm hoping for. Multiplayer's been dead to me for a few years now. I think it just needs some intrigue, some substance to bring it back round. I want it to be like those college dorm Dungeons and Dragons games I've heard about, the ones that would last for months and get really serious. I think Curiosity has proved people are into that kind of thing; I hope now that interest spills in Godus.