Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Big Brother Co-op

First, a happy New Year to you all. I hope your holidays were restful and relaxing and that you're ready to tackle 2007 head on!

For my first post of the New Year I want to discuss an idea for co-op gameplay. The inspiration for this comes from Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it is a pretty standard action platformer in the oldschool castlevania vein (guy with whip runs jumps and whips the undead) but has added an AI support character who dutifully follows our hero around when summoned, supplementing his physical attacks with her magical abilities.

At any time in the game you (the player) can summon or dismiss the support character to your side (she magically teleports in and out instantaneously). You can also toggle between controlling either of the two characters at any point -- the second character will switch to AI mode, or disappear if dismissed.

The game features a co-op multiplayer mode where each player controls one of the two characters. I did not try it yet (I should and will) but I'm assuming it is 'traditional' co-op - that is, both players have full control over the characters' abilities and movement. How the developers handle the camera if there is a disagreement over which direction to go is, of course, an issue that anyone developing a co-op game has had to face at some point...

What I'm wondering is whether or not there is a market (and any existing examples of) a "Big Brother" style of co-op, whereby the support character is playable by a human partner but with limited control.

Taking POR as an example, the AI could still control the movement of the support character, ensuring she was always following behind the 'main' player but would not do any forms of attacks -- those would all be under the control of the second player. The "Little Brother" could feel engrossed in the gameplay and story simply by pressing the attack button at the right time, allowing him to participate much more actively without slowing down the progression of the game.

My wife occasionally likes to watch me play action adventure games where she can get into the story -- Resident Evil 4 was a favorite for a while -- but when I put the controller in her hand she was petrified and hated every second of it. If Ashley had been implemented with this Big Brother Co-Op system in mind, my wife could have happily participated in the story without becoming overwhelmed.

Is this a mechanic that has been implemented in other games that I am unaware of? If a game offered _only_ this form of co-op, but not the more standard 'complete control' format, do you think there would be resistance on the part of consumers? Do people play games with a non-gamer watching and wishing they could participate?


Anonymous Charb said...

Ben, while I was reading your post only one game came to my mind: Knuckles' Chaotix. It's a game that no-one ever played because it only came out on the infamous Sega 32X (the add-on for Genesis). I was very young at the time, but it's still perfectly clear in my mind. The way they handled co-op is exactly the way you describe it.

The two characters are always in the same screen at any time, but in order to prevent one from leaving the other (and also for some gameplay features), the two characters are linked together by a ring force bond.

There are always two characters: Knuckle and one of the Chaotix team (a bunch of weirdos, like a crocodile, a bee, etc.). As far as I can remember, Knuckle was always the leading character - meaning that the ring force would always pull the other character (remember, it's a sonic game and you sometimes had to go trough some really fast parcours).

I remember that when I used to play with my friend, he was always choosing Knuckle and I would choose the secondary character - simply because I didn't like leading the way. This way, I was constantly helping him in situations where he needed an ally, and the rest of the time my character would just follow him passively. This is something I really enjoyed because I never felt like a burden he had to carry.

Of course, the game had a good balance between my passive and active moments - and this is where cooperation was created: With the bee I could lift Knuckle and fly to areas that are normally non-accessible by walking characters, with the crocodile I would be powerful and break walls, etc.

The ring force was not only a feature to link the characters together, but was also used to do some unique co-op moves.

Anyway, there's a lot to say about this game, check out wikipedia:


12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, this goes back as far as Sonic 2. If you played the main game you could select to play as Sonic, Tails, or have both be present. Tails became this really crappy tag-along AI character. But... should someone pick up the second controller, they could then control Tails (to a limited degree) including having him fly Sonic to hard to reach areas. Handy for finding secrets and for helping to deal with boss fights. The screen would follow Sonic, and Tails would "catch up" if left behind.

I think (but can't confirm) that at least one of the Zelda series has done something similar, where a secondary player can help without being the primary focus or control character.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Steve Chiavelli said...

This mechanic is in Mario Kart Double Dash to some extent. The person who plays the gunner can do as little as press the A button to throw items.

Of course, they can also get more involved if they choose. Their contributions can scale upwards (wiggle direction stick for blue sparks, etc.) as they get more comfortable with the game. If they are intimidated by all of that, just pressing A at the right time can be a winning strategy in most races.

Sure, its not an adventure game, but they have the right idea.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd kill to see a two-player co-op game where one player has a totally hardcore gamer type experience, and the other player has a completely casual experience, and yet both feel like they're playing with, and helping out, each other. That would be the kind of a game a 15-year-old kid could play with her grandfather.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous shaktool said...

Off the top of my head, Jet Force Gemini and Zelda: The Wind Waker have "Big Brother Co-op" modes.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was mentioned, but I just want to emphasize it, as it is the probably the most well-implemented example currently in existence, IMHO.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Ben Mattes said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. Obviously there are a lot more "big brother" co-op games then I thought.

I agree with Darius, though, that an engaging action adventure game with a good story could greatly benefit from a mechanic such as this. I want to play God Of War II with my wife controlling something -- anything -- that keeps her engaged in the game and story from beginning to end.

10:34 AM  

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