While Nintendo has historically hesitated to fully embrace online connectivity with its games and hardware, the company recently filed a patent for the concept of a “Massively Single-Playing Online Game.”
The patent says that in this type of game, users playing a single player title could influence the characters and world of another user playing the same single player title, reports Gamespot.
Based on the patent’s description, this concept hopes to capture the positive elements of online play without the need for human-to-human interaction: “Those who want to play games that are more dynamic, not-based on Al and not-pre-scripted like multiplayer games, however, don’t want to ‘deal’ with other people, appreciate the privacy it provides,” the patent says.
For some discussion of this, see this blog post and the comments. The idea of having connections between people playing the same game but not actively interacting is not a new one. (And as there’s heaps of discussion about it and a few examples of prior art, then it stands to reason that the USPTO will grant a frivolous patent.)
In truth, Nintendo are really describing the anonymity of friend codes and the ease of matching competitors in online games – where you can not only find it difficult to see who it is (through the use of Miis) but also have difficulty communicating because you have to use a set of pre-made scripted responses. And the result is genius because the last thing you want, when playing Mario Kart Wii, is some 14 year old screaming obscenities through a text chat interface while you’re trying to win an important race.
Because the best part of online gaming is, of course, everyone else. Yes, you have to put up with the noobs (people who have been playing for ages but who remain hopeless), the outraged (how dare you!) and worst of all, the TK (team killer, someone who things it’s fun to attack allies). Having one of these on your team can ruin a game. Having them on the opposing team can be hilarious but also ruin a game. The basic premise is: online people suck.
But we still want the experience of playing against humans. Where we know our win was because of luck and skill as opposed to exploiting an AI glitch which hilariously causes the boss monster to bounce like a Chinese Vampire rather than rampage through your team.
So in designing games which are ostensibly single-player – but which are online, it can be serendipitous to base some of the game events on the actions of other players. The simplest example of this? No, you can’t loot that treasure item because someone was here first. A simple idea, seldom executed.
For location-based alternate reality games, this is like a magic ingredient; being able to interact with other players in your story where a player can be in the same city, a different city or even a virtual city yet without having the hassle of finding players, timing them or even speaking to them.