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The 'high fidelity' nature of MMOs

Michael Zenke

Inspired by a few days of dedicated holiday gaming, veteran MMO designer Raph Koster offered up an opinion on the state of modern game development. Playing titles like Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, and BioShock, he notes the 'intense' nature of most of the best-selling titles this year. He then ties this in to a recent Rolling Stone article about the modern face of music. That article discusses the pervasive role of music in America today, and the resulting requirement to 'amp up' the volume to be heard in public places.

He directly relates this to the loss of nuanced sound this results in, making a sly dig at the quality of these single-player experiences. IE: by being 'bold and brassy', these titles pale in the realm of quality compared to quieter, more thoughtful titles (like, say, Portal). Steve Danuser, better known as Moorgard, concurs with his assessment. He notes that Massive games in particular are arguments for broader, more varied experiences.

While I'm obviously a fan of Massive titles - and very much agree that the breadth of content you can cram into them is one of their strengths - I can't help but think they're missing the point here a bit. I'm willing to agree, generally, with Raph's argument that truly single-player games will eventually be extinct. There's absolutely no reason that BioShock or Mass Effect couldn't have some sort of shared-world or co-op component (CoD4 and Halo 3 already do).

That said, I bristle a bit at the notion that the big releases of 2007 have no nuance. Several of these titles, as with MMOs, have enough breadth to allow for more than just one activity. While 'shoot things' is the marquee entertainment in Mass Effect and 'stab people' is the main draw for Assassin's Creed, both have other activities in them; certainly Raph isn't going to sit there with a straight face and say the storytelling in Mass Effect is completely without nuance? Even BioShock, which is fundamentally a shooter, offers moments of quieter contemplation. I found the storytelling-via-voice-logs extremely effective, and made it a point to search out and listen to as many as I could.

Where do you fall here? Are console-oriented single-player titles too much flash for you, or do you see possibilities in Rapture's destroyed beauty?

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