30 April 2010

My Multiplayer Phobia

So yesterday Vic and I rolled up our sleeves and dove controller-first (not head-first) into Lost Planet 2. We played a bit of split-screen co-op. Vic has a 52-inch plasma that has single-handedly made him nearsighted. Yet, in LP 2's co-op play, we had to make due with split screens that were at best 17 or so inches across. Much of the screen, for some inexplicable reason, was taken up by 1. black space and 2. a pair of useless compass-map things.

I couldn't tell where I was, or who or what I was shooting at. We endured a few missions together, then I cabbed it home, promising Vic that I'd jump online and play over the Net with him.

As soon as I got home, I ate a pickle. Then I fell fast asleep with one of my cats curled up on my chest. I woke up around 6:30. I turned on the Xbox, and got Lost Planet 2 working. I texted Vic, asking him if he was ready to go. He said he was busy downloading the Halo Reach beta, and that I should join him there. I said, "No."

Now I'd read that Lost Planet 2 really doesn't offer much in the way of a single-player experience. No matter. I tried to play a bit more of the campaign on my own, with three A.I.-controlled partners rounding out my party. The A.I. was just fucking worthless. I had to do everything on my own. Idiots.

A few hours later, presumably after he'd tired of Reach, Vic pinged me. He was ready to get online. Suddenly, I was overcome with some kind of videogame inertia. The last thing I wanted to do in the world right then was go online and play more Lost Planet 2. I don't know how else to put this other than to say this: I simply was not in the mood.

And that's my problem with multiplayer gaming in general. I need to really feel up to doing it in order to, you know, do it. I despise all the time-wasting you have to do in lobbies, waiting for other players to check in, or log on, or update their 360s or whatever. There's always a ton of farting around that needs to happen in order to make a multiplayer session work. There is nothing I hate more than sitting in front of my TV, stupid headset on my head, waiting for someone to join my party.

I can feel myself slowing inching towards death in these moments. This is the exact opposite of a good time for me. And this is the exact opposite of why I enjoy playing games. I play games because I want to get wrapped up in the fiction; I play games to escape. I play games because, frankly, I need a break from the world, and, to be more specific, from people in general.

People. I love them, but sometimes they wear me out. Even my closest friends.

I also despise the inherent competitiveness of multiplayer gaming. Even in cooperative situations, like Left4Dead, there's always that load-out screen, where kill numbers are tallied and your performance is quantified via various stats and data. I call this the Mine Is Bigger Than Yours moment. And yes, I hate it.

Vic, partly out of frustration, texted me last night saying, "I'm adding multiplayer gaming to your list of phobias." And you know what? I think I do have a weird phobia around it. I absolutely dread it.

I attribute some of my dread to the fact that I grew up with a brother who was only a year younger than I was. In school, in sports, he and I competed constantly. It felt like the first 18 years of my life was one long competition.

So I don't seek out competition now, not actively. Yes, it's nice if you're at the top of your friend leaderboard for Street Fighter IV. I don't want to fight you. I don't want those Mine Is Bigger Than Yours moments. I don't need them. So you guys have your fun online. I'm happiest, and most comfortable, playing offline, solo, doing my own thing. Seriously, I am.

12 April 2010

iPhone Plants Vs. Zombies: Borderline Unplayable?

I never quite got around to polishing off the desktop version of Plants Vs. Zombies. So, when the game appeared in the iPhone App store for the wallet-friendly price of three dollars, I downloaded it and set to work righting that wrong.

Now I'm regretting doing so.

Plants Vs. Zombies is not a great tower defense game, especially when compared with far superior offerings like Fieldrunners or geoDefense Swarm. But what it has going for it is how all of these subtle elements like the catchy UFO-like sound that indicates that a zombie is approaching and the sauce pot that Dave the neighbor inexplicably wears on his head somehow, some way all cohere into an experience that worms its way into your, um, brains, and stays there.

It's bright. It's colorful. It's jaunty. In some way, PopCap has become the casual-game industry equivalent to Disney. They create these indelible, hooky experiences that feel safe and dangerous at once. It's the only place in the gaming universe that my mom and I share any common ground. Which is really saying something.

Unfortunately, despite the iPhone's prowess, and PopCap's prowess, Plants Vs. Zombies chugs to a halt whenever things get hectic. Get six or seven Peashooters shooting, get 10 or 11 zombies shambling about and things slow to an unplayable, unforgiveable crawl. I haven't seen this sort of slowdown since the Super Nintendo days.

Here's hoping that PopCap is working on an update at this very moment.

If you're considering a purchase, here's my advice: go with the PC or Mac version of the game until you hear otherwise.