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Examining The Concept of the "Anti-Co-op" Experience

Is there more to cooperative games then being cooperative? Today's post takes a look at another form of "working together."

Recently playing through Day 1 Studios' FEAR 3, I saw a basic form of a concept that I've been playing around in my head for some time. I've played plenty of co-op games which all follow the same rule: "all for one and one for all." However, I've yet to see a game where players are working together... except they aren't.

This is where this concept of an "anti co-op" game comes to play. Where two or more players are working together at the same time they are completely opposed to each other. Now it's important to make the distinction that this is not about competitive games, as they are about two sides attempting to win over the other. "An uneasy alliance" is a saying that goes here.

Before I go further, it's important to talk about FEAR 3's system as it plays into this discussion. In the co-op mode, each player has a list of challenges that they can achieve during the level. The challenges are categorized into different groups based on what has to be done. Such as performing certain # of head shots or finding collectibles. At the end of the level, the game stores how many challenges were completed and which category they belong to for each player. While both players are working together to beat the level, they are also competing for the most points which are earned via the challenges. After the final level, the game tallies up who "wins" based on how they came out in each category. The winner gets to view the ending where their character comes out on top.

The two issues that Fear 3 has with my concept, is that it only deals with long term effects and the gameplay is not affected by it. For this idea to work, I have several elements in mind.

1. Asymmetrical Characters: Both players should be different from each other in terms of abilities and objectives to complete. One reason is that they should have to help each other, even if it is for a short while. Each player should be trying to focus on their goals while trying to complete the overall goal for the level. This is one area that FEAR 3 sort of worked. One player controls Point Man who has bullet time abilities, while the other controls Fettel who can possess enemies.

2. Players Are Affecting Gameplay: In my mind, there are two areas of gameplay that the players should be able to alter: paths through the level and which levels to go through. The problem with FEAR 3 is that by only letting the players alter the ending, it doesn't give any short term control to the players. By allowing the winner to affect the gameplay, it raises the stakes for trying to complete their agenda. I could picture the plot changing based on who wins each level and could bounce back and forth between each player.

3. Both Players Have to Survive: This one is important. If the players could kill one another or not care about the other player, then the game won't be any different than a competitive game. The concept is that the players should be working together for a common goal, at the same time that they are stabbing each other in the back.

4. Separate and Together: Tasks in the level will be split between ones that the players can go off and do on their own and ones where they will be forced to work together. Boss fights will always require the players to team up to take them down, with each player given a different task during the fight.

Now I would love to say that I have a 30 page design document finished for this idea, but I don't. Currently I have concept in my head for this but it still needs to be refined more. Co-op games have been getting a lot of steam these days thanks to the popularity of titles like Left 4 Dead or even League of Legends. However, we haven't seen too many games stretch the concept of working together. With the only other game besides FEAR 3, was Kane and Lynch 2's heist mode, but lack of positive reviews meant that not a lot of people tried it out.

It's always interesting to think up new game mechanics, and what better way to play with your friends, then with some good old fashioned back stabbing?

Josh Bycer

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