Dabe Alan

For the love of local: why it’s important that Sportsfriends is funded

For the love of local: why it’s important that Sportsfriends is funded

There is a school of thought that says you can’t back Kickstarter campaigns and cover the games. I reject that notion pretty enthusiastically; I got into this job to support good games and to help steer people away from bad games. I supported the Sportsfriends Kickstarter at the $100 level, and I’ll probably review it when it comes out on the PS3, and then talk about it some more when the Mac and PC versions of the games are released. These games are worth your time, and they are all local multiplayer titles.

That means you play with with your friends in the same room, looking at the same television. In the case of Johann Sebastian Joust, you don’t even need to look at the television. These are games that bring people together, games that allow you to compete in interesting ways. They’ve been shown and played and lauded at industry events for a long time; the press is intimately familiar with the quality of each title.

That’s part of the reason I’m so passionate about this particular Kickstarter when I’ve been so skeptical of others. I’ve played these games. They’re amazing.

They also continue a long tradition of local multiplayer games. Many of us grew up playing games in the same room, talking trash and trading strategies. “My first computer was a ZX Spectrum, a tiny black brick with no gamepads and no controllers. And the first game I had for it was Match Point, a two-player-only tennis game that saw me hunched over the tiny rubber keyboard next to my dad, fighting for space,” Bennett Foddy, the creator of QWOP and Super Pole Riders told the Penny Arcade Report.

“At the local library after elementary school, kids would huddle around an aging Apple II and compete at Epyx’s immortal Summer Games. My brother and I sat and played the freeware cover disk game Biplanes for about twelve hours straight. My sister would routinely annihilate me at Lemmings, played on two Amigas chained together side-by-side with a homemade null-modem cable. At high school, my friends would gather in arcades, playing NBA Jam and Street Fighter 2. At college, I’d visit my buddy’s house, listen to some new tunes he was working on, and then we’d sit down for a few rounds of Goldeneye.”

These experiences slowly died out. The arcades shut down. We began to play against random people online. Multiplayer gaming is still social, but local multiplayer is becoming something of a lost art. It’s hard to explain the genius of each of the games in Sportsfriends without sitting down with you to play them. Each one is easy to pick up, but offers hidden depth. It’s fun to play against people with differing skill levels, although high level play is possible, and rewarded. That kind of game design is rare these days.

“The best local multiplayer games are simple but deep. They need to be simple, because there’s no time for tutorials and manuals when you’re ready to throw down with a friend,” Foddy explained. “They need to be deep, so that you can go past the simple beginner’s game and leapfrog each other in skill over and over again, as you come up with new strategies, new trick shots. But maybe most importantly, the best multiplayer games are set up so that you can get a meaningful, memorable game, even if your opponent has played the game ten times more often than you have.”

Johann Sebastian Joust helped to create one of my favorite PAX memories, when dozens, if not hundreds, of players came together and instantly understood the game and began to experiment with the rules. We pushed and pulled each other, and it was a profoundly personal and inviting experience. These are games that bring people together.

Barabariball is the insane offspring of Super Smash Bros. and volleyball. Johann Sebastian Joust invites you to rough up your friends while holding Move controllers. Super Pole Riders mixes the awkward controls of QWOP with a tense multiplayer game. Hokra is a minimalist take on competitive sport. Each game is wonderful, and they’ve been well-known in the gaming community for a while now. The fact that this collection of games has a shot to become a PlayStation Network release is pretty amazing.

“These days it just isn’t so commercially viable to make a game that is local multiplayer only. Take us, for example - despite all the awards we’ve won, our games just aren’t so attractive to traditional publishers. As a result, we’re on our own to explore other possible, alternative business models,” Douglas Wilson, the creator of Johann Sebastian Joust, explained. “The good news is, as indies we can take risks and try things that bigger companies can’t.”

This isn’t a product as much as it’s a mission statement. “With Sportsfriends, we’re hoping to make a sort of ‘rallying cry’ for local multiplayer games - to demonstrate to the world that local multiplayer is an important part of game culture and that it can be commercially sustainable, at least for small developers like us,” Wilson said.

“Think about how many hours you spend playing a deeply replayable multiplayer game. I think local multiplayer is just as ‘valuable’ as other types of games, and I want to help show that to the general gaming public.”

Ramiro Corbetta created Hokra, and he summed up the theme for this collection perfectly. “I really like people, and I like having lots of them around all the time,” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “Maybe I just make the games I make because I want people to come over. Really, I want everybody to go over to everybody else’s place. Or to a field, or a bar, or a concert. I just want people to come together. That’s why I make local multiplayer games.”

The Sportsfriends Kickstarter looked doomed, but has rallied in a major way. Now it’s down to the wire. I don’t really mind if this sounds like an advertisement, because I want you to pay money for these games so the project is funded. I want to see these games on my PS3, and later on other platforms. I want to reward the kind of design and experimentation that can keep local multiplayer alive.

The number and quality of the games you get at the funding levels starting at $15 is well worth the money. At the $60 level it’s basically a collection of local multiplayer games, most of which you can’t get anywhere else. Let’s push this one over the top, and then celebrate with some video games: Video games that we can play in the some room, and play together.