For serious gamers, I always like to think that the ultimate test is pitting yourself against another, real-life gamer. If it’s playing against the computer on a sports game or going through story mode on a shooter, it’s only really practicing for the actual thing. But it’s interesting to see how multiplayer gaming has changed over the years and we don’t often look back at the history of this. It’s quite fascinating to look back and see how it was done in the early days and what lay the path for the games we love and enjoy today.
Gaming doesn’t necessarily mean computer gaming or video gaming although this is usually the immediate thought that we have today, especially in our line of work. But if you think about it pretty much all gaming before the digital age was multiplayer as you need someone to play against, chess doesn’t work with a single-player, does it? There are some exceptions like playing the card game solitaire or the one that to our minds is the closest to the modern video game, do you remember the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series of books from the 70s and the 80s. Although these came about after the emergence of computers and digital gaming the style and substance of these interactive stories were ahead of their time and much more sophisticated than many digital games of this era. In any way, you can argue that video and computer games are all pre-empted by real-life competition as every game is a simulation of something, whether real, like football or chess, or imagined like a fantasy quest involving wizards, elves and dwarves.
Early Video Games
In the old days, video games were not the vast global industry that they happen to be today, games were not really part of any industry at all. Computing was very much an academic pursuit confined to university labs, and games were often side-projects of professors and mathematicians being completed to test the capabilities of the new machines or just for fun. Now it’s not to say that in comparison to modern games these don’t come across as really basic, because they will if you take the 1952 effort of OXO created by A.S. Douglas, which is basically noughts and crosses or when in 1958, William Higinbotham created Tennis for Two on a computer that was the size of a room almost. But despite these efforts looking basic they were hugely monumental efforts in the history of programming as there was nothing like them, there were no commonly accepted programming languages and this means that they were creating everything by themselves, it would be interesting to see how many current-day programmers would be able to do this?
This dominance of computer gaming by academics in universities continued through the 50s and 60s and was pretty much the way it was until the video game arcades came along in the 70s. Many of these games were multi-player and the machines would generally be set up with two controller sticks.
The Era Of The Console
Once we reach the late 70s going into the early 80s we saw the emergence of the era of the home gaming system. Popular consoles of this time were machines such as the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System. Many of the games on the machines were multiplayer games, some were games where players took turns, such as Super Mario Brothers, and others the players would be on the screen at the same time such as Double Dragon where the players worked together to complete the levels. On these early systems, you were limited to two players at any one time for the most part but there were ways to have a higher number of players, you could get a 4 player adapter. This obviously meant that you needed to but extra controllers but the limited number of 4 player games on these systems meant that few people took this option up. It was with the later systems that 4 player gaming really came into its own, games such as Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo (or SNES) made this a must-have option.
PC Games, Modems & LANs
In the 90s and beyond PC gaming started to become one of the most prominent platforms for the gaming community. This scene has become very popular for multiplayer gaming and for good reason. PCs are upgradeable and customizable, so hobbyists could and still do create more and more powerful machines to run the best and latest games. The ability to easily network these machines is what made them so popular, users could create a LAN (Local Area Network) or connect over longer distances using a modem that would use the phone lines to transmit the data.
Internet Gaming & The Online World
With the internet came the real leap in the multi-player world, for the first time we could play with others from anywhere in the world and we didn’t even need to know them first! Games such as Warcraft and League of Legends (LoL) allowed us to make accounts, build our characters and LoL accounts have even become a saleable commodity. Even console gamers can play online, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both easily connect to WiFi in the home and don’t need modems as we did in the old days of PC gaming. We can buy games, accessories and extra content online, all completely downloadable, gaming can be done entirely from home now without the need to ever enter a store.
Gaming can only get bigger and better and online connectivity means that the multi-player computer or video gamer is only going to see better offerings and more methods of playing. One thing we are hearing a lot about at the minute is gaming completely on the cloud with no need for a PC or a gaming console. Everything, including the computing power, is provided online, which greatly reduced the up-front cost but it’s anticipated there will be ongoing subscription charges. VR is the other big anticipated game-changer, being able to completely immerse yourself in the game is going to be the next big step.