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On Running Feuds
Phil Doesn't Want to be 'Alone in the Dark'
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 06, 2008   |   Episode 149 (Show Archive)  

   

It may not be as hyped as the new Resident Evil game, but after four years in development I'm expecting big things from this new Alone in the Dark!
When Phil Harrison left Sony a few months ago I find myself in the untenable situation of defending him. While everybody else was saying that he had lost his mind, I was here trying to get everybody to calm down and look at the bigger picture. It's not that these critics didn't have a point; it does seem at least a little crazy for a guy like Phil to up and leave Sony for Atari ... especially now that the PlayStation 3 is starting to gain some footing in the marketplace. But I was willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt; I'm sure he knew what he was doing.

For those who were paying attention the writing was on the wall. For years Phil Harrison had openly talked about his vision for a download-only future. He advocated for digital distribution and often complained that his bosses (the head honchos in Japan) were out of touch

With his friendly face and nice demeanor I want to believe that Phil Harrison is doing the right thing, but sometimes he comes off sounding like a crazy person!
and not forward thinking. Perhaps that's why it didn't come has a huge shock when I learned that he was going to go work for a company that had fallen on hard times, a company that he could mold in his image.

As a long time fan of Atari (even during the bleak days of the Jaguar) I am hopefully that Phil can turn this company around. I would love to see Atari raised from the ashes;

... and I thought I was the only one who still loves his Atari Jaguar!
especially if that means that they would be considered a major player again. I'm not asking for a new console or anything, but I for one still believe that under the right leadership Atari could turn this ship around and be the one company best positioned for a download-only future. But before any of that happens, perhaps it's best for Phil Harrison to shut his big bazoo.

Speaking to Eurogamer Phil claimed that consumers no longer want single-player experiences. "Alone in the Dark is a beautifully crafted single-player adventure game. I don't think the industry is going to make many more of those," said Harrison. "I just don't think consumers want to be playing games that

See, this is what happens when you load up your water guns with lighter fluid and then play with matches!
don't have some kind of network connectivity to them, or some kind of community embedded in them, or some kind of extension available through downloadable content."

We can (and will) argue over his larger point that gamers no longer want single-player games, but first I need to address his thoughts on Alone in the Dark. I hate to say this, but at this point Atari is in no position to even hint at things that could sink their newest action/adventure game, Alone in the Dark. I don't think I'm overstating the facts when I say that Alone in the Dark is Atari's biggest game, it's a title that they've been banking on for quite some time. This is one of those games that was announced years ago (three years ago by my count) and has cost the company more money than they would like to admit. Failure is not an option when it comes to Alone in the Dark, which is why you're starting to see a big push for the game.

But if Phil is right, then Alone in the Dark is destined to fail. Seeing as it's a single-player game with very little community involvement, it stands to reason that this may just be the game that proves Mr. Harrison right. But even if that's true (and I for one do not believe it to be so) isn't this just really bad timing? Sure it gets the name

Assassin's Creed is far from the best game of 2007, but it's yet another example of a million selling game that didn't need an online mode to appeal to the masses!
of the game out there, but couldn't he have waited until after the game's mid-June release before bringing the negativity?

Thankfully there's very little evidence to back up his claim. While it's definitely true that gaming is becoming more community-driven, that doesn't mean that the two types of games (single- and multi-player) can't co-exist. All we have to do is take a look at the top selling games of last year to see that single-player games still sell surprisingly well. Don't believe me? Try arguing that the amazing BioShock was a sales disaster. Or what about Assassin's Creed? And do you honestly believe Grand Theft Auto IV would have sold poorly had they not included the various online modes?

The truth is, good single-player games are still selling. That doesn't mean that a good

Stranglehold, er, I mean, John Woo Presents Stranglehold (sorry Midway) was a fantastic game, but the time they wasted on the lame multi player mode could have been used to make a couple more single player levels!
single-player game can't be improved by a solid multi player experience, but in order to do that you actually have to have a solid multi-player mode. This is the big problem, not every game is Call of Duty 4. There are plenty of games that are more like John Woo Presents Stranglehold - a solid single-player game that is marred by its rushed (and ultimately pointless) multi-player modes. Contrary to what Phil Harrison says, not every game needs a community to survive.

As you might imagine not everybody agrees with Phil. A year ago BioShock director Ken Levine criticized companies for simply tacking on half-assed multiplayer-modes just to have another bullet point on the back of the box. "I don't think anyone has ever spent any real time playing our multiplayer in our games. But if you go and you look on Xbox Live, and you go look in GameSpy -- people are still paying SWAT on GameSpy -- it's really kind of interesting that

Do you really want to make Ken Levine cry like a little girl? You are such a heartless bastard!!
the people who play Halo, who play Counterstrike, there are huge numbers of players playing those games. And then you think about all the work people have spent building multiplayer for these other games and then you go look on who's playing, say, Brothers in Arms, even when it just came out multiplayer, in the world, you're talking about in the world, playing on Xbox Live, I remember we looked right after the game came out, and there were six people playing it. And you think about the effort that went into that, and the effort that didn't go into single-player and you just want to cry like a little girl."

He's not far off, I can name you plenty of amazing multi-player console games that are being completely ignored. I'm talking

You know you're in for a world of hurt when names like Mitch Gitelman and Dennis Dyack are bandied about!
about rock solid games that appeal to a while swatch of people, yet if you were to go online right now you wouldn't find another living person there. Part of the problem is that there are just too many good games and people only have so much time. That's not to say that you can't make the time to play a great game online, but whenever games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 come out all it does is squeeze out the little guys. It's times like these that I'm happy that FarCry Instincts has a good story, because at this point the online mode is completely useless.

It's also painfully clear that gamers aren't looking for online-only titles. Despite all of his huffing and puffing, Mitch Gitelman

Holy crap!! Central Park is literally being split in half, this sounds like the job for one guy in a single-player game!
just couldn't get people to buy (and play) Shadowrun. And much to Activision's chagrin, their online-only Enemy Territory: Quake Wars hasn't garnered a whole lot of hype. That's not to say that multiplayer-only games are doomed (I think 10 million active World of WarCraft subscribers would argue with that), but the idea that they are the key to the future seems dubious at best.

To be fair, Phil Harrison never advocated for a multiplayer-only future, merely one where every game was connected in one way or another. I suppose that when we get right down to it almost every current-generation games has some sort of community or online function. Even the most dedicated single-player games have offered downloadable content and a way for you to interact with other fans.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Phil's comments, it definitely feels like bad tact to bash single-player games only weeks before you release your biggest single-player game of the year. Maybe Phil really does know what he's doing when he says these sorts of things. Perhaps we'll just have to wait a few months for Phil's master plan to play out. But in the meantime I'm here to say that single-player games aren't going anywhere. And that's the triple truth, Ruth.
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