CO OP Mechanics and Design
Saturday, October 25, 2008 at 11:10PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Co-op, Mechanics

I have been playing video games cooperatively since my first video game console the NES. Because I always had an older brother to play with, gaming to me has always been about sharing experiences. I'm probably heavily influenced by my first two video games; Super Mario Brothers 3 and Karate Babies. Each of these games feature 2 player simultaneous and alternating gameplay. So gaming together just made sense to me. Mario always had Luigi and the martial arts babies came in a pair.

Back in the day, it took all the neighborhood kids gathered around a single small TV to take on the juggernaut known as Mega Man 3. Between us we had enough of the game memorized and enough hand eye coordination to win. While waiting for my turn to play I discovered the value of watching others play video games. My extra eyes on the game were free to gather and process data the active player was too busy to think about. By giving that perfect bit of advice, I found that cooperative play extended beyond manipulating a controller.

It's good to play together

Since then, the vast majority of my gaming has been cooperative. I've played single player handheld games on a poorly lit gameboy color screen by passing the system around and looking over a shoulder when necessary. My brother and I even switched off playing specific characters in Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. In this fighter, each player picks 3 characters to fight with in a tag team fashion. When we played, we would give control of one character to each other. Not only did this "expert switch up" drastically change our fighting styles, but the way we switched positions at the arcade machine actually confounded several of our opponents. We play together. We fight together.

Now, the games industry has pushed the boundaries of coop gameplay. 64 player first person shooter matches and MMOs are a testament to that fact. Although there are a lot of players playing in the same world or map, are they really playing together to achieve a goal? And if they are, how they play cooperative is important.

It's time that we examine the different types of coop mechanics and design so we can better understand what it means to play together.

 The following list ranks the different types of cooperative play/mechanics/design from the worst to the best.


Levels 5 and 6 are the types of co op design we should all shoot for when designing our own multiplayer stages. The quality of co op gameplay for these levels depends on the quality of the level design and the core mechanics. Naturally, the more dynamic the mechanics, the more dynamic the co op. The more dynamic ways the reach a goal, the more unique paths cooperating players can take.

In the end, you have to ask yourself if you're really playing together with someone else. Are you reacting to their moves? Is the situation changing because of how both of you are playing? Are you coordinating your strategies and attacks? Or are you simply filling out a pre-made role because that's how the game makes you play? Are you working together, or just working side by side?


Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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