-->
Games

Of Snowflakes and Sociability: Mutiplayer 'SSX'

The multiplayer of SSX is a collection of lesser used innovations pieced together in such a way that each one complements the other.

Demon’s Souls showed the world a great and innovative multiplayer feature that most of the industry has ignored: the ability to leave messages for other players. It’s a great feature because it creates a sense of community through user generated content, and that content is easy to make. It’s actually so easy to make that it’s more like content manipulation than content creation, but that’s part of the appeal. Everyone can participate. Despite this, the only game that I’ve played (or seen or heard of) since then to incorporate a similar kind of content manipulation is SSX, which then tweaks the feature so that it becomes something quite addictive.

In part, this is what makes the multiplayer in SSX so great. It’s a collection of lesser used multiplayer innovations pieced together in such a way that each one compeiments the other, while also avoiding the most persistent problems that plague multiplayer games.

Content Manipulation

SSX's version of leaving messages for other players comes in the form of leaving snowflakes (or geo-tags as the game calls them -- but they still look like snowflakes, so I’m still going to call them snowflakes) for other players to locate. Before any event you can equip your rider with two snowflakes. Whenever you rewind time during that event, you can press a button that drops the snowflake at your feet. As soon as it is set it appears in other players’ games for them to collect, but the longer a snowflake goes without being collected, the more in-game money that it earns for whoever set it.

Unlike Demon’s Souls, this quick content creation/manipulation is competitive in nature. I don’t want people to collect the snowflakes that I drop because then I get less cash. As such, players work to make the snowflakes hard to collect, purposefully launching off a jump at the wrong angle in order to place a flake in some obscure corner. This kind of effort ensures that we become more invested in the metagame, which then drives the community of players around it.

When you collect a snowflake, the game shows you the Gamertag of the person who dropped it. When yours are collected, you’re notified the next time that you boot up the game, and again, you’re shown the Gamertag of the player that found your flake. This simple interaction creates a bond with other players since you can get to know the people that found your collectibles: Are they hardcore SSX players? OK, then I don’t feel so bad about them finding my stuff. Are they rookies? Damn, then I clearly could have hidden the snowflakes better.

Leaderboards

While leaderboards are common in games, this kind of implementation of them is not. SSX borrows heavily from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and I’m honestly surprised that more games haven’t done so. RiderNet is the SSX equivalent of Autolog, and it’s essentially a mini social network, the most commonly used feature of which is a “friends only” leaderboard attached to every track and event in the game.

It was a great feature in Hot Pursuit and that doesn’t diminish its effectiveness here. I’m encouraged to replay a track even if I’ve earned a gold medal because a friend has a better time/score than me. It’s another system that encourages competition, but on the surface, it’s not all that different from what Hot Pursuit gave us. RiderNet only comes into its own when combined with the next system.

Asynchronous Multiplayer

The term itself is a convoluted mouthful of marketing, but the idea behind it is genuinely interesting. It’s multiplayer that you can play alone; another player doesn’t have to be present. You race and set your time, then someone else races against your ghost. They’re still racing against you. All your tricks and shortcuts still work, but it’s not happening live. This is glue that makes everything about the multiplayer come together.

It makes the snowflakes work because now it’s okay for you to veer off course to grab one. In some races, I’ve spent a good couple minutes falling down a crevasse, rewinding, and falling down again while making only a very subtle course correction because I’m trying to fall at just the right angle to collect a flake. I can only do this in the middle of a race because it’s not a live race; I know I can restart without penalty. If SSX included live multiplayer, no one would ever look for the snowflakes because the race itself would demand their full attention. Since everything is asynchronous and since the snowflakes are everywhere, they become a metagame that’s constantly available to play, and by playing it, I become a more active member of the community.

It makes RiderNet work because you can watch and learn from the ghosts. You can see the specific route that someone takes to get a crazy time or score. This is better than just a plain leaderboard in encouraging competition because I know that if anyone beats my score thatI can always follow the ghost to find out how. You’re never so disillusioned by the competition that you give up playing. The ghosts help keep you competitive, even against someone far better than you, someone you could never beat in a live match.

Then there’s the lack of lag from host migration, the lack of profanity from frustrated players, and the lack of waiting 20 minutes in an empty room for people to join the game. The advantage of this asynchronous multiplayer is that it ensures the multiplayer lives on longer than the community itself: Even if no one is playing the game online, their ghosts will still be there.

The multiplayer in SSX is so surprisingly impressive because it doesn’t let other games dictate how it should play. It doesn’t try to mimic what’s popular. Instead it looks at what makes SSX fun (replaying events for better times and scores) and how to best translate that experience to an online setting. In forging this path, it stands out from an overly crowded multiplayer market and hopefully convinces other developers that these features are worth imitating.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
9
Music

The Dear Hunter: All Is As All Should Be EP

Jordan Blum
Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Although All Is As All Should Be is a tad too brief to match its precursors, it's still a masterful blend of songwriting, arrangements, and singing that satisfies the Dear Hunter anticipation.

The Dear Hunter is undoubtedly one of the best—and consequently, most egregiously underappreciated—bands of the last decade or so. Aside from 2013's Migrant LP, every one of their major releases featured an ambitious hook; for example, 2011's The Color Spectrum presented nine EPs (consisting of four songs each) that individually represented a different sonic tone (in order: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and White), whereas the five-part (so far) Act saga, with its genre-shifting arrangements, superlative songwriting, narrative complexity, and extraordinary conceptual continuity, is a cumulative work of genius, plain and simple.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image