My very first system was a Sega Genesis. I said it. I’m writing about videogames (arguably for a living) and my very first system was in the 16-bit era. I was born in the late 80s, after all. While this may throw doubt upon my true "old school" cred (being not even old enough to drink yet), I can reassure you that while I may not be all that old, I am a student of history.
That aside, the Genesis will always be my one true love. I spent more time on that thing than with my real life friends. I was not a very socially well-adjusted child, andthe Genesis had some of the best single-player games I’ve ever played. Sonic 3 (And Knuckles), Ecco, and Vectorman drew me into their worlds like no other game has. Needless to say, I didn’t really like multiplayer games much. Not until I played Herzog Zwei, anyway.
Herzog Zwei is one of the forefathers of the modern RTS, and arguably the first of its kind. It took strategy and gave it a distinctly arcade flair and speed, which is the defining element of the modern RTS. Echoes of Herzog Zwei can be seen in games like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Guilty Gear 2, but really, Herzog Zwei is still unmatched in its sheer fun-factor.
Simply put, you play a transforming ship that can change between a transport, a jet fighter, or an infantry walker. The transport ship moves units around, the jet fighter shoots down the enemy player, and the infantry walker can destroy built units. It requires the player to balance their roles between recon, transportation, and offense. The ship also has meters such as fuel and health that were very importan, as a meter being completely drained could destroy the ship and force a respawn at the main base.
On top of this framework came the units and order system, which had the player construct units and give them orders, which ranged from "defend" to "capture" to "attack main enemy base". Your end goal, however, is the destruction of the enemy base, which only your constructed units can damage. These bases can not be repaired, so their defense is the utmost priority. Along with these bases were sub-bases that could be captured by sending in infantry. These bases act as invincible offshoots of the main base: you can refuel and build units at them, but they can’t be destroyed and
The framework to all of this is that Herzog Zwei was the first game that made me come out of my shell and play with somebody. The single-player gameplay consists of nothing but skirmishes against an AI opponent. The multiplayer, however, was incredibly fun, and I would play it against everyone: my parents, my peers, even my godfather.
It’s funny how a single game can affect us so much. Today, I consider multiplayer an integral part of games that should never, under any circumstances, be left out. It’s as essential as the graphics or gameplay to me. For PC, this multiplayer should be online. For consoles, it should be local (IE within the immediate area)
I really wish that there were more games that emphasized the physical aspect of multiplayer. It seems like, as time goes on, people are gradually trying to incorporate more and more online play into their games, sometimes at the expense of local play (no 4-player split-screen in console L4D is a travesty).
More than anything, I want developers to realize the lessons learned from Herzog Zwei, Goldeneye, Super Smash Bros, and Halo: proximity is key, and games can be used as a tool to break those social misfits from their shell into the real world.