Copilot and Backseat Driver Gaming

Chris Kennedy's picture

Many games throughout history have offered great multiplayer. I played a Pong arcade machine with a friend of mine here in Houston last November, and it was an absolute blast. The friend or stranger standing next to you adds to the gaming experience. Is multiplayer limited to traditional co-op or versus modes? Not at all.

Multiplayer has evolved. It truly is "multi" rather than simply two, three or four. Many have discussed multiplayer gaming. I wanted to write about two additional types of gaming - Copilot and Backseat Driver. These are two types of gaming I have enjoyed in years past, and they add to the experience of a game similar to how a real human opponent enhances Pong.

Copilot Gaming -

I define Copilot Gaming as a single player game played with more than one person. Specifically, this second person is directly involved in assisting with the controls or solving the puzzles. While the game was designed for a single player, the functions can be split amongst two people. This could be a figurative splitting of the controller among two people, or it could simply be having a second brain sitting next to you while tackling an adventure game.

Of the various games I owned over the years, I would say that the one that got the most "pilot/copilot" time was X-Wing.

X-Wing: I had a fairly simple joystick for my PC when X-Wing came out. It was a CH Flightstick. It was not the Pro! Just the plain, two button Flightstick. This meant that buttons such as F9, F10, and quote were used quite often among others. A good friend of mine would drop in on occasion, and we'd play X-Wing. He had the game too, and he knew the controls quite well. He cared more about simply passing missions and making progress than he actually did flying the X-Wing. One day while I was playing, he chuckled and said "hey man - Do you want me to 'ensign' you on this mission?" Being fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek, it was perfectly natural to combine terms between the two. I immediately knew what he was going to do and therefore agreed. He pulled the keyboard off the desk and leaned back in his chair while I sat exclusively with the joystick.

I would issue commands like "more power to shields!" while fully concentrating on getting out of a firefight. As we became more accustomed to this style of gameplay, maneuvers were born. Saying something like "release the hounds!" meant ordering all wingman to attack the primary target, dropping me to 1/4 engine power just long enough for all of them to get out front & take the initial assault, and then bringing me up to full speed. Eventually, it would evolve into the two of us almost working independently on the mission. I could pursue TIE fighters without using the targeting computer while he would manage all the wingman by issuing orders - attacking, waiting, defending, etc - all while maintaining the shields and lasers. It was almost like turning an X-Wing/Y-Wing/A-Wing into a Snow Speeder. It was awesome. I didn't worry about a thing except shooting down whatever I saw. If I got in trouble, he'd tell me. It was a fun way to take a single player game and make it multiplayer.

Backseat Driver -

Sometimes there are single player games that are actually fun when your friends are yelling at you. One day in college, I found myself playing Space Ace on the Sega CD. A friend was hanging out. Neither of us had played Space Ace before. Dragon's Lair was the only one of that family that we knew.

Space Ace: We fired up Space Ace and got started. Beware the Infanto Ray! "There's Borf's Ship." "Kimberly come in. Are you okay?" Ahhhh! It was on. So how did Backseat Driver kick in? Well in a game like Dragon's Lair or Space Ace, your actions are pretty much based on memorization. You can't be impatient with the game. You just have to sit back and have fun. So here we are playing Space Ace. One of us is on the controls while the other is yelling "LEFT...........RIGHT. LEFT! RIGHT! LEF-ERR-RIGHT! ..UP..BACK. Energize. Energize. ENERGIIIIIIIIZE!!!!" (we die)

I cannot begin to explain how much fun it was to play Space Ace like that regardless of if you already had the movements memorized. I know people hold Dragon's Lair in high regard, but Space Ace is a faster game. There seemed to be a lot more scene changing and button pressing than I remember with Dragon's Lair. I am not trying to debate which game is better, but Space Ace worked really well with Backseat Gaming when both parties (or more) are interested in playing the game. Commands seemed to be yelled quite often. Of course there were plenty of role changes - the controller would get handed off after a death, but the energy level remained. We finished it that first night.

So what about the rest of you? Have any shared single player experiences?


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Nice post, CkRtech. I do

Nice post, CkRtech. I do these activities all the time with my wife, usually when we're playing adventure games. I let her do the puzzles, while I focus on navigating the area. It usually works out pretty well, but of course would probably be even more fun with additional people chiming in. It also doesn't help that I'm not the best at navigating, either, and almost always miss hot spots and a few small areas.

I think that's one of the signs of a great game, though--people pass by and feel compelled to talk to you or give advice. If the game wasn't any fun, they'd just move on. In short, part of the fun isn't the game itself, but people talking to you about the game. It becomes a social activity rather than just a private pastime.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Good thoughts and terms!

I think co-piloting on adventure games is a natural. Backseat driving is only fun (for me) if we can take turns, for instance how my wife and I trade off levels on Zuma on XBLA, and sometimes point out certain colored stones that should be hit at a certain time...

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Joined: 11/04/2008
Backseat flying? Sorta.

Not sure if this anecdote matches the OP precisely, but one of the most entertaining multiplayer games I've ever played was Aegis Wing, that free shooter that you can get from Xbox Live. I had three friends over, but between us we only had three working controllers. Ever the consummate host, I decided that I would go without. But I still wanted to play, so I decided to hook up my Guitar Hero guitar and see whether rocking out might translate into piloting a starfighter. It didn't; not really.

My plane insisted on auto-firing (and usually wasting) any and all special weapons I picked up. What's worse, I couldn't move my plane. Aegis Wing has this feature where planes can latch together, however, and so I piggybacked my way through space attached to someone or other. When they got annoyed with me, they would detach my plane and I would sit on the couch yelling for someone to come pick me up before I ran blindly into an asteroid. I found that I could use the guitar's whammy bar to aim my shots when I was attached to another plane... but only in a 180 degree radius to the bottom side. So anyone who was carting me around had to stay near the top of the screen so I could remain useful.

The experience skirted a thin line between backseat driving and playing in earnest... I had marginal control over outcomes, but for the most part my role consisted of 'directing' the rest of the team. If I yelled too much, they would drop me off in front of a bunch of bad guys and let me blow up. I learned a lot about social mediation that day.

Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy's picture
Joined: 08/31/2008

Thanks for the comments, guys. It's good to hear that others have had similar experiences to mine. Sometimes playing games as a shared experience helps create a gaming memory that lasts longer than most.

Joined: 01/02/2009
In my experience, Track and Field was the best for that...

...because none of us could do the hurdles as fast as we wanted to when we also had to hit the JUMP button.

Although I remember the near-fistfights when some slob didn't jump at the right time, and cost the player a qualifying time...especially when it was someone's last quarter...

Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
Backseat adventure gaming

Rather than it just being an option, it seems that the ONLY way to play adventure games, be it the text or graphical variety, is with a group! That's the only way they were ever really fun to me. If you play an adventure game solo and run into a "brick wall," that's it, game over, you're through. If you consult hints, it cheapens the experience, because you feel like you cheated.

However, if you're playing with more than one person, it becomes a team experience, where you can take pride in your contribution to the solving of the game. That's how we used to play the "Scott Adams" adventures back in my High School Computer Club days, and it was great fun! But solo..... they're just aggravating and ego-deflating. You're NOT going to solve them on your own, but with "co-pilots" with differing angles and viewpoints, it's enormously gratifying.

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Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy's picture
Joined: 08/31/2008

Hey Rob - I couldn't agree more.

I admit that I have punished myself with adventure games over the years ("I will not cheat...I will not cheat"), but quite a few of those adventure games were still played with a friend.

It wouldn't always have to be a joint effort via one computer. Sometimes friends would work on the game separately and then the subject of the game would come up at school or while hanging out. Inevitably, somebody would have an item someone else didn't or would have solved a puzzle where someone else was stuck. Sharing that knowledge would help the person that was stuck. "Hey! Where did you get that?"

That same person that used to be stuck may end up reaching a new puzzle later and solving it in seconds, and that puzzle may have had everyone else in the group baffled. It was a give and take bit of co-pilot gaming.

I don't recall getting stuck as much on Lucasfilm Games as I did Sierra games, but I do remember struggling with Monkey Island II at times.

But back to co-pilot - I can remember times when other people would be in the room, one of us would solve a puzzle after everyone shared their thoughts on it, and the reaction would be something like we just won the World Series. Of course the reaction wouldn't last *that* long because we all wanted to see what would happen next! The teamwork was, as you said, quite gratifying.


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