The other day I had two good friends over in the gaming-man cave. We wanted nothing more but to completely forget about uni, work and bills for a while, and just enjoy a guiltless and mindless gaming session together. We had finally grown tired of the Call of Duty's, Mario’s and Gears of War’s for once, so we gathered up some neglected games I had gathering dust in my storage.
I was so hyped to finally blast through some zombies in paradise in Dead Island with my mates, to only find out it solely supported online or system link co-op. We then tried my neglected copy of Battlefield 3 and had our dreams crushed despite assuming for months it had local splitscreen. We were annoyed, but still hopeful. We then put on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and to our rage, we discovered splitscreen was only a silly mistake advertised on the Ubisoft website. Safe to say, we were officially bummed.
But do you know what we did to quickly forget our disappointment? We set up my good old Nintendo 64 and had a old-school session of Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong 64 and Duke Nukem 64 until the wee hours of the morning, like we were back in primary school again.
If you haven’t played Goldeneye 007 splitscreen with three other friends, you haven’t lived.
Now, I don’t know if I’m out-of-touch with a lot of games released this gen, or I’m just too lazy to read the back of the game cover, but it surprised me to find out. Even though my gaming tastes have broadened, playing some fun local multiplayer is always a plus for me, and it disappointed me to see there was such a lack of it in three games where having a buddy or three play alongside you on the same screen just seems like a no-brainer.
It just seems odd to me that while cooperative and multiplayer gaming itself is on the rise, the last few years have seen developers moving to strictly online-only models. It’s a strange move by the majority of devs to completely disregard what was and still is a popular gaming mode for many gamers. Whether it’s friends playing together, couples, families, or kids, the slow but visible decline of splitscreen is significantly alienating those gamers who don’t have access to the Internet for their consoles, aren’t old enough, don’t have friends who play online or simply just would rather play locally with friends than over an online connection.
Co-op mode used to be a great way to play through and experience your favourite game with a friend or three, but now that developers are moving co-op to online-only experiences, it sucks. I’m a social guy, and while I play online quite a lot, I still prefer to game with my friends or my girlfriend when I have the chance -- and no, not over a microphone -- together, in the same room, on the same screen, sharing the same experience together.
There’s many arguments as to why the splitscreen is disappearing from many games. With the rise of online passes and the DLC model, splitscreen isn’t probably a priority for developers who want to cash in on the add-on market, as splitscreen equals one copy for multiple people rather than one copy for everyone, and digital rights ownership makes these things way too complicated, as Gears of War 3 has eloquently shown. Then there’s just the undeniable advancement of multiplayer technology that has made it easier and perhaps more convenient for devs to focus on online-centric modes and for gamers to play with others over an Internet connection.
Halo has consistently provided offline and online local-play for gamers simultaneously alongside online-only experiences. Why can't the rest?
And yes, while I’ve enjoyed how Xbox Live and the Playstation Network have truly introduced online gaming to home consoles, I feel the uneven focus on online-only multiplayer in the last few years is stifling the social aspect of gaming -- one you can’t replace with a headset. Gaming has become a lot less personal now that the template for a great multiplayer night in is sitting at home alone, playing with mates over Xbox Live or PSN with a headset.
Multiplayer gaming used to be and still is more enjoyable when you experience the same difficult boss with a friend in the same room and cheer in triumph when one of you finally defeat them, or jest and psych out your friends in that last intense five-minutes of a Halo match. There is no substitute for humiliating your friends in person; typing ‘u suck, lol’ over chatspeak isn't the same. Equally, there is nothing that can replace the competitive rush and enjoyment you get by playing against your friends in the same room.
If we’re talking about most mainstream video games from the big developers, I see no logical reason as to why splitscreen can’t continue to be facilitated-- both for online and offline play -- simultaneously alongside online-centric modes. And no, I don’t agree with developers like DICE when they give us excuses along the lines of "our co-op is really solid so it doesn’t feel like it’s missing the split-screen" or generic reasons like, "it would have detracted from the core experience".
...the uneven focus on online-only multiplayer in the last few years is stifling the social aspect of gaming -- one you can’t replace with a headset. Gaming has become a lot less personal now that the template for a great multiplayer night in is sitting at home alone, playing with mates over Xbox Live or PSN with a headset.
While I’m not a game developer myself, I can understand technical limitations and the costs and time involved in creating a separate splitscreen mode. But when games like Call of Duty and Halo still manage to consistently provide splitscreen with very little performance issues and garner much praise from fans, I become very unsympathetic for excuses like what DICE gave. The local-play/splitscreen market is still here, and I don't get why we're being steadily ignored by some devs.
I suppose my bias opinion mostly comes down to a unfair sense of entitlement me and my friends hold, as if these games owe us splitscreen. But I just can’t shake the feeling. We grew up in a generation where local-play was a big part of our games, one that made for great gaming experiences. Some of my fondest gaming memories are playing endless sessions of Goldeneye 007 with my cousins, getting frustrated at them for always using Oddjob, or playing Battle mode in Super Mario Kart and raging at my friends right there and then for “being cheap” with the red shells. I know I'm not alone in these memories, or this feeling.
Now obviously not all new games have completely discarded split-screen, nor do they all have to incorporate the feature. Some games work better as single-player only experiences, and others masterfully and creatively use the multiplayer functionality Xbox Live and PSN have granted us this generation, like Dark Souls, where its unique multiplayer gameplay cannot be accomplished with splitscreen.
But games like the Xbox 360 edition of Minecraft and Borderlands are awesome and recurrent examples of developers correctly balancing local offline and online co-op and multiplayer efforts with online-only ones to provide for all of their fans, and both show that there is still a massive market for local offline and/or online play.
A way forward for splitscreen-gaming?
Perhaps a possible answer to revive splitscreen’s decline lies in technology such as Sony’s Playstation-branded 3D Display monitor. The ‘SimulView’ technology and 3D glasses that comes with it provides players the ability to literally split the visible display area of the same TV and shows the differing actions of individual players participating in the same game.
This is an awesome way of advancing splitscreen and keeping it relevant for the future, as it does away with the swear-fests regarding “screen-cheating” (come on, you know you’ve screen-cheated at least once in your life) and also provides players with the ability to see a full screen through their glasses. Of course, the monitor and the 3D Glasses themselves are still expensive, and not all games of this gen have 3D support, or in the case of Sony, the SimulView tech. Still, this is one of many crucial steps forward.
Developers need to continue to recognise the lasting relevance and importance of splitscreen gaming into the next generation. Gaming is still a major social activity for many people, and providing gamers with the ability to play through their favourite title with their friends and family on the same television screen, while simultaneously granting online-only multiplayer options for those who simply want to play in solitude or with a headset should be a no-brainer.
What are your thoughts on splitscreen-gaming?
By Nathan Misa