206: Split|Screen

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In the days of Steam, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, it's easy to lose sight of what multiplayer used to be: you and a few of your buddies laughing and trading insults from across the room. Sam Machkovech catalogs the rise and fall of local multiplayer gaming.

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This article came as a breath of fresh air, I thought I was the only who seemed to sense the negative effects of online dominated multiplayer. Even if you know the person on the other end of the cable you loose the intimacy of sitting in the same room, you miss the joy of seeing your opponents face drop as you head shot them, the moments that just make you laugh due to the improbable way one of you just died and more importantly you miss the conversation.

Online the only voices I hear are the occasionally "boom head shot" followed by stream of abuses, and you are forced to turn off everyone else's voice to hold a conversation with friends whereas with friends the conversations can go a little deeper. When you know the people and you have the privacy of a living room you the discussions can go slightly deeper and you can discuss current events, all interwoven with explosions.

Some of the best memories of my childhood are playing Halo co-op with my sister...
I hate vs. multiplayer, online vs. even more. The latter was too competitive for me, the former seems just heartless. I know that's a bit of a biased view, but it just... seems that way to me.
That's why I've been looking foreward to L4D; of course, I can't get XBL, and my computer can't handle the game...
I want to play split-screen co-op now.

Brilliant article. I completely agree with everything said here. I really loved those Goldeneye/Perfect Dark days. I like online multiplayer (particularly cooperative) as you can play anytime you wish, but it is a shadow of what splitscreen multiplayer is like. I would totally sacrifice screen space to play a decent game with my friends. (I am also sick to death of hearing online somebody's bad music or their argument with their wife, kid or dog.)

Yes. It's a pity, because it's such an obvious thing sometimes. - It actually took me by surprise.

I visited an acquaintance with a 360 not to long ago... There were 4 of us there, and yet we couldn't do anything other than have 1 person play a game, and the other 3 watch.
Why? Because the only multiplayer modes were online...

And somehow, sitting around watching someone else play just doesn't feel right.
It takes away all reason to visit a person and play games.

Some of my most memorable gaming experiences happened while playing split screen with my friends. Actally, almost ALL of them are!

Well as an anti-social person I can say I do enjoy online play more. Most games that do support 4-player co-op absolutly need it, and I don't have the friends in real life that are available whenever I need to get past Super Death Boss Number 10, so I go online. games like Left 4 Dead work because you need to work with strangers. It fits with the whole games premise of 4 lone survivors that barely know each other, you can't have 4 friends on one console or else it would be too easy, you need strangers that could either help you or not be helpful at all. You build a relationship to survive, and if you don't you die.

i made a dice game for 360 called Ye Olde Dice Game, you can get it on community games channel. it supports 4 way local multiplayer!! if you like yahtzee you should try it at least.

its somewhat irritating when genres that in the past supported local coop play do not do so now. there's a time for every game though. local play is going to come back im sure.

Great article, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a cranky old man who wants games the old way. I enjoy my single-player games just as much as multiplayer ones, but when I play multiplayer it's almost invariably at a friend's house. I like to be isolated when playing a single-player game, but when I'm gaming with other people, I like to be able to actually talk to them; to mock them when they screw up; to make jokes at the game's expense when something odd happens.

I still fondly remember marathon sessions of Halo (see what I did there?) back when the first Xbox was the new next-generation console. I'm relatively certain that it wouldn't have been nearly as fun had we been playing online. We wouldn't have found it nearly as funny when one of us accidentally killed the other; if one of us screwed up online, chances are the other person would get annoyed about it, rather than laugh along. Even though gaming is moving more and more towards having only online multiplayer, I'm still proud to consider myself one of the cranky old gamers who want things the way they were.

The first four-player-on-one-screen game I played was Atari 2600 Warlords (1980-81): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warlords_(arcade_game). Dandy was much later.

PCs allow in-the-room multi-player gaming across a LAN. 8 player Warcraft III, anyone? The key is that everyone has his own equipment, so that the screen need not be shared. Quite common at our college game club meetings...

There's nothing like being able to actually hit your friend (or scream at him, whatever) whenever you're playing. I remember hotseat Soul Calibur III sessions with 3 other friends. Those were the days.

But nothing, NOTHING can beat 8 friends in a room taking turns playing Worms 2. Anyone who agrees earns a 1UP mushroom.

Great article.

An addendum: it's somewhat ironic that, with the increasing power of our systems and the size and quality of our TVs, split-screen gaming is decreasing. Now really should be the time for it to shine, not risk disappearing altogether.


I totally agree with this. I enjoy taking my XBOX over to my friends house (he doesn't have one) and we usually play Halo together. And because a fair amount of developers are taking away split-screen, I won't have any new games to bring over. :(

Great article.

Lets hope co-op goes back to when it was great.

Truly a wonderful article and something I am also for is a return to splitscreen to support people actually socializing in person. It really is a different experience when you have friends physically with you and talking to you in person than over Vent or any other sterile service.

You find the best moments and opportunities in PEOPLE.

I love hearing some friends of mine COMPLAIN about split screen when they have a 50" LCD television. I ask back why don't they like the idea of multiplayer and their response is that they don't want to share the screen or worry about screen lookers. The technology of televisions of that size even when using splitscreen are still bigger than some 19" televisions that a lot of gamers use today.

If given the choice between playing online with friends and strangers versus playing in person, playing in person wins all the time. It allows me to bond with my friends and gives me the chance to make more friends that I can physically contact.

As for worms, yeah I remember the great times sharing a computer with my family and friends all taking turns and it was great seeing the reactions and call outs even if we were away from the monitor getting a coke.

"Hey Tenmar! I just dragonpunched Clanger in the water!"

haha yeah now that I think about it, virtually all of my best memories of gaming have come from local, 4 player multiplayer. There was the boasting over super smash bros on N64, rounds of Rockets on Prisoner in Halo (try that shit out, it is INSANE), and most recently when two kids brought in their xboxes to school and we set up a LAN and had a GoW tournament that was crazy fun.

Phsst, us PC gamers have been playing alone in darkened rooms for decades now, it's about time console gamers caught up.

I also prefer gaming with my friends on the couch.

This is why Warhawk is one of my all time favorite games: besides the ton of people you can play on-line with, I can also get 4 of my friends in on the game at the same time with split screen.
Why can't we have both on line and split screen with the rest of those kinds of games?

Online multiplayer isn't quite overrated but it is depended on too much sometimes. I sometimes think that GTA4 would've had at least as much content as GTA3 if they didn't depend on multiplayer to stretch play time.

My friends and I still play 4 player splitscreen Halo almost every weekend, and have been doing so since the release of the first game. For us, the game IS its splitscreen functionality. I have not purchased games simply because they don't offer splitscreen gameplay.

Its still a vital element in multiplayer gaming for some of us.

I'm glad somebody finally put out an article about this.

I game online all the time, and while it's fun, there's a lot to be said for having your friends in the room with you. There's only so much you can communicate over a noisy headset, or worse yet, typing text feverishly. Teamwork requires communication and our most experienced form of communication is face to face with the person next to us.

Local multiplayer also helps with socialization. It's great to meet people online, but with all the barriers to communication, it's difficult to really get to know people. Nothing is more natural than getting together with some friends to play a game, whether it's a card game, board game, or video game. Without local multiplayer, you can't play most games together with your friends (puzzle games being a definite exception).

It's unfortunate that developers have left multiplayer by the wayside. My friends and I still play NES together regularly, but I'll be damned if I can get them to play anything on my XBOX 360 other than Rock Band. There just aren't enough games that take advantage of split screen and make playing together worth doing.

While I agree with the overall theme of your article (local multiplayer is a good thing), you've got the history a bit off.

Early arcade games were very much multiplayer focused. It wasn't until the very late 1970s that single player arcade games became the dominant force, with co-op (or human vs play) ending up on the sidelines for a few years. It's the same story with early home consoles; there were a bajillion dedicated PONG (and similar game) consoles released, and those were all local co-op.

Additionally, the "short bursts of two-player action in Atari's Combat" were actually directly inspired by arcades. Atari/Kee's Tank was a huge hit, and the tank portion of Combat was pretty much a direct port of the game. Speaking of multiplayer, take a look at the Atari's 1976 Tank 8 (many of the early arcade titles had a half dozen or more difference variations released), allowing eight simultaneous players to do battle!

For modern co-op gaming, I'd suggest moving away from the first person genre, although many of those still offer local co-op campaign support. Dungeon crawlers almost always include local co-op, and many of the PSN/XBLA games do too. See http://www.co-optimus.com for a massive list of games you can play with friends on the same couch.

Excellent article. I couldn't agree more. It bugs me to no end that so many amazing games have no option for local co-op or split screen play. It's gotten to the point of any game having such a feature is a big deal, when not that long ago it was standard to any game that had multiplayer.

It's why, even though it's bashed a lot by certain people and fanboys, I still love the Halo franchise. At any time, I can have a friend or three jump on the game with me, and we can even go online all together. It's the perfect setup, and has done amazingly well for Bungie, and yet, you rarely see it anymore, at least in high profile games. It's a sad thing, and one that I continue to hope will not become the standard, but am less and less sure of.

I loved reading this. There have been some epic split screen games. You quick history should have mentioned bomber man, four player bedlam.

An interesting multi player experience was on micro machines. You had to share a control pad with your friend to get the most out of it. Later they had extra controller ports built into the cartridge.

Secret of mana was awesome, 3 player rpg. Ahead of its time. Powerstone 2 was absolute chaos with 4 players. finally time splitters was genius. I loved fragging that duck.

Most of the newer generation of gamers will never have these shared experiences as developers are pushing for more power and you have to hold back to run it 4 times. More's the pity.

Good article. Feels like another soothsayer review but that's fine because it serves as a reminder to onlookers and developers that people, especially gamers, believe in "Fun". The Arcade gamer style has proven useful and successful in the past, especially with that "playing with literally close friends" feel.
Really what is happenening is there are more choices becoming available, but those choices divide fans of that specific area. I do wish for more multiplayer games with a 4 player option in one room, but I believe that no matter what time period we're in, we'll always find a way to group up and play. If one game comes out that is incredible enough to keep 4 people in the same room, it'll definitely keep the tradition alive....or it'll just cater to fans of the good old days.

Truthfully, I dislike split-screen gaming, but I love multiplayer in the same room, whether that be LAN and Diablo II or Baldur's Gate parties, Rock Band, Little Big Planet, hotseat vs. with Street Fighter IV or Soul Cal IV.

I'm disappointed that many games are moving away from this style of multiplayer rather than trying to encourage an actual social activity within gaming rather than trying to keep everyone separated. I'm disappointed, but I can understand. Money counts more than satisfying consumers, so when you can make more people buy your game/system just to be able to play with their friends...

The first time I played a videogame was when I was invited over to a friends house in the forth grade to play halo. As of May 1st, 2009 him, myself and two other friends have played a combined Fortyfive THOUSAND hours of Halo (1, 2, and 3), all in the same room. it does not matter that we all have copies of the game and xbox live- we play to revel in our shared triumphs and defeats (and to trash talk each other like crazy). whether or not a game has four player splitscreen is on the top of our list; though that list is steadily growing smaller.
If anyone happens to have any good splitscreen game suggestions (anything from two to four player) for the xbox, PLEASE post.

Id advise you to get some friends who have live- it took myself and three friends to get through L4D expert, and boy did we have a blast.

While I agree with the overall theme of your article (local multiplayer is a good thing), you've got the history a bit off.

Thanks for your take on this. I'd have gone further/deeper with early games research if it didn't distract from the main, modern point of this article, and I still believe four-player games didn't get their mainstream push until Gauntlet. If you attend any retro gaming show these days, such as Seattle's recent NW Pinball Show (http://nwpinballshow.com/), you'll see a focus on one-player cabs from the golden era; early multi games had their bursts of success in certain regions, but none of them impacted the universal gaming zeitgeist like the hits of the late '70s/early '80s.

Even the most cooperative of all co-op games in recent history, Left 4 Dead, requires you to play online to max out your four-player squad.

If you played it on the PC then you could LAN and do it four player side-by-side. ;)

Nintendo recently promoted its latest Super Mario Bros. title with a four-player mode that runs solely on a single console. Unhappy journalists hoping for an online option were told the Wii didn't have the power for it. But maybe there was another answer: The industry's first four-player champions didn't have the stomach for it.

It's a real shame the internet connected games don't work very well (well, I experience huge lag and since it's so fast paced any lag is unacceptable), but I agree that it is much better to play something like SSBB as four people sitting on a couch, rather than fighting someone in another house, another town or another country even.

Split screen is dying out because LAN is all the rage now. Where appropriate 2 people to a tv with 3 or 4 moved into the same room makes for much bigger games than a single screen split into four tiny quarters.
I don't have fond memories of four player split screen, the times playing Halo 2 with four of us looking at a quarter of the screen each and complaining about not being able to see anything on the tiny part we were given.
The problem with nostalgia is that you only tend to remember the good parts of it, people say that the original Fallout is still a great game comparable to any RPG's now. But if you replay it you will realise that it's not as great as you have made it to be in your mind and is very bad compared to today's games.

Personally... I still can't stand online multiplayer, but I have very fond memories of local multiplayer. It was the original Super Smash Bros., GoldenEye, and F-Zero X for me, but actually having other people around makes a huge difference.

I'm not sure online multiplayer is real multiplayer, if you take my meaning. What, exactly, is social about it? The anonymity of online gaming is a turn-off. Anyone familiar with GIFT? I think you find that online, under assumed names, people are far more likely to consider courtesy optional. In the flesh, you have to play with people you like; no one sits on the couch next to a massive jackass, do they? It requires some degree of friendship. Online, that's out the window.

It's speculated that the first games humans created and played were done for the purposes of social bonding. Other animals, from primates to dolphins, also play with each other. Why? It helps build stronger communities. For video gaming, this holds much more true for local multiplayer than online. Social bonding does take place when it's you and a bunch of friends and the one television. While there are a few exceptions (and no offense is intended to those who've made lifelong friends in guilds and the like), the majority of online gaming is anonymous, and one rarely encounters the same players again. It has ceased to be a social experience, communal bonds are no longer being created, and I cease to find it entertaining.

I still play split screen multiplayer on Cod:WaW and UT3 and your right it is a rewarding experience.

Well, if liking split-screen multiplayer makes me a cranky old man, you'd better get out of my lawn, whippersnappers. It's always been difficult for me to get a lot of friends to play with me, and right now it's essentially impossible as I don't have any gaming friends any more, but I still think it's the only thing that's really multiplayer. Online multiplayer for me is just solo play with very smart opponents/allies.

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