Written by Ryan Johnson Tuesday, 21 December 2010 12:20
This article originally appeared on GoozerNation on August 16, 2010
We live in a very connected world. People can literally get their fifteen minutes of fame by doing something stupid on YouTube. Thanks to technology, we can also always find someone to game with. Plug in your 360 or PS3, and you can multiplay at any time.
There is something missing, though: The glory of local multiplayer. From the era of the NES, my friends and I would game together. There's something you don't get online when friends are together for a gaming session.
I remember the glory days of local multiplayer: co-opping through Twisted Metal 2, having friends want to set up cardboard dividers so you couldn't cheat peek on Goldeneye, and setting up two TVs in the college dorm room to play Time Crisis and Gran Turismo 2. My friends and I could make anything multiplayer: I had Kessen, a feudal Japan strategic warfare game. A friend came by and watched once, then he brought a friend, and so on, until the War Council was born. It may have been a one-player game on the box, but each of my friends manned a faction of the army and called their orders to me, and I plugged them in. We beat the game in its entirety that way. When we weren't linking PS2s to do Gran Turismo, we would actually play it multiplayer, as a racing team. Each person tunes their car and races for the entire team's profit. There is something to be said for getting together to game.
There are three main issues that are hindering local multiplayer these days:
1) The Internet. The world is "connecting" more and more but there is disconnect as well. Places like Facebook state they are keeping people more connected, and in a way they are. I also know people who seem to add friends as a courtesy, than never attempt to talk to them again. It also allows you to "FB" someone instead of giving a phone call. Texting as well: there are less and less chances for people to interact with each other. There are people I know who look at their phone weird when they actually get a telephone call! Keep this pace up, and we'll order all of our needs which will be mailed to our house, and we'll forget how to interact with others. Online gaming is fun, but to me it's the equivalent of the old arcade: go there with your friends and have fun, or shuffle up next to a machine with a stranger and play, then most likely never see them again. It's too easy to be a face in the crowd on the internet, and therefore, too easy to avoid making prolonged friendships.
2) Technology: people are currently demanding better and better graphics, which can effect what developers have time to put into other areas. People can still enjoy old-school graphics as games such as Castle Crashers (which, by the way, can be played local multiplayer) can get rave reviews. A lot of game companies know what draws in crowds, though. Would you play the newest Gears of War if it were graphically equivalent to Doom? Even if Final Fantasy diehards would have liked to see FF13 done like FF6, we can admit mainstream USA would not have purchased it. Also, I have read that when graphics push the limitations of the system, they cannot do local multiplayer because when a screen is split four ways, that's four cameras, four rendered areas, and no matter how powerful the machine is, it can't keep up with doing four times its' job, all thanks to the "need" for "perfect" graphics.
3) Profit: The companies making our games want to make a profit. Heck, I love my job and wish I could do it for free, but I have bills to pay. And these companies want to profit as much as possible: it's just good business. And more consoles sold equals more games sold equals more profit. Only one person has to buy a game to get four people entertained in a local multiplayer game. When I got Ghostbusters and Quantum of Solace for my Xbox 360, I was bummed to see that they had online multiplayer, but no local. I was further confused when I looked at the boxes for the Wii editions, only to see that they in fact DID have local multiplayer. So it's possible to put it in. Whether it was a design choice or a buyout by Nintendo (to make more cash), it translates to forcing one to play online for certain parts of the game that you already paid for. Meaning also, two copies of the game had to be purchased, another person had to get in on the market by buying a system even if you have people willing to bring two systems to the same house, the company still made the sale. And sadly, the games with dedicated servers will one day stop playing. I can break out my 8-Bit Nintendo any day with a multitap and play Super Off-Road, but if I want to go play Halo on the X-Box online?
These issues said, I think that there are some hopes for the future of local multiplayer, such as: 1) Technology: as games get prettier, with less graphical leaps to make, people may focus more on multiplayer again, perhaps even making games as pretty as the solo mission games we have now into multiplayer experiences. Creativity thanks to technology has helped birth (love it or hate it) games like Rock Band, which are drawing people back into rooms together like never before.
2) Internet: The downloadable game market is allowing smaller companies with big ideas to develop games without distribution costs. This allows someone who's not out to make the next blockbuster to put out games that wouldn't float otherwise. Just like in Hollywood, there tends to be a formula to create the Game the Masses Will Buy, regardless of quality. Also, thanks to the internet we get retro revivals of old favorite multiplayer games. Do you think we would have gotten a re-skinned edition of Turtles in Time distributed in disk form?
3) Profit: some developers are still putting out quality local multiplayer games, knowing that there is a market for them. Nintendo is leading the pack. Their Wii was designed with "we" in mind, after all. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the re-imagining of Goldeneye show there is promise for those of us who love local MP.
As you can see, I feel my points are a double-edged sword. They seem to be hurting the local multiplayer endeavor, but used appropriately, they can return us to the awesome days of local MP. While a lot of people are complaining the new Scott Pilgrim game does not have online multiplayer, it kind of excites me. Force those friends to get together and have face-to-face interactions you can't get over a headset! There is something magical about local multiplayer. Dropping down on a couch, ordering a pizza, getting sucker-punched in the arm for the horrendous combo you just pulled off games are something to me that bring people together. And, unfortunately, I feel that the local experience is slowly disappearing. Am I alone here? Sound off in the comments. I'm not saying online gaming is horrible, after all, I can still game with my college buddies halfway across the country, and I'm sure hundreds of friendships have been made over gaming, after all I met my lovely wife through random chat boredom online. I just don't want developers to give up on one of my favorite parts of the videogame experience: calling up the local pizza joint, loading the fridge with Dr. Pepper, and sharing the experience with people close to me.