Why I hate the decline of local multiplayer
October 28, 2015, Author: Simon Weatherall
Gaming in split-screen is a time-honoured tradition amongst best buddies, and is the first multiplayer experience that most people have had in their gaming lives. Much like playing in an arcade, you were able to socially interact and challenge your friends in everything from Street Fighter to Mario.
The ability to play with others locally provided a way to keep communicating and having fun with others when online gaming was just a dream. Sadly, it seems there is a decline in the number of new games allowing local co-op and multiplayer, and soon it may be a thing of the past entirely.
I still have the memories, though.
Since the first announcement, I have been massively looking forward to Halo 5: Guardians. A game in a series that, from past experiences, I would be able to play with the missus on the same console. Sadly, news broke earlier this year that this will no longer be the case with Halo 5.
Slowly but surely, we are losing the ability to be play games with our friends physically in the same room. Soon everything will be over the internet or not at all, and I honestly don’t see local co-op and multiplayer being something utilised much longer.
Whilst I know that removing the function will allow developers to concentrate on polishing other game modes, it’s still disheartening that in the future you will most likely be swapping the friend on the couch for someone that you probably won’t ever see, or even worse; don’t really know.
There have always been games that you could play with your friends on the same console. Even Pong got you to play with someone else. Some of my best memories have been sat perched on the edge of my bed when I was a kid, controller in hand and a mate sat next to me sharing the experience. It was how things were.
These days we have the internet and a world of possibilities, but back when I was growing up, multiplayer gaming took place in the same room on the same TV. I didn’t even have a big TV; it was a crappy 15” screen with a damaged top from where my sister left a lamp on and melted the thing. It didn’t matter though, I made the best of it.
One of the first consoles I owned was a Commodore Amiga 500+ and I had loads of games and two joysticks. I remember the first time I played Alien Breed. I liked playing it by myself, but I loved it more when I had a mate helping me take on the waves of aliens. It made a massive difference, and not just with the extra help. There was always the challenge to stay alive the longest and the best achievement would be getting to the end of the level, finding the elevator and proving who was the better survivalist.
One of the other games I owned was Street Fighter II, and as much as I tried, I was never that great. We all used to gather around the Amiga in my dining room and take it in turns trying to recreate that arcade experience. I remember my mate Anthony kicking my ass all over the screen. I got in a massive sulk and was storming around, demanding a rematch. My mum came in, gave me a telling off for being so loud. I tried to tell her I had just been beaten, but all she could muster on the subject was that it was only a game. It wasn’t only a game; it was the household Street Fighter Championships. She just didn’t get it.
The whole multiplayer experience wasn’t just segregated to shooters or fighters, which up to a point, was all I had ever played. I remember the first time I went to my mate Andrew’s house for tea. We all ended up playing Sensible Soccer on his Atari. There were a few of us gathered in his room taking it in turns and cheering when one of us got a goal against the other. I wasn’t even bothered that I wasn’t great at the game, or that I didn’t like football: I was with my friends and we were all having fun together.
The first time I started dominating my friends all the time was on Killer Instinct on the SNES. I instantly took to it and realised I could pull off some epic combos. I could use most characters, but I mainly stuck to Orchid. My mates would all come over and we would play ‘winner stays on’. Most often B. Orchid would keep the others at bay, at least until everyone revolted and decided I was cheating, at which point I would have to change character to avoid the haters.
When Goldeneye came out on the N64, it was the pinnacle of social gaming for me The screen split off into two or more sections. We all had a pad and we went off to conquer each other with whatever weapon we had, and it was always satisfying to score a kill. At the time, I had a PlayStation but my friend Dean was lucky. He had the N64 with loads of games and extra pads. He spent most of his time memorising maps and inviting friends around to show off his gaming prowess.
For quite a while, I actually hated Goldeneye and not because it wasn’t a class game; my main issue was that Dean was just far too good and every time we played I met a quick death. There was slim to no chance of beating him.
One of my most memorable moments on Goldeneye was when Dean had been taking everyone out systematically. We were all getting pretty sick of dying. Sometimes we had only just spawned to meet our end immediately, and it seemed like nobody was going to survive the massacre that he was dishing out. Dean was on fire and totally in the zone. No matter what we did, there was just no killing him.
Suddenly, as I was walking around looking for someone to shoot, I saw one of my mates just as he got popped off. Dean was camping out waiting for me and he took the shot, but I managed to run away. Knowing full well I had seen him, he moved from his hiding spot, only to walk around a corner and into me. It all happened within a blink of an eye. There were shots fired and only one of us walked away. Everyone in the room cheered and we all stopped for a second. Dean was looking red-faced and frustrated.
It didn’t matter that I had been killed six times before and was about to get killed another five or six times straight after. It didn’t matter that my one kill counted for nothing whatsoever; Dean’s 32 kill streak was over and everyone was cheering because I had dethroned the king.
It was in the late 90s that I picked up a Sony PlayStation, and I owned everything from Tekken to Gran Turismo. It was around this time I hit a rough patch and my Grandad sadly passed away. It was New Year’s and I managed to get to him while he was having a heart attack. Sadly, he never recovered. At the time, I didn’t feel like seeing anyone and used to spend a lot of time in my room trying not to think about it. Gaming was all I had, and I didn’t speak to anyone for weeks.
My friend Dale took it upon himself to come around to see me. I wasn’t talking much but he put on F1 and we did some racing together. Before I knew it I was getting distracted from my grief and having fun. I started to get some things off my chest and I honestly believe that co-op and local multiplayer gaming helped me get out of a dark place. I wasn’t being judged and I didn’t feel like I had lots of eyes on me. I had my mate and we were just two people having a good time. Having someone there helped me through it and I don’t think playing online, had it been available, would have cut the mustard.
When Halo 3 came along, it was a perfect way to become a couch co-op gamer. It had everything, the story, the action and split-screen. I remember it like it was yesterday: I had taken a few days off work and I had gone to my local GAME to pick up my copy. I returned home, stuck it in my console and set off as the Master Chief. I must have done around two chapters before there was a knock at the door: Dale had come to have a look at the latest episode of 117’s epic story.
Without any begging from Dale, I switched on my second pad and started the game from the beginning again. Before I knew it, we had a couple of beers on the go, and we were cheering at each other’s skills on the battlefield. Enemies were falling all around us, the Covenant were losing the battle and we were making an effective team.
Our focus was eventually switched to multiplayer and we launched into deathmatches, goading one another as we shot at each other and everyone else. I loved seeing the frustration on my mate’s face when I killed him over and over. He was going nuts, and I’ll never forget the memory of not only knowing I beat him, but also seeing how much I was stressing him out. It was moments like these that made gaming what it is today.
It wasn’t some random guy in another country. He wasn’t someone on my friends list that I had never met before. He was a real-life person, and together we were having a good time (for the most part) and enjoying the same game without the restrictions of subscriptions or the internet. At the time, Dale didn’t have an Xbox 360 so the only time he got to play great games was when he came to my house. In point of fact, he pretty much never wanted to leave and practically lived there. That was the power of local multiplayer gaming.
Halo isn’t the only game Dale and I tackled together; there were many others since. Co-op games were our thing and we always hunted them down, especially the ones with local co-op. Games like Army of Two and Gears of War were always on the menu. It was what consoles were made for.
These days I don’t see many of my friends very often, partly due to me living nowhere near where they do. My main co-op experience is playing with my girlfriend Sam. Like me, she is a gamer and when we’re not looking after the kids, we like to load up the console and play something together. We’ve done everything from the Borderlands series to currently playing through all of the Halo games via the Halo: Master Chief Collection. I honestly don’t think I would get the same enjoyment if we weren’t in the same room. I get to look over and see Sam enjoying the experience. I don’t have to rely on internet connections, PSN or Xbox Live. We don’t have to worry about buying two copies of the game. We can just load it up, and pick up where we left off.
I’ve played thousands of games in my life, and I can honestly say that although I have had epic gaming moments while playing online, I have never been able to truly recreate that feeling I have when playing games with my friends. There is just something less social about playing online, even if you’re chatting away in a party or talking to random people. It’s not the same to cheer to yourself in an empty room over something only you saw you do.
I can see the future of social interactions in games being limited to screaming at some pre-pubescent teenagers or playing on whatever iteration of Nintendo console is out. Both Sony and Microsoft are shifting their focus away from local multiplayer gaming and although it’s sad to see, I understand that gaming has to evolve.
I know I will never be satisfied with just gaming online and sadly it means I have to have two consoles, two games and two TVs. At least the experience can still be achieved to some degree, even if it is a very expensive habit. Nothing will ever take away the joy I feel when a friend, my missus or one of the kids gets excited over something they did in a game, and I am there in person to witness to that moment.