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Local Multiplayer (aka "Split Screen" and "Shared Screen")

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by TonyLi, Jan 14, 2015.

  1. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    For downtime, I occasionally toy around with a small game that uses DanielSnd's COOP Action Game Kit. It does local, shared-screen multiplayer. On its thread, someone recently asked about online multiplayer, suggesting multiplayer games these days need to be online.

    I like to know your thoughts, especially given the recent resurgence of local multiplayer in games such as the highly-rated Nidhogg and PC Gamer's 2014 Multiplayer Game of the Year, Towerfall Ascension.

    Edge Magazine published an interesting article on this last year, saying that, despite a generation of gamers raised on Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and GoldenEye,
    but it goes on to highlight some games that do local multiplayer very well.

    Is there a future for local multiplayer? For better or worse, are the days of getting together in person to play games over?
     
    AndrewGrayGames likes this.
  2. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    The modern party gaming genre is going strong, but the definition of 'what's a party game?' has shifted somewhat; where once upon a time Mario Kart was a racing game, more and more often I hear people talk about Mario Kart 8 - even in analyses of the game, mind you - as a party game, with mechanics included to allow even the least-skilled player to have something resembling fun. Many people consider Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U a party game as well.

    If anything, I think the way genres have skewed, split-screen multiplayer is one of the earmarks of the modern understanding of a party game - a game intended to be played socially. I don't think that it necessarily removes the need for a networked multiplayer, and that's what I think the article was saying; merely having split-screen multiplayer isn't enough to qualify the game as 'multiplayer' in a modern context, even though the game is literally a multiplayer game.
     
  3. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    If Gauntlet (or any of its derivatives) isn't a multiplayer game, I'll eat my hat.

    Nonetheless, I do think @Asvarduil's onto something here with the "party game" moniker. We set up a MAME machine in the basement explicitly to be a party machine, and loaded it up with great multiplayer classics like Gauntlet, Rampage, D&D, and TMNT. I especially tend to favor co-op games for parties, because there will inevitably be a variety of skill levels, and in a competitive game the newbies (usually your guests) are going to get smacked down. It's hard to make that fun (though I'll agree that Smash Bros and Mario Kart make a good attempt at it).

    But I think your (Tony's) question, "Is there a future for local multiplayer? For better or worse, are the days of getting together in person to play games over?" is confounding two different issues, because it leaves out LAN gaming. I have friends that I occasionally get together with to play LAN games, and we're still getting together in person to do it, even though it is not a split-screen shared-machine situation.
     
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  4. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    This. This a lot. At this point, local multiplayer doesn't mean "only one machine/screen." The idea of dividing up a screen has pretty much gone the way of the dodo when it's not hard to join up several consoles/PCs to a network. So long as you don't start to need a big iron router, it's inexpensive and makes for a better gaming experience in most cases.
     
  5. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    @Asvarduil's "party game" is a good moniker for all types of games played under the same roof. This discussion might need to split into more than one thread. You can play games like Starcraft and Quake locally or over the Internet. To me, the experience is mostly the same either way, and different from games like Smash Bros, Gauntlet, or You Don't Know Jack, which are more truly "couch games" -- games where you're all crowded around the same screen (split or shared) and bumping elbows. Maybe my experience is different, but couch games usually feel more casual and social. Non-playing participants are a lot more engaged, too.

    I hope it's okay to rephrase my initial question as: What's the future for couch games? Where can we push the boundaries of design? What kind of audiences are best suited for these games?

    The name of the Unity folder for my COOP Action Game Kit project is "Sci-Fi Gauntlet". Not the game's title, but a succint descriptor. :)
     
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  6. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I agree. Personally, I think the delineation is stupid. To a degree all games include some element of social fun, and can theoretically be played at a party; I think if you want a game design challenge (and a reason for people to dislike you), create an anti-social game. As soon as people start swapping stories or whatever, though, it will fail because they'll provide the social element. Hooray for a medium where works are "incomplete" by nature and necessity.

    The problem is, everyone else categorizes couch games (to use your terminology) differently from 'merely' multiplayer games for some reason, so we sort of have to go along with it.

    I think that's a much better question, that unfortunately I can't answer. However, I do have one thing - as long as people party, there will be room for couch games, board games, ridiculous games like Twister, and similar things. I feel that this is where the limitations of the party game genre come from - theoretically anyone can be at a party, so there is no clear demographic, so "to be safe" party games are intentionally designed overly broadly, which results in the game being forgettable.

    My "Noob RPGMaker Project" philosophy on this sort of thing is that the players should remember their interactions with each other just as much as the game; if you only remember the interactions but not the game, you have done something wrong.
     
  7. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Granted, the delineation is fuzzy, but I definitely notice a different social atmosphere between LAN games and couch games.

    Although my friends and I enjoy playing Gauntlet-style co-ops, I think an "all in good fun" competitive element makes better memories, such as in GoldenEye, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart.
     
  8. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Couch games is also a misnomer, with the rise of knect, wii and similar concepts :)

    But back on topic I think these games are all but dead for PC, phone and tablet. There is a small market for children's games that support two player, one keyboard, but this is limited. Totally gone are the days when four players on one keyboard was acceptable. The days of local multiplayer for serious games are also gone too. You can generally get much better serious experience online.

    This is still very much a live genre for light party games on the console market. This type of game is the main reason I still own a console. Especially if broaden your definition to include pretty much everything released for the knect and wii, as well as guitar hero and sing star and the like.

    Here are some essential characteristics for the social game type, as I see it
    • The game must be fun. This is more true then other genres. Forget telling a good story, forget realism, make it fun to play. If that involves a little guy with a big bat knocking his enemies hundreds of metres away, then so be it.
    • Make it short. Parties often have more players then then controllers. Opportunities to swap the controller around should be abundant
    • Keep everyone in the game. If players can die a quick respawn timer is essential.
    • Make it accessible. Occasionally I have a group of just gamers. But more often there are non gamers as well. I inevitably reach for something easy to play. The game should stay fun, even if you suck at it.
     
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  9. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Good list, @BoredMormon! If Steam boxes ever appear, or if the Ouya somehow makes a comeback, Unity could be a lively development platform for these kinds of games.
     
  10. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    Yeah, but don't forget about the consoles Unity already supports. A friend in our local Unity SIG is polishing up a game for the Wii right now. Unity makes these platforms far more accessible than they've ever been before, IMO.

    And yeah, @BoredMormon's list seems spot-on to me too.
     
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  11. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    There are just a lot more hurdles to develop for Wii (have to be a licensed developer), 360 (need to partner with an approved publisher), and PlayStation (must be a Sony-accredited developer unless you use the PSM build). Personally, for "Sci-Fi Gauntlet," I just use my Win7 laptop and an HDMI cable to the TV.
     
  12. 0tacun

    0tacun

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    I hope that local multiplayer isn't completely dead! Unfortunately it looks very much like this. I was always disappointed that local coop was never really supported on the PC, while the consoles edition got one (Splinter Cell blacklist recent example). Yeah I know it is stretagy to increase the sales, but it feels pretty unfair.

    All in all I miss some good coop games in this generation. (Where is Time Splitters and other good coop games?) Personally I enjoy it much more than online coop. It is just not the same if you and your buddy are separated (how are you supposed to ground him if something went wrong? :D ).

    I think this dorkley comic pretty much sums it up: http://www.dorkly.com/post/60844/the-ages-of-multiplayer
     
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  13. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    I think local multiplayer will always be a fringe thing now, but who knows, given the success of Towerfall Ascension.
     
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  14. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    Yeah, I wouldn't be so quick to write it off. I was just reading today about how in the 80s, everyone was saying that console games were dead, because PCs were becoming increasingly common and people just weren't putting money into Atari, Colecovision, and Intellivision. Who needed those when you had Apple II and C64?

    ...Then Nintendo came out with the NES, and boom! Console games were hot again, and have been ever since.

    So, yeah, maybe local multiplayer is in a slump now... but I think there's a good chance it'll come back to stay.
     
    0tacun likes this.
  15. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    "Party Games" - Such a wonderfully evocative term. Would be fun to build one.
    Gigi
     
  16. Wacky-Moose

    Wacky-Moose

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    Well F*** me that sounds to fun to not make !
     
  17. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    I can neither confirm nor deny how many hours were spent playing that game as a teenager.

    On a vaguely related note my game Pond Wars is two player, single screen, single keyboard. Link in my signature.
     
    Wacky-Moose likes this.
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