Next generation sucks!
Okay, maybe not. Maybe I'm being a little disingenuous. Or maybe I'm voicing the popular opinion of any elitist gamer out there right now.
There are always dissenting voices no matter what. Each console publisher could be giving away a free gold bar with their machine and we'd still find a way to complain how the gold wasn’t heavy enough or we'd have no place to put it or how maybe after all this time of shafting us, they should really have given us two gold bars rather than one. It's the nature of people to be ungrateful little scrotes until they get absolutely nothing at all and realise what they've lost.
But despite the fun I'm having with this currently, freshly born generation of consoles, there are still some problems that are justifiably being raised. Stuff that has been almost as standard the past few generations and now arguably being left out to pasture.
In this case, split-screen multiplayer options.
It's recently been announced that Xbox 360's Shadowrun title is going to be online multiplayer only. Which comes as the latest blow to anyone who was expecting the Shadowrun franchise to live on in any shape or form close to what it originated from. What used to be a deep and intelligent single-player action role-playing series has mutated into a Counter Strike style first-person shooter that hasn’t even got a dedicated single-player mode to maintain a semblance of its valuable name.
That's right, no single-player. And now, no split-screen option either.
Excellent PlayStation3 racing title, MotorStorm, suffers from this affliction as well. It still possesses the ability for Han Solos to play without friends, but woe betide if you're not an online gamer. Because if you haven’t such a set-up you're made to feel like a Billy-No-Mates because the developer apparently deemed it unnecessary to split the high res visuals into divisions.
So what's this got to do with Wii?
There is a worrying trend within this current generation that everything has to be online. Which isn’t the part I disagree with. I love playing my games with others across the globe, despite the random and vulgar abuse that seems to fall from the mouths of ignorant kids (and also adults, mind) who've not been taught basic manners by their trailer park trash Mommas. But generally my online experiences have been great, and the ability to download games (I *heart* Gunstar Heroes), gather updates and other lovely extras has been a boon. I've wasted more time on the Everybody Votes channel than I'd care to admit.
But the trend is coming at the expense of the group-gaming dynamic many of us have grown-up with. And that's an element I feel is still totally valid within gaming's society. Wii, through a combination of Nintendo's dedication to older hardware and stubbornness against online functionality, is offering a dogged line of resistance to the train of thought that we must all now engage each other via the invisible ether of communication and forgo physical contact altogether.
And you should be utterly grateful.
It's true Wii's insistence to keep us all at split-screen distance is more a side effect of Nintendo not providing the necessary online viability and functions for third-parties rather than an out-and-out strategy on its part. The company sees online multilayer capabilities as a non-essential ingredient of the medium's make-up, which is arguably a pigheaded assumption at this stage where a growing number of us can quickly and easily connect to the internet. But at the same time, by forcing third-parties to go without, in terms of multiplayer options Wii is the only console now that guarantees you wont have any problems if you're having a house party and want numerous people to play on just a single machine.
Wii has been tagged a "party console" by many in a pejorative manner, but it's that perception (as one sided as it may be) that will help keep split-screen gaming alive. Many of us will have now likely experienced the sheer amount of fun Wii Sports and WarioWare (albeit across both single and split-screen) gives us as a small gang of people surround the TV, whooping, laughing, cheering and jeering each other while we play. It's an atmosphere unrivalled in terms of gaming experiences. And that's what split-screen is about; physical interaction. The ability to talk, interact and be a part of something in 'real-time'. No lag. No inexplicable jumps. No disconnects… unless someone wants to go to the loo. The ability to praise (or punch) someone in the here and now is something we perhaps take for granted. And unless you back it in the present, it will slowly die and fade away. Which is something even the youngest of you may be complaining about in ten years time, bemoaning "the way things were" – but by then it'll be far too late.
Split-screen has its problems, of course. Yes, you need the right number of controllers. Yes, you need to gather the people around to one place. And yes, you need to have a TV big enough to truly see what you're doing. But isn’t it worth it in the end? Isn't the atmosphere and fun worth the 'hassle' of doing something many of us have been doing for the past decade?
I'm not saying to get rid of multiplayer online components. As I said before, I love it. But at the sacrifice of split-screen? No. I'd rather not, thanks. Maybe I'm asking for a large icing covered cake and the chance to eat it as well, but personally I don’t like being hemmed into one path. The much maligned (unfairly, in my opinion) Perfect Dark Zero may not have pleased many gamers but that and Gears of War showed us the true future via their ability to have local AND online multiplayer options for pretty much everything in the game. As heavier a work load that may be for developers, that is really the way it should be. Next generation shouldn’t just be about fancier graphics and better presentation; it should also be a leap in the way we think about and approach games, too.
There is another issue here that's offering a large dollop of irony regarding Wii and split-screen options; expense. Part of the reason some devs are forced into leaving out said functions is due to money. This generation has seen the costs of creating a game turn into a mountainous effort of finance. That's the price of high definition, physics rich videogames. Nintendo's machine may be weaker than its competition, which means certain things may be omitted by comparison, but the flip side means developers are more likely to see it as the console of choice for multiplayer. A combination of its 'party/social game' dynamic along with the fact it's cheaper to develop for means if there's the option of both split-screen AND online components to be added, there's less financial risk involved. Wii is already a haven for that philosophy, even without its internet-driven multiplayer capabilities being available, forcing designers and programmers into a corner if that want to go beyond single-player. Some are still learning how to make the most of this, via optimisation and other aspects (Excite Truck really should have been four-player), but the bottom line is that not everyone is going to own the same console you do. Not everyone is going to have the same game across different households. Not everyone is going to be able to get online with it either. And simply put, having a choice is better than having none, regardless of whether you like split-screen gaming or not.
It's inevitable Nintendo will realise how valuable online multiplayer is. This may take a while, but it's impossible to ignore. Advocating split-screen doesn’t mean you're not supporting online, because online is not going to go away; it's in no danger of being belittled and phased out. But split-screen gaming, at current rate, is. Which is why it's important to vocally back its functionality. Otherwise, what was the point? What was the point of campaigning for multiplayer frequencies/controller slots for each console? Maybe Sony was right in only giving PlayStation2 two controller ports when every other console was packing four. Hell, why even bother any more for the mere handful of titles that would otherwise use it? Oh, wait, yes… money. We're paying for the convenience of such hardware options without getting the reward of it in the first place. A stick without a carrot. It seems churlish to have got this far in advances, to get console manufacturers to add as much as we have now, only for them to start taking things away. Because I bet if the cost of making a machine was broken down, adding those extra bits to allow multiple controller support would be factored in by their makers, even if they didn’t actually cost the manufacturer anything. Consider it an 'industry growth' expense. Charge it to the 'game', so to speak. Given the sheer amount of money typically lost on each machine by its publisher, don’t expect any sympathy from them either. They'll happily survive on giving you the bare minimum if possible. If you let them.
The choice is yours. Vote with your wallets. Because frankly, if you don’t exercise that choice, soon enough… you wont have a choice at all.
digg_url = 'http://www.digg.com/gaming_news/Are_Split_Screen_Multiplayers_A_Thing_Of_The_Past' ;