I love local multiplayer games and I'm not afraid to admit it

August 1, 2015 - 9 minute read -
Picture a little house in the nineties with three or four little tots all gathered around a CRT television screen. We’re playing together, and that’s all that we’re doing. We’re either taking turns, we’re all playing on the same screen, or we’re having a split screen experience. “No screen peaking!”, a cry heard every few minutes as someone losing starts to blame the theoretical chance of cheating by his fellow gamers. It sounds very close to the modern call against aim bots and hackers. It’s a different culture, though, because back then you felt a little bit jealous and you could jokingly push your friend over to tell them to bugger off. Now, though, it’s just some hacker and you need to kick him or just leave the game. There’s no love for that person, there’s no interaction — they know what they are doing and they know how bad it is. They don’t care. They’re just there to ruin your day. They’re bullies. And frankly, a lot of people on the internet are bullies, and not even because they mean to be. Games now encourage you to be online, to top the leader boards. And if you own a game, you can sink hours and hours into it and become so good that you are unreasonably good compared to any of your friends. And that happens.
Often people will form friends within the games — other people who are very good — and play with them. That’s all right. I’m not here to completely bash online gaming. I am here, though, to say that modern online gaming is not for me. I used to do that. I used to play online games and MMOs and get good and join guilds and all that jazz. However, then I became very busy and started to enjoy being productive in hobbies and learning more than I enjoyed winning games. Then I found that online play in most games was actually an experience that made me disappointed. I not only felt unproductive due to the fact that I was playing video games, but now I also felt as if I wasn’t very good at them because when I went online, I’d get absolutely destroyed by people who were amazing.
All right, all right, I know that I can set up online matches with other unexperienced players in my Steam friends list or try a ranking system. And I do that. I really loved my time playing “Divinity: Original Sin”. I played through with a friend, but playing so far away from each other still feels wrong. Maybe it’s because I had the experience as a child and I’m just a nostalgia chaser, but I think that there’s something more to it. I think that there is a sense of community and intimacy when playing locally that doesn’t exist when you are playing online. There’s something to be said for not needing to wear a headset — to not need to leave the PC AFK while you go make a coffee. To be able to take a break, go for a walk, or any sort of activity. When playing Divinity, we actually did meet up and play on LAN, simply because it’s a better experience. I’m not sure that people realize that they are missing out.
Now, I’m going to say it once more before I continue my thought process: I’m not against online gaming nowadays. It’s all right. CS:GO needs a hardcore crowd. It’s not fun otherwise. MMOs will always be about grinding and wasting time. Dota does work better as a purely online game and its ranking system is great. There’s no shortage of examples of perfectly fine online experiences, however, there are many more examples of online games than local multiplayer games on the PC and even the current generation consoles. I think this is because the value of local multiplayer is not enough well known. To summarize: I’m not against online gaming, but I’m much more in favor of local multiplayer, especially for more casual gameplay.
Let’s talk about local multiplayer. It was very popular before networking existed in consoles, which makes good sense. Think back to NES through PS2 and GameCube, all the way up to when it changed with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Now the consoles started to emulate the way that PCs worked, where networking was not only an option, but practically integral to owning and using your system. There’s free online content, there’s an indie market with cool affordable games, and all your friends are accessible from a convenient friends list. The Wii of the same generation wasn’t quite there with the networking, especially because of those weird friend codes and lack of dedicated servers provided by Nintendo. In any case, it marked a new generation of games, and it became more and more common for developers to prioritize network play over local play. Local play increases load on the system, because may have to render multiple viewpoints, have a larger area in memory, and your interface becomes divided so it may be a design difficulty. Since this generation, the number of local multiplayer games has only decreased on consoles, as network play is more and more ubiquitous and local play is rare and novelty.
And what about PC? Not even an option. For a long time, any mention of local play on PC was just met with “how can two people use the same keyboard?” Furthermore, PCs have been on the network and the Internet at large for much longer than any console can claim. Quake is a great example of how the PC gaming community has been for a long time. Lots of servers, lots of customization, lots of mods, and lots of controls that you can do anything with. I would not criticize the PC of yesterday for not having multiplayer — it just didn’t make sense at the time.
That time has passed, though. Now we’re now, and guess what? Controllers are everywhere. They work on… everything. The Xbox 360’s controllers worked on Windows PCs early on and received huge adoption from developers, big and small. Steam introduced Big Picture and started to cater to users that are sitting on their couch. PCs are becoming a potential console replacement, for real this time. I know that many will argue that you only need a keyboard and mouse, but I want to relax. I want to sit on the couch and chill back and play games one can on a console. There’s no reason that I computer can’t do that! It’s powerful enough, it has enough games, and you can hook it up to a big enough “monitor” (television). So yes, for some games a keyboard and mouse is great, but for others, a controller is best. I want the option to use both with my machine.
Despite controllers being everywhere and the hardware being powerful enough and Steam Big Picture mode existing, for some reason developers are still holding back split screen when they make a PC version of a game. Why? What’s wrong with you? If you are porting over all the other code, it can’t be that hard to port over the rest of it for multiplayer. They seem to think that all PC players are the same and they miss out on the most potentially powerful platform. It maddens me every time another game is announced where only the console version has local multiplayer. It often makes no sense. Think “Diablo 3”, or more recently “Star Wars: Battlefront” which was announced with splitscreen on console, but not on PC. How stupid. How tired. It’s such an omission that neglects the technology at hand, and I’m very done with it. I wish I could boycott this kind of behavior, but I don’t know how our than to buy every local multiplayer game that I can. It’s just so annoying that if I wanted that experience, I would likely need to downgrade my system power to one of the current generation consoles instead of my plenty powerful gaming PC, which I’m sure will get higher frame rates with longer draw distances than the console counterparts.
Complaining about the lack of local multiplayer games is only half the battle, though. The other side is rewarding the good local multiplayer and local co-op games out there. Because there are a lot of them, especially in the indie scene. One of the reasons that I’m writing this now is because of how much fun I’ve had playing Rocket League in the past couple weeks. Rocket League is not a tiny indie game with 2D pixel graphics, it’s by a big company that has worked on lots of high profile games, and I think that it’s a perfect example of what the gaming scene has to work towards. Rocket League mixes a good deal of local and online play in a perfectly satisfying way. Released on PlayStation 4 and PC at the same time, the game has dedicated servers with cross-platform play, and up to four person split screen on both platforms. Wow! That’s amazing — the experience is seamless. I can team up with my friends on the couch and get real challenges from online players, or we can just train locally with or against each other. The whole implementation is excellent, and it makes the contrast between Rocket League and other large popular games even more clear.
Other games on Steam that are excellent for local play include (in alphabetical order):
  • Awesomenauts
  • Contagion
  • Crawl
  • Crypt of the NecroDancer
  • Distance
  • Duck Game
  • Dungeon Defenders
  • Fight the Dragon
  • Gang Beasts
  • Gauntlet
  • Goat Simulator
  • Hero Siege
  • ibb & obb
  • Left 4 Dead 2 (unofficial mod support)
  • Legend of Dungeon
  • LEGO franchise games
  • Lethal League
  • Magicka and Magicka 2
  • Megabyte Punch
  • Mercenary Kings
  • Portal 2
  • Project Zomboid
  • Rayman Legends and Origins
  • Risk of Rain
  • Road Redemption
  • Rocket League
  • Screencheat
  • Skullgirls
  • Son of Nor
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  • SpeedRunners
  • Spelunky
  • Thief Town
  • TowerFall Ascension
  • Trine Series
  • Warlocks vs Shadows
I’ve bought these and many more local games. Some are serious, many silly. Some cooperative, some competitive, some both. These ones are all pretty good, though they cover a wide range of genres, so you might want to check reviews before buying any of them.
I’m really hopeful for the future of local-play games. Steam OS is going to hopefully level the interfaces of consoles and PCs for most large games, and it’s likely that PC is always going to have a slightly larger indie market than the consoles (if anything, I imagine that the most the consoles could ever have would be equivalent.) I’m excited for the games, I’m excited for the technology (what sort of local play will VR games bring?) The world is going to get better for people who want to play with other people, and not just with the Internet. See you on the couch!