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4 Player Split-screen and/or coop needs to make a comeback

Hulk_Smash

Banned
Okay, gaf. I've been wanting to get this down on paper once and for all. It's been stewing in my brain for the past five years or so years and after having friends over this weekend, I think it's time to put my thoughts out there. It's time for a revival of 4 player games. Let me give you a bit of history and then make my case for why it's gone away and why it needs to come back.

Quick note: what I mean by four player is NOT on-line. There are lots of those. I mean, off-line, split-screen or couch co-op (all four players on one screen like Mario Party) or at least four players between a LAN connection.

The history of 4 player games:
The first time I remember experiencing split-screen gaming (I'm 40) was the arcade game, Crackdown. No, not THAT Crackdown, THIS Crackdown:


Later I experienced split-screen again on the Sega Genesis with the game Road Rash. I was fascinated with the idea that you can be in the same game, but in two different places. But, those were two player games. Four player games go all the way back to Atari days with games like Warlords, Steeplechase, and Party Mix. I do remember playing Warlords when I was around 8. It was fun, but the gameplay was obviously limiting. And then, about 5 years later, I saw advertisements for the NES Satellite. This thing not only allowed for four players on the NES, it was also wireless and gave you turbo fire options. It was awesome. I saved up my money and bought that with Gauntlet 2 and my friends and I stayed up all night playing that game laughing and having a great time. Later I picked up Off-Road and had a blast with it as well.

The 16 bit era gave us a few gems, but most four player games in this era were in the arcade. NBA Jam, X-Men, Avengers, Ninja Turtles, NFL Blitz, and The Simpsons were fantastic games and became instant classics. But, four players games on consoles didn't become standard until the N64. And we all know 'em! Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Diddy Kong Racing, and Mario Party among others. Then four player games REALLY took off in the xbox/ps2 to WiiU era. Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Unreal Tournament, Need 4 Speed, Nintendo Land, Borderlands, Madden, The Show, NBA 2k (heck almost all sports games had it), Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Minecraft, and the mother of them all: Halo (8 player LAN parties!). Friendships were made (and lost) over those games and none of us who were old enough to live through it would doubt its personal and cultural impact. We "get it". We understand why those games worked the way they did. Ordering pizza, calling your parents and telling them your spending the night. and sitting down for a long session of what was doubtless to be a fun night of gaming. And as an adult, 4 player games made my dinner parties that the wife insisted on... fun. Now that I am a parent, my kids got to enjoy lots of four player action on the WiiU.

The Downturn:
For this generation, the number of four player games and split-screen in general has shrunk and seems to continue that way. I'm not talking about total numbers. Those numbers are hard to nail down. The website, www.co-optimus.com, isn't updated frequently enough to be reliable, not to mention their filtering system is confusing and doesn't seem to work the way it is intended. Outside of that, there isn't any easy way to come up with a definitive list of off-line four player PS4, Xbox One, or Switch games. Even their own digital storefronts do not have the option of filtering your search for just games that support 4 players. And forget Wiki pages. They're never kept up to date.

Besides, I am more interested in games that have left an impression of being made FOR four players and seem to be in the general ethos of current gaming culture. They are almost absent among AAA developers. Just take a look at the top 50 best-selling PS4 games. Of those games, only 13 games support up to four players. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Until you realize all but three of them are sports games (5 FIFA games). Is it any different on Xbox? 16 support four players and most of those are sports games, so no not really. I have nothing against sports games by the way. Just pointing out that it seems to be the only genre that developers can't convince their player base to go to on-line only. Now, compare that to the top 50 best selling PS3 games where 20 of them supported up to four players and the Xbox 360 has 21 games in its top 50 that support four players both with a tiny bit more variety than your typical sports games.

There should be some consideration given to games that at least include two player split screen or fighting games which wouldn't support more than two players at one time anyway. And some games still throw us a bone by including split screen of some sort (Battlefront, Gears of War 4, Black Ops 4, etc). The list would expand dramatically, regardless of genre or platform if you include two player games. But, many of those franchises went from four players down to two or two players to one (Need 4 Speed, for example).

If I were to guess, I would think that the rise of on-line gaming and widespread adoption of high-speed internet access is the main reason why many devs have dumped local MP. It is true that the vast majority of MP gaming now takes place on-line, but it is only in this generation that it seems to have replaced local MP. And while on-line gaming has been a revolution in gaming and certainly deserves to be developed as an avenue of MP gaming, it did not have to come at the cost of local MP. When Halo 5 was about to be released, 343 Studio Chief, Josh Holmes, said, "With Halo 5 we are delivering massive scale environments, improved AI behavior, increased visual and gameplay fidelity... something that truly takes advantage of a new platform. Many of our ambitious goals for Halo 5 would be compromised in a split-screen setting and the time spent optimizing and addressing split-screen-specific issues would take focus from building other parts of the game." While I try to take developers at their word regarding their own work, this STILL smells of bullshit. Every generation brings it challenges with console limitations and what you want to push forward technologically. Challenges that Bungie had to face with all 5 of the Halo games they developed and yet they made split screen work.

It is, in my estimation, simply a matter of what you prioritize. Here is snippet from a Gamesradar article by Connor Sheridan comparing Halo 5's development and Gears of War 4: "To Halo 5's credit, Fergusson quickly added that doing split-screen anything is not a free, easy choice for a developer. Beyond performance issues, it also means thinking about how to handle two sets of audio coming from one set of speakers, how to scale the HUD, and other issues. But "co-op is cake to us, it's what defines us", Fergusson said. "We can never get rid of that"." What's intriguing about this quote is that on the one hand Sheridan seems to try to defend 343 but then seemingly refutes it by quoting Fergusson saying that "it's cake" to them. Probably because it is non-negotiable- a top priority. Granted, only Gears of War 3 had four player support, but at least they still made some attempt at including local MP. In the process, he reveals that it is just a matter of what you prioritize. Games are always scale-able. You can reduce resolution, make MP maps smaller, simpler textures, etc. It is NOT easy to do, but it can be done.

So, what do devs prioritize these days? The same thing they always prioritize: Money. I think that with the rise of on-line gaming, the demand for local MP has gone way down. Even some games that allow for local MP, STILL require an internet connection. There is no reason why Black Ops 4 or Garden Warfare 2 require an on-line connection, unless there is a financial agenda for doing so. They want to condition you into accepting an on-line only model. Alongside that is the development of mobile gaming which is a very individualistic experience and largely ignores local MP even though Bluetooth can allow for it.

This is where my evidence is somewhat anecdotal, but I work with teenagers A LOT and help run a volunteer youth center. I have two video game stations set up with 4 controllers on each station (XBONE and PS4). I've had FAR more requests at this youth center from teens wondering if they can play Fortnite on-line than I have had for any other game. I point out that 1) You cannot access the internet on the console per the rules of the youth center and 2) no one wants to sit there and watch YOU play Fortnite when you both can play one of our four player games. They don't "get it". They've been conditioned to be used to playing on-line. It's almost like a revelation to them that they can play games with other people.

AAA Developers don't include local MP in games that used to have it because they don't have to. The demand is not nearly as strong as it used to be. On top of that, there is a strong incentive to make people buy digitally, make them buy multiple copies of a game, and keep them on-line where they control the messaging and the services.

While I don't blame them for wanting to maximize profits, I think there is something lost philosophically with this approach. Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, once said that he believes that video games should be a social event. It should bring people together. On-line gaming does that in its own way, but there's something to be said for having people in the same room. It's experiential and unless you've experienced it, it's very difficult to explain why it should stay a priority. And since it is already lost on a significant percentage of gamers ages 8-18, I doubt AAA devs are going to change things any time soon.

Signs of (four player) Life:
If you haven't noticed, I have left Nintendo out of the discussion. That is because Nintendo has never stopped making four player games. They are and always have been the undisputed king of four player games on consoles. Six of the top 10 Wii games and seven of the top 10 Wii U games support four players. They have more four player games in their top 50 for both Wii and WiiU than the other consoles mentioned and more than half aren't sports related. I would argue that local MP is Nintendo's bread and butter and that trend seems to continue (albeit more slowly) with the Switch. Ultimate Smash will be a top seller this Christmas season and amazingly Mario Kart 8 is one of the best selling games of this gen. With their slow embrace of anything having to do with the internet (Rocket League and Fortnite are HUGE exceptions), I doubt they will be slowing down production of amazing four player games.

Indies and Steam! Surprisingly, the go-to local MP player console of choice when I have company over is my PC. I have 4 Xbox One controllers hooked up via Bluetooth and an HDMI splitter that allows me to play on my home TV. I have more four player games in my Steam library than I did on any other console I have every owned (except maybe the Wii). And because of near-limitless backwards compatibility, I'll probably always have them. Indies seem to love making four player games. They have filled the gap nicely. Just take a look at any one of the many articles declaring the best local MP games on Xbox One, PS4, or Switch. Most of them come from smaller, independent studios.

Many gems have come from the four player indie scene. However, and this is just my personal taste, many of these games are... niche. Look at Badlands or Runbow or even Castle Crashers. I'm sure they're fun, but trying to convince 3 other people they are fun as well can be a daunting task. I usually have one shot at convincing a crowd of people to play a game. I don't want to waste it on something they have a hard time getting into.

TL;DR
I know a lot of this is just wishful thinking, since there is no way for me to influence an industry as massive as video games, but I want to eat my cake and have it, too. With textures as clear as they’ve become, wireless controllers being standard, and TVs bigger than ever, it is time for a comeback. I want to see indies give us more games like Rocket League and Gauntlet and I want to see AAA developers bring back 4 player split-screen and couch co-op!

Sources:
https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-02-24-every-halo-fps-from-now-on-will-have-split-screen
https://www.gamesradar.com/gears-war-4-split-screen-multiplayer-everything/
 
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120v

Member
could be wrong but i believe phil spencer talking about halo 5. we're just sooo busy now who has time for split screen??
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Great write up! I'm a big fan of 4p games. I think the reason why it is excluded is because devs view games as temporary leases. They want to churn out another one and have you playing that one instead, and then the next one, and then the next one. No one is interested in being the next Goldeneye 64 or Mario Kart. They want to be the next Fortnite or League of Legends or Minecraft.

Ironically, Minecraft was wise enough to include 4p local multiplayer which is why I think sales skyrocketed when it hit consoles. You'd think if one of the highest-selling games of all time included local multiplayer that it might be something that more devs consider.
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
could be wrong but i believe phil spencer talking about halo 5. we're just sooo busy now who has time for split screen??

Regardless who said it, it is still corporate conditioning. Normally, we see right through it. It would be like the CEO of Lays telling us, “Who has time to cook vegetables anyway?”
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
DIABLO 3
BORDERLANDS SUPER HANDSOME EDITION
SONIC MANIA

All solid games. However, two of those are remasters from last gen and SonicMania is limited in its multiplayer, but looks like it could be fun. Not sure what you were getting at unless you just wanted to mention some awesome games.
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
Great write up! I'm a big fan of 4p games. I think the reason why it is excluded is because devs view games as temporary leases. They want to churn out another one and have you playing that one instead, and then the next one, and then the next one. No one is interested in being the next Goldeneye 64 or Mario Kart. They want to be the next Fortnite or League of Legends or Minecraft.

Ironically, Minecraft was wise enough to include 4p local multiplayer which is why I think sales skyrocketed when it hit consoles. You'd think if one of the highest-selling games of all time included local multiplayer that it might be something that more devs consider.

Short-sightedness I’m afraid. If I knew I was going to keep playing a game for years I might do things like oh I don’t buy the DLC. Look at how long it takes for a Nintendo game to go on sale. Those evergreen titles mean they will sell well for years. Imagine EA taking on that mentality. They would strengthen long term sales of their flagship titles instead of being forced to cut prices 3 months after launch.
 

JCK75

Member
I agree with you, if I'm going to game solo I prefer to be on my PC with a headset on.. my love of consoles is based around buddies, beer and smack talk.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Some good modern ones, OP. I think if you search you can find a lot of great 4p games on modern systems. They're usually buried, though.

The Capcom Beat Em Up Bundle (physically released as Belt Action Collection in Japan) has a bunch of 4p beat em ups


Overcooked 1 and 2 are really good same-screen 4p games. The gameplay scales perfectly with however many players are involved and each stage his highly replayable.


Towerfall is another fun same-screen multiplayer game. Hoping (someday) for a physical release.


Android Assault Cactus is one of my favorite twin-stick shooters of all time. 4p local.
 
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Z..

Member
There's still plenty of good stuff. Presently, the ones which get most mileage at my house are:

MK8
Smash Bros 4
Rocket League
Lethal League
Screencheat
Towerfall
Overcooked
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Super Bomberman R
Assault Android Cactus

FIFA/PES and CoD can be quite fun with 4 too.

I will agree to one particular genre being weirdly absent from the splitscreen side of things this gen and that is FPS. Screencheat is pretty much the only dedicated one around. Black Ops 3 is ok but hardly ideal and while Borderlands is fun for co-op it's silly they didn't think to include a deathmatch mode!
 
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Hulk_Smash

Banned
There's still plenty of good stuff. Presently, the ones which get most mileage at my house are:

MK8
Smash Bros 4
Rocket League
Lethal League
Screencheat
Towerfall
Overcooked
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Super Bomberman R
Assault Android Cactus

FIFA/PES and CoD can be quite fun with 4 too.

I will agree to one particular genre being weirdly absent from the splitscreen side of things this gen and that is FPS. Screencheat is pretty much the only dedicated one around. Black Ops 3 is ok but hardly ideal and while Borderlands is fun for co-op it's silly they didn't think to include a deathmatch mode!

Also, racing games.
 

Calibos

Member
There's still plenty of good stuff. Presently, the ones which get most mileage at my house are:

MK8
Smash Bros 4
Rocket League
Lethal League
Screencheat
Towerfall
Overcooked
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Super Bomberman R
Assault Android Cactus

FIFA/PES and CoD can be quite fun with 4 too.

I will agree to one particular genre being weirdly absent from the splitscreen side of things this gen and that is FPS. Screencheat is pretty much the only dedicated one around. Black Ops 3 is ok but hardly ideal and while Borderlands is fun for co-op it's silly they didn't think to include a deathmatch mode!


Don’t forget Black Ops 4!

2 player MP, including Blackout

4 player Zombies

It doesn’t run very well, which is a problem for many AAA games: Fidelity and performance vs. split screen is a difficult balance and probably a difficult decision to make.

I am glad to find it more and more in games, Black Ops being the most recent surprise.
 

Z..

Member
Don’t forget Black Ops 4!

2 player MP, including Blackout

4 player Zombies

It doesn’t run very well, which is a problem for many AAA games: Fidelity and performance vs. split screen is a difficult balance and probably a difficult decision to make.

I am glad to find it more and more in games, Black Ops being the most recent surprise.

Haven't played it yet... but I'll probably be getting it, I tend to like Treyarch's releases the most. Does it still offer 4 player splitscreen outside of zombies (as in, deathmatch) like 3?
 

Three

Member
Regardless who said it, it is still corporate conditioning. Normally, we see right through it. It would be like the CEO of Lays telling us, “Who has time to cook vegetables anyway?”

Me personally I would always be on the hunt for new local coop games. They won't make a big comeback though because there is very little profit compared to the alternative. They get the player to buy a console and charge them every month for the privilege of playing with friends.
 

Calibos

Member
Haven't played it yet... but I'll probably be getting it, I tend to like Treyarch's releases the most. Does it still offer 4 player splitscreen outside of zombies (as in, deathmatch) like 3?

It may for “Bot” matches, but I am not able to check right now. It’s 2, for sure. Bot matches and bot backfilling are another thing that I love in games. Zombies even has the ability to play with 1-3 bots on your team!
 

Z..

Member
It may for “Bot” matches, but I am not able to check right now. It’s 2, for sure. Bot matches and bot backfilling are another thing that I love in games. Zombies even has the ability to play with 1-3 bots on your team!

Personally, as far as local splitscreen and CoD are concerned, what I like is actually playing 4 player free for all deathmatch in a small map like Nuketown or some such. I would imagine it's still possible in BO4 since Treyarch made a point of including it in BO3 when no other CoD game has done so since PS4 has been around, just out of principle. Zombies tends to get too hectic to handle with more than 2 people since the reduced screen area will limit your visibility too much to remain efficient.
 

Clear

Member
Its always been a bit of a missed opportunity imho not to do more split-screen stuff in the modern era. I mean finally we have screens big-enough with high enough resolutions to make each pane very reasonable to focus on, and yet its rarely done.

Technical effort aside (which is not insignificant), I can only conclude its because of the way we play games has changed over the years into a more physically solitary thing.
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
It may for “Bot” matches, but I am not able to check right now. It’s 2, for sure. Bot matches and bot backfilling are another thing that I love in games. Zombies even has the ability to play with 1-3 bots on your team!

So far it’s only two and it isn’t all that great. They reduced the size of the screen and it STILL has framrate issues.
 

Akuza89

Member
Nintendo does this still... and pretty well.

Mario kart
Kirby star allies
Mario tennis aces
Super bomberman R (available on other platforms)
Wild guns reloaded (available on other platforms)
super Mario party

then theres other games coming out from Nintendo that will do it too such as

smash bros.
new super Mario bros U deluxe

probably a good amount more too.

4 player split screen or co-op in general is hard to find these days, but there are gems out there like A way out which are done really well and you only need 1 copy between the 2 of you to play as it comes with "co-op code" in the box (y)
 

Iaterain

Member
Honestly, I never liked split screen.
I preferred two players games where you share a screen, like Golden Axe, Sonic, Contra...
 

ROMhack

Member
That's a good post OP and I appreciated reading it but I figure you've got an answer to where to go if you want those games. Namely a Nintendo game or an indie game on PC. Again, there's a ton of them and being co-op games they don't exactly age badly. You could pick up a cheap retro console and have a ball.

I feel you're expressing a sentiment that perfectly aligns with a lot of people. I'm going to suggest making a blog, podcast or Youtube series because I reckon it'll be a hit.
 
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anthraticus

Member
Honestly, I never liked split screen.
I preferred two players games where you share a screen, like Golden Axe, Sonic, Contra...
You kinda gotta stay together though somewhat or else you get caught at the edge of the screen, not being able to see what's coming.

I think Toe Jam and Earl did it good.... same screen when your together, but when you separate it goes to a split screen.

Don't the Original Sin games also do it like this ?
 
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bitbydeath

Member
Me personally I would always be on the hunt for new local coop games. They won't make a big comeback though because there is very little profit compared to the alternative. They get the player to buy a console and charge them every month for the privilege of playing with friends.

I disagree. Split-screen games are some of the biggest selling games on the market. Just look at what happened to Halo 5 when they took it out.

The main reason for excusion is power, devs need to lower graphicical/performance settings beyond a point some are not happy with.

Hopefully with more power devs will be able to include it again.
 

Three

Member
I disagree. Split-screen games are some of the biggest selling games on the market. Just look at what happened to Halo 5 when they took it out.

The main reason for excusion is power, devs need to lower graphicical/performance settings beyond a point some are not happy with.

Hopefully with more power devs will be able to include it again.

I hope you are right because I would love to get more but I don't see the issue with power. It's not like we have less power than the previous gens where we had more split screen coop.
 

bitbydeath

Member
I hope you are right because I would love to get more but I don't see the issue with power. It's not like we have less power than the previous gens where we had more split screen coop.

I’m hoping I’m right too XD
We do have a poor performing CPU in current machines, hopefully next gen we can reach the happy medium..
 

TrainedRage

Banned
My suggestions...

Overcooked 1&2
Mario Party (switch)
Mario Tennis (switch)
Soul Caliber VI
Street Fighter V
Madden/FIFA/NHL/WWE/NBA 2k
Divinity Original Sin 1&2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1&2
Guitar Hero/Rockband/DJ Hero
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
That's a good post OP and I appreciated reading it but I figure you've got an answer to where to go if you want those games. Namely a Nintendo game or an indie game on PC. Again, there's a ton of them and being co-op games they don't exactly age badly. You could pick up a cheap retro console and have a ball.

I feel you're expressing a sentiment that perfectly aligns with a lot of people. I'm going to suggest making a blog, podcast or Youtube series because I reckon it'll be a hit.

Woah. Hey, thanks for the high praise. I wish I had the time to do a podcast or write articles. That took me about 4 hours to write and that was written fast. I doubt I could keep up that pace every week on top of my day job.
 

Hulk_Smash

Banned
I disagree. Split-screen games are some of the biggest selling games on the market. Just look at what happened to Halo 5 when they took it out.

The main reason for excusion is power, devs need to lower graphicical/performance settings beyond a point some are not happy with.

Hopefully with more power devs will be able to include it again.

But, that was true with every generation. I just think it’s gotten harder to do to the point where some genres don’t see the point in including it any more.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Kind of related: I get a lot of mileage from PS4's "pass the controller" feature. Since you can turn any local multiplayer game into an online game, it grants flexibility to those who do not have local friends to try some of these games.

It's worth keeping in mind.
 

Three

Member
Kind of related: I get a lot of mileage from PS4's "pass the controller" feature. Since you can turn any local multiplayer game into an online game, it grants flexibility to those who do not have local friends to try some of these games.

It's worth keeping in mind.
hopefully in the future there will be at least some benefits to streaming. One such benefit could be the distinction from online and local multiplayer disappearing. Imagine a future where you stream 4 streams at reduced resolution on a single screen. Instant coop for every game without a hit to graphics or even any developer effort.
 
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WaterAstro

Member
It's really the internet's fault. Society doesn't make time to see friends in person, much less to play. We're in the age where milking each other's cow in Facebook is considered good enough for playing together. We'd rather do things separately online than to be together in couch co-op.

Most people gravitate towards boards games and such in person.
 
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