Monday, 26 January 2015

The Evolution/Extinction Of Couch Co-op

Since writing this piece for Forces Of Geek, I have now played Borderlands (I know, I know...late to the party, but the series has been on my playlist for ages!) and I am so excited for the recent announcement of Borderlands on the Xbox One and PS4. Next-gen 4-player couch co-op?! Finally! Let's hope other games follow suit!

Remember the good old days when all you needed for multiplayer gaming was your own controller? You could take your controller over to your friends house and play countless multiplayer games of Goldeneye with him and siblings. Four of you, playing on one console in the same room.

There was a hallowed time in my youth, where visiting friends to play video games was the norm, these days we all sit in our own houses wearing headsets and talking to our friends remotely while playing in the same server. This is fine, I like to indulge in this style of multiplayer gaming but my point is, there's no longer any physical human contact and I kind of miss that. 

Goldeneye on the N64 *sigh* I miss this game!
I miss the four tangled messes of wires plugged into one console, the harmless fun of leaning into your opponents peripheral vision to put them off, or the hours of laughter inspired by something dumb one of you did (it was probably me!). This shared experience is a thing of the past and not because we've all grown out of it but because games have adapted over the years to exclude it.

Multiplayer gaming today is a solo activity, you play against people all over the world who are all also on their own and that is a fantastic thing. I just long for the days when you could take your controller over a friends house or draw straws for the non-licensed bulkier controller or take turns playing on the same controller like I remember doing with many incarnations of Worms, in fact, that kind of turn based gaming is perfectly designed for sharing one controller.

Worms games are the ultimate 'pass the controller' games
Now, multiplayer gaming exists mainly online and even local co-op is practically unheard of. As an obsessive gamer, I knew I would marry someone who shared my love of games but I never thought we would struggle to find a game to play together. Yet, this is the case, every new game that interests us has a multiplayer mode but rarely do these modes enable local co-op meaning that myself and my husband have to take turns playing games with our mutual friends online.

It's so frustrating that we often find ourselves searching for arcade titles with local co-op online modes and begging our friends to download or purchase them too - or failing that and more often, bickering over who gets to play today.

Perhaps Nintendo, with their emphasis on multiplayer gaming with their endless peripherals and accessories is our only real option nowadays, however we no longer own a Nintendo console so inviting our friends over to play Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. 24 or whatever it's up to, is no longer something we can do nor can we afford. 

The joy of four of you on one console!
Of course, there's the Rockband titles but even the fun had playing those is somewhat underwhelming knowing full well we could, if only we were able, play an Assassin's Creed multiplayer mission together or have more than three of us able to play at one time in Destiny maybe - even just the chance to have two of us on one console and another on theirs, I mean, come on Bungie, you've enabled this in the past! Halo: Reach in my opinion is the best multiplayer experience I've had and that's mainly because four of us could play online on the same console!

Maybe the problem lies with me? Perhaps I should buy second consoles and second copies of the game? Of course, that's what they want me to do, more games equals more profit and more profit equals new ways to make us pay more money for very little difference in service. 

Is it too hard to make multiplayer modes that enable local co-op? The last time I remember playing a multiplayer game alongside my husband and also with friends was Left 4 Dead 2 but now I think about it, that was a local network we set up in our friends living room with two consoles and two copies of the game. 

Don't get me wrong though, LAN parties are thoroughly enjoyable, we had a 10 player Halo: Reach multiplayer session once for one of my best friends birthday parties and that was hugely fun. You know why? Because we were all in the same room together, eating copious amounts of dragon shaped birthday cake between rounds and sharing the experience together in the real world and not via a invisible wall of internet access and glitchy microphones. 

This is the LAN party I mentioned, my shoulder is on the left. There were another 2 console set ups in the other room!
I'd love for companies to realise this and to stop forcing friendships to move their social activity online, away from each other. Back in the day, I appreciate we didn't have the Internet and playing a game with four people was the maximum for one console, in that respect I understand how great online gaming is, I just wish both online multiplayer gaming and local co-op gaming could co-exist harmoniously together. I see no reason why they can't, only companies cutting what they deem unnecessary out. 

Until games developers and companies realise it, there is only one way round it and it's the same thing we used to do when a game only had a single player mode or a 2-player co-op (or sometimes, like me, you just didn't own your own N64 controller - times were hard, it was the early nineties, Thatcher stole my milk!) and that was to create your own mini-games and adapt a 'winner stays on' mode. Of course this works best for beat 'em ups and arcade style titles but with enough imagination most games can be approached this way.

For example, I can't imagine there are many gamers who haven't experienced passing the controller on a GTA game to see who could rack up the most damage in record time, or who can last the longest with the highest wanted level rating. 

I can totally do this...I the game...obviously.
Or playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, where taking turns and making up challenges for one another involving ridiculously dangerous stunts or changing the word on HORSE mode to something rude or into a word that only you and your friends understand.

These in-jokes, shared nuances and collaborative challenges were shared ideals, they enriched an otherwise repetitive single player game and they encouraged an organic creativity in us as gamers. We played a game the way we wanted to, we weren't restricted by boundaries, we set up unique mini-games and challenges on our own. 

Gaming evolved because of this, all modern games have high score tables or challenge modes . you can see where your friends rank and compare their scores to yours and this is admittedly a great idea but you weren't there when your friend made it by the skin of their teeth to the last checkpoint or when they had that hilarious near-miss crashing their vehicle into a tree or accidentally threw a grenade onto the floor in front of them, accidentally killing their entire team, you didn't experience the fun they had or see what they did because you can only see number of points they scored. 

My frustration regarding modern games got me thinking about those days of passing the controller and so, I recently suggested myself, my husband Matt and one of my best friends, Adam play Alien Isolation on survival mode in this way and to video it, to see if it this kind of gaming is still enjoyable or if I was seeing it through the thick fog of nostalgia that makes everything seem interesting or amazing. Call it a social experiment, but an extremely fun one to see the value of playing games together and if you don't want to watch the video, the result was one very fun evening which has resulted in us making it a regular occurrence:

Perhaps the reason Let's Play videos have become so popular is that we lack that social multiplayer element so we long to see other people playing the games we love, seeing if they shared the same experience or if theirs was better or worse or more entertaining. They fill the void we lost when gaming evolved into solo online multiplayer titles only.

We're not all singular people in our own rooms with no real friends to play against and some of us (like me, *sigh*) have shitty internet connections so can't really socialise properly if we "meet up" online to play. Human contact is underrated, just being around other people, other humans without being distracted by our own individual screens in something we take for granted. 

We should all be together, have fun together and share an experience around the same screen

...Oh god, I'm getting old.


  1. A thousand times yes! Have you tried red faction guerilla? wrecking crew is a good pass the controller mode. But god yes I couldn't agree with you more!!! split screen assassins creed please!

    Wiis and gamecubes are dirt cheap btw, good for some mario kart etc :)

  2. That is my biggest gripe with contemporary games, we now all own huge TVs that would be perfect for split screen!!

    Also, Mario Kart is fun but in my opinion, needs the full on 4 player experience. All the best parties involve Nintendo games!