Thursday, June 3, 2010

Impressive Visuals = No Local?..

It isn't the craziest notion, in fact, it's one I had gathered while going over the new releases this and last year.

Nearly every time we've had a graphically impressive title with multiplayer potential, it's been lacking a major component : local multiplayer. Online multiplayer is usually included, sometimes even LAN, but it can't replace the simple fun of sitting next to a friend (or significant other) and playing the afternoon away. There are also other factors: Not everyone has internet, or are willing to deal with the lag, glitches, screaming and service fees that can associated with online multiplayer. Everyone I'm acquainted with unanimously agrees that playing offline is the superior experience, from the reasons above to the overall atmosphere.

But why give that up? The arcade experience is massive and can be "simulated" to a point online, but nothing can replace the interpersonal experience that is the small gathering of 2-4 friends.

I honestly just explained it away with logic; of course, it's a given, as graphics tech gets more advanced and games become more visually dense, the prospect of running two simultaneous instances of one is very low. Seeing a game as graphically impressive as Grid, or Midnight Club: Los Angeles cements this notion; in single player alone, these games can hang with the best, regardless of genre. They already look like they're pushing the console with only one screen; asking for two screens of it simultaneously is absurd, unreasonable even. At least, from a developers' perspective.

But why not make concessions? Last generation, and even the one before that, it wasn't uncommon for a game to pair down its graphics for multiplayer. A reduction in resolution here, a framerate slash there, but it was a sacrifice players were willing to make in order to punch each other in the arms over a botched win, or a clutch victory. It isn't like anyone cared either -- dare I say, we understood that it needed to happen. Now, we're so inundated with online, and so frightened of breaching the uncanny valley that we've accepted the copout over XBL or PSN.

Now, traditions like the triumphant stand, the Crushing Controller Fling(tm), all of our victory celebrations and heated rivalries have fallen by the wayside because of this trend. Sure, they still exist, but now they're confined to our lonesome. Before the advent of the internet, programmers had to figure out how to make multiplayer work by any means necessary. Now that you can have a single screen to yourself, the concern has fallen by the wayside.

It bothers me a great deal. I'm not the biggest multiplayer gamer around, but I'm starting to feel that as graphics improve, the push to online instead of local multiplayer due to technical constraints will only continue. Something like Killzone 2 begs to be played locally, and I've seen many a person pass it up because it's lacking this feature. Need for Speed: Shift is an excellent racer...but as a series, NFS has been missing local since Prostreet, again, much to the chagrin of the audience. The only games that seem to eternally retain this feature are the ones that literally cannot do without it; namely fighters and sports titles. How long will it be before we (or devs) decide we don't need to play those in the same room either?

There may be light at the end of the tunnel yet, as some companies still see the value of this dying form, no matter how graphically impressive their titles are. Games like Lost Planet 2 cleverly get around the issue with some strategic cropping in split screen, and others like Blur are simply programmed so well, the disparity in visual quality is something you have to squint at in order to notice. I don't think it's too much to ask to have games as well prepared for local multi as your average Nintendo title, and more devs need to take cues from them among others before it's too late. I'd hate to see local multi go the way of the dodo due to a lack of effort, and while It's fine that the graphical landscape is changing, good looking games aren't exactly hard to come by anymore.

Our excuses for leaving the house are becoming so.

(This article's also on!)

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