Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh: Where did two-player mode go?

Games blogger Siobhan Keogh asks where all the two-person multiplayer games have gone.
Is two-player mode dying to make way for online multiplay? Photo / Thinkstock
Is two-player mode dying to make way for online multiplay? Photo / Thinkstock

Is couch multiplayer dying?

I truly hope not. For many years I played games on an entirely single-player basis. I had dipped my toes in the online multiplayer waters, but was never that into it.

Then the demo for Left 4 Dead 2 came to the Xbox 360, and on a tiny TV in a tiny apartment, my co-op buddy and I played and played and played it, then bought the game and played it some more.

I live with another gamer. I love local multiplayer modes, whether they be co-op or competitive, and I feel like they add considerable value to a game. But I won't buy two systems and two TVs so I can play local multiplayer on consoles.

When you look at the lineup so far for the new generation of consoles, there aren't many local multiplayer games to be found. Granted, a couple of big titles have local modes - Call of Duty: Ghosts, Diablo III, Killer Instinct, Forza - but many don't.

And there are many titles which ignore it altogether. There's the Xbox One's flagship launch title Ryse: Son of Rome, as well as Dead Rising 3 and Battlefield 4. While Forza has a multiplayer mode, NZ Herald games guy Chris Schulz tells me it's buried in menus.

And imagine my disappointment when even Peggle 2, the sequel to a casual game which had a great local multiplayer mode, announced it had ditched local multi in favour of going fully online.

Thankfully, PopCap has announced it will add local multiplayer in free DLC, although the company hasn't said when that DLC will be coming.

The problem isn't limited to this generation of consoles, however - the writing has been on the wall for local multiplayer for some time. Many games with popular multiplayer modes have been online-only throughout most of the Xbox 360 and PS3's reign.

Battlefield, some of you will be quick to point out, has never included splitscreen multiplayer. Neither has Assassin's Creed, or the Killzone series.

It's not difficult to see why a developer might eschew local multiplayer in favour of online. Including local multiplayer adds a significant number of man-hours to a project, and presents some technical challenges.

In particular, it has always been difficult to keep graphics looking nice and shiny while running two versions of the world simultaneously. Developers have typically dealt with this by downgrading the graphics quality as much as possible.

Theoretically, though, introducing next-gen consoles should make it easier to make a good-looking splitscreen game. The Xbox One and PS4 have more processing power, so they should be more than capable.

What I don't believe is that multiplayer being exclusively online is designed to encourage people to buy two copies of the game, and two systems, for one house.

I don't believe it because a lot of market research goes into making a game, and consumers won't do that with consoles. Consumers might buy two copies of a game if they have two PCs - partly because games are generally cheaper on PC - but console gamers are a different breed.

Fortunately, big game releases set to come out this year may improve things a bit. It looks like Bungie's newest project Destiny might feature split-screen multiplayer. And while I had assumed that mech shooter Titanfall wouldn't, developer Respawn Entertainment is being surprisingly vague about it.

Finally, it was announced this week that there's a new Halo game on its way this year - that will almost undoubtedly feature split-screen multiplayer, as the feature has been integral to the franchise's popularity.

Then there are the platformers and the fighting games - you can guarantee that the next LittleBigPlanet and Mortal Kombat games (which haven't been announced, but are probably being developed already) - are going to feature same-screen multiplayer.

For a long time gaming has been seen by outsiders as an anti-social hobby. But it isn't, and it hasn't been. The social aspect of gaming - hanging out on the couch, trash talking with your friends, strategising - is a huge part of many gamers' enjoyment of the medium.

Sure, I still like online multiplayer - but I never have as much fun as I do when I have a group of people in the room with me.

* Do you enjoy two-player modes or online modes more? Post your comments below.

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Siobhan Keogh is the NZ Herald's gaming blogger.

Siobhan Keogh has been playing video games for almost as long as she's been able to read. Her passion for games started with Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, grew when she discovered the Final Fantasy series as a teenager, and became near-obsessive when she worked as games editor for PC World magazine. She'll play almost every kind of game there is, from shooters to strategies to adventure games to Peggle, on any platform she can get her hands on. Her love of games isn't limited to the screen - she also plays both board and card games on the tabletop. When she's not gaming, she's tweeting lame jokes about games on Twitter. Occasionally she takes a breather from that and talks about running and fitness instead. Siobhan works as community manager for New Zealand's largest locally-owned technology company, but her views on gaming are her own.

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