Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Online vs. Offline Multiplayer

  If I’m entirely honest, I’m not really a huge fan of online multiplayer. It rarely feels like anything more than playing against AI controlled opponents to me, except perhaps the in game chat suggesting slightly lower levels of intelligence.

  I’m not going to suggest that we should go back to the days where multiplayer was limited to each player using a different part of the same keyboard though. That was never that great. Neither was playing a 4 player game on split-screen on and old TV that was barely big enough for 1 player split-screen. But there’s something vastly more enjoyable about playing games with people who are in the same room as you as opposed to on the same server as you. I rarely look back on my gaming past and think ‘You know, it was really great when you needed an extra peripheral to have more than 2 players in a game.’ (Although I’m sure I still have a PSone multi-tap lying around somewhere). But technology has advanced a great deal in the world of split-screen gaming. Half of a TV screen nowadays is probably about the same size as an entire TV screen was back in the heady days of the original PlayStation so the crowded screen issue isn’t so much of a problem. As well as this, the vast majority of controllers are wireless and consoles can handle 4 at a time out of the box; this has made controllers a bit more expensive though which is a bit of a pain.

  It’s the social aspect of having to share a screen with your enemies that makes split-screen multiplayer so great though. Firstly, being in the same room as them, you probably already know who you’re playing with; there are probably long running rivalries and in jokes that can and will be called upon for the purposes of trash talk. The anonymity that online multiplayer gives us takes that away. The sheer quantity of other players you come across online makes it very difficult to form any sort of meaningful rivalry or competition. The ability to screen peek also adds an interesting level of strategy: it can offer a huge advantage, but if it’s done too obviously people will turn against you. Of course, screen peeking is technically cheating, and I would never do it. Ever.

  On balance LAN multiplayer probably the best type of multiplayer, as long as everyone's in the same room. It takes most of the advantages of playing online but without the drawbacks of limiting the amount of screen room available to each player. But it still keeps the intimacy that adds to the competitive spirit you get whilst playing a split-screen game.