One of the biggest things to happen in the last 20 years is the commercial and private use of the internet. What a way to communicate! To share! To meet! You are constantly only a click or a tap away from swimming in an ocean of information and entertainment with millions of other people.
Internet is seriously one of the biggest things in my life. For communication, for work, for fun, for culture, but maybe all those flower-hat-wearing old ladies that talk about internet “making people antisocial hermits” were sort of almost right about something. Now, I am not saying that the internet is bad; I would never do that. What I’m trying to say is that maybe the video game industry got a bit too excited about it and pushed other things away as useless when jumping on board with online multiplayer, a thing that should’ve been added, but shouldn’t have replaced anything.
Local and online multiplayer aren’t mutually exclusive
The logic many video game publishers seem to have nowadays is that as long as they have an online multiplayer component, they don’t need local multiplayer. Online multiplayer replaces local multiplayer. “Instead of playing with 2-4 people, you can now play with 128! How can that possibly be a bad thing?” The thing they like to forget is that playing with a small group of friends in the same room is a completely different experience to that of playing with 20+ people (mostly strangers) across the world. Notice how I said different, not better or worse. That’s important. They don’t have to compete. And local multiplayer can still be done, no matter what age we live in.
Before I go on, I want to say that I am completely aware that the money and time used to glue in useless multiplayer is indeed a problem. Tomb Raider and Bioshock 2 screwed up with their multiplayer components. There is no denying that. I’m writing this with the thought that *if* you insist on putting in multiplayer, you might as well seriously consider local multiplayer. Even a decent local multiplayer mode is relatively easy to make if you are already putting online multiplayer into the game. It doesn’t really require imagination. A good local multiplayer mode requires imagination, but even a “fine” one can be done just by making your online multiplayer local. In shooters, give us split-screen. In turn based strategy, give us hot seat, it really shouldn’t be that hard.
Wii U is the best thing ever and I don’t even own one
The thing that finally made me think about the role of local multiplayer in the modern video game industry was the Wii U. It’s a rather genius piece of hardware. A big chunk of my free time is spent with friends. Movie and game nights are something I have multiple times a month. Have a couple of drinks, watch some old movies and play some games. The machines turned on the least during these nights are the modern ones. In hindsight, it’s a tad weird to think that a bunch of guys would rather sit around a N64 than a 360, but there is just no better local multiplayer experience. I think Nintendo agrees, because the Wii U and even the Wii were built to be that center of parties. While the innovation of the Wii pretty much consisted of waggling a stick, the Wii U offers a completely new experience in gaming; a possibility for new genres, actual new ways to play. It shows us that local multiplayer is far from done and the things you can do with it are far from used up.
You keep making traditional games on traditional consoles spending money towards online multiplayer and you will only have the chance to have decent or worse local multiplayer. The Wii U basically dances around naked in front of developers. This is something new! This is something interesting! And it can easily be used to your advantage. Make a new type of local multiplayer game! Make a local multiplayer mode better than decent! It’s incredible how such a simple evolution in video game controllers can offer such a ridiculous amount of new possibilities. It’s understandable that developers are scared to jump in, but if they are willing to risk it, I bet there would be a sizeable audience for it.
I’ll game you, Wario, I’ll game you so hard
So, one of my friends got a Wii U. We had been talking about it for a while, since it seemed like the perfect add for our collection of “nothing to do on game/movie nights”. So far, he has bought 4 games, all of which offer multiplayer experiences I’ve never seen before. Nintendoland was a nice little demo that showed us what the pad can do. New Super Mario Bros. U was plain old fun. I never thought the gamepad would be so much fun to use, since being the “blockmaster” did not sound fun to me at first. But it was fun. Really fun. However, Game & Wario and Zombie U really made me think. With local multiplayer having been a thing since the 70’s, I thought we had already seen it all. I thought online multiplayer was the natural progression. I was brainwashed by publishers. In reality being in the same room as your friends while playing games like “King of the Zombies” or “Fruit” blew me away. It was the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer game for a long time.
Sure, these are all modes you could play sitting alone in the dark, through the internet. But I could never imagine doing that after experiencing the absolute thrill of looking at your opponent in the face while you place that explosive zombie right behind that one corner he’s about to turn. It was such a new experience, while capturing that childhood wonder you had sitting on the bed, running through Contra co-op. I’m worried that I actually was content with online multiplayer completely replacing local at one point. Wii U proved that the horse is far from dead, and a few more punches won’t even bruise it. This is how you do it. You have hardware that gives developers a chance to really surprise people, and you have talented people taking advantage of it.
All you need now is an audience to appreciate it.