Though multiplayer has evolved now to an online medium, many devs are still choosing to implement split-screen cooperative action in their games. Resident Evil Revelations 2 bossed the feature last year, and Quantum Break will be providing the mode on its release on the 5th. Local split screen therefore maintains its merits in an online world, though its beginnings lie in an arcade game from 1985.
Though probably not the first to employ the model in its gameplay, Gauntlet – a dungeon crawling arcade title – brought the system to the imaginations of developers in its employment. The arcade system was enlarged to allow for 4 players to work together to move through dungeons and enlightened fans and devs to the splitscreen’s benefits in an industry that was rapidly becoming more and more social.
Splitscreen’s journey to the couch however, began with a similar title, Dungeon Explorer which allowed for up to 5 players. Though this was 5 years before Secret of Mana it was this second title which was considered the multiplayer innovation of the era. The RPG has seen little success with local co-op, however local play (not necessarily splitscreen) was revolutionised in this 1993 action role player from Square Enix. The high fantasy world on the NES allowed two and three player action, with the unique ability to allow players to drop in and out during gameplay at any time. Prior to this, players had to start together and be in it for the long run, however this new model has been replicated with global success in the industry’s development.
The release of the N64, with its 4 controller ports and substantially higher power under the hood, dawned a new era of splitscreen ushered in by GoldenEye 007. 007 brought local co-op to the shooter genre. While it had previously enjoyed success in sports (NHL Hockey (1991) and Madden NFL (1990) ), the title awakened the gun-toting shoot ’em ups to the model of gameplay. Arriving in 1997, players were able to compete in several different exciting modes with four player splitscreen action. After the success of this model, a number of N64 titles popped up that supported the feature.
The second recent innovation of the splitscreen was one of these titles. Halo hit Xbox in 2000, and saw splitscreen gaming born into the form it takes now. Whereas 007 put players against each other, Halo teamed players up against a common enemy. Though it seems like a simple change in mechanic, this feature brushed off arguments made about the former game that it was too easy to cheat by peeking at your partner’s screen. Halo was, as we know today, a resounding success – and it popularised the idea of working together as a team from your couch.
The local splitscreen is an understated piece of video game mechanic that, through its rapid employment in nearly every title, breeds memories and camaraderie. Splitscreen is being used throughout titles that also offer online gameplay, and with new and innovative results – though most games are now focussing on their online multiplayer capacities, with a number of games functioning only in this capacity. From the early days crowded round an arcade machine, to the couch-dwelling teams of today – local splitscreen is the unsung hero of many aspects of game design.