What will become of local racing rivalries?


What will become of local racing rivalries?
The importance of split screen multiplayer.
Senna and Prost, Schumacher and Hill, my dad and me – great racing rivalries formed over the years as a result of actions on the race track. These were born from wheel-to-wheel racing that occasionally got too close for comfort. But developers seem unsure if split screen multiplayer is the way to go with racing games; what does that mean for our rivalry

Racing games have always been a passion of mine, from the early days of Outrun, to a range of Need for Speed titles, and more recently the likes of Forza and Grid. However, one game stands out from my formative years and that is Beetle Crazy Cup (1999). Was it the best game released that year, or even the best racing game of its time? Probably not. But it was a game that featured split screen, and in doing so, sparked a rivalry that exists to this very day.

Beetle Crazy Cup allowed players to enter Championships against the person sitting beside them and a grid full of AI drivers. Racing side-by-side is always going to create adversary, but the Beach setting was usually the racetrack that caused the most controversy. The final corner, which often decided the entire Championship, punished drivers who took it too quickly as they would find themselves out in the ocean. It was a tricky corner and, more often than not, the person behind would leave braking a little late - or just not brake at all - resulting in contentious incidents, pleas of innocence and the acquisition of bragging rights for another day…or at least until after dinner.

The reason that this rivalry stands alongside the likes of Prost and Senna (in my head at least), aside from the dubious collisions, was that it was forged on the race track during wheel-to-wheel racing. There were no ghost cars, record laps set under ideal conditions or leaderboards. If you wanted that place and the bragging rights, you needed to take it on the track.

The inclusion of split screen has occasionally been a driving force behind purchasing decisions. 2010 saw the release of two arcade titles in the form of Blur and Split Second. While they may have cannibalized each other’s sales, both were purchased in my household thanks to the inclusion of split screen. There is no doubting the importance of a strong multiplayer component at this stage. Sumo Digital’s Gareth Wilson, who previously worked on Blur, explained that “from a more business perspective we know split screen games tend to be kept by players as ‘party games’ for when friends come round, so local multiplayer features stop games being traded in.”

However, there is a disparity in the racing genre with regards to the multiplayer component. Codemasters’ Grid did not feature split screen multiplayer, despite the presence of a Destruction Derby mode which practically lends itself to that atmosphere, whereas its successor will feature this multiplayer option. Codemaster’s senior executive producer Clive Moody admitted that he would have liked to have split screen in the original because he thinks there’s “nothing better than that social game.” He added, “I think it’s a really important element. It’s great to be able to re-introduce it and bring that to back to the mix.”

On the other side of the coin are games such as Forza Horizon and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, although the Need for Speed franchise dropped local split screen a long time ago. In the lead-up to the release of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Criterion's creative director, Craig Sullivan, spoke about the importance of competition amongst friends. The Autolog system, which compares friends’ times and records, is a fundamental part of this. However, personally, it is more appealing to beat friends when I can see their reaction rather than waiting to see if I get a message in response to a time I’ve just set.

At one gaming session with four other friends, we decided to play Blur for a while. Blur accommodates four player split screen, but math-wizzes out there may have already spotted an issue. Five players, four players supported. So we did what all gamers do; we improvised. The last person to cross the finish line would have to pass their control pad to the player sitting out. The races were surprisingly even, possibly more even than any race I had ever witnessed before, which of course meant plenty of last second overtaking, wails of disappointment and mocking as a player had to relinquish control. Now, tell me: how is setting a better time than a friend, who may or may not be online, better than that?

The next generation is approaching rapidly and this brings an opportunity and a threat to this mode. On the one hand, there will be more power available to accommodate the streaming of visuals for multiple players, which Wilson admits can be a nightmare. On the other hand, as the PlayStation 4 reveal showed us with Drive Club, developers may use this extra oomph to showcase every fibre within a car.

So, what does the future hold for local gaming sessions? The inclusion of an extra mode of multiplayer may seem trivial, but to me it is a social aspect and something that gave me extra quality time with my dad growing up. When people ask about gaming memories, many may highlight their experiences with Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia or Golden Eye. But for me, those memories outlined above are ones that will stay with me. Many gaming memories come from local multiplayer; whether that’s competing for a Mario Kart or Sonic All Stars Racing crown, taking on a Gears of War title co-operatively in split screen, or playing “just one more game” of FIFA. So why does split screen have to suffer in racing games?

What will become of local racing rivalries? on ClickOnline.com
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