Welcome to the eighth edition of Sofa Sharers! We’ve got something different lined up this week: an ode to the game that influenced so very many of the split-screen epics we’ve been discussing and looking back on over the past seven editions of Sofa Sharers. Split-screen dates back around 20 years, but there were plenty of games before that time which encouraged people to play together on the same couch. In fact, many of the original video games relied on local co-op, although the term certainly hadn’t been coined by that point in time. There’s one game that began it all however: Pong. Oh, and you didn’t think we’d have a Sofa Sharers without some split-screen memories did you? Well Andrew’s got some amusing memories of the legendary Goldeneye to share and more. Let’s get rolling.
Looking Back - The best of split-screen
Of course, Pong is largely regarded as the grandfather of gaming. It wasn’t the first, but it was certainly the title that brought gaming to the masses. Pong was also, without a doubt, the first game to popularise playing alongside your friends. We’ve been remembering and appreciating so many co-op classics over the past 16 weeks, there’s an argument to be had that none of those would exist without the Atari classic.
Pong was released in 1972, designed and built by Atari legend Al Alcorn. The classic story goes that Alcorn installed the original prototype cabinet in Andy Capp’s Tavern, only for the machine to break after just a few days. Upon inspecting the game, Alcorn discovered that rather than a mechanical failure, the machine was in fact literally overflowing with coins. From there Pong would grow into an international icon of entertainment unlike any form of ‘amusement’ seen before. The Pong arcade cabinet was a huge success, but it wasn’t until the home version arrived that the game reached meteoric heights.
It was also the point at which couch co-op truly began. Prior to the release of home Pong, gaming was almost exclusively a single player dealing. Games like Spacewar! and Computer Space were largely solo experiences, and failed to really find a mass audience. The co-operative element of Pong however, gave the game an instant appeal. Game developers and builders of the time took note, leading to not only an incredible number of Pong clones, but also some fantastically inventive co-op games.
It was home video games however, that took direct influence from Pong. Many of the most popular home video games of all time, in particular just about every Mario game of the 80s and 90s, took inspiration from the game. Atari’s classic tennis game is arguably the most important title in the history of local co-op. That’s something worth celebrating, but I’d dare say the game already gets enough credit; wouldn’t want to inflate that ego any further.
Still, Pong. What a legend.
Looking Within - Split-Screen memories with Andrew Duncan:
My favourite experience with any local co-op game may be a tad overused, but it really came while playing Goldeneye. I spent countless hours in pitched Deathmatch against my friend and occasionally bots. It often got heated, but usually I got the better of him. He had a brother four years his junior, although I never got a chance to play him at Goldeneye, although I’d heard he was good. That was all until one day I saw his skills tested against my own.
My mate had to go and assist his mum with some housework, so I was left without a Deathmatch opponent. It wasn’t worth me playing on the single player as he wouldn’t be gone very long, so he tagged in his brother. Figuring I would thrash him, I went easy on him. For the first death. Killing him wasn’t as easy as I had assumed, but I got him before he got me again. However, fresh out of my draw-causing kill he easily took me down with a proximity mine. As you can assume, this meant war.
What followed was forty-five minutes of explosions and rifle fire the likes of which the house had never seen! It was one kill each - sometimes two - but always a constant draw. I couldn’t snipe him without him retaliating with a knife to the head. If the game had been designed with Volition’s Geo-Mod engine, the levels would have been rubble and we would have still been at each other’s in-game throats. But it couldn’t go on forever.
I had to go home for my tea, having gone straight to my mate’s after school. My watch was saying I had to leave, so we decided not to take any chances and break our one rule - Golden Guns only. We had refrained from them, given their instant-death effect. It took the skill away, we had agreed. But given the fact we had no more time and we still had an exact draw, we went for it to see who was the better. We loaded up Temple with Golden Guns and took to the halls. It took less than a minute, but it felt like forever, sneaking around and trying to find out where he was hiding. But I needn’t have - he was seeking me out too. I caught movement out of the corner of the screen and turned - I shot and…! So did he.
I left my mate’s house with a dead tie and a promise to never battle him again. It wouldn’t be fair to our draw streak. But there was always Snowboard Kids...
Looking Forward - The Future of Split-Screen
We’re going to take a look at some properly futuristic stuff this week. Watch Dogs is out later this month which, considering the lengthy delay, feels like something we’ve been waiting an eternity for. You may have missed this, but the game will actually feature local co-op. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, the game won’t feature split-screen in a literal sense. There’s no way for players to control two separate characters and explore extra-techy Chicago together. What Watch Dogs will offer however, is what looks to be the best implementation of a second screen experience ever in a video game.
Safe to say as with just about any second screen experience, it won't be quite the match of a full co-op mode, but it does sound very fun. The concept is that while the main player races through the streets of Chicago, the second player uses a phone or tablet to prevent the racer from completing a course in time. By touching points on a map, the mobile player can hack (digital?) steam pipes, change traffic lights and raise bridges in an effort to thwart the primary player. The second player has to drag a helicopter across the map in order t activate certain events; this helicopter can then be viewed in the main game.
This looks to be the best second screen implementation ever, and it’s a good sign for local co-op moving forward. It may not be the split-screen that we all enjoy, but it’s a smart way to keep local co-op going. I’m sure plenty of gamers will have a lot of fun trying out this game mode; we can only hope that Ubisoft Montreal continue to support this mode post-release. There’s a lot of potential here and it’s something we’ll be keeping a keen eye on.
That’s all for Sofa Sharers this week. We’ve got a couple of special editions upcoming so look out for those over the course of the next month. Sofa Sharers goes live every other Friday; you can check out any of the previous editions on the right hand side of this page. Let’s not let split-screen die, but help it rise from the ashes like a Phoenix!