The Sports Desk – The Disappearance Of Splitscreen Racing
Richard Petty is quoted as saying, "There is no doubt about precisely when folks began racing each other in automobiles. It was the day they built the second automobile." Yes, racing is in our blood, which is why all racing games need some kind of multiplayer component. These days that means online racing, although there are still lots of people who love to trade paint racing with the person physically next to them as well as up on the TV screen. However, local, offline splitscreen multiplayer remains an infrequent feature of racing games. In this edition of the Sports Desk I talked to some racing developers to find out why this is and if we can hope to see the feature in more racing titles.
The Cost of Development
The main reason splitscreen racing isn't in more racing titles according to the developers I talked to is that it takes a lot of time and resources to implement. It's not just a case of two cars up on screen – it's doubling everything. "It's a pretty high load," says Rich Garcia, president of Monster Games (NASCAR Heat Evolution), "because it's not just the cars, it's the particle effects or anything that's going on." For example, he mentions the game having to be ready to load two different victory sequences depending on who wins.
Andy Gray, product manager at Codemasters, says in their case for the F1 series, implementing the feature (F1 has used it off and on) in some cases requires extra work beyond what's up on the TV. "Often the development of the technology to push twice as much information at the screen can take years to come to fruition, depending on the other requirements of the project, so it is not a simple undertaking. For F1 – especially 2012-2014 were running on the old hardware which we had been iterating the title on since 2008 when we began work on F1 2010. F1 2015 and 2016 have both been on the new hardware so the cycle begins again."
And it's not just hard to do from a technical standpoint. As our expectations for feature sets grows – including the expectation of full-featured online multiplayer – oftentimes something has to give if the game is ever to get out the door on time and within budget. It's times like these that features like splitscreen multiplayer fall by the wayside. Garcia mentions how it's a "constant through development to maintain it," and that you can't just tack it onto the end of development; it's threaded through the game. "Every time you have a feature you have to make sure it works in splitscreen," he says.
Tricks of the Trade
Given how powerful consoles and especially PCs are these days, you'd think that it should be easy to have a feature that older, less-powerful platforms used to include. But titles on newer systems also have greater demands elsewhere. "Mainly when we get faster hardware it allows us to push fidelity," says Garcia, "and we tend to consume it all. You never hold off on your single-user experience to make it easier to do splitscreen. We used to do tricks where we'd reduce the fidelity, but since we're at much higher-resolution screen and quality, we can't get away with as many tricks."
"The game has to look and play well," says Gray. "There is no point in having splitscreen in there if the framerate is not high enough to make the game fun and engaging, this is particularly poignant for racing games."
Despite Garcia's comment, he says there are things you can do to make splitscreen multiplayer a reality even with small margins. "You reduce the level of detail, the drawing distance, the shadow quality, you cut the particle counts. Essentially you have to look at every aspect of the game and see if you can trim it to work and deal with the fact that you're seeing it at half the resolution. It's one of those things where there is no one magic bullet."
Splitscreen racing can be challenging to include, but each developer we spoke to said there's something about racing against a someone physically next to you that is one of those special qualities of racing games. So much so that nobody's given up on including the feature in their future titles. This includes of thinking of new ways to let two couch players have fun in a game beyond just the bragging rights of who finishes first.
Slightly Mad Studios, developers of the Project Cars franchise and Need for Speed Shift with EA, say that while fans have asked for splitscreen racing, it hasn't "fit in the vision" of Project Cars 2's multiplayer experience. Stephen Viljoen, game director for the title, says that team has contemplated other ways to institute local multiplayer, including a round-robin style format.
Gray at Codemasters similarly says the company has tried to think of new twists to local multiplayer, including pass-the-pad play, "events based around style and precision," party games, capture the flag, and more.
The development challenges of implementing splitscreen racing are real, but so is the interest in the feature – it's one I personally see fans requesting year after year, no matter the franchise. With no magic solution in sight, unfortunately we'll just have to take our victories where we can get them.
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PORSCHE SIGNS WITH GT SPORT & FORZA
Porsche's deal with Electronic Arts has ended, and right on top of each other Sony's Gran Turismo Sport (shown) and Microsoft's Forza franchise (including Forza Horizon) have announced that the iconic automaker will appear in their upcoming titles.
While as of the time of this writing Porsche's involvement with GT developer Polyphony Digital is for GT Sport specifically, Forza developer Turn 10 has announced a six-year deal, including sponsoring the third esports season of the Forza Racing Championship (dubbed The Porsche Cup). Microsoft has also announced the Forza Horizon 3 Porsche Car Pack, which is currently available.
Gran Turismo and Forza are direct competitors, but obviously after the EA deal, Porsche isn't inclined to limit its exposure. In fact, when I asked Turn 10 studios creative director Dan Greenawalt about the topic of exclusivity and Porsche, he himself didn't seem to care – he just wanted Porsche in Forza.
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.
MLB The Show 17 Developer San Diego Studio Addresses Game's Online Problems
A patch is apparently on the way.
MotoGP 17 Announced For July Release Date
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