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The Death Of Local Co-op

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Joined: 01 Jul 2007
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PostPosted: Sat 14 Aug - 19:13 (2010)    Post subject: The Death Of Local Co-op Reply with quote

Nathan Mates wrote:
Local co-op sounds great as an end-user. However, as a programmer, let me list out some technical reasons why it's not free to do:

In a 2D game, most of which weren't splitscreen (see your pic above) another player is just another sprite onscreen. In a 3D game, most people want some sort of splitscreen, and that means rendering the world multiple times in different viewports. This is a huge CPU and GPU cost. To achieve multiple viewports, you usually have to (1) pull in the draw distance (2) LOD out things earlier, (3) reduce efx and other parts of the graphics, (4) make the player's HUD, which the game's director has dinked with 6 times in the past two weeks (because he could) fit in 1/4 the screen real estate. And, then, you'll get dinged by reviewers (official and/or fanboys) who insist that things should look as good in local-coop as singleplayer. Because they think it's free.

Next, more and more modern games (mostly 3D) have implemented some sort of streaming. This allows the levels to be larger than fit in RAM; only a bubble around the player is loaded. Once again, as players have independent viewports, your end users will generally insist on going in completely opposite directions early and often. This means you either have to have 2 smaller bubbles of streamed data, or you have to force the players to be nearby. Once again, your reviewers will complain if it doesn't work as well in SP as local co-op.

The main 3D games that have gone for local multiplayer w/o splitscreen are fighting games, e.g. Tekken/Street Fighter. In those, a constrained world means rendering the world once. This also fixes the streaming issues.

Also, from programming, all of the manufacturer-imposed requirements (TCRs/TRCs) are an order of magnitude more onerous when you've got local co-op. TCRs/TRCs aren't easy to begin with. But when you've now got 2-4 users, each of which can load data, sign out, get invited to different games, be guests (doesn't happen w/ 1 local player), and more, it's a royal pain to program for, test thru QA. (Can you tell I've done TCRs/TRCs for at least 5 major releases in the past decade?) When the console makers will bounce you, and bounce you hard, for not handling game invites from a controller that's not actually playing the game at the moment, they're not actively encouraging more people to support local co-op.

In short: excluding local co-op makes it much simpler from a programming, a design, a QA/testing, and a certification standpoint. Those that choose to bite the bullet and make a game that supports local co-op, and do so well, more power to them. But, to think it's just something you can just implement one afternoon, you're REALLY mistaken. It's a major commitment that should be decided on upfront, knowing the costs (high!) and possible reward (low, except for Wii titles).

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