Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Join Me On The Couch

Some of my best childhood memories are playing video games with friends and family, all sitting in the same room, within shouting, and hitting, distance. From the time my cousin yanked the SNES controller clean out of the console rounding a corner in Mario Kart, to the time my brother and I stayed up past midnight with two Garda recruits playing four-player GoldenEye deathmatch on the N64 with proximity mines, knowing the recruits had an exam the next morning[1].

But, for a while, the concept of couch multiplay was replaced almost entirely with on-line access, gaming against annoymous users half a world away. Games stopped offering split-screen competitive modes, and sometimes even split-screen co-operative modes.

Thankfully, the couch is coming back into fashion.

I first played SpeedRunners at PAX Prime 2013, and bought it that evening from my hotel room. It a fantastically frantic game of heroes racing around a circular course, jumping, sliding and dodging obstacles along the way. As players fall behind the group, they get eliminated, and the screen slowly shrinks down to just a tiny box with everyone laughing riotously at the chaos.

SpeedRunners is the perfect couch multiplayer game, as eliminated players start to pick alligences among the remaining runners, but rounds are over fast, so the player you were cheering for one minute might become your closest rival the next.

I've had many great hours filled with laughter playing this game. With races generally over pretty quick too, more than four players can enjoy the experience, taking turns on the controls. A real party favourite.

If you're looking for a longer experience, Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator is an amazing co-operative game where up to six players can work together as the crew of a starship in hostile space. Each player takes on the role of a member of the bridge crew, either Communications, Science, Engineering, Weapons, Helm or Captain. Apart from the Captain, everyone has their own personnal screen for their role, with the accompanying console on the screen. The Captain has the main screen, which everyone can see, and uses the information the other players gives her to guide her crew around the available space and defend outpossts or attack threats.

Artemis has been around for a while, but until recently, getting six computers in the same room all running the game on a LAN is very, very difficult. But now the game is available on tablets and smart phones, so we have the server running through Steam on my PC, while the seperate consoles run smoothly on the iPads. A neat bonus is that the touch interface makes it feel very Star Trek!

The game as it's presented is very much a sandbox experience with a minimum of deep interaction. There's no story, just a series of missions to play. But the missions are just a map, and you fly around reacting to distress calls. It kinda gets boring.

Thank goodness for the mission editor. You can create your own missions, or, as we did, you can find a forum that posts completed ones, and play theirs. One guy has a forty episode series that you can play through!! With events, and villains, and surprises, and really clever use of mechanics. They really make the game an actual game. Also, because the story and events are revealed through the Communications officer, it greatly improves that role.

If you decide to try out Artemis with a bunch of friends, then check out the missions. You'll enjoy it a lot more.

I've been having a blast playing couch multiplayer with friends thanks to its resurgence from indy developers. Every one offers a different experience, but every one of them results in fits of laughter and high-fives.

Get some friends together. Grab a bunch of snacks. Clean off the couch. Enjoy a great afternoon making wonderful memories. Together.

And I haven't even mentioned my most recent acquisition yet. That one deserves an entire post all to itself. But I shouldn't Keep Talking. More soon.

[1] - They passed the exam, thankfully. I have great memories of gaming with Basil and Brendan while they stayed with us for a few months. I would love to know they're still doing well, but we lost contact long ago.

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