Are Developers Purposely Stifling Local Split-Screen Play?

It used to be a simple activity, going round to your mate’s house, sitting down in front of your (then) rather small television set and playing some four-way split-screen Mario Kart. For example. Now it appears that developers are going to the effort of actively discouraging this simple pleasure – sometimes in the most utterly ridiculous of ways.

Two recent games have brought this to my attention; namely Killzone 3, andF.E.A.R 3. Both of these games are big, Triple-A titles from established development studios. Both lend themselves perfectly to cooperative, tactical game play. Yet both have decided to adopt what has got to be the ugliest split-screen solution I have ever seen. The screenshot at the top of this post taken from Killzone 3 shows the bizarre misuse of screen real-estate in action.

The reasoning purported for this design is that it was found in play testing that a more traditional horizontally split-screen made it harder for players to see above and below them. Other reasons, such as being less processor intensive have also been suggested. Surely however, what has worked for many many years on previous consoles is just as acceptable in today’s games; heck, it worked absolutely fine in Gears of War – and that is a 3rd person game, with even less freedom of camera movement.

Now the cynic in me would suggest that by making the process of playing locally with a friend so aesthetically and functionally displeasing developers are aiming to shift more copies of games as players take to playing over the Internet. The optimist in me hopes that these titles are simply anomalies, and the play testers that thought that this method of split-screen was better have been put out to the proverbial pasture.

I know there are plenty of people who don’t care either way about this, but equally a quick browse around the interweb shows I am certainly not the only one who does care; and I wonder, like me, how many of those have decided to put off purchasing games because of problems with the local multiplayer design?

Of course, I could just be annoyed that my investment in a big HD television seems somewhat void as I squint at a tiny box of game play in the corner of it…