‘Left 4 Dead”s Lead Designer Explains Why Split-Screen Has Quietly Disappeared From Games

If Wii and the “LEGO” games have proven anything, it’s that people still like to play games with other people in the same room.

Despite this revelation, games of the last few years have all but abandoned split-screen gameplay. Almost everything has been relegated to online multiplayer.

But split-screen was something “Left 4 Dead” lead designer Michael Booth believed was critically important to the Xbox 360 version of his co-op zombie shooter — even if it was going to be a nightmare to implement.

“Split-screen was a pretty huge investment,” said Booth to MTV Multiplayer at a San Francisco event to unveil the zombie mode of the game last night. “It’s hard. That’s the thing.”

The reason most studios have abandoned, Booth pointed out, are easy to identify. You’re tasking the hardware with displaying the content on-screen twice. It’s hard enough for most games to worry about just one screen.

Secondly, it creates all sorts of network complications.

“It took…[pause]…a while to get everyone on board with … ’yes, it really needs cooperation, so, yes, it’s worth the huge investment to make split-screen work.'”

“Split-screen plus networking is even harder because now you have two players and all the combinations,” he said, “like two split-screen players connected to two split-screen players. What happens if you vote to kick somebody and he’s on one of the screens in a split-screen game? [We had to manage] all these kind of things.”

Booth pitched the idea of doing-split screen early on in the design phase for “Left 4 Dead” but knew it would take some time before the rest of the team supported him.

“I pinged split-screen way back, just kind of putting it out there,” he said. “Getting people to start thinking about it. How much effort would it be to do this? Really? But the great thing about the way this has all worked out is that the excitement of the game itself and the co-operative nature of the game itself caused the people inside of Valve themselves to go ’Didn’t someone mention split-screen at some point? You know, that’s not a bad idea, we should really look into that.’ It just happened on its own accord.”

Valve’s resources were the reason “Left 4 Dead” didn’t leave split-screen on the cutting room floor. It gave Booth’s team a way to consider an Xbox 360 port. Not that they didn’t have all of these options in their head. It was just a matter of being able to pull it off.

“Because ’Left 4 Dead’ is so focused on cooperation, there are a few sort of major items like this — split-screen came up very early,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a huge technical effort to make happen. It took…[pause]…a while to get everyone on board with ’okay, yes, people seem to like this game, yes, we’re really going to do this game, yes, it really needs cooperation, so, yes, it’s worth the huge investment to make split-screen work.’ So it took a while, but at the end of the day, we decided to bite it off and I’m very happy that we did it.”

Gamers should be happy, too. Are you like me, readers? Do you lament the fact that most games these days have left split-screen gaming behind?

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