Thursday, January 5, 2017

Nostalgia Bomb! - Couch Co-op

What is it?
The term "couch co-op" is actually a retroactively applied term for what we used to fondly know as "two-player" or "multiplayer" gaming. From the earliest days of video gaming, many of the devices sold to the home market, and some arcade games, were built with a second controller so that friends and family could either work together toward a common goal or - and more often - face off against one another in their favourite games.

With the advent of online gaming and the ability for a video game console or a PC to connect two players across the globe the term "couch co-op" gained strides as a way of describing the old school method of playing a multiplayer experience, where two or more people would physically sit next to one another on a couch playing a game on the same device.

"Multiplayer" today

When did it start?
Whether you consider Spacewar! or Pong to be the first video game, both were two-player titles. In Spacewar! - developed on a PDP-1 computer at MIT in the 60s - two players would take control of ships and face off in against one another in space. In Pong, two players would control "paddles" and bounce a virtual ping pong ball back and forth for points.

Pong in all its glory

What about today?
The vernacular today is typically "co-op", short for co-operative, which - when you think about it - doesn't make sense, since most multiplayer games are actually competitive in nature. The issue is that it's all geared toward the online experience, which makes sense for two reasons: 1) the software/hardware developers get to make more money, because it requires each individual to buy a console/PC and their own copy of the game they want to play, and 2) most people are playing games solo nowadays so really this sort of thing is catering to the crowd.

Goldeneye 007 (N64) 4-player split screen

Some games still provide a couch co-op option with split-screen, but that sort of thing is going more and more the way of the dodo.

Why do I remember it?
I remember it because of all the great times I've spent playing multiplayer games with my friends in our parents' basements! I can't even begin to tell you all the games my friends and I have sunk hours upon hours into, huddled together on a couch, basking in the electronic glow of a CRT television.

Some titles that come to mind were Super Bomberman (which required the SNES Super Multittap so that up to four friends could get in on the action), Mario Kart 64, and Goldeneye 007. Halo 2 was another highlight, where my friends and I actually setup two Xbox consoles, cross-wired them with ethernet crossover cables, setup two different TVs, and played up to 8-player couch co-op together. The smack-talk was out of control!

The Multitap, which NEC/Hudson Soft actually released for Super Bomberman

Of course, Japan's was cooler

The old fogies like myself will always decry the problems with the current status of online co-op, but only because we have warm fuzzies over the memories of sitting in a room with our buddies, eating pizza, and playing games together. The reality is that with today's technology you and all your friends can be all across the globe and you're still able to see, speak to, and play games with anyone, thanks to the advances of online capabilities. All that said, there's a little something missing when you lose the "human element" involved with couch co-op and it's that something that I will always miss.

And that's why someday soon (unfortunately) couch co-op will be a blast from the past!

Hope you enjoyed,