Sofa, so good: How Screencheat flies in the face of modern multiplayer

On paper, the concept for Australian developer Samurai Punk’s new multiplayer title is a simple one.

Screencheat is a split-screen shooter where everyone is invisible and you have to screencheat,” explains director and artist Nicholas McDonnell.

Yet, for those who didn’t grow up on a diet of Goldeneye, Timesplitters and Halo, this statement may offer little insight into Screencheat’s core idea.

In short, it plays like our favourite local multiplayer shooters from when we were kids and embraces a design based around the central mechanic of looking at other players’ screens – screencheating,” McDonnell continues.

The game’s identity grew out of the fact that it makes fun of old conventions and, as such, it’s fun and chaotic, with goofy weapons and colourful maps.”

While Screencheat includes online multiplayer, it’s a title that clearly harkens back to the days where a group of gamers would play together in the same room on a single TV screen.

This makes it somewhat of a rarity; while split-screen play does live on in some modern-day games – Call of Duty perhaps being the most prominent franchise to retain support – local multiplayer is no longer the common sight it once was.

I think there’s clear data that would show the use cases are quite low, with players probably choosing to play online with their friends instead of inviting them over since it’s just easier,” McDonnell suggests as the reason behind the disappearance.

Not offering local multiplayer also means that players need to buy multiple copies of a game, but maybe that’s too cynical.”

It’s not just down to a question of consumer interest, he adds – it also boils down to the changing priorities of developers.

From personal experience I know that performance is a concern, as rendering your game four or eight times is a serious hit to the hardware. Without local multiplayer you don’t have to spend a lot of development time on optimisation. These days it just doesn’t make sense for triple-A, with development already being as bloated as it is.

Local multiplayer is just another feature that needs to be made, tested and released – if the return on it is low, it just doesn’t make sense.”

It may sound like implementing local multiplayer is a fool’s errand. But McDonnell and his team saw the mode’s drawbacks as a challenge while outlining Screencheat’s origins.

After struggling with split-screen co-op designs we eventually settled on turning the flaws into a strength,” he recalls.

Local multiplayer just made sense.”

"The growth of the living room PC is proof that there is still room for local multiplayer titles on the platform."

Nicholas McDonnell, Samurai Punk

Having launched on PC earlier this year, Screencheat is now heading to PS4 and Xbox One.

While console has long been regarded as far more suitable for local multiplayer than PC, due to factors like the ease of adding extra controllers, McDonnell observes that the PC’s recent convergence with the main TV has opened up the market for the platform.

The growth of the living room PC and games like Gang Beasts and Towerfall is proof that there is still room for local multiplayer titles on the platform,” he states.

Consumers looking for local multiplayer are still best suited to console, as the controllers and hardware location in the household make more sense. But efforts like Valve’s Steam Machines are definitely helping to push the divide towards parity.”

McDonnell concludes that, after years of consideration as an online-only platform, the PC’s growth as a hub for more than just one player could drive the resurgence of local multiplayer.

I have no idea if Valve will succeed in bringing together PC and console players,” he says.

But if they do, it will help a lot of people like us who are trying to bring the couch experience to PC.”

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