11.08.12

Will there be a new golden age of local multiplayer?

The age of the great local multiplayer game is long past. The NBA Jams, the Goldeneyes, the Mario Karts; pushed aside by faster internet connections and faster machines. Counterstrike and Team Fortress and World of Warcraft have immeasurably enriched our gaming lives, but something has been lost, too: that competitiveness and that sense of pure fun that comes from competing at a game with people right next to you.

Four of the big names in indie gaming want to make a stand for local multiplayer, and to that end, today they're launching a Kickstarter for Sportsfriends, a compliation of four wonderful extant local multiplayer indies. The headliner is Johann Sebastian Joust, Douglas Wilson's classical-music motion dueler that won the Innovation Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards over Portal 2; this is it's first commerical release. The collection also includes the wonderful Pole Riders (from GIRP and QWOP sadist Bennett Foddy); Hokra, a terrific minimalist sports title, and BaraBariBall.

I talked to Hokra creator Ramiro Corbetta about the inspiration behind Sportsfriends.

Kill Screen: How did this come about?

We weren't thining about these games commercially when we made them. I was making Hokra which really came out of me programming on the side and playing a lot of FIFA.

I feel like three years ago I would have by default made single player games. Local multiplayer was a dead land, like you would be shooting yourself in the foot by making one. I had that fear with Hokra – there’s no way to market this.

I met Doug and we liked each other’s games. Doug was like: there has to be a way to release Hokra.

Hokra is small – you can’t ask people for 10 dollars for it; it feels weird. Right now it’s not a huge content game, although I’m adding more to it.

Why local multiplayer? 

We really care about the social aspect of games. I gave this talk at indiecade about local multiplayer games and games in public spaces. Games as anything but a social thing is a pretty new idea. Before computers came about people played games with friends. They are a social lubricant. We all missed that a bit. I play single player games a lot but by far the best experiences are when we play FIFA together.

I find FIFA infinitely more satisfying against a live opponent than over PSN. 

There’s so much more to games than the game. That’s what playing locally allows you. All the extra interesting social interactions that are created by the game but are not the game. I’m in a FIFA league – half game designer and half game academics. It's not the same as having  people come over and play a mini-tournament.

So anyway we realized there is a way to release these games. It was Doug’s idea for Hokra – you have to package it with a few other games. It kind of fell into the sports thing when we started talking to Bennett Foddy about Pole Riders.

So Joust ended up getting wrapped up in this because Doug had been struggling with how to release it. It’s the best-known in this pack. It’s the game people have been complaining about not having the most.

I think of local multiplayer games as really easy to pick up and play. But Pole Riders is so purposefully awkward.

Pole Riders is a Bennett Foddy game. This is a guy who hates the world. The thing about Pole Riders is there is fun in not being able to enact the systems. It’s like saying QWOP is a really tough running game. Pole Riders has weird physics based controls but that is what’s fun. Bennet is making the most changes to his game, tweaking it to be a more competitive deeper, experience. Since it’s Bennet the thing he’s most excited about is the fact you’ll be able to impale people with your pole and wave them around in the air.

What is your hope for Hokra?

The truth is I just want a lot of people playing it. That’s my greatest hope. If there is some way to make less money and have more people playing it I’d be happy with that. My hope is to get big, but not in terms of money. I like the game and I hope people enjoy it. There’s not enough people playing Hokra. I want more people to play it with and have fun. I just want people who don’t suck at the game.