A Microsoft patent potentially paves the way for game developers to usher in a new era of local and remote split-screen multiplayer games.
Microsoft seems to be showing interest in bringing back split-screen multiplayer thanks to a patent that was released this week. The system described in Microsoft’s patent seeks to take advantage of streaming technology to provide split-screen multiplayer capabilities for modern games.
Multiplayer games have always been a hugely popular way to enjoy games, and many gamers fondly remember split-screen sessions on the couch with their friends. In modern games, the majority of multiplayer is done remotely without split-screen. Gamers who play together usually have to use two screens and two consoles to play their favorite games together. This type of online multiplayer certainly has its advantages as it doesn’t require players to be physically present, but many players also miss the connection of being able to see what others are doing on a split screen.
Microsoft’s patent, filed last September, appears to have found a new solution for split-screen multiplayer. Essentially, it’s a system where a game’s separate streams are merged onto a single screen. Rather than overloading players’ computers and consoles with two to four times the rendering load as in typical split-screen implementations, the system will instead use the internet and the cloud to stream each player’s audio and video. player merged into a split-screen frame. This not only allows multiplayer games without local multiplayer support to now be capable of things like local co-op splitscreen, but also enables remote splitscreen, an extremely rare format these days.
Split-screen gaming has fallen by the wayside in modern generations of multiplayer games. Over the years, game developers have increasingly pushed the boundaries of computers and consoles. Where it was once possible for a console to have the resources to render separate instances of a game, the ability is becoming increasingly scarce as most devices struggle to keep up with rendering a single instance of a game. Many modern games already suffer from major performance issues with a single screen. Developers have to go to great lengths to create a split-screen capable game if they want their games to have this feature, and this is one of the main reasons why most multiplayer games are remote-only.
The technology described in the patent may have far-reaching implications for the gaming industry. Imagine a 4v4 match of Halo where each team is coordinated on its own shared screens, for example. This is something that has rarely been seen since the Duke Xbox controller was always given out at Xbox system bonding parties. This patent will also go a long way in improving the visual fidelity of split-screen multiplayer. A common side effect of split screen is the degradation of visuals in order to make performance passable. This wouldn’t need to be the case if every screen was streamed rather than rendered simultaneously on a single machine.
Patents are filed all the time by companies like Microsoft as they are constantly researching and developing new concepts, so time will tell if Microsoft goes ahead with the idea. If that becomes a reality, it will be interesting to see what developers, as well as gamers, think of split-screen making an eventual resurgence.
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