I’ve just sat for about an hour watching Tuffcub play P.T. on Twitch. For half of that, he’s been stuck wondering where to go next, exploring well enough but not trying everything. That’s not criticising him – it seems like one of those problems that has a ridiculously simple solution which isn’t very obvious unless you’re in the know.
But if I was sitting next to him, I would’ve asked for the controller by now so I can have a try, and although I might fail just as much, I would know to try different things with my own playstyle. Together, we could get past the obstacle, or one of us could at least take a break while the other tried to find the solution.
I’ve always had a soft spot for pass-the-pad play: one of my favourite gaming experiences involves a weekend, two friends, a single Gamecube controller, and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. But as I’ve grown older, weekends like this have become hard to organise, with our busy schedules and lack of free time during the working week meaning that when we do see each other, it’s very unlikely we’ll spend the entire weekend in one place.
Pass-the-pad co-op is a style of gaming which simply can’t be replicated in the world of online multiplayer currently, as it’s very much a thing which is organised by the people playing the games rather than the developers – whether it’s timed slots or times killed, you’re the one who makes the rules. That’s not always true, however: recently, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty came with a brilliant co-op option which switches the controls every time a player dies.
Elsewhere, online gaming has pretty much covered everything you can do locally – you can play together, talk to each other, or even just sit and watch someone play a game. But, until Sony introduce their “virtual sofa” as they’re calling it with Firmware 2.00, there’s no way to pass the pad and switch control.
But Sony are the innovators here; this is something which you may not have thought of before, but it’s something which – in concept, at least – seems brilliant and refreshing.
And it’s something that can be expanded beyond playing through a game together, as you’ll be able to share previously local-only multiplayer games with your friends. Towerfall Ascension soon becomes an online game, as you and your friend sit and chat in this virtual space; you’ll be able to play the aforementioned local-only Oddworld co-op; how about taking turns playing a specific level on Trials Fusion, trying to set that high score? These are all things which I’ve had fun doing locally, and I can’t wait to replicate online.
So, what does this mean for demos? Game demos have had a long, varied history – back in the day, they were quite hard to distribute and mostly came on discs bundled with magazines, but if your friend had the game, you could always go to their house and get a taster. While the former method disappeared with online connections and the PSN store, the latter will be born anew, as players join in with your game through Share Play.
If nothing else, it’s a great marketing tool: there are plenty of times when I’ve bought a game after playing my friend’s copy with them, and Share Play simply makes this more accessible than ever – you won’t even need to own a copy of the game but can play it with your friend, and that will surely lead to you wanting a copy of your own for when your friend isn’t online.
Share Play, and this invisible sofa of which Sony speak, is a brilliant concept, though perhaps we shouldn’t be too excited just yet. How likely is it that publishers will allow this for all of their games, and that the system will be universal? If it’s literally just faking the second player’s controller as a local one and sharing the screen, then that’s excellent, but if it’s only a specific mode in selected titles, then it’s not quite as exciting.
All eyes on Firmware 2.00 this Autumn, then. Share Play has the potential to be huge for online gaming, just as online multiplayer and streaming have been in the past, but it’s all a matter of execution.