Some of my fondest video game memories involve people huddled around one TV at the same time. With Halo 5, the sci-fi shooter series dropped support for split-screen. If there ever was a time to mark the end of an era, this is it.
When I was a kid, most of the video games I played were on my own, but there were three, distinct exceptions to that rule: Mario Kart, GoldenEye, and Halo.
One-on-one Mario Kart battle mode on SNES on Battle Court 1. Four-way fights, golden guns only, on GoldenEye's The Stack. Sniper rifles or bust on on Halo's Boarding Action. Though no individual match sticks out — except, maybe, the one where my friend walked away because we taunted him about sucking so much — those three games defined what games meant to me for many years.
This was an era before online gaming took over, when multiplayer meant splitting a blurry CRT television into two, three, and four parts and being convinced it was enough. Some people were lucky enough to have LAN parties or know software tricks to go online, but for me, it was split-screen or nothing.
There was something about being in such close proximity to another human that online gaming can't replicate. I'm not trying to argue what's replaced split-screen isn't "better." Having a full view of the action and being able to play with someone on the other side of the world is "better," of course. But there's nothing like being able to high-five, tackle, or scream at the person next to you.
Though it was understood people weren't supposed to look at other screens, that never really happened. Some people went to extremes to prevent it.
(Photo credit: reddit user kromix.)
For most people, the death of split-screen is a footnote, nothing more.
For others, especially those in a Halo 5 thread on reddit, it's a shock. My heart broke earlier today, as I read a story about a father and his 9-year-old son:
Just a bit of a rant here, and for that I apologise. I used to be much more of a gamer than I am today - nowadays a full time job, parenting, and a master's degree program keep me pretty busy. As a result, Halo 5 has been completely off my radar.
Not so for my 9 year old son. He talks about it all the time, and his birthday is coming up. My dad got him a gift card, and my son wanted to buy Halo. He's grown up playing splitscreen Halo with me. From a young age he wanted to be able to play games with me, and the Halo games' relatively low levels of gore, combined with the inclusion of splitscreen (couch) multiplayer, has meant that they have become a bit of a tradition in our house.
So today he and I went and picked up his Halo 5 order from Best Buy. We got it home, we installed it on our Xbox One, and we sat down to get a level of the campaign in before his bedtime.
Half an hour later, I've got a heartbroken little boy who doesn't understand why a game company decided to remove the ability for him to play with his dad. I got him started on the campaign solo, held him in my lap while he played, but his heart just wasn't in it. He asked if we could just go watch some Netflix together instead.
A Kotaku reader also passed on this memory:
When me and my wife met, the first thing we did was spend loooooooong nights going through ALL of the Halo games together in Split-Screen. Snuggled up in my parents converted Garage to their guest house (I had recently moved back from Florida and didn't have a place of my own yet, and the Garage in the Guest House was converted into a theatre/living room with futon.)
We'd play til the sun came up, and tore through every single one (other than Halo Wars). Now we're married, were so excited about Halo 5, and now they don't have Split-Screen because "players want 60fps.". SPLIT-SCREEN DOESN'T AFFECT SINGLEPLAYER, AND PEOPLE WHO WANT SPLIT-SCREEN JUST WANT TO PLAY WITH THEIR FRIENDS/LOVED ONES IN THE SAME ROOM. We don't give a RAT'S ARSE about 60fps, we're used to graphics not being as good in split-screen. Stupid 60fps generation ruining it for everyone.
In a different world, perhaps Halo 5's singleplayer campaign was 30 FPS and the multiplayer was 60 FPS, allowing for split-screen to stick around. It's not to be.
Developer 343 Industries broke the news about split-screen disappearing from Halo 5 a while back, but it's not a surprise some casual fans didn't pick up on it. It's not like 343 Industries sent out a press releasing proudly announcing it was dropping a feature that had been a staple of the Halo series since its inception.
"It's a bummer but 60fps had to take precedence," said Halo franchise development director Frank O'Connor in a NeoGAF thread last June. "It's not just aesthetics — the entire simulation is built on that framerate."
In any case, it's gone. There will be other games that support split-screen, of course; the feature is not dead and buried with Halo 5. But there's something about a new Halo coming out without split-screen that...well, it kinda sucks.