Is Microsoft Going to Bring Back Local Gaming?

Microsoft Local Gaming

While online gaming has transformed the way we play our favourite video games, allowing us to connect to people across the world, make friends, enemies and most importantly, always have someone to play with, it does mean we often lose the age old experience of playing with someone else in the room.

Games like Halo, Gears of War, the developers make sure we're able to locally play with friends – they remember that this sort of thing is important. Ultimately, it's far better than an online cooperative experience. Not only are you more likely to know the person on a much deeper level than your online pal, but you have real world feedback too.

The importance of this has been lost in recent years, with a focus on making multiplayer a truly online experience. This makes sense from a convenience standpoint. It's understandable, but it needs to be addressed – and Microsoft has the opportunity to do it, with two things: Windows 8 and Smart Glass.

Now I know Gabe Newell and other developers have said Windows 8 is the worst thing that could happen to gaming, but it also has an interesting possibility, because it natively supports multi- touch. That means that not only can touch screen devices receive multiple inputs at once, it should theoretically mean that multiple mice could be used as well.

Now brushing aside the fact that this could lead to First Person Shooters with dual wielding, individually controlled firearms – drool – it also makes it possible for more than one person to have a precise mouse input, simultaneously making actions along with the main user. While not every game would be suited for such a thing, hot-seat board and card games should be possible, as should strategy games and a multitude of casual titles.

There are already a few hotseat games on the PC – not as many as there used to be – but they're often turn based titles, or don't require the nuance of mouse control that could be possible under Windows 8.

I'm not saying it's a guarantee, but the potential is certainly there. Especially when you take Smart Glass into consideration too.

One of the big problems with console gaming is that it's limited by the number of controller inputs. This has happened throughout the history of the hardware genre, mostly due to the fact that supporting more inputs than the traditional two or four would require tracking more inputs, as well as rendering more player characters on screen.

But it has been done. Look at Micro Machines Turbo Tournament 96 on the Genesis. While the console only supported two controller inputs as standard, the game cart came with two ports built into it. With four controllers plugged in, you can share them with up to eight people. That's eight players, racing n the same machine.

And that's back in the mid 90s, so the hardware can do it.

Still, you could say that nobody wants to buy that many controllers, or even that console manufacturers won't make a machine that can support that many inputs, because the supporting game list would be too small.

That's where Smart Glass comes in.

While obviously Microsoft is hoping it will bring about more purchases of its Surface tablet, ultimately people will be interacting with the Xbox 360 and eventually Xbox 720 with their smartphones. Think about that. All those people with smartphones are then walking around with an Xbox controller in their pocket.

All they need to do to play is pull it out and sync it. Everyone could do it, potentially at once.

What's to stop someone developing a locally supportive eight player game? Or a 16 player one? Sure you'd be limited to the sort of inputs available from a smart phone, but they already have built in gyroscopes and touch capabilities. There's your motion controls for a faux steering wheel, there's your virtual thumbsticks and face buttons.

Sure it wouldn't be the same as somehow modding an Xbox 360 to accept eight individual controllers, but it's an intriguing possibility.

Windows 8 and Smart Glass both have the opportunity to bring back local gaming, to make video games the social activity they originally championed – gathering a group of friends round the one big screen in the house and playing some games, together and against each other.

The internet is great and everything, but I'll play a game with a buddy sat next to me over one online any day and Microsoft has the potential to bring that back to the fore.

Fingers crossed.