Outward has a ridiculous, but cool, new idea: online, split-screen co-op

Outward is the next project from GoD Factory developer Nine Dots, and the premise is interesting: What would it be like to actually be an adventurer in a fantasy world? Not a godlike hero, but a person trying to survive and get things done.

“From simulating the day-to-day lifestyle of living alone in a vast world filled with creatures of fantasy to retiring and passing on your knowledge and skills to your next of kin, Outward is about creating a complete adventuring experience,” the Kickstarter page states. “It’s not just combat, it’s not just survival, it’s both and more.”

One of the most interesting facets of the game is the fact it will support split-screen co-op, and it’s possible that feature will work both offline and online. That’s right, split-screen co-op in an online game.

It’s not as silly as it sounds.

The challenges of making this work

“I love playing games with my girlfriend, and when I was a kid I loved playing with my brother,” Nine Dots’ Guillaume Boucher-Vidal told Polygon. “Gaming has been one of the most important things in my life for as long as I can remember, and sharing that with someone right next to me has always sparked very strong emotions in me.”

Split-screen co-op used to be a feature many players asked for in games, but were rarely given. I was curious about the demand for the feature versus its rarity. “I’d imagine that from a business perspective, it’s considered ‘sub-optimal,'” Boucher-Vidal said.

“First, when you play in split-screen, you only need one copy of the game, not two. So you might lose sales. The other reason is that if you do split-screen, you can’t push the hardware to the maximum in terms of graphical fidelity, which means less pretty pictures for marketing compared to other games on the market.”

This makes sense, but people still love split-screen games, and Nine Dots is trying to bring that experience to players even if they’re playing online with a friend. The feature is still experimental, but they’re hoping that split-screen support for an online campaign will help players feel more connected to their friends.

“If all goes according to plan, it will be possible to play in [split-screen] even if the second player is online. On one hand, this is great because it’s the most direct communication of information that you can send to your teammate,” Boucher-Vidal said.

“Secondly, it brings back a bit of the feeling of playing as if the person was right next to you, for those who had a lot of split-screen co-op experiences in the past. Lastly, this has a lot of potential for YouTubers and streamers, as both casters can be on-screen at the same time, right out of the box. Hearing both players and seeing what they will surely make some very entertaining moments.”

outward co-op

We’re still experimenting

It’s a very cool idea. Imagine exploring with a friend and being able to see what they see, to watch their battles as they fight to survive a hard encounter. You could watch them watching you do neat stuff in the game, and see every situation from two points of view. Voice chat could be kept to a minimum, since no one needs to describe what they’re seeing; it would be right there on your screen.

This feature won’t be easy to put together, however.

“We’re still experimenting. The main problem is that when you play online, usually you don’t receive all the information from the player, only what’s relevant to you,” Boucher-Vidal explained.

“In this case, by making it split-screen, we need to gather more data from the other player online, such as the position of his camera. We already have split-screen, we already have online, but we haven’t yet figured out exactly what data we need and which we can ignore from the other player. Also, will there be too much lag in the second screen, making it unreliable? That still needs to be tested.”

He has high hopes, though. “Overall though, both of my programmers said that the risk of us being unable to pull it off are fairly low, so it’s looking good,” he said.

Outward is on Kickstarter now, with a $120,062 goal.