In the five years I have been covering video games professionally there's one thing a video game company had never asked me to do until Activision did last week: Play their new game in four-player split screen.
We might as well have been back in 1997 playing GoldenEye or something at Activision's PAX-week event in Seattle last week.
Twenty-first-century gaming publicity events just don't involve four-player split screen matches of anything. Companies prefer to link TVs together to allow multi-screen multiplayer. Or they network the console on which they are showing a game to an online match linked back to the game's development studio or testing team.
I was stunned, then, when an Activision representative actually invited me to step out of the company's game-filled party and into another demo room to try Blur's four-player split screen.
It's notable that Blur even has four-player split screen to offer. What once was common is now rare. This month's high-end EA racer, Need For Speed Shift, doesn't have split screen, nor did that publisher's 2008 aggressively online-focused racing game Burnout Paradise. Next month's Forza 3 has only two-player split screen.
We live in an age of online multiplayer. Screens just don't get split as much as they used to, not for racing games, among other genres. Some might argue that online multiplayer is superior. It gives each player a full screen's view. It causes no one to squint.
At the Seattle event, four-player split screen didn't feel like a superior option when I went up to hotel suite where a big TV was waiting. Only three of us were in the room: Me and two Activision employees. We considered asking the guy who came in to re-stock the hotel bar to join as Player 4, before deciding to call for a fourth, summoning them up from the party downstairs where Blur was being played over a two-TV LAN connection. Then Joystiq showed up. They'd do.
Blur has other attributes Activision and Bizarre are probably more interested in reporters discussing: The game's social-networking-influenced campaign; its Mario Kart style power-ups; and other details we've covered.
But this four-player split screen multiplayer mode? What's old is novel again. We had fun, even if this isn't the cool way anymore.