Monday, May 30, 2005

DS Brain Training for Adults

(via water cooler games) Gaming-Age Foruns has a post on DS Brain Training for Adults, the forthcoming non-game for the DS. The screenshots are in japanese, but they give a good general impression of the product.

Maybe because it is "for Adults" (and maybe because it is brain training), it does not have distractive colourful game-like graphics (except for the polygonal doctor head) - a major difference from the PSP's Talkman, which is also more like an application than a game (Nintendo will also release a Japanese-English dictionary, so let's see how they compare).

Brain Training for Adults, as the name suggests, might be Nintendo's move over an older audience. Not only older than the average Mario and Zelda's fan base, but even more. Not young adult, but 'adult-adult'.

Apparently, Nintendo's approach to the market right now is trying to give make games for everyone (and not only games rated as "Everyone" by the ESRB), and the puzzle-magazine style of Brain Training might help.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More art on the DS

(via Avant Gaming) There is more DS art being posted on the web: the Elektroplankton Composition Database is an archive of music made on Elektroplankton.

A little bit more radical is The Mod go DS (or the mod gods?), a website dedicated to DS homebrew development. From their website you can see that there is some speculation on how open to independent developers will Nintendo become in the near future.

On that subject, there are lots of conflicted information, but I hope Nintendo open the doors for independent developers (the Revolution download system cold help a lot in that sense). That would not only please the homebrew enthusiasts, but maybe renew Nintendo's strenght amongst a great parcel of gamers.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 3

- Bang!Bang!Bang!
- Bang! Bang!
- PUM!
- No! No! "Pum" is not used anymore! Who is the outdated one who said "Pum"?

From "Toda mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

The 'Magic Circle' was already mentioned in this website, and the comic strip above shows how easily this circle can be breaken. It does not only relate directly to the noise that can affect the communication among players in MMOGs, but it more generaly demonstrates how a single piece can take out the stability of the whole game's world.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Llamasoft now and then

Llamasoft, Jeff Minter's studio, has a new website. There you can find information on their new light synthesiser, Neon, which will come built in the Xbox 360.

"Neon can run purely off audio input or from up to four joypads, each controlling a different display element with incredible ease and precision and generating hypnotic, multi-layered end results that are way ahead of every other piece of audio visualisation software available."

This is not Llamasoft's first non-game: Psychedelia was released in 1984, and according to Minter it was "a new, non-competitive form of entertainment... no enemies, no killing, just light and colour". Check the full story here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Making art on the DS

From their website: "NDSart is an experimental community that focuses on artistic expression with the Nintendo DS." It includes drawings made on the DS's Picto-chat and has sections for music and animation. Interestingly, it all goes back to games, as it promotes competitions between the posted works.

Things like this reassure my preference for the DS over the PSP(and why I choose it as platform for my MA project).

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

'Let's not get hung up on silly technicalities'

Back in 2003, Scott Miller from 3D Realms wrote some good comments on the implications of calling some games 'games':

"Who cares!!! Seriously, it's not like we need to work out the definition of the word "game" to make 'em! And frankly, I prefer to think of what we do as making "entertainment." Not that it matters, though."

It is a good point. Of course, on the other hand, defining things can help us see how to make it better and different the next time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 2

- My dad told me how chess works: the pawns go in the first row...
- um-hum.
- ... Then, in this row, you place the king and the queen...
- How come? It should be the other way around.
- First the king and the queen, and then the pawns.
- No, dad told me the pawns come first.
- Is your dad socialist? No? He's socialist,ain't he?

From "Toda Mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

Unlike Felipe, Mafalda seems much more interested in the symbolic aspects of chess than in its mechanics. It could be said that, if dealing with game studies, she would be a narratologist while he would be a ludologist.

Of course, the 'narrative' is much less important to chess than its mechanics, serving more as an illustration the rules. As Espen Aarseth argues in the book 'First Person : New Media as Story, Performance, and Game', Felipe can see 'beyond the avatars' that represent him in the game.

Mafalda, on the other hand, seems to enjoy another dimension of the game: the environment, the story being told. Also in videogames, those elements could contribute to meaningful play.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Will wi-fi make handheld games 'buggy'?


GameSpy: Is there any chance that full online internet play could be patched into the game via a download?

Nino: No. The game was designed to add extra content, not to patch the game.

Wi-fi gives, however, the possibility of patching handheld games via download. Of course, patches are usually a good thing: they serve to enhance (or fix) the game. But on the other hand, what if handheld players are forced to download several patches for their games (as it happens to PC gamers)? Wouldn't it drive people away from the handhelds - specially the casual / non-gamer audience they intend to seduce?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

PSP non-games

(via gamespot) Two non-games are already in development for the Sony PSP: Talkman and Adventure Player.

Adventure Player, by From Software, will allow the player to build his own adventure games (and also other styles of games, such as puzzles and quiz) on his PC. The games are, then, played on the PSP via Memory Stick. It will be nice to see so many custom-made games, and hopefully some will be very original and attract players with different tastes. It's not very likely that this release will attract many non-gamers, but that could be wrong, who knows? Game-making and modding are usually related to hardcore players, but depending on the tool, that could change.

Talkman, on the other side, is a translation software, but also a piece of entertainment, with several games that test the player's fluency of a language (English or Japanese, apparently).

I really like the idea behind Talkman - it has the functionalities that you expect from a translation software, but places them into a ludic context, with all the treatment you expect from a videogame. It's also nice to see real-worlds applications and videogames merging (something I would like to research more, as I intend to include something like that in my MA project - a nice tip from one of my tutors). Instead of 'breaking the magic circle', it could extend it in a nice way.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Will PC gaming be reborn in the near future?

The last edition of Develop - the British equivalent to Game Developer - brings some opinions by industry insiders on the future of independent companies. Matt Nagy, from Coyote Developments, says:

"With the rise of the PSP,DS, Gizmondo,PC and the mobile phone games arena (...) there is plenty of work for small developers to continue to make their creative mark on the games industry".

I agree, and that is one of the reasons why I've chosen the Nintendo DS as the target platform for my final project, but what happens when the gap between handhelds and consoles gets even smaller?

The PC, also cited by Nagy, is probably the better platform for putting creativity in games and is the cheapest one to produce for. Could that lead to a renaissance of PC gaming on the future? With the consoles becoming more and more similar to PCs, wouldn't it be the way to go?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 1

This is the first of, hopefully, many small notes on game design with examples taken from Mafalda.

Argentinean cartoonist Quino has drawn his strip Mafalda for years. Its main characters, a group of kids including a little girl called Mafalda, often used their plays and games in order to decode and express their views of the world.

- How can you enjoy playing yo-yo, Manolito?
- I am not playing yo-yo.
- This is not a yo-yo, but the stock market. Look at the shares going up and down.
- The best thing about it is that you can deal with it as you want. I am not playing yo-yo.
- I am playing 'Rockfeller'.

From "Toda Mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

The strip above gives a good example of how the player can provide a context to game, filling the blanks with his creativity, something that can make the experience different to each particular player.

As for the 'stock market' analogy, it is a reminder that, as put by Chris Crawford in 'Chris Crawford on Game Design', "Good games do not simulate physical reality; they mirror emotional reality". "Play is metaphorical".

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nintendo as PDA and Zodiac as game platform

PDA Street and Bargain PDA have stories on the possible future use of the Nintendo DS as a PDA device (something that the company would have planned from the start, as the next gameboy advance would be the 'pure gaming handheld machine').

Since the hardcore audiences are more likely to adopt the next gameboy advance, the innovative titles made for DS will reach, apparently, a more casual / nongamer share of the market.

Interestingly, if successful, Nintendo will sell PDAs that are actually gaming devices. On the other hand, the Zodiac, Tapwave's PDA / gaming handheld hybrid, will lose its unique selling point.

It's a shame how Zodiac is not popular at all as a gaming machine. It has widescreen, 3D graphics, it can play mp3s and videos, it can be used with a stylus... It is more expensive then most competitors (around U$ 350), but with a better game library, it could have been more successfull among gamers and attract a larger audience.

Plus, it could be a great option for small developers too.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Ernest Adams on Creative Play

"I'm going to propose a rudimentary taxonomy of types of creative videogame play, with a few random thoughts about each category. (...) I think they might help to guide our thinking about building creative play into our games."

On, Ernest Adams writes about Creative Play, a common characteristic of the nongame genre and, judging by some games that use it, a very appealing feature to non-gamers.

Proposing the categorization of different kinds of creative play, Adams admits that "the borders of these categories are very fuzzy". In fact, I have some questions on how they are defined.

Adams lists six categories of creative play: Freeform Creative Play, Constrained Creativity (Construction Play), Self-Expressive Play, Community Play, Storytelling Facilities and Game Modifications. However, regarding the three first ones, is hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. Let's take a look at them:

1) Freeform Creative Play: "(...) lets the player use the game as a sandbox, largely without limitations. The player can do pretty much whatever she likes in the context the game offers".

In this case, it might be interesting to see the context of the game as the limitiation itself. Adams uses Pinball Contructions Set as example, and says: "you had to build a pinball table within the general shape required".

That sounds like a reasonable limitation to the play. Considering that the player has to use the game - a limited system - to engage into the play activity, a totally freeform creative play is rather utopic.

2) Constrained Creativity (Construction Play): "(...) creation is not purely freeform, but restricted by rules in some way (...) Even LEGO bricks impose some constraints. You only have a limited number of them (unless you work for LEGO) and they only fit together in certain ways. "

Lego would certainly be a better example of Freeform Creative Play. In fact, Adams himself says "If the game doesn't offer anything but freeform creative play, it's not really a game at all, but a toy or a tool". That is much more the case of Lego.

While I can see the difference between them, Freeform Creative Play and Constrained Creativity don't seem to be different categories, but different degrees of the same one.

3) Self-Expressive Play: "This is a sort of subcategory of the preceding two categories of creative play, in which the creativity is specifically directed at representing one's self in some way."

For some reason, the examples provided only cover the construction and customization of the player's avatars and its accessories (something closer to self-portraits). However, self-expression goes beyond that, and it should be possilbe to the player to express himself through Pinball tables and Lego bricks. Self-expression, actually, might be indivisible from Creative Play. Adams seems to be aware of that when, at the beggining of the article, says: "So, for my purposes, creative play means play that enables you to point at something in the game and say, “Look – I made that.” "

Overall, the article is very helpful identifying and reflecting on several elements of creative play, and it's good to see analysis like this on the subject.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How explicit are your goals?

From Greg Costikyan's weblog (commenting on the state of the industry): "Electroplankton, on the other hand, I'm very skeptical about; a toy with no evident goals, and no goals means "pointless."

That sentence has actually generated a heated discussion on the comments forum, where Costikan made a good point:"Games have goals.. not necessarily explicit ones. Interaction without an objective is meaningless."

It might be true, but I am not sure that is the case for Elektroplankton, as your goal as player may be get better as a composer / mixer your tunes. Nintendogs - which could also be seen as a non-game - has a much clearer goal (the survival / happiness / success of your puppies).

So maybe the biggest challenge in nongames design is giving the player the opportunity (and incentive) to create their own goals and see the original 'implicit goals' as the means to achieve them.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Short games

Gamasutra features an article entitled Making a Case for Short Games. The overall message is: more games should be designed to favour replayability instead of the "countless hours to complete" experience (hailed by part of press, publishers, developers and gamers, as the best way to give the player the value for his money).

It would be nice if the handheld market, revamped with the release of so many new consoles, proved to be a good platform to test this ideas of short games (and experimental gameplay in general) - a good balance to the highly expensive next-gen blockbuster productions that might be coming this year or next.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Fly Guy and nongamer-friendly design

Made by Trevor Van Meter, Jason Krogh, Vas Kottas and Brian McBrearty, Fly Guy is easily one of the best webgames available. The graphics are stylish, the animation is fluid, the sounds (often overlooked in webgames) are great and the gameplay is easy enough to make it interesting for anyone.

No, it's not 'easy to learn and difficult to master'. Unlike most games appealing to casual players, it's not a puzzle and it's not contained on a single screen. In fact, exploration is key to this game. The pleasure is flying around with the character and interacting with the objects and other characters.

Exploration is usually a turn-off for nongamers, but that is not the case for Fly Guy. The navigation scheme, combined with the graphic's simplicity, gives the player the illusion of an infinite space - which turns out to be actually quite simple. Because of the amusing animations, the player is also compelled to see how the character interacts with every other entity of the environment - and by doing so, the player wil fly higher and higher towards the end of the game.

Of course, the player is not informed of that ending when the game starts, as it could make him feels as the goal should be to reach it as fast as possible. In fact, by the first time you reach the end, you will want to restart it and make sure you've seen it all. Other than that, the only replay value are in the random comments made by a floating guru) and in the pleasure of flying around and watching the interactions again and again. It's enough to make you go back and play it every now and then.

Overall, the fact there's no punishments and pressure to finish the game (or to do anything else than explore it and play around) gives it a nongame, toy-like quality - even if there is a linear path and an ending involved.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Second Life, another (non)game to look at

Second Life is probably the most open-ended MMOG (or MMONG?) around: you can not only personalize your avatar, but also script your own activities or games inside the game - so basically you can do whatever you want. In fact, a player scripted "Tringo", a game that was actually licensed by a real-world company.

There is also a post in Water Coler Games about how Second Life is being used as a form of therapy by several organizations.
Copyright, Chico Queiroz