John here to introduce Noelle's second post. Inspired by her quest for a new DS game, see below as Noelle tells it like it is. A jaded gamer? A passionate designer? A player who wants companies to cut the crap and own up to making a better industry? Fuck yes! She is that and more, but you don't have to take my word for it...
By: Noelle Murata
Since I finished the latest installment of Phoenix
Wright: Ace Attorney, I've been on the hunt for something new to
play on my DS. Naturally, I went over to GAMESPOT DS to have a bit of a look-see at what's out, what's coming out,
and if there's been anything I've missed. What I found seriously
Well, before I start ripping into gaming, particularly DS gaming; according to studies done by DFC, portable game system revenue especially with regard to the DS has profit margins that's looking to top the $10 billion mark in 2007. The predominant drivers are casual gaming, such as poker or sudoku - games you can pick up and put down whenever you please. This is diametrically opposite in nature to the idea presented in this post... games as an art form; games as vehicles for storytelling; ways to engage the mind as well as entertain.
This image was used in Jonathan Blow's talk from the Montreal International Game Summit 2007. It was used in reference to the bloat of giving people what's "easy". That said, it's no surprise that the level of games currently available for the DS was dispiriting. You have to wade through a set of titles that fall into the "been there done that" [the n'th iteration of Mario, Tetris, Bubble Bobble], some type of SIM, or basic puzzle game - like Sudoku or Poker, to find something that actually has a backbone. At least game series such as Zelda or Final Fantasy have a bit of a story to tell.
We can't keep churning out the video game version of every "kids" film that hits the big screen. [thank you Ebert, but the landscape is pretty much of the same story there as well; books from either the current generation (The Devil Wears Prada ??) or past stories (the Lord of the Rings trilogy ??). I challenge you to name an A-grade Hollywood film that was not in inspired by a book (comics included).
And puh-lease don't get me started on the titles designed to "engage" little girls into playing video games. Baby Pals? My little horsey? American Girl: Julie Finds a Way!. And no joke Hamsterz Life...
Maybe I just need to play more of these games to see the True Beauty of their Craft.
I may be going out on a limb somewhat here, but as game designers we need to be looking forward. It is unlikely that the portable gaming market is likely to dwindle; and yes, casual games will still make up a sizable chunk of interest and sales - but what does the future hold? What can we do to affect the landscape of [portable] gaming?
What games gives us is an avenue for true interactive storytelling. The DS is a near perfect avenue. One panel gives you what you "see" and the other allows you to perform an action on that view. My appreciation for Phoenix Wright is based solidly in this mechanic. Top panel is where the "story" unfolds; bottom panel gives you the options at any particular fork in the story. Yes, other games use this framework to their advantage, but how far; how much use could you get out of that type of paneling?
Take a game like Bioshock for example; top panel could contain your main view; bottom panel could show your available plasmids and weapons (without having to toggle through or basically pause your gameplay to "check" what you had at your disposal)... just as a for instance.
As for storytelling... Bioshock took a crack at it, allowing the player a choice; engage in a story and affect the outcome. However, I have to agree with some of the points from Blow's talk; a) it still relied on "kill everything from far away", and b) one "bad" move makes the ending binary.
But, what if the outcome wasn't binary? What if interacting with the game in a particular way form that player's individual experience of the story. Go beyond role-playing. In Role-play, you get to choose who you are and the path of action and game resolution is based on that initial decision. But, what if your character starts off as a Tabula Rasa and each decision that player makes allows different pathways to emerge... The player is the point of reference. The game evolves around choices. As in the game Go; you start with a completely empty playing field and each move narrows the scope of the outcome.
Literature made the leap several decades ago to Postmodern, largely experimental, self referential, containing a different type of narrative previously used formally in books up until that era. Some forms of this narrative actively engaged the user - making the user *aware* of their position in the author's conception of the story. But unfortunately literature is static, the end of the book has no bearing on where you went for coffee that day, or if you decided to skip out of work or not.
Designers, appreciators, and players in this industry I pose the question, do you really want to be making and playing Madden 2015? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mario Bros? SIMs in Space? Power Sudoku 8000! Pong to run on your iPhone? Ooops, already done.
From the business side, due to the Fall of the Dot Com Era business people and investors have learned to be afraid of taking a chance, but this article from Fast Company illustrates an interesting point - No Risk, No Reward.
Departing from the games as entertainment and storytelling (because at this point, I've probably beaten the dead horse into a pulp)... I'm going to wrap this up.
I leave you with a question and a quote... What do you, as the gamer, really want out of your experience?
I say let... lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may. [Tyler Durden - Fight Club]
P.S. I'm still looking for my next DS game obsession... it sure the hell isn't Bratz 4 Real