A Nintendo 3DS-wishlist (as if success wasn´t granted already…)

July 26, 2010

It´s not news-worthy when I tell you how obsessed I am by the mere thought of the Nintendo 3DS these days. I literally can´t wait, which is why I´m writing this little article. We know that the 3DS will feature GameCube/Wii-like visuals, have analog-stick-like controls and, of course, a 3D-screen. There´s also some kind of tag-mode-thingy, though I´m not quite sure, yet, what exactly that´s going to be useful for. Anyway, with just the above, Nintendo has got a super-selling product lined up for whenever it is brought to the market, that´s guaranteed, is what I´d like to say – I´ve never seen that much universal hype for a single gaming-system before. But even with all its strong selling-points it already has, why not … make it the perfect entertainment device of the forever?

One feature that would really make a big impact would be a TV-out feature. I don´t know if that´s still a possibility, as people have seen what kind of  attachment outlets the 3DS has, but if there is, oh well. If you´ve been reading this blog for a while, you know about my wish for a hybrid console/handheld, and, well, that´d be it. Hook up the 3DS to a TV and play games on the big screen. Considering that this would mean no 3D, the extra power could maybe even be enough for HD-gaming, couldn´t it. For a perfect hybrid-device, controller-support would be the last piece in the puzzle. Maybe that´s something for the next generation after 3DS – wirelessly connect a Wiimote to the 3DS and really, it´d be like a full home console, just usable on-the-go as well. No limitations as to where you play and how you play games.

Another neat feature which I hope for even more than the above one is proper video- and music-playback. Not only do even really old mobile phones feature that, Nintendo themselves already started it with the Nintendo DSi´s music-playback feature. Not to mention that even the GameBoy Advance was capable of playing videos under certain circumstances. I don´t expect Nintendo to give us all the codecs; just .mp3 for music and one of the popular video-formats would be enough. Of course, ideally they´d simply let us buy new codecs by ourselves. That way, it wouldn´t make the device more expensive for Nintendo, but consumers still would get the chance to use their 3DS to its fullest. Just have there be an appstore-like environment that I can enter. One category will be “codecs” where I can buy divx, xvid, avi, mkv, flac, aac and whatever else. As for music, some playlist-features would be great. For videos, simply letting me play them from SD-card would be good enough. With Nintendo themselves having shown 3D-movies being played on the 3DS, like “How to train a Dragon”, video-playback really seems like a no-brainer. But you never can be sure with Nintendo, can you.

Which leads us to the next big feature: An appstore for 3DS. Both Wii and DSi kinda have something like that already, remember how you could get the Opera-browser; but, of course, I´m imagining something a lot more elaborate here. Sure, Nintendo is all about the games, but why not let the consumer decide what his handheld should be capable of? That´s why such an online-shop for expanded functionality would be great. Simple stuff like a calculator, a calendar or a memo-function could be offered there, but also more complex stuff like an IRC-(internet relay chat)-application, or Skype or ICQ. Also, simple text-programs would be nice. After all, there´s already a software for Nintendo DS that teaches you how to paint, so why not a text-program, too? All of these are the more obvious idea, but there really would be no limit as to what kind of applications could be offered.

Something that´s probably the most unlikely feature to happen, but still would do wonders for some of the previous mentioned ideas, would be the inclusion of 3G – internet without the need of being close to a hotspot. Actually, I never got how these hotspots worked, anyway, as you still need a user name and password to use hotspots, and that´s hardly the case when not at home. 3G really would free the 3DS from all remaining boundaries.  There are a lot of ways to have Nintendo get the money back for this feature´s costs – like offering different SKUs or include the 3G-costs into downloads, just to name two possibilities. There are so many ideas that could be done with 3G, so many that I´m not going to name them. Let´s just say: 3G in the 3DS would be really, really, neat. It probably won´t happen, but it´d be … neat.

On that note, something a friend of mine is wishing for is GPS. Personally, I don´t need it, but if it´s there, I wouldn´t complain about it. And to be honest, it´d allow for some interesting real life-virtual life-games in the vein of geo caching.

3G yes or no, improved online-features are a must. And by improved, I mean: Improved a lot. Basically, give me something on par with Xbox Live for the 3DS. A single friends list for all games. Demo-download without being in need of a Wii-system. Some social features like easy-accessable text-messaging and getting information about your friends, like what games they played, if they´re online right now, stuff like that. And make online-gaming be fast and easy. Make it easy to join friends´ games. Oh, and don´t separate game from system-menu. Give me something like the Xbox-button that keeps the game running in the background, but grants me control over all the system´s feature. Don´t make me quit a game, before I can send a friend a text-message, that´s what I mean. And that´s that.

Finally, I´d like to mention some games I´d love to see on the 3DS. Seemingly, it´s already announce, but we haven´t seen anything yet, so I´ll mention it anyway: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen! from Tomy/8ing. No matter if you like the Naruto-series or not, the GameCube-fighters were great fun and I was really addicted to them. 8ing´s last Wii-title sucked, though, but if they could return to their old fighting-strength, that´d beat any Dead or Alive or Streetfighter for me. Another game is Skies of Arcadia. And I don´t care if it´s a sequel or a port/remake. I want Skies of Arcadia on a handheld, and 3D alone would work wonders for flying ships and flying whales. As for a game that many gamers probably wouldn´t expect on a handheld, give me Metroid Prime 4 3DS. When I first thought about it I was like “uh, but how will it control?”, but then I remembered how Metroid Prime for GameCube controlled … you don´t need a second analog-stick at all for the Prime-series. Two other games that I´d like to see sequels for on the 3DS are Lugi´s Mansion and Endless Ocean. Both ghosts and fish are such obvious choices for making great use of a 3D-effect. Other than these games, it´s really hard to come up with something else – I mean, we already get a freakin´ Ocarina of Time-remake!

Again, never before have I been this hyped for a gaming-system, and never before have I seen such universal praise for one. Where people thought the Nintendo DS reached the mainstream, the 3DS will re-define what “mainstream” really is. First-party-support, third-party-support, and the first mainstream-device that features 3D – not only will this be every entertainment-lover´s device, it´ll also surpass anyone´s sales predictions. Now all there is to ask, is: Will the 3DS be fun, or will it be too much fun? Because these are really the only two remaining possibilities.

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The future most important element of gaming

July 10, 2010

There´s an obvious trend visible in current JRPGs, or Japanese adventure-games in general. That trend is something that´s been part of western gaming-design for probably all of its existence´s time. It is the option of letting the player customize his in-game characters – creating true avatars.

Where it´s at - Customization at its current best

All the typical, big Japanese adventure-games, most of them RPGs, used to feature a preset cast of characters, each of them with his or her set-in-stone background story and individual behavior. Just think of games like Final Fantasy 7, Skies of Arcadia or Dragon Quest 8, to name some of the most popular ones. Each of these games puts you in the shoes of an already-developed character. You simply navigate that character through the course of his adventure, his story. As fun as many of these RPGs were, in terms of immersion, they all more or less failed. Immersion being the part where you, the player, are accounted for as a vital part of the game´s progression. If truly mean-minded, you could say, this kind of games is hardly better than watching a movie – only shaken up by filler-ish combat-systems.

That is where some Japan-developed games grew to stray away from. One of these games would be Monster Hunter. Of course, Monster Hunter has been around for many years now, but that just makes it a pioneer of what I´m writing about. In MH, you don´t navigate some preset character through a given story. Instead, you create your characters appearance, you choose your weapon, each of which heavily changes the gameplay, and finally, you choose what to do next. And how you do this “next“. MH brings truly individual adventures to the player by giving so many options that are up to the player to decide. Of course, MH is, at least in its best form, a multiplayer-focused experience. It dismisses any story and has you fighting monsters. That is all. While it is fun for hundreds of hours, it is kind of an easy-route to go. The hard-route would be to implement this kind of customization into singleplayer-games.

Japan catching up

The game that made me write this article was Dragon Quest 9 for Nintendo DS, which has been released in the US just now and will be out in Europe by July 23rd. What´s so special about this ninth entry of the most popular, traditional RPG-series in Japan is its cast. Unlike its predecessor, Dragon Quest 8, every member of your party, including the “hero”, is created from scratch by the player. Gender, appearance, everything. Eye shape, eye color, hair style and color, and so on. Later on, you can put on clothes part by part, being separated into various categories, to give each and every character a truly unique look. Of course, I haven´t played the game yet, but from what I heard, the way you obtain new items is very similar to typical loot-games like Diablo 2 for PC. So that´s definitely a big step for such a traditional series, from Japan nonetheless.  And here is where I´d like to take customization one step further.

Customizing every part of your character - if only he´d be involved in the story now

The biggest flaw of Dragon Quest 9 is, at least that is what appears to be, the lack of personality within your customized party. None of these self-created characters will have a dramatic, heart-wrenching story. They won´t talk with each other, each one showing a different attitude. None of that. Your party is faceless. They´re a tool for combat, giving you what it takes to beat all the enemies to get through the game, but that´s it. And this is where I wondered: Why not put that up for customization, too? “That” being: Character traits and story-bits (the Jurassic Park-theme is playing as I write this, you should do so, too). Of course, I realize that this would take a lot more effort to put into reality, but it´d be worth it. And it could be as basic or complex as the respective developer wanted it to be. Varying attitudes shouldn´t be much of a problem. If you look at one of the most popular western RPGs of the year, Mass Effect 2, you´ll find out that depending on which character you have in your party, you´ll be able to listen to different conversations. Character A tells Character B something different than he would tell Character C. That is nothing to costly, it´s doable right now. And ME2 features expensive HD-3D-visuals and voice acting. A game like Dragon Quest 9 would be a lot cheaper to create in that way. That´s that for character traits. Simply let me choose from traits such as “innocent”, “loud mouth”, “secretive” or “nice guy” and we´re set. If you have four party-members and, say, ten different traits, you can calculate how many different combinations that would make. But it´s doable. As for customizing parts of the story, that´d be more complicated. Surely, the more elaborate a developer wanted his game´s story-telling to be, the more complicated, the more of an issue that would become. But again, it´s something that could be as basic or complex as the respective developer wanted it to be. For a minimum, there could be four stories to choose from, making it, if we stay with a four member-party, one story for each of your party-members. So none of these fours stories would go to waste. The only thing that´d have to be watched out for is that the attitude of a character, choosen by the player, is presented in a fitting way. But depending on the scenario, that´d be minor changes. That´s the minimum. Yet, it´d be already really awesome. Now make it five, six or more stories to choose from, or even different pieces of story that you could freely combine to create a truly unique background story for each of your party members, and it´d be even more fun. And a truly customized adventure.

In the end, this would be the next step of customization in video games, and the next step towards the hypothetical procedural story-telling – automatically individually generated stories that don´t suck. However, it´s a long, long way until something like that is technically possible. Until then we have to take the costly, time-consuming path and create all possible choices beforehand. But even so, it´s effort and work that´d be an enormous plus for the world of video games. Gamers want to experience individual adventures, they want to immerse themselves within believable worlds. And that´s why this is so important: Customization brings individual adventures to life.


Lowering the price of older games – Why?

January 17, 2009

First of all, wow, i really have a lot to say this month, well, maybe because i´m currently sick and every single cough feels like my throat is about to explode. Whatever. Today i wondered why games are worth less money the farther into the past their release lies.

Franchises that get yearly updates like many of Electronic Arts´ games of course lose value when there´s a better version of the same concept available. Then there´s bad selling games that may have a second chance of selling when their price is lowered. What i want to talk about, though, are successful games, blockbuster games, games that received highly positive feedback from the press and did well in terms of sales.

This may be really just my view on this matter, but to me a game like, for example, Mass Effect is a piece of…well, a piece of eternal entertainment. “Eternal” simply means that no matter when you´re going to play Mass Effect, it will always tell you its great, unique story and offer you great gameplay within a believable virtual game world. Or take the Zelda-games or Final Fantasy. There is nothing about these games that will be forgettable in the future. Take books for example. Is the price of J. R. R. Tolkien´s Lord of the Rings any lower than it had been years ago? No, because this story was, is, and always will be a “piece of eternal entertainment“.  When it comes to games, though, they´re rather treated like lowly consume-products. As if you´re buying a bottle of Cola, and once you drunk all of its content, the only value that remains is the money you´ll get when you take the bottle back to the store where you bought it.

Now i´ve heard people openly complain about how Nintendo is especially bad, because they don´t lower the price of their games. They´re not doing so because of what i´m talking about, they´re doing so because their games keep selling. Nonetheless, i totally love this situation in which games keep their initial value. And i think that in the end this would be a good thing for everyone. Good for publishers, good for the used games-market, and most importantly, good for the acceptance of videogames as more than childish consume-products. But maybe i´m wrong and my fellow gamers really only look at games that way. I can only hope that this is not the case.


Beyond motion-control and HD: A New Concept for Videogame Systems

December 13, 2008

The NPD-group released sales numbers of video consoles for November and fans or not-fans of the Wii are in an uproar. Meanwhile, i took the time to take a look at the software-charts. Except for old Nintendo-games and Guitar Hero, there are shooter, shooter and…shooter. That´s actually hardly related to what i am going to talk about in this blog-posting, just wanted to say that.

Games have hit a ceiling. Not yet a visual one, but a conceptual ceiling. What that means? Well, we get more or less quality, new versions of gameplay concepts that have been there since the Nintendo64. Just more beautiful. Oh, don´t get me wrong, the presentation has greatly improved and the gameplay profited from smoother framerates as well. But the core is the very same. So take first-person-shooters for example and compare Halo 3 to Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. I´m not gonna list all the technical improvements of the former, but the feeling from playing. And hell, the gun-play in Turok 2 was, back then, just as fun is Halo 3´s is today. Or more explicitely: Remake Turok 2 in HD, give it the smoothness of modern games et voilá, it´s a first-person-shooter, as good as the ten years newer Halo 3. This is not a rant about Halo 3. This is to show how games remained the same.

Same is true for most games, though.

When i play certain nowaday´s games, i always find myself thinking “man, would that be awsome if i could do THAT“. For example, control a space ship in Mass Effect. Jump from roof to roof in Hyrule in Twilight Princess. Or, more out-of-blue, blast a Kamehameha in GTA4, causing a skyscraper to collapse and whitnessing all the in-game reactions. Now if i leave popular examples, how about a game idea i had for a long time:

You start off in free space. You´re an astronaut, within a little, damaged space ship. All that rather realistic designed, so maybe it could be a smaller version of the ISS. Anyway, this is where you start…and you can do whatever you want. You could try to repair the space ship. Or you could wait and see what happens. If you wait, maybe aliens come to take you…or you get killed by an asteroid crashing into you. If you managed to repair the ship, you could start flying through space. You could land on a bigger asteroid and explore that. Or you fly further and find a whole planet. You land on it and there´s a war going on, between two factions of an alien race. Now it gets important: You could take part, and an epic adventure on just that planet begins. Imagine an adventure of the scale of a JRPG, like Skies of Arcadia. BUT: You could just leave the planet with your space ship/ never landed on it, and explore space further. There you could find other planets like the first one, with completely other conditions. Or you find space stations, be it of humankind or aliens.

That is not possible today.

Why? Because it´s not feasible, be it at all, or, because noone wants to create so much content, that has so much effort put into it, that many players are never going to see, as they fly further or not far enough.

So, do i have to dream on, or is there a solution? In my mind, at least, there is. And that is: A whole new concept of a videogame system. If you look at the 360, it´s a game machine where you put in a disc that has all the content and you play that. And that´s it. You´ll never play more than what is programmed onto that disc. Several games use downloadable content now, but new complex content like Take 2 brings with the GTA DLC or Bioware did with Mass Effect, takes too much time and is expensive. What do we have to change so that the limits are gone?

The concept of games themselves.

If you´re too conservative, stop reading here. I don´t know just how far away we are from that concept, so, the farther that might be, the more ridiculous it may sound.

Developers aren´t developing games anymore. They´re offering “ingredients”, parts of a game, like new objects, new forms of interactions, new effects, and so on. And they´re developing scenarios. So, who creates the actual game, then? That is the key factor of this concept:

An A.I. is.

Unlimited variety today - Just limited to one kind of a game

Unlimited variety today - Just limited to one kind of a game

This is where i myself don´t know how far science has progressed, but imagine it like that: You buy your new videogame system. It looks like a Wii, unobtrusive, maybe not white but matt black, so it fits into a stylised living room. Besides your typical hardware components, the key features of the system are a massive HDD and the A.I.. If we assume that we bought a new Nintendo-console, a Mario64-like game might already be installed on that system. You can play it just like you always have. Collect 120 stars, beat Bowser, impregnate Peach, just what you always did. Now, you´re buying the new GTA5. You install it onto the HDD, and again, play it like you always have. The fun and awsomeness starts now: If you select the right mode in the console´s menu, you´ll get the option of creating a new game. This is done by the A.I.. The A.I. is so important, because, how you might be able to imagine, it´s so damn hard to get a CPU create a seemingly random level structure by itself. If something like that is done nowadays, gamers are likely to conclude their gaming experince with attributes like “soulless“, “has no heart“, “looks too random” and the likes. This is why you shouldn´t think of the A.I. i´m speaking of as only one of those randomizing procedures.

The A.I. is capable of getting an understanding of the content you´re offering it, and thus can create a smooth gaming experience, that´s just as good as a game developed by a highly praised game designer.

There would be many more options, though. Mixing Mario and GTA could result into a Mario-game that takes place in a realistic environment. Or Nico Bellic has to get 120 stars so he becomes the number one in Mushroom Kingdom. But you could also make more detailed settings, telling the A.I. what you want. That could be, firing fire balls in GTA, and nothing more. Or a machine gun for Mario, and that remains the only change. Now we´re only at two games. So buy more, and the more games you buy, the more options the A.I. gets to create original games. If we take the whole concept even further, you´re not even buying games, anymore. You just buy content packages. The rest is done by the A.I.. The advantages of all that are clear: Any gaming experience will become a personal experience that only you get to see and play. And even more important: There is no more limit to a game. You already beat the final boss, but got to like the characters and world? No problem, just tell the A.I. you want more, and new adventures are created. Multiplayer-experiences also wouldn´t die. Just send your friends your personal adjustment settings and you can play the same game-creation together.

Game Designers wouldn´t lose their jobs, though. Instead of creating static game experiences, they´d have access to a very detailed adjustment menu, where they could enter speficic stories, characters, gameplay elements and so on, whatever they want. You could play one A.I.-developed game forever. But if you want to know how MGS5 turns out, you´ll need Hideo Kojima to enter his ideas into that adjustment menu. And he can charge you money for that.

This would be it, the perfect gaming system, that takes away all limits. Though even if the concept, mostly the A.I., would be possible to realize, it may be the economic structure of our human society that prohibits such a thing from happening. After all, a few concept packages were enough and you could play all life long without ever buying something again. Until human kind is ready for a world like that, let´s read the sci-fi novels of Isaac Asimov.