I loved the old Lucas Arts adventure games. Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island, all of them! I have yet to meet someone who thinks that those games sucked. And how could you not love them? They gave you good jokes, interesting storylines, and a good sense of reward and achievement after you were done with them. So what if they didn’t have mindblowing graphics. I’d play one of those over many of the games that are produced today any day.
Another game I loved would be Starcraft. This game just never gets old. It has excellent balance among all the races, a pretty good single-player mode, and an online multiplayer mode where great player strategies just kept evolving over the years. It was so good that back in my high school days, my friends and I would always come to the same conclusion as to what to do with our free time.
“What you wanna do today?”
“I dunno, what should we do?”
“Wanna go out, see a movie?”
“How about we just grab something to eat?”
~ silence ~
“Erm… why don’t we just go back inside and play Starcraft?”
All together: “OK.”
OK, it wasn’t always like that, but it was pretty frequent. :) Starcraft once again didn’t have mindblowing graphics. Command & Conquer was definitely way better in terms of the visual aspect. But we played Starcraft more.
Nintendo has brought the latest evidence to the table that good graphics doesn’t necessarily make for compelling games. The Wii has taken the world by storm and is definitely the cool console to have right now. Whoever thought that swinging your arm around in the air could be so playable and fun? OK, I did, but I never thought that we’d be able to get to that stage because none of the gaming companies seemed to want to go in that direction (unless you were talking about 3rd-party add-ons).
Now, I’m not saying that graphics are unimportant. I love eyecandy as much as anybody else. But if I had to make a choice between graphics and innovative/cool gameplay, I’d choose the gameplay. This is a decision made by engineers every day. They have physical and cost limitations as to what their hardware can do for you, so focusing on any particular element(s) can really dampen the system’s ability to excel in other elements that people might value.
So what do people value? What is a game supposed to be for a player? Fun, engaging, challenging, and for the last few years, even social. But the social factor is starting to bring the first three factors to an entirely different level through user-generated content. Here, Second Life might be the primary example, even though it seems to be just a Sims on steroids. In Second Life, you can actually own and develop your own property, widgets, and general cool stuff. And then you can interact with others using all of that cool stuff, and even make money off of it. We’re not talking about levelling up points to get special items in Diablo or World of Warcraft to sell on eBay. We’re talking about actually innovating new things that nobody’s ever thought about before, and using them for entertainment.
OK, so why am I talking about all of this. Apple announced that they will be selling DRM-free music (specifically, EMI’s music). Now, Steve Jobs has been an advocate of DRM-free music for a while, and claimed that it was the music industry’s fault that he couldn’t offer it to consumers. Cool. Steve Jobs likes openness. Well, not really. A few months ago, some friends and I wanted to start developing little games for the iPod. Of course, then we found out that the Apple iPod SDK wasn’t freely available for just anybody to use.
Apple gives the SDK to very specific people. This is partly because they wanted to protect their brand by only letting quality games be made on the iPod. But looking at what Steve Jobs says about the music industry (read the linked article, please), I wonder if it’s also to protect the DRM software on the iPod. It’s already been cracked several times over, according to several sources (I never tried those cracks myself, going with MP3 players other than the iPod), so it’s not like the world couldn’t hack it anyway. But if it was all about just a legal CYA manoeuver for Apple, maybe Apple is now one step closer to letting the common people develop games and applications for the iPod.
That’s the last step. User-generated games and content, especially if it’s playable on a massive scale. Nintendo got it right with how total strangers on a bus can pass away the time through multiplayer gameplay if they both have DS Lites. Imagine something like Second Life molding with the real world through similar massive multiplayer gameplay through your iPod, Zune, DS Lite, PSP, cell phone, PDA, whatever. That would be interesting.
On March 29, 2007, Flash Mob Vancouver had over 400 people show up out of nowhere for a 15 minute pillow fight. The problem here is that it’s difficult to physically coordinate so many people all at once. But what if there was a virtual factor? What about a massive scavenger hunt that incorporated realtime online gameplay, so that you still had the physical factor, but it wasn’t as necessary to coordinate people physically? If you wanted, you could just play a really small part of the game, finding an item, and hiding it in another place, for which clues could only be found by finishing corresponding levels in the game, geocache style. You wouldn’t have to participate in the entire game if you didn’t have time.
These kinds of player-generated games that integrate the virutal and real world could involve anything. Chase rabid rabbits. Have a pie fight. Virtual or not. And they would be what make games compelling: fun, engaging, challenging, and social. The next cool step in gaming could very well be not just letting players generate their own content and games, but letting them also set the rules and gameplay. Opening up some SDKs would be a nice start. Here’s hoping. I still would like to make some cool things for that iPod.