Tuesday, January 13, 2009

EXP Podcast #8: Patent Pending

This week, an intrepid Internet explorer happened upon some mysterious patents filed by Nintendo. The documents lay out a new system for delivering hints in a game, as well as a mode of play in which the player watches the game unfold on its own until they choose to join in. This raises numerous issues in regards to game difficulty, the accessibility of modern video games, and defining exactly what it even means to "play a game." As always, check out the show notes for links to the stories and references, and feel free to offer your speculations on how (or if) this patent will be utilized.

Some discussion starters:
- Do you think this system would create new gamers, or simply irritate current gamers?
- How much challenge do you like in a game? Does it depend on what kind of game it is, or is there a specific way of implementing challenge that is particularly appealing?
- How much interaction do we need with a game in order for it to still qualify as a "game?"

To listen to the podcast:
- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show Notes:

- Run time: 26 mins 13 sec
- The Kotaku article describing Nintendo's patent
- Some developers comment on the news
- Corvus Elrod's excellent exploration of the definition of a "game"
- The Graveyard
is a videogame?
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. I see a lot of potential in this. If it includes some sort of an online tracking system like Valve's "death heat maps" for the Half-Life 2 episodes, developers could create a very powerful feedback tool: Parts which the players play the most are good, and parts which players just watch need improvement.

    Although.. Sometimes just watching someone else play can be quite entertaining. The other player probably thinks differently than you and can tackle the challenges in a different way. Some of the early examples of such are the speed running videos, where expert players use their skill and knowledge to complete the game in the shortest time possible, using tricks like sequence breaking, savestates and (ab)using game physics. Then there's the "Let's play" phenomenon, where people record a complete playthrough in video or in text, sometimes inserting commentary or even a completely different a subtext into the game. One of the more entertaining ones is "The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing", which turns a cheery game into a horror story.

    And when it comes to hard games there is definite entertainment value in schadenfreude. ;-)

  2. You touch upon some very intriguing points in your post. I find thinking of games more in terms of a DVD quite fascinating. You've mentioned Alone In The Dark which really implemented that idea very consequently. But there were already earlier examples likes Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy). I wrote an article about it some time ago.

    Also, I think you mentioned a very important thing during your discussion: movies evoke emotions through empathy, games evoke emotion trough responsibility. I think this is one of the most important differences between games and other, non interactive media. I'm sorry for spamming you with my crap, but I also wrote something about that.

    So just as you, I'm intrigued by Nintendo's idea. I think it does have merit but I also see a lot of problems with that. A lot depends on the actual implementation - what do the videos look like? What kind of game is that? Judging from how Nintendo managed to get some far-out ideas to work, I'm quite confident they will be able to pull it off. But it might look very different from what we expect now.

  3. Though I do think that there is major potential here for Nintendo to reach even further into the lesser tapped markets, I think some of these "advances" could be very divisive. There is a possibility that this would create an even larger gap between gamers like me as a completionist of sorts, and more casual gamers. I think the video tutorials are a great idea for people new to gaming. It would allow for them to watch, and hopefully get a feel for the style and mechanics of the game.

    And I would agree with you, as well, with the fact that being able to jump straight to an awesome part in the game would be cool, but it is also this feature that scares me. If people are able to skip any part that they want, this could mean the very death of gamers such as myself. Would I find games like Ghosts N' Goblins or Castlevania worth while if I could just skip over any part that seems too hard? Absolutely not. Sure, these features wouldn't affect me if I chose not to use them, and that's fine, but I just feel that it is too big of a crutch or walker for gamers taking their first steps, leaving them soft for the rest of their gaming days.

    I would instead love to see my idea (patent pending!!!) implemented in games: Fast Forwarding. For someone like me who loves to play RPGs and loves to replay games, this would be a Godsend.

  4. I think Nintendo's idea is crap. But something you guys said inspired me. I am developing a tower defense game right now and I am going to include the option to jump to wave "X" so if you want to show your friends how cool the game is you can jump to an intense wave and show them instead of the early parts which get boring.


  5. @ Shalkis

    I loved the Animal Crossing narration. I would love to the hint system open for mods so we can get some in-game examples of that. I am not the only one who wants to see what Gordon Freeman has to say.

    @ Andrew

    When you make it big, let EXP get an some exclusives!

    Also, I wonder if any other developers pick up on a similar system like Nintendo has patented. A hint system arms race perhaps?

  6. Which reminds me: Mateusz Skutnik, a fellow game designer from Poland always posts walktroughs with his games. He is the creator of various, great flash ecape-the-room-esque adventures like the Submachine series, 10 Gnomes or Day Mare Town. Because of the genre he chose, his games are very prone to get people stuck. He not only releases walktroughs, he also includes a link to those in the very game itself and even makes sure they are being translated into different languages.

    An on the other hand, there is Jonathan Blow. ;-)