This blog is officially discontinued, but authors Rafael Kuhnen and Gilliard Lopes have started another one: Get1Up! Thank you for visiting!

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Hello there, long time no see. We have been pretty busy at work for a while, and that kept us from writing something. But as all developers would agree with me, there is no better way to learn, than working, and one of the reasons we created this blog in the first place, is to share and discuss what we learn about games, from playing and crafting them.

What about Challenge

What do we play games for? Challenge? Alright, that was a pretty easy answer considering that’s the topic of this article. But we must remind that’s not the only answer, not even the main answer. We play games to have fun, and challenge CAN (and not MUST) be part of the fun. I can steal a car in Grand Theft Auto and cruise around the city and have plenty of fun, and not being challenged a single bit, can’t i?.

To be challenged, a player must first WANT to be so. If a challenge is not interesting, he won’t bother. Second, the player MUST be rewarded when he overcomes a challenge, and the reward must be proportional to the challenge. How would you feel, after an epic battle against the fierce Great Dragon of the Silver Mountain of the North who can melt mountains with his breath and crush entire cities with the flap of his wings, you are awarded with a pair of leather boots with the “amazing” property of letting you absorb 1 point of acid damage. Well, I would definitely curse the designers!

The player must feel capable of overcoming the challenge. Even when he fails, he must feel that he is capable if he tries a bit harder. Incredibly hard games come from the mistake of measuring the difficulty of the game by the skills of developers or even veteran players of a game genre. On the other hand, if the game is too easy, the fun factor will be extinguished by the moment the player is not enjoying the “cruise” anymore.

What about Punishment

This one is simple. Punishment is used on animals (including human beings.) to tell “Don’t you ever do that again!”. If the player is punished, he feels that he did something wrong and probably won’t do that again. If you take something from the player that he is not expecting to lose if he tries something, you are punishing him. Why would I ever “play” a game to be punished? What do we play games again? Oh, right, fun… challenge…

The balance is somewhere out… there?

Some would argue that punishment is sometimes necessary to create challenge. Although i would be glad to discuss that, i cannot agree right away. If you are punishing the player just for the sake of it, that’s bad. “You did not equip your Mega Ultra Blaster Godlike Cannon of Doom, so you will die over and over because there is no other way to beat the game’s Boss.” Does that sound like fun? Not to me it doesn’t. The challenge there was not the Boss, but the decision of equipping the mighty cannon. You can’t punish the player for a decision like that. Well, you can, but he probably won’t play your game anymore (i wouldn’t).

And there comes the reward. If we are talking about multi-player, it would be nice for one player to get what other player lost, right? You could say that, but even that has its limits. Sometimes, the pleasure of teasing your friend over and over for that fourth beating in a row is a pretty good reward, and being teased for the rest of the week is a pretty tough punishment by itself. When that is not enough, statistics and rankings can prove who is better and be a challenge to achieve on its own right.

I have a pretty straightforward thinking about reward and punishment in multi-player games. Here are some situations of rewards used in conflicts between two players. These can be interpreted to fit in single-player games too.

  • Both players win: This one would be perfect if it could be used more often. If the winning player wins something as a reward and the losing player gets something to encourage him to keep trying harder, that’s great. An example of this would be the negative feedback loop that is used in some racing games, the player that is behind is boosted so he can keep up with those in front of him.

Pro: Both players are kept interested in the conflict, one is rewarded for the achievement and the other is stimulated to keep trying.

Con: This approach could make up for unfair situations.

  • One player wins, the other does not: This one is the perfect fit for most multi-player games, in my opinion. One player is rewarded for his skills and efforts, and the other is not. Most common in multi-player shooters, when the winning team (or player) is rewarded with points or money when his team wins.

Pro: Reward the winning party for overcoming a challenge. The fact that the other party did not win anything, increases the prize value.

Con: Players who lose too many times are not encouraged to keep trying if they see they are not much of a match.

  • One player wins, the other loses: Should be used with caution. The fact that the player lost the conflict, is a morale punishment by itself. And more, if the winner gets what was his, and that was not suppose to be at stake (“I would not fight if i knew i could lose that”) the player can feel like he was robbed.

Pro: Winning feels more satisfying if you win something that was useful to someone else, and not just some random prize.

Con: Players who lose feel robbed, and can generate positive feedback loop, players who lose will be weaker for other conflicts and will be less likely to win.

  • No one wins anything: Hold on, why would you bother to design a conflict like that? Why would players engage in the conflict in the first place?
  • One player loses, the other gains nothing: If a player loses something and the other player does not gain anything, it’s pure punishment just for the sake of it. And the winning side is not rewarded for his efforts. Bad, bad design! No donut for you!

Pro: In some games, specially MMOs, this can be used (wisely) to take money from players and avoid economy inflation. Over-design here can ruin the game experience and frustrate players, be advised.

Con: The player will feel cheated if he lost something to the game and was not beaten by the game itself. The winning player will not be rewarded for his efforts, and will probably seek reward by the pleasure of beating weaker players (since he will not be rewarded even if he beats experienced ones).

  • Both players lose: See “No one wins anything”.

Conclusion

Well, that’s about it. I didn’t write half of what i was intending to and wrote twice as much as i have time to, but that’s life. My personal opinion is that players should NEVER be punished by the game. Designers should be wise enough to challenge players without punishing them to be able to do so.
I hope this can be useful for anyone interested in games, challenges, and NOT punishment!

See you next time!

Hi all! This is the first issue of what (hopefully) will become our weekly questions-and-answers column. Our intention in doing so is to spark discussions about the week’s most relevant news, related or not to games, gamers and the industry, as well as try to present the point-of-view of the Miyamoto Generation.

 

“This is not WarCraft in space. It’s much more complicated.”

This week’s most shocking news could be no other than the announcement, made by the folks at Blizzard Entertainment during their own special event in South Korea, that Starcraft II is being developed. The sequel to a 10-year-old classic, considered by many the best real-time strategy game ever made, Starcraft II will be another representative entry in the large collection of sequels-to-highly-successful-video-games that exist in the gaming universe. There is no doubt that intellectual property is the most valuable asset that a game company can have today, but does this multitude of sequels, spin-offs and side stories do more harm than good to the successful franchises they represent? Let’s ask the Miyamoto Generation!

 

Q: Hell, it’s about time! Starcraft II has been officially announced! Any first thoughts?

My first thought was “Hell, it’s about time!” but it was already used in the question… So… Great! Even though I’m not a huge RTS fan, I must admit that Starcraft got my attention, not just for being a wonderfully good game, but for its asymmetrical balance; THAT was huge, and I hope seeing more of it in the upcoming game!

First thoughts? Yeah, like “whoa, finally” and then “this game is gonna totally rock”, and then again “but how can Blizzard manage to make a game worth of a ten years wait?”. I’m really curious and excited, just not as much as with Fallout 3 (hey, this one better be REALLY good…).

StarCraft is probably the most complete RTS game ever made. Balance, evolution, cutscenes, sound and characters, all was perfect, none could resist watching a StarCraft match. LAN parties were a synonym of SC. The expansion pack only added more (I still think that the Terran’s Nurses were a bit unbalanced, but who cares :)). Great quotes and immortal characters like Tessadar, Kerrigan, Raynor, Fenix reincarnate as a Dragoon!!!!

My fear is that we expect so much from this game, and no matter what comes out, it will never be enough, it is never enough. Thus, I think the gameplay won’t change much.

Sure. As a fan of the franchise I was pleased when the now ghostly Starcraft: Ghost was announced, with awesome videos and gameplay features. And very displeased accompanying the changes that brought the game to its grave. With that my hunger for a Starcraft game has just been teased… now it’s about time it gets fed.

 

Q: In the heat of other major RTS releases, such as Relic’s highly-praised Company of Heroes, Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander and the new Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, how do you think Starcraft II can add to the genre and secure its place in the hall of fame?

First of all, Starcraft is an icon. It is very probable that during development of those (really good) games, one member of the team told another, trying to explain something: “Yeah, it’s something like Starcraft!”. But, the genre grows up, improvements from one generation to the next result in excellent games, and even though Starcraft is the piece of art you remember when you hear “RTS”, times change and Blizzard will have to prove they don´t want to live by the Startcraft name, but by how good it feels playing it.

Well… first of all… we are talking about Starcraft II, not any of the other games mentioned, so that shows, at the very least, that they have a head start to the hall of fame… the hype that they caused. That can turn out to be something against the game, if it lacks new features and gameplay. But I sincerely doubt that Blizzard would wait this much only to release a Sci-Fi version of Warcraft III, they must have something up their sleeves… And if that shows up a good thing, the exposition that Starcraft II will have will certainly give them a respectful place among RTS (as if Starcraft wasn’t in one of these places already :)).

I am not much a fan of RTS games. I really enjoy the single player but the multiplayer kills me. I have seen some variations (like not building single units but platoons), but for me it’s more from the same. I hope SCII does for today’s RTS the same it did on the past: present a strong story, amazing and deep characters, kickass cutscenes and FX, quotes to be used for 10 more years and a new way to play RTS (hope it’s not totally new, or else people won’t play it and they will put the blame on me for that). I don’t know much about multiplayer, but I still think new gameplay will help to bring new players.

The little information already provided by the developer indicates that the game will be about managing large squads of units instead of micro-managing single ones, which clearly determines that Starcraft II will probably play very differently from Blizzard’s last RTS, Warcraft III. Also, the roots of the original Starcraft universe are being preserved, with the announcement that the game definitely will NOT feature a fourth playable race, in addition to the three classic ones. Such decisions show that Blizzard is probably having a hard time trying to achieve the balance between the legacy of the Starcraft formula and the latest breakthrough features in RTS games, which is, in my opinion, the only possible way to design a successful sequel to a game as representative as Starcraft.

 

Q: Starcraft is a franchise that has been treated with very special care by Blizzard Entertainment so far, so that it took ten years for a sequel to be officially announced, and we are probably at least six months away from its release. What do you think of Blizzard’s strategy in managing its franchises?

I think they are smart. They wait until the entire community starts to be nostalgic about a game, like what happened with WarCraft when StarCraft was out, and when they are thirsty for that, they release a nice video and voilà, the fans get mad and will talk about it until the game is out (hmmm, we are doing this right now, aren’t we? :)) and they will buy it as soon as it is released.

Blizzard is one of the few companies in the industry that know how to keep franchises fresh and interesting, while maintaining a release rate that is sufficient to assure a healthy cash flow every season. The respect and care with which they treat their IP is something venerable in the game development industry of our time.

There is a time for everything. They knew they had built an amazing game and didn’t want to disappoint the fans. As parents take care of their children, not allowing them to go out when it’s raining, or work hard to pay tuition for a good university, Blizzard has taken care of its prodigious son so he could be the best at what he always did: inspire.

Like I said before, Starcraft: Ghost was announced and never completed. The only special care Blizzard took with that one was only “The game sucks… well.. so we won’t sell it”. Because they made a lot of monkey business with it, Blizzard changed the gameplay focus more than once, it got into the hands of a (supposedly) inexperienced team (Swingin’ Ape), it got late… the console generation changed so it was too late. I think they learned from there and wouldn’t risk that again with a franchise that good, now they are doing what they are excellent at… an RTS game.

 

Q: A sequel can certainly help strengthen a franchise. What are the key factors to a successful sequel, in your opinion? Can you name a couple of particularly good sequels that you remember instantly, from games, movies or other entertainment media?

In my opinion, the key factors that make a successful sequel depend a lot on the history of the franchise. Continuing a highly successful game often requires a strong sense of respect for past entries, and the old saying “evolution, not revolution” is often the safest choice. When trying to bring a shadowed IP back to the limelight, however, exploring the franchise in original ways is probably the way to go.

Good sequels? Definitely, Phantasy Star IV for the Sega Genesis is the first one that comes to my mind. The sensibility with which it pays homage to the previous games in the series (particularly the first Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System, which has a place of its own in my memory) is astonishing and emotive. I have never seen such care in another game sequel. Other good sequels that must be mentioned are Lucasarts’ Monkey Island II, Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate II and id Software’s Doom III.

Key factor, that is something really hard. Let me see. Sometimes it is good to improve the gameplay and use that in new maps (Mario 3, Super Mario World); in other cases they take the a game, improve its gameplay and change the perspective (Super Metroid 2D and Metroid Prime 3D); in other cases, just throw out everything and create a new game (Resident Evil 4) with a minor link with the franchise.

But I think what makes a sequel a success is to be the same game, but better. It’s to keep a link with the previous game. The experiences you had on the previous game will be alive on the sequel, and that experiences have to get better and richer. It’s an alien feeling when you find things in a game that remind you of the previous game. Links between sequels mean a lot to me. I remember being called the Avatar, in the Ultima Series, and to be told about the Avatar deeds that I did myself in previous games! I was there when that happened (something close to what they did in Phantasy Star 4).

Good sequels? Sure. Games: Doom 2, Ultima 4, Ultima 6, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Diablo 2, Final Fantasy 4, Final Fantasy 5, Final Fantasy 6, Elders Scroll 2: DaggerFall, Elders Scroll 4: Oblivion, Dragon Warrior 2, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, Mario 3, Super Mario World, Phantasy Star 4, Resident Evil 4, Soul Calibur 2, Castlevania 3, Unreal Tournament 2004, Hitman 2, Pokémon.

Movies: X-Men 2, Spider-man 2, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Terminator 2, Naked Gun 2.

No change of focus. Keep the game similar to the first one, if you change too much it doesn’t feel like a sequel. (I guess.. as the StarCraft II videos show they are keeping it similar, woohoo!!!) People who see the number 2 on the title expect to play a similar game in a different circumstance or story line… give them that.

Games: Mario 3: Mario World, the Legend of Zelda (series), Paper Mario 64: Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door, Resident Evil: Resident Evil 2, Sonic: Sonic 2.

Movies: Toy Story, Back to the Future, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones.

I love sequels, well… I used to, until I wasted my money on that Spider-Man 3 movie..(don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Spider-Man) but that’s another story. For me, sequels must maintain the spirit of what originated them in the first place. In the case of a game, maintain what you did right, what kept people awake all night long and being late for work (OK, boss, now you know…). If we wait years for a sequel, we hope to feel the same we once did, or as close to that as possible. Good sequels were: Pirates of the Caribbean (movie), all The Simpsons episodes after the first (TV Show), God of War II and Resident Evil 4 (games).

 

Q: Obviously, a sequel can also completely frustrate the fans of a franchise. What are the common pitfalls of sequel development, in your opinion? Please mention a small number of particularly bad sequels that come to your mind.

YEAH! I was hoping to see this question! Spider-Man 3!! HORRIBE sequel! OK… I’m feeling better now. Well, a sequel can frustrate fans by breaking the fantasies about what they were waiting. I mean breaking at the point they can’t justify the changes to themselves. Sometimes by changing a character’s personality, or in the case of games in particular, changing the core gameplay. Unfortunately, these things happen more often when the publisher or whoever is responsible for release wants to get as much money as they can as soon as possible, and completely ruins what was good about it in the process, sometimes without even noticing it.

It is again, something very hard. I could say a common pitfall is to throw away all the experiences the player has acquired on the previous games and do something totally new. A game always comes to my mind when we talk about pitfalls and sequels: Resident Evil 4. The game has no virus, but a parasite, has a minor link with Umbrella Corporation (the main character remembers working for Umbrella four years ago), has silly puzzles (you just keep going and you will find how to solve it) has a new gameplay (camera position, movement, etc). Things that were an identity for RE fans. But the strongest points were kept: killing, shooting, collecting and being scared! The core of the game was completely new, but it had always a link with the other games and the experience some acquired on the previous games were booted on that game.

Bad sequels, games: Phantasy Star III, Half-Life 2, Castlevania 64, Secret of Mana 2 (Seiken Densetsu 3), Doom 3. Movies: Conan The Destroyer, Star Wars Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith, Rambo 3.

Adding too much features in the game making old ones useless, changing completely the kind of game. Or, in most cases, losing the edge on the story and making all the series sound rubbish.

Game: ToeJam & Earl II (unfortunately). Movies: Matrix (although I personally like the trilogy… I think if they’d kept the first one alone, it would be much better).

The worst thing that can happen to a sequel is trying to reinvent the franchise with that-completely-weird-yet-genius-idea-that-no-one-has-ever-realized, without due respect to the series, its history, and its fan base. Unfortunately, bad sequels are far more frequent than good ones, such as ToeJam & Earl II, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, and several Tomb Raider games.

 

Q: Finally, please share with us your closing thoughts about game sequels. Can they do more harm than good to the industry?

I love sequels, I really tend to like games with strong, complex and well connected story lines, most of them come in form of a sequel or series. As long as not overused… it’s a great move that successful franchises can explore. And beyond that, feeling nostalgic and impressed with new stuff at the same time, seeing your favorite character in action again, knowing what happened after a game that you like… this is all awesome.

Good, a lot of good. Creating a story is not simple. People spent thousands of hours thinking about a good story. And good stories must be retold. “Life flows like a river and story repeats itself”. But a sequel is not just about the story. It’s about the same universe and its characters. Overall, they can do more good than harm. Bad sequels are dead as soon as they come out, anyway. Some can think that, since it’s a sequel, it’s an instant success, but gamers are no fools and won’t let it cheap :).

More sequels means more games, so I do not think of sequels as evil. But they do harm the industry when publisher decide not to take risks with originality and new IP in favor of “yet another spin-off in our 27-title world war II franchise”.

I don’t like comparing movies to games, I think they are completely different media, but for me, in this case, they share a common trait. A sequel must be made only if there is more of the story to be told, more fun to entertain the fans and more content to make people think they spent some good time, once again, within the “same reality” they so much liked before.

 

Dear readers, please contribute to our discussion with your comments. We intend to reply and build up on the issue as often as possible. Thanks a lot!

 

And… that’s it for this week! We surely hope to publish another Q&A issue next week. See ya!

Now and often we hear people talking about immersion in games. Some say that one feature breaks immersion, others say that one game is very immersive while another is not. I´m not writing this to say which games are immersive and which are not, or how to make a game more immersive. I´m writing to expose what I think about the subject. Again, this is a post with VERY personal thoughts, so feel free to throw tomatoes and eggs or call me names if you don´t like it.

 

Let us start with the basics. We are talking about games, right? Why do we play games again? For fun, you say. Right, I say. Some games are meant to be immersive, some are not. In some games, fun is intimately related to the immersion the game can provide to the player. However, even the most immersive game ever made will not be so if the player does not want it to be. Even if the designers did set up a complex scenario, with complex lighting and shadows, a creepy music and some neat sound effects to scare the hell out of the player, he is still holding a mouse and pressing keys on a keyboard.

 

Ok, I broke all your fantasies as gamers; now, in every game you play, you will remember that you are holding a mouse or controller, and immersion will be broken, right? Wrong. You always knew that, but you abstracted those things and did let yourself into the game for the sake of your own fun.

 

Then you say “So, what you are saying is that the game will be as immersive as I want it to be?”.

 

Exactly.

 

“How can that be? Are you insane? If you were desiging for my company, I would have you fired right away!” – you say.

 

See, you could fire me, but that woud not change the fact that if you are not willing to accept what the game gives you, your experience will be seriously compromised.

 

 

Playing as children

 

What games can do best to give the player a proper immersion is to keep mechanics from getting in the way. Let the content of the game do the work. Let the player use what is given to create his own experience. It´s not that games are not allowed to create their own mood or theme. They can, but no matter how perfectly it is done, one player will see it differently from another, and immersion will be achieved by each player through what he sees and hears, associating it with what he expects, fears, likes, etc…

 

I tend to play videogames as toys. The Sims is often considered a toy by most people, because you play with your Sim with no defined goal to achieve; instead, you just live his life, taking care of the dollhouse. Do you remember when we used to play with toys, cars or action figures, pretending we were them, doing stunts and stuff? Real fun, right? That is exactly why, in my opinion, Will Wright is a genius. And that is probably the reason behind the (insert superlative here) commercial success of the Sims franchise. It´s something like that. Let me explain.

 

 

With great content comes great immersion

 

A couple days ago I was playing Spider-Man 3 for the XBox 360 when, during a mission, I had to rescue two people inside a building on fire; after I rescued both, my mission was complete, but I, as Spider-Man (and not as a player with the controller in hand) had to double-check. So I went into de building one more time, jumping into the fire and explosions everywhere, just to be sure I was not leaving anyone behind. After that I went near the ambulance to check that the victims were ok before swinging away. And I did all this without realising that, obviously, there was nobody else inside the building after the mission was accomplished, and that I could not actually see if the victims inside the ambulance were safe.

 

You see? A mission that was about getting random people out of a random place, turned into a more complex, entertaining and ultimately immersive experience. And I did not even go through all the little details such as the Spidey-like jokes that I make to myself while I dodge debris with a civilian in my arms. Being your friendly neighborhood super-hero is not a job for the faint-hearted…

 

Most of the time, this kind of behavior is emergent; the designer did not even plan anything special about the scene but the player makes it up with his own imagination. There is always a smile in my face when I experience this kind of thing. This is accomplished by the game providing content so good and so polished that the player can use it to increase his emotional and empathic link with the game.

 

 

Conclusion

 

My point with all this is that we should not worry about how the gameplay provides us immersion; that is not what it is there for. Instead, we should worry about how WE, as players, can immerge ourselves with what is given. The whole purpose of playing games is to have fun. Gameplay should entertain us through mechanics that are sound and fun, and game content should entertain us through a game world that is deep and full of life. Immersion, my true believers, is consequence.

Games have never been so popular. Electronic entertainment has been finding its way into the mainstream media channels, stirring up the interest of the general public. Hollywood has already been riding the wave for several years now: games based on movie licenses are a natural, expected development; however, movies based on original intellectual property from games are also commonplace these days. Some games rise to fame (and often to the American Senate) through the polemic of their subject matter; but TV and news channels are also beginning to explore the other multiple facets of gaming in special features, documentaries, and 24/7 dedicated channels.

 

Such a phenomenon brings up a question: is the world witnessing the art form of the millennium leaving its teens into adulthood? Do games fit among other expression forms that have reached the mainstream audience, such as movies, books and TV? Or is the industry only broadening and deepening its reach into the selected niches that will define games as cult, pretty much like what happened to comics during the last century? These questions have already been bothering us for a while, and a deeper analysis of the subject is mandatory if we intend to provide prospective answers of any kind.

 

 

A Niche Culture

 

Games started as a cool and cult sprout of the first adventures of computer hacking in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The word ‘hack’ did not have the negative, disturbed connotation it has today: it simply meant using the available resources of computers in original and smart ways, to achieve amazing, unpredicted results. And that is exactly how old-time hackers ‘discovered’ electronic gaming: by twisting and turning the old machines’ digital nuts and bolts in curious fashions. w00t!

 

It was just a natural development, then, that games became very popular among the earliest computer-aware individuals (a pompous way of referring to the old-school nerds). Several game-friendly computer systems followed, such as the Amiga and the MSX. By the time PCs arrived with their all-including nature, games already had a major cult following among computer users.

 

The games industry of our age can also be regarded as a mostly niche culture: we have hardcore games for hardcore players; casual, serious and child games have their own restricted markets as well. PC gaming is considered a mostly hardcore-driven market, and such argument is usually associated with the slower growing rate of this market compared to home consoles. The latter, however, are plagued by their own sub-culture definition as well, in such a way that it is now common to see discussions among console manufacturers and software developers about the utmost need of broadening the scope and extending the reach of consoles into more and more homes. Just take a look at the issues being discussed in the last two or three Game Developer Conferences.

 

 

Joysticks for the Masses

 

On the other hand, there have been several moments in the history of gaming in which games have appealed to a larger audience. Consoles of the first generations were released during the early ’80s to great mainstream success, until the industry became the victim of its own achievements: an absurd amount of games being offered without an appropriate process of quality assurance led the video-games industry into crisis. Had it not been that way, maybe the mainstream interest in consoles would live up into the ’90s and until today. Who can tell?

 

Still, there are other incarnations of mainstream interest in gaming today, exemplified mostly by the mobile and hand-held markets. Mobiles are everywhere, and the increasing availability of on-line services has enabled games to be introduced to the major public through cellular phones. This platform faces problems of its own, such as a multitude of mobile internal configurations, leading to the lack of solid development standards, relatively low hardware capability, and the lack of proper input devices for games. Hand-held devices, on the other hand (no pun intended), feature game-specific hardware and input/output capabilities that are usually one or two generations behind home consoles in terms of processing power. Software developed for such platforms, however, are generally aimed towards a broader audience than home consoles. Low prices, high availability, and the practical concerns of portability are other factors that contribute to the wider audience appeal enjoyed by hand-held games.

 

 

Nintendo’s Call for Gamers

 

If we wanted to ask a game development company about the past, present and future status of the games industry from a higher, broader standpoint, that company would HAVE to be Nintendo. The Big N has always been an absolute reference in terms of gaming innovation, and continues to play that part wonderfully with its latest hardware releases. Nintendo has been a major driving force in shaping the video-games culture and market as we know it, although such a position does not always mean commercial success (PlayStation, anyone?).

 

Such awareness of the big picture has allowed Nintendo to design a strategy that would lead to the next leap (as opposed to the next step) in gaming, which started with Nintendo’s newest hand-held console, the Nintendo DS. Not only is the DS a revolution in human-game interface, featuring a touch sensitive screen that enables game interaction in a multitude of new ways, but also the software developed for the system is truly original and amazing. Unconventional games such as Nintendogs and the Brain Training series are both a critical and technical achievement gameplay-wise, and an outstanding commercial success.

 

The Big N expanded its strategy further with the Nintendo Wii, a home console designed to bring together current gamers, former gamers that left video-games behind for being too complex and overwhelming, and non-gamers alike. Such high stakes are met with the Wii’s original input system, which combines old-school button-pressing with detailed and accurate motion-sensing. The console also features an on-line distribution system called the Wii Virtual Console, designed to enable gamers to download games from several Nintendo and third-party consoles from the past directly into the Wii’s hard-drive. Combined with a simplified game controller reminding that of the Super Nintendo, the package is a cheerful welcoming to former gamers from the 80’s and 90’s.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Are games cult or mainstream? As of now, the answer has to be “both”. Nintendo is helping us experiment deeper with broader audiences, and its challenges are far from simple. A careful balance between appealing to new customers and retaining the interest of hardcore gamers must be achieved for Nintendo’s strategy to succeed. We are definitely eager to see more and more DS and Wii software coming, aimed at both mainstream and cult followers, and perhaps it will be during the current generation of consoles that we will be able to decide whether the games industry is bound to remain as cult, embrace the masses, or branch into both of them.

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