What's in a Game?


While I was perusing the mags described earlier, I stumbled onto this neat article in this month's Wired titled Why Nintendo Won't Grow Up. It's mostly an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and talks about how games are becoming more sophisticated and maybe moving beyond Nintendo's kid-friendly slant. I haven't even seen - let alone played - GTA3 for example, but my GBA still has me hooked, so I would disagree with that. Maybe I'm just a kid at heart... but I checked out Super Mario Sunshine in a store a week or so ago and I'm an inch away from buying a GameCube just to play it.

Actually, because I'm on a three year old laptop at the moment and I don't have a console, I really haven't played much of anything that's modern. I tried out Tux Racer when I installed RedHat a few months ago but it was unplayable - and that's a pretty basic 3D game. It would be impossible to try anything that needed more power than that. Thus I feel a bit out of it... Actually, gaming conversations on Slashdot normally leave me a bit behind, but today, they have a couple good topics: Return of the Independant Developer and EverQuest: What you really get.... Both are pretty interesting (ignore most of the comments, of course).

As a developer, I'm not as interested in the 3D-gaming stuff because I'm thinking small and low powered - though a GBA has a 16Mhz ARM processor and it does some cool stuff... so I can't limit myself too much. But as I'm considering developing for mobile devices - Symbian phones specifically - I'm trying to analyze what type of game I could create among the options. Games aren't my thing - I'm a corporate data hack. Every day I shunt data to and from databases, I don't do real-time, graphics-heavy, fun-oriented, music-filled applications. I do the boring fill-the-spreadsheet stuff. But since games SOUND so fun to do, they're on the wish-list.

One of the coolest bits about the article is about the term "emergence" which I hadn't seen before:

"Miyamoto was one of the first to get emergence," explains Will Wright, who worked with the Japanese designer on the NES version of SimCity. Emergence, Wright explains, occurs when a simple set of rules gives rise to a complex, lifelike system. "Using maybe 10 simple elements - the way Mario hops, bounces on blocks, and so on - Miyamoto was able to build a huge number of levels, all of which pose different challenges," he says.

This is a neat concept. It appeals to my geek mind because I can see how once you have the mechanics down - if they are done well - you can use them to create huge environments to play in. And that's the key I think in my thoughts about mobile games. Personally I see all games going forward becoming interconnected in huge worlds. Create the mechanics, provide a monstrous playground and go. The first group to come up with EverQuest for mobile phones is going to rule (or maybe The Sims Online: Mobile Edition TM?). But there are so many limitations with that sort of platform it's going to be interesting to see what sticks and what flops.

Let me say that again. Just coming up with games won't work - there's a company called BiTween in Italy that's already created a few games for Symbian but that company isn't Nintendo or Sega. Even if these games are cool and neato (which is doubtful), they don't have the marketing and push that the big guys do. Mobile games, in order to stick, need to be innovative, compelling and most importantly viral. Only internetworked massively-multiplayer games will provide that, IMHO.

And that brings you back (as always) to your business model - interconnected games like those on Battle.net, EverQuest or The Sims Online are no longer software, they're services. There's recurring costs, etc. Ugh. But still... with millions of phones in hand, a popular game could become INSTANTLY super popular and the right biz model could make a bundle. Or so that's what everyone thinks, right?

Right now there's such a land-rush towards wireless development, we're going to see a lot of interesting stuff quickly I think.


A little later: EverQuest as a Skinner Box or "how to make a psychotically addictive game".

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