Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A type of game we need more of

There's this one type of game I've always liked... It has no real name, actually, as it's more of a different way of making any genre of game. In RPGs your stats improve as you level up. Think of the game I'm talking about as the anti-RPG. You never level up, you never get new and improved stats. The only factor that improves... Is you.

Athletes and soldiers don't level up in our world, so why should they in games? Why should stats improve after playing a while? In my opinion, the only factor that should determine the player's powers and abilities is the player itself. Let me try and put this in a simple manner... In Wii Sports, your ball doesn't get faster in bowling, your punches don't become stronger in boxing, and your bat doesn't suddenly strike more accurately in baseball. The only thing that improves is you. You get better at throwing, punching and swinging, not the game. The Wii is perfectly suited to this kind of game, as instead of pressing a button (Which has only one input possibility), you can swing, shake or thrust the remote (With varying degrees of speed, angular accuracy and orientation control). Now then, let's see how some of the seemingly-incompatible genres would fare on the Wii with this game design philosophy in place:

Role-playing game (RPG): I know I said that this type of game design is like the anti-RPG, but there's a way the two could live in harmony. Imagine that you start out like in any other RPG, but instead of being, say, level 1, you're just you. Now, let's say that you take up magic as your specialty in-game. The strength of the spells would be determined by your accuracy with pointing, hand motions, and (With the addition of the WiiSpeak) incantation pronunciation. If you totally fudge up these physical and verbal commands, the spell would backfire, causing one of many undesirable results (Setting yourself on fire, killing a team mate, etc.). Also, how closely you replicate the motions would determine the accuracy of the spell. One errant twitch, and KABLOOIE!

Imagine building houses in My Life as a King with your hands and voice. Make one mistake, and whoops! Your bathtub's on the roof.

Now, say you take up the profession of swordsman. The main thing here would be how well you would handle the blade (Or rather, Wii remote). Making sure it's angled just right, so the cutting edge hits the foe (No good bonking him with the side of your sword), adjusting the strength of your swing to fit the enemy's strength, and even weaving the sword through the opponent's defenses for greater accuracy. Adding this game design would dramatically change the face of RPGs, and I really hope at least one developer out there is thinking of a game like this. One thing to add is, of course, you'd still reach "landmarks" and gain the ability to learn new spells and moves, but your stats would be all you. The day I can cast spells with my voice and weave my blade through tattered armour in a video game is the day I can truly die a happy gamer.

First-person shooter (FPS): In most FPS games, reloading is as easy as hitting a button, shaking the controller, or shooting outside the screen. With this design style in place, though, it wouldn't be so simple. First, you'd press or hold a button to initiate the reloading sequence (Just so the game wouldn't accidentally think you were reloading when you aren't). Then, you'd make a motion with your hands like pulling out the magazine, popping out the empty shells, or whatever motion goes with the gun you're holding. Then, you'd reach down with your hand to simulate grabbing more ammo, then place it in the "gun" in your other hand. Depending on your skill, reloading could be a lot faster or slower, meaning those who've practiced more will have an edge over the less experienced.

Another action that would be affected by your skill would be pistol whipping. Hold down a different button to enter "pistol whipping mode", then jerk the controller forwards to smash the gun into whatever's in front of you (Jammed door, opponent's groin, etc.). The strength and angle of your motion would determine the power of the hit. I'm just imagining how some of my current favourite shooters would change with this new design style, and I gotta say, I like what I'm seeing. Would it be harder? Yes. Would it be more tiring than usual? Yes. Would it be a whole whackload of fun? Definitely.

Platformer: Mario stars in a lot of great platforming games, but I've never been able to shake the feeling of being disconnected from the chubby little guy. This method of play would fix everything. When it comes to punching enemies like in Super Mario 64, you'd thrust the controller forward, and as with pistol whipping in an FPS, the strength of your movement would determine the damage done. What about launching fireballs with the Power Flower? Quite simple, actually: Just hold a button, swing the remote as if you were throwing something, and let go at just the right time, like pitching in Wii Sports: Baseball. The strength of your throw would determine the speed of the fire ball, and the angle would determine how it flies out of Mario's hand, moving forward, off to either side, or even straight up or right into the ground.

Warning: Performing the "Galaxy spin" may cause severe bodily harm, nausea, and property damage

Now, Mario's more of a game for everyone, and younger kids may not be patient enough to learn and master these moves. For this reason (And a few others), these advanced motion controls would not be necessary. If you're tired, disabled, or just plain lazy, you could just switch it to "automatic" mode. The speed, strength and accuracy of your moves would just be stuck around the average mark. Think of it like playing a racing game with either automatic or manual transmission. You can use manual if you want a more challenging, faster ride, or automatic if you'd rather concentrate on the road and nothing else. Sure, you'll be slower, but you'll also be using up less of your attention on a little gauge in the corner of the screen. This is exactly how the above motions would be translated into in "automatic" mode. And of course, all other games would be like this too... Well, in a perfect world, at least...

It also should go without saying that some genres just wouldn't work in this way. Puzzle and real time strategy (RTS) games just wouldn't be compatible. But, if it's a game where you play as one, on-screen character at a time, this style of play would fit perfectly.

I really wish more games took this approach. I love the sense of immersion I get from some games, but when it comes to the fact that I have no real input over the strength or accuracy of my attacks, it really shatters the illusion. Perhaps with the release of the Wii MotionPlus we'll see a game or two like this... Well, I can dream, at least.

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