Friday, September 16, 2005

Nintendo: Breadth vs Depth

I assume that I don't need to tell you the news. Yeah, the controller.

The very presentable Satoru Iwata stood up in front of the world (well, the gaming press) and unveiled a controller which aims to be as intuitive as possible, and produced a device that combines the basic intuition of a remote control with a 3D sensor arrangement that facilitates physical gaming. This is an idea that has been gaining currency in the industry for a few years (see one Eyetoy, for example).

He then made a very strong argument of the need for games companies to stay innovative above all else. Without constant innovation, Iwata claims, the games industry runs into the brick wall of boredom. If we don't stay constantly innovative, then the gamers will walk away.


The reaction of the games press, blogs and forums has been (from what I've seen) overwhelmingly positive. There are a few flies in the ointment, mostly people wondering whether a controller like this is doomed by the way that might cause arm fatigue, or deadpan decriers calling it essentially a Powerglove. A few have pointed out that the big mountain to climb is that Nintendo have to convince developers to develop for it instead of, say the xbox 360, because it'll be so different that simple porting won't do it.

But on the whole, as positive as a plus sign. Everybody wants one. The Guardian gamesblog commented "Yowza - breaking free from the PlayStation benchmark or what?!" Meanwhile Kieron Gillen exclaimed "Whether they get it or not immediately divides the entire gaming universe into cowardly, tedious luddites who are perfectly happy to sit in their squat-like holes forever and Good People. If you don’t like the Revolution controller, you are fundamentally part of the problem and killing the fucking art form."


Physically, I think that the object does look like a brilliant controller. I can really see how the motion that it works with will require a whole new way of thinking in game development. A classic example being the suggested beat'em'up wherein the player swings a sword. This is the sort of controller that allows for kinetic gaming within a 3D environment. So yes, it is going to be a challenge. And the fact that it will be included in every box ensures that new development will happen. It's not like a light gun or a dancemat in that respect. So a change is coming.


My question is this: When does the games industry get beyond the need for novelty and grow up?

Grow up?
Yes, grow up.

Here's the thing: Nintendo are essentially painting the future of gaming as one of simulation and re-creation of activities etc. It's the natural progression from the EyeToy, from the enthusiasm for physics-based games, and so on. Increased interactivity and intuitive interactivity are very much the rage in games.

But I think that there is positive here, but there is also negative. This quest for the ultimate interactivity is leading development on a certain path, which is to attach their futures to the idea of the game that can do anything. In actual fact, every manufacturer is pushing this technology-based vision for gaming at the moment. The more fully interactive a game can get, the better.

I disagree. I think that what the interactionist camp are doing is sacrificing progression for interaction, and what they will end up doing is sacrificing the deep single player experience for a broader list of options. In otherwords, breadth rather than depth. Our gameplay may only last for two hours, but look at all the different stuff you can do.

Gillen makes the claim that people who think that the controller is a negative are killing the art. Really? I don't think so. What IS the art really? Is the art to come up with ever-more-convincing and fully featured ways of playing the same games that we've been playing for twenty years, or is the art taking the limited canvass that we have (and it will always be limited in some form or other) and actually making something with meaningful depth? I think the latter.

The thing about novelty is, it gets boring. If you're selling yourself on breadth all the time, there comes a natural terminus where you run out of options. If gamers are only used to novelty then, then THAT is when they will get bored. Battlefield 2, case in point. What on Earth is the next step forward from Battlefield 2? Even more vehicles, even more guns, even more even more even more?

Depth is what is ultimately interesting in games, not breadth. Mission design, progression, how the concept develops over the course of playing it, that is what's interesting in games. Breadth of novelty is not interesting in a long-lasting way. Eyetoy: Play is only short-term interesting unless you're one of the few who likes to master everything. Most don't, and that is where I fear the path of novelty is taking us. To jaded players who don't really find much long-term play in games, and come to assume that all games are thin.

Of course, I may be utterly wrong. It's so early in the development of this and the other consoles that it is hard to make predictions that do not sound either gushing or dire.

Well done Nintendo, you've done it again.
But what exactly is it that you've done?


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