Well, perhaps “snob” is not the right word. Perhaps “gourmet” or “aficionado” would be better; the point is that I have discerning tastes and I want specific things from computer games. It’s a provocative title, though, right?
Recently I’ve been thinking about what sort of games I want to play—and more to the point, what games I want to see get made. I’ve narrowed it down to three basic ideas.
- I want to see games that explore what games can do, I want to see games that push the envelope and advance the art and craft of game design…or at least try something to provide a new experience. Like The Baron, or Manufactoria.
- I want to play games that have deep, interesting and intricate mechanics and/or simulations. Disgaea is a good example, or Dwarf Fortress.
- And sometimes I just want simple fun. A recent game is Diesel Valkyrie; a less recent one is DOOM.
Actually, I have no trouble finding “simple fun” games. There are many out there, and I never have trouble “scratching the simple fun itch”, so to speak. So, the other two ideas are more worthy of exploration.
Where can you find games that try new things? Exploratory games, risky games? Most often in the indie game design community. A good place to learn about this is The Independent Gaming Source (TIGSource).
In order for people to create indie games, they need a platform that is free to design for as well as accessible. Modern Windows operating systems are pretty good for this, especially with utilities like Game Maker and FlashDevelop. It’s important to have a control scheme that is easy to use and easy to program, with well-defined inputs. A keyboard is ideal, especially since every Windows computer has one; game controllers are also pretty good, as they’ve been around long enough to be pretty well standardized.
But some people might wonder exactly how innovative it’s possible to be with only a keyboard as input device, especially people who have read about Nintendo’s genre innovation strategy. It’s true that there are games that use new interfaces in innovative ways, like Boom Blox or Bowling. However, for the most part I haven’t been too impressed with these new experiences. I’m glad they were made, but I don’t see much need for me, myself, to go out and play them.
Actually, the term “hardcore gaming” is pretty useless; see Mitch Krpata’s “A New Taxonomy of Gamers” for a great discussion on this point. What I’m really talking about are games which require a lot of careful thinking and exploration of mechanics, and also possibly a large investment of time. They’re often niche games, where terms like “genre addiction” or “grognard capture” can be applied.
If you play a game that has a lot of time investment, you’re usually doing lots of actions over and over. You want these actions to be as efficient as possible; you want the input interface to be as efficient as possible. The whole point is to master the interface so you can get in a sequence of commands as quickly as possible.
So, I have tastes that are somewhat niche; I’m willing to seek out non-mainstream experiences to get the sort of enjoyment I want.
To me, this is no different from film aficionados seeing indie films at an arthouse theater. Someone who really enjoys a medium will figure out what sort of experiences they want and spend most of their time seeking out those experiences; they may also search for completely new experiences, things that have never been done before. Either way, the mainstream doesn’t usually cut it.
The one part of the definition of “snob” that I don’t like is the idea of “inferiority”. I have my own tastes, but I don’t believe they’re “better” than yours; I just think they’re better for me. It’s possible to argue that some games are better designed or better made than others, but at the same time people have valid reasons to play “worse” games—certain specific elements they enjoy, nostalgia, and so on.
The Point of the Kinect
The Kinect is Microsoft’s new input interface for the XBox 360. It tracks your body movements to figure out what you want to do in the game. The point, as I see it, is to provide a way for people inexperienced with games to get into the hobby. It’s “the game where you do not need a controller“.
And in my opinion, this is—wonderful. Yes, it’s awesome. If more people get interested in games, then game companies get more money and the medium as a whole becomes more successful—and that means more risky and niche titles, more games that I like. So yes, if you like the Kinect, go for it. I would never tell someone to stop having fun.
What the Kinect Can’t Do
I don’t think the Kinect will lead to much true innovation in games. A game where you fight people by actually moving your limbs? That’s called “martial arts”, it’s been around for thousands of years. A game where you move characters around on various types of terrain? Kind of like chess, or perhaps Warhammer. I don’t see the potential for innovation in game mechanics—I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath. Sure, there can be innovative games on the Kinect, but they would be the kind of games that would be innovative with any interface.
I don’t think the Kinect is good for games that require a lot of time, a lot of intense, you know, gaming. Think of moving your limbs around, versus twitching your fingers to press a button. How much energy does it take to make one selection? How tired will you get if you have to do it 500 times? The 2002 film Minority Report had a sequence where the main character uses a gestural interface to control software. It’s laughable. Who would stand there flinging their hands around for 2 hours?
Of course, it’s possible that the Kinect software will get good enough to detect fingers twitching. Then all you’d need is perhaps somewhere to rest your hands, and maybe a guide to make sure you put your fingers where you want them to do. So, some little board with lots of keys printed on it.
Or just, you know, a $40 computer keyboard.
So, if you want an easy way to play mainstream games, the Kinect would probably work. But some people will want more than that. Some people will want something more suited to experiencing everything the medium has to offer.
Imagine someone learning to play golf. They buy a set of clubs; if they want to play on a regular basis, they buy a country club membership so they don’t have to play on public courses. Eventually they will start buying their own specialized clubs, shoes, golf balls…
If you get into gaming, you’re going to want a controller.
(Until the hardware gets good enough to read impulses right from your brain. That will be super awesome.)