11 Mar 2007

Zen-like simplicity: Part 2

Japan Media Arts Plaza - Some innovative Japanese Media Art projects. Note that Okami won in the entertainment category.

Games are meant to be fun, and we don't need great graphics to have fun, so why are developers still pushing the technological envelope? Simple. Research has proven that if we SEE something happening, it can potentially be programmed into our brains so that in the future, if we ever do get into a similar situation, doing what we saw would become natural. It's sort of like how babies learn by observing. This happens as the brain is able to put us into the shoes of the person performing the action (on screen or in real life) and make it seem like WE are the ones doing those actions. Therefore, a game with more realistic graphics would bring across emotions like fear, anxiety and tension easily, making the game that much more exciting. However, games have not crossed this "uncanny valley" between robotic faces and realistic facial expressions. Graphics, on the other hand, have crossed that barrier.

And then there's the issue of complex simple games. Something that is easy to pick up but hard to master. For example, Pong had only 1 simple instruction: Avoid missing ball for high score and Tetris had the simple objective of creating a horizontal line to score. Both games, however, can grow more complex as it speeds up and strategies and reflexes take over. At the moment, I can't think of any good recent examples of "easy to play but hard to master" games, but I'm sure there are many of them out there.

Gaining in popularity are the puzzle games. The Nintendo DS has been a key element in reviving this genre of games through Brain Age and Professor Layton. These games present questions and puzzles, sometimes in a straightforward way (like Brain Age), or more abstract (like Hotel Dusk 215 or Phoenix Wright). One can say, however, that these games are just simply glorified mathematical questions or puzzles already available in print for years (or even decades).

The last genre I would like to touch on would be the open-ended games (or more popularly known as "Sandbox" games). Games like The Sims, GTA, Spore and LittleBigPlanet are really really simple, some might even say mundane. However, game designers have made achieving the higher goals in these games hard and requiring lots of patience and skill. These games end up being best-sellers or, in the case of LittleBigPlanet, would-be best sellers.

So, in conclusion, what is the formula for successful games? Simple gameplay, complex game mechanics and rewarding higher goals.

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