Today a Nintendo patent came to light for a hint system which would allow gamers to essentially let games play themselves. We reached out to game developers for their opinion on the patent.
The patent, filed by Nintendo Creative Director Shigeru Miyamoto on June 30, 2008, outlines a gaming system more akin to DVD playback, where the game can either be played normally, or watched in the form of an end-to-end video of gameplay, during which players can jump back in at any time by simply pushing a button.
Seeing as an idea like this could easily shift the way games are created, we talked to four of today's top developers, representing games such as Fallout 3, Prince of Persia, Braid, and Maw, to get their take on Nintendo's idea.
Ben Mattes, Producer of Ubisoft's Prince of Persia
"I read through it quickly, but I'm not sure I fully understand it yet. It makes sense to me in a purely linear game, but as soon as we get sand-box, or even remotely open ended, the number of variables would seem to invalidate the potential of this system.
"ie: I'm in Fallout3 and have focused energy on sneak and unarmed combat. If I'm in a particular point in the game I can't pass, and I use this system, what 'recording' could the game know to use? It can't possibly have developer walkthroughs of all possible configurations of a character and strategies to pass through each in-game challenge. More likely as not, it would have one 'right' way to pass through a particular challenge...
"That said, as I think our work on POP probably helps demonstrate, we're all for the idea of finding ways to help non-core gamers experience (and finish) the type of games that have traditionally only been available to a select 'few' (relatively speaking, of course). If everyone out there who owns a Wii were to play and love RE5, you can bet that the budget Capcom would have available for RE6 would allow them to create something even more spectacular."
Todd Howard, Game Director, Bethesda
"Most people stop playing a certain game because they get frustrated or confused by what the game wants them to do. It becomes work and frustration, as opposed to ‘playtime.' This idea clearly tries to alleviate that. It's much like passing the controller to someone who knows the game really well, so you can move ahead or simply enjoy the story. It's the classic ‘challenge or entertain' issue that designers often deal with. I think there's a lot of ways around that, and remained confused by what people are actually allowed to patent these days."
Jonathan Blow, Creator, Braid
"Based just on reading your posting... I don't know. I mean, it's an okay idea for a developer to have a way to show you through various parts of the game I guess, to show you side-quests you missed or whatever. I'd like to see someone try that. But as a general paradigm for playing games there are a lot of problems.
"The defining characteristic of a game is that you play it. If, in order for games to be accessible to a wider audience, we need to make it so that most people can skip over the playing it part, then what that really means is that our medium sucks. If you have to elide the basic property of your medium to make experiences in that medium desirable, then the medium itself is questionable at a very deep level.
"The proper solution is to start producing games that don't have this kind of problem — not to create the problem, then band-aid over it and hope people still have a good experience.
"The way you phrase it — "moving developers away from the notion of beginning, middle and end" — sounds cool, I would like to see more of that. But that is something that has to be a core component of the game's design. Just because you have random access to a linear experience doesn't make the experience nonlinear. You can skip to any part of a DVD movie that you want, but that doesn't mean the movie has gone away from the notion of beginning, middle, and end, you know?
"Unless you are drawing this conclusion from something I missed or that is in the original patent application, which I haven't read..."
Michael Wilford, CEO Twisted Pixel Games
"Kind Code is an interesting idea that is squarely aimed at reaching non-gamers. In fact, we often debate internally about ways to make gaming as culturally relevant as film or literature. Perhaps it's just a matter of time, or perhaps there are some systemic flaws in the way games are made and presented. Something like Kind Code, if done right, could be a way to reach anyone with your content without requiring them to be accomplished video game players.
However, if Kind Code is intended as a general solution that adds Digest Mode to all games, that might be like putting training wheels on all bicycles, including Lance Armstrong's. As long as the functionality can be tightly integrated into the right places in the right games, it could be the way to truly open gaming up to everyone. I'm sure we could find ways to use it in our character-driven games and make more people enjoy and laugh at our stuff than otherwise possible."
There you have it. Four very different opinions from four different developers. While Ben Mattes questions the viability of such a system in today's more complicated games, Bethesda's Todd Howard sees this as one way of attacking a common development question. Braid creator Jonathan Blow feels it's a crutch for a problem we should be more actively trying to solve, and Maw's Michael Wilford sees some potential in the idea, but only if used in moderation.
Me? It's hard to say. I just spent one very busy fall gaming season playing through titles I both loved and hated, and having something like this in effect would have made it so much easier to do my job as a reviewer, but how much is too much? If I decide to let the game play while I have lunch, am I cheating in my role as a game reviewer, becoming more of a cross between a player and a watcher?
I probably agree the most with what Jonathan Blow said. There has to be an easier way to make games more approachable than taking away the game portion.