I’m not the only one who wasn’t excited by this year’s E3 presentations. In terms of games, it was obviously bad. Actually, it sort of feels like everyone just accepts that the software will all be bad every year, and it’s become this kind of meta-game of trying to come up with something to say about them. Often, it will be some big discussion about something tangential to the actual software itself (like the recent hullabaloo over the latest Tomb Raider game). Anything to keep our minds off of how our favorite hobby became a joke over a decade ago, was killed, and is now stuck to the bottom of our shoe like toilet paper.
But nevermind about the software. Today I want to talk about the hardware. Actually, though, I don’t want to talk about Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft’s hardware. What is there to really say? They’ve all missed the mark. They’ve come nowhere near doing anything that would interest game-players (or game designers).
I may temper that a bit and say that Nintendo almost came close with the Wii U. It was almost the right idea.
I’d like you to please imagine this very simple scenario…
Imagine you and three friends are sitting around in your living room, each with tablets in your laps. Each tablet has its own controller attached to the bottom of it, and the screen is a large (slightly larger than an iPad, maybe) surface. All four of you have one of these tablets in your lap. They connect wirelessly with each other (just like a Nintendo DS does), and they can also be hooked up to your Wifi.
What’s so cool about this? Mainly, two things:
When I first saw the Wii U’s separate screen, the first thing I thought was about the possibilities for secret information among players. The idea that there could be one player who has game information that another doesn’t could usher in a whole new generation of actually new games. People who play boardgames know exactly what I’m talking about. Traitor games, simultaneous action games, Poker — really, any card game where you have a “hand” has an element of “he has some information that I don’t, and I have to try to figure out what that information is”.
This is an example of a hardware innovation that – unlike touchscreens and motion-waggle accoutrement and Sega Action Chairs – actually does invite incredible new kinds of gameplay. Imagine playing a traitor game (for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a cooperative game that has one or more “traitors” whose identities are hidden), in real time, for example.Before I go on, I know what some of you may be thinking “but that’s already possible with online play!” True, although certain kinds of games don’t make for good online-gaming experiences. Specifically, party-games, racing games, cooperative games, fighting games, and a few other kinds of games. But even with that said — sure, you can do some of this online. But wouldn’t it be great to be able to do it in a room with friends as well?
EDIT: Blake, our lead artist left a comment which I simply have to quote here:
“There could be D&D type games, with one tablet holder as the GM, the others as players, all with their own information available to them. There could be a much, much more elaborate “Battleship” type game with tons of intricate shelling/deduction mechanisms. Like Keith said, a traitor game in real time, where you have to be managing a mission while finding the mole. War games where, not only can there be fog of war, but scouting info can be bought and sold. You can scout into enemy lines and sell the scouting information to the highest bidder, or even LIE about what you saw.”
I think the idea that, when we’re all hanging out to play some games, that we all have to keep our heads focused on some central rectangle somewhere is kind of outdated. We all have smartphones and tablets and laptops and several different types of consoles, so why do we all have to stare at this one big screen? This might sound silly, but imagine a situation where everyone can sit anywhere they want. One person could be sitting with his legs up on the couch, one person could be lying on the floor, hell, one person could be upstairs in their bedroom (and communicating with voice-chat). It’s just easy, comfortable, and sensible.
Maybe some people think that this is small and insignificant, but I think it actually would have tons and tons of small benefits for everyone. People are allowed to walk anywhere in the room at any time – no more “wait for the match to finish to walk by” stuff. Oh, also – if someone has to go home for some reason? Well, he can just take the tablet with him, and continue the game from his house!
And another word on comfort – this kind of a console would be the first step the industry has taken towards “more comfortable” in years. Sorry, but having to waggle a Wiimote or a Playstation Move dildo in the air at just the right angle from the screen is not comfortable. Having to shake my hands in the air every time I choose to perform a certain action is not comfortable. Don’t even get me started on Kinect. Further, none of these things increase the amount of actual gameplay possibilities in exchange for the loss of comfort.
Cool Hardware Would Be Cool
Probably because I’m a game designer, and not a hardware designer, I sometimes feel like “why are they screwing around with all these dumb gadgets! Where are the GAMES?” And while the hardware they are cooking up are actually novelty gimmicks, not all hardware would be. Good hardware can be a game-changer, both literally and figuratively speaking.
Someone will do something like this at some point, and it will be great. It will also usher in a new era of merging between the world of boardgames and videogames (which means that videogames, your crappy game designs will finally start to come under some scrutiny!).
I’m interested to hear other people’s ideas for game console stuff that they think would actually improve the experience of playing games, especially if it’s stuff we can do right now with current technology (i.e. don’t suggest “VIRTUAL REALITY” or brain diodes that hook into your ancestor’s memory to fulfill ancient prophecies while you dream). What do you guys want to see from hardware manufacturers? What do you think would be hardware that would excite game designers?