Experienced Points: Nintendo’s Ungaming

By Shamus
on Jun 26, 2009
Filed under:
Column

Here is my take on the “demo mode” thing Nintendo is crowing about.

Some additional thoughts, which I cut from the article:

Demo mode is even worse than it seems at first glance. If I understand the patent, it’s actually pre-recorded video, not captured or (better yet) AI directed inputs. They make it sound like you can turn demo mode on and off at will, but the way it reads, it sounds like turning it off just sends you back to some pre-determined checkpoint. So what they are really bragging about is the ability to (basically) watch YouTube videos and play from someone else’s save games. This is even less useful than a simple automated self-play mode. And finally, I don’t see how this system will be useful in non-linear games. In Zelda for example: If I use this feature to skip a tricky boss fight, what it’s really going to do is show me a video of someone else beating the boss, and then download a preset save game starting from just after the boss fight. Is that save game going to retain all of the other state variables? (Hearts, resources collected, etc.)

Well, it’s bad, but at least the other console companies aren’t bending over backwards trying to emulate Nintendo. Man, then we’d really be in trouble.

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From the Archives:

  1. Folo4 says:

    They will emulate Nintendo once they start printing money.

    Sad, but that’s how businesses work, right?

    Gah, this is just like watching replays of STG runs, useful for some people who just needs to know how to take down bosses.

  2. Zukhramm says:

    I agree.

    The way to help new players is to help them with the game, not play it for them.

    And yes, a patent? The patent laws are bad, it seems to be way to easy to get stupid things registrerd.

  3. Sheer_Falacy says:

    One huge thing about the patent system is that the description given for a patent is always horrifically generic and almost irrelevant. The actual details of the patent are always much more, well, detailed, and also more specific.

    It’s nice to be able to boil all the legalese of the patent to one sentence, but that sentence always makes it sound like it covers everything. At a guess, a patent for an asthma inhaler would be described as “a method via which materials are delivered to a person’s lungs” – sure, it sounds a lot like they’ve patented breathing until you look past that one useless sentence.

    And I’d thought that it was just the computer controlling your character. If it’s seriously just playing a video, that’s just ridiculous.

  4. lebkin says:

    My understanding is that the point of Nintedo’s system is to allow a player to get past a difficult portion of the game. That being the case, I agree that this mode will not, IN AND OF ITSELF, help anyone be a better gamer. We learn far better by doing than by watching.

    That said, this option could be a great boon for turning non-gamers into gamers. When a gamer reaches a frustratingly difficult part in a game, he or she generally practices, grinds some, and tries different strategies. As a last resort, he just bangs his head against it until he succeeds. If everything fails, he gives up and moves on to another game.

    So what is different when a non-gamer reaches a frustrating part? They give up, abandoned not just that game, but all games with that thought that “video games are too hard for them.” You go from having a possible convert to having an opponent, someone living with a negative viewpoint on video games.

    Also, letting a player skip a difficult portion of a game does not let them get any better at THAT portion. But it could get them better in general. I have seen people who are good at Mario games, but die fighting Bowser. The closed environment fight/jumping is hard for them, even though the rest of the game is easier. Why not let them skip the parts they dislike and enjoy the other 95% of the game? Maybe over time, playing the 95% will improve their skills enough to beat that 5%.

    Even in my own experience as a relatively hardcore gamer, I have had situations where this option would be useful. Best example: Prince of Persia Warrior Within. There is a section, right at the beginning of the game, where you are asked to do a complex jumping puzzle, then fight a difficult boss, all without any time sand or checkpoints. After about a dozen deaths or so, I could have given anything to skip past that part. Instead, I said screw you Warrior Within and swore not just that game, but its sequel as well. This is despite LOVING the first game. Imagine how a casual gamer might react?

    This skip option is if nothing else a cheat code. Who has never used cheat codes? God mode in Doom? Weapons and health cheats in Grand Theft Auto? 30 lives in Contra? No Fail Mode in Rock Band? This is the same thing, just in a different form. In fact, it is basically a level select cheat, though a very fine tuned one.

    Finally, remember that this is an OPTION. Just like your example about the need for a “Hard” mode in Prince of Persia, but in reverse. It is not mandatory nor is it even expected. It is something there for those who want to use it. And I always encourage options.

    • Shamus says:

      lebkin: You are right that it’s an option. I think it bothers me not that it exists or that people might use it (I’m all for whatever keeps things fun) but frustrated because there are so many other, better solutions they might have used. As you said, cheat codes achieve the same thing, without making the game non-interactive.

  5. Veloxyll says:

    While I do agree that sometimes games can be annoying and lame and having a way to skip bits is nice, I don’t think Nintendo’s method is going to be that great. As you say, we want to induct non-gamers into the halls of Gamerhood, not the halls of watching moviehood. I can buy good movies for a third of hte price of a game ALREADY, why would I want a dodgy CGI movie with bad storytelling for 3 times as much. I have Mega Shark v Giant Squid for that, and it’s a third as much (or less).

    It does also seem to be an excuse to avoid playtesting: “Oh, it’s too hard? just turn on demo mode to skip it.” Which of course precludes the idea that I don’t WANT to skip it and in fact I want to beat the game but I can’t because instead of balancing and playtesting the game you just got a tester to do a demo-mode runthrough, recorded it and left it at that. >: (

    Also what the hell patent office. just. What the hell!

    Edit through the magic of space time to respond to lebkin (which would make more sense if he’d posted after me, but whatever): I can see how it could be handy for specific horrible gimmicky fights, such as the one you mention, or the last fight with the stupid bombs in HL2:Ep 2 (the last episode ever in Half Life 2!) >: ( My concerns are though that either a) playtesters will assume hardcore players only and newcomers/klutzes will just be assumed to be going to use the Demo mode, or b) newcomers/klutzes will get bored with gaming and it won’t grab since whenever they come to a hard part it stops being a game and starts being a cutscene. And worse if it doesn’t even show what the movie-player is doing, since then there’s not even the potential to learn so the next time the newcomer encounters a similar boss, they still haven’t learnt anything that’s going to help them beat it.

  6. Maskill says:

    Isn’t this what difficulty levels are for? They may take slightly more time to develop than some stupid video, but it would keep the target audience active. Also, you would think nintendo would be trying to keep players more active *cough* Wii *cough*

  7. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I’ve been in and out of this argument since this patent was announced so many months ago, and I’ll say the same thing here as I have elsewhere: wait till it’s out, then see how it works before you write it off completely.

    I mean, we’ve got the gist of it, but I still haven’t heard the details of how it all works.

    How does it activate, through a menu, or with the press of a button?

    What does it show, the specific part of the level where it’s used, or the whole level from beginning to end?

    Does it show what buttons are being pressed, or simply run the movie assuming the watcher knows how to do a butt stomp?

    Does it reveal secrets?

    Does it actually skip parts of the level for the gamer and let them continue on without having to play that part, or does it show them how it’s done then dump them back at the spot they started the video, armed with the knowledge of how to do it?

    I haven’t heard any definitive answers for any of these questions, mainly cause I haven’t heard of anyone, anywhere, getting any hands on time with this Kind Code thing.

    It’s still a complete mystery to people, and I, for one, am gonna wait till I try it out myself before I condone Nintendo for trying something new.

  8. Danath says:

    Reminds me of Alone in the Dark’s skip chapters feature.

  9. Brian says:

    Patent Lawyer to the rescue!

    At some point, someone will write a gaming article with a correct understanding of patent law. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful.

    Nintendo’s filed a patent application; they don’t have a patent yet. It hasn’t even been examined yet; it’s just been published. Publication gives them some intervening rights against other companies who might infringe the patent if the patent eventually issues.

    Then, I don’t think you’re reading the patent right. The “invention” seems to be based around setting an AI camera movement after the player hits the HELP button. Let me break down the first claim:

    1. A computer-readable storage medium having stored therein a game program executed by a computer of a game apparatus for generating a two-dimensional game image representing a state of a three-dimensional game space acquired by a virtual camera so as to display the two-dimensional game image by a display device,

    Translation: A video game using 3D rendering,

    the game program causing the computer to function as:

    that works by

    a-number-of-pixels calculation means for calculating a number of pixels included in a linear distance to a target pixel representing a predetermined pixel on the two-dimensional game image, from a sight point pixel representing a pixel on the two-dimensional game image,

    calculating the number of pixels between a target pixel and a sight pixel

    the sight point pixel corresponding to a sight point of the virtual camera in the three-dimensional game space;

    the sight point pixel being the pixel the camera’s aiming at;

    movement rate setting means for setting a movement rate of the virtual camera in accordance with the number of pixels calculated by the-number-of-pixels calculation means;

    setting the camera speed as a function of the calculated distance in the 2D projection;

    and camera movement control means for moving the virtual camera to a predetermined position in the three-dimensional game space in accordance with the movement rate having been set by the movement rate setting means.

    and allowing the camera to be moved accordingly.

    Simplified again: It’s calculating a basic camera movement based on the 2D distance between the camera and a target point. Yes, this is obvious, and it probably won’t survive examination in that form. But we are talking about a sort of AI-like system, not just going back to a checkpoint and watching a video of a successful run.

    I agree with everything you said about the gaming side :)

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Well,it is an option,true,but its a bad option.The problem is that it is extreme.So you can choose to play the ultra hard game,or watch an ultra easy movie.There is no middle here,and thats the problem.

    The best solution I can think of is the slider difficulty.So,for example,in mario youd have 3 sliders,one controling the number of enemies,one controling the bosses health,and one controling the pits width.

    If the first slider was at 100%,youd have all the enemies.Making it smaller would decrease the number of enemies,untill all of them would disappear,so youd need just walk and jump through levels and figh bosses.

    If the second slider was at 100%,youd have bowser with full health bar.Making it smaller,would make it easier for him to be killed,untill he would disappear completelly.

    If the third slider was at 100% youd have normal pits,some of which require you to jump at the last pixel before the pit.Decreasing this one would make pits smaller,untill finally theyd be closed completelly.

    Also,one important aspect is level design.You cant expect anyone to face a boss that requires,for example,double jumping,and finish him of flawlessly if they never used that feature before.You need to prepare players for it,make them practice the skill earlier,and then let them use it against a boss.Autosave before a difficult fight that requires a certain skill in order to pass it is the best solution.Of course,you should always have the option to turn autosave off.

    And the most important thing is to have all these options available throughout the whole game.So if a single level is too hard for you,you can access the menu and lower the difficulty,just to increase it again once youve reached the next level.

    This way,youll please everyone,from newbies to hardcore players,not just the two extreems.

  11. Alex says:

    I’m of the belief that anything(including failure) which seriously, unusually impedes the player’s progress to some goal could benefit from a system like this. I look at this the same way I look at cutscenes: sometimes I just want to skip to the good part. Maybe I don’t want to be the very best at this or that game. Maybe I just want to see how it ends, but I’m still stuck on the stupid lava stage. Knowing me, I’ll most likely have too much imaginary pride, forcing me to go back and complete that tricky section later so I can feel like a big man.

    Maybe I’m just tired of failing over and over again, regardless of whether it’s the fault of my reflexes or shoddy game design. After God of War and The Two Thrones, I’m starting to think maybe games would be a lot better than they are now if this kind of demo system were a mandatory inclusion. It might be more attractive to game companies now than having to playtest the game on several different difficulty settings.

    The Demo system Nintendo has will not seriously hamper anyone’s opinion of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It might re-arrange how often we can brag about our in-game accomplishments, but I think we all agree since the Achievements were introduced that we could use a lot fewer people bragging about their Gamerscore, and their imaginary crossed hurdles.

    Yes, I understand that interactivity is required to be interactive entertainment. But I think as long as I’m -entertained-, I don’t care how much input I’m providing. This is why I really don’t give a flying fudgesicle about long cutscenes, as long as they hold my attention, engage me on some deeper level than my hand-eye coordination, and CAN BE SKIPPED. I don’t care if people think “that’s not a video game”. Is there a more pointless argument one can make? Do I have to be engaged in combat and puzzle-solving 100% of the time for it to be a video game? Can’t I take a break, maybe have the game deliver some story or character dialogue as a reward for the video game that came before it? What is so wrong with being able to put down the controller for a minute or two and still have the product provide enjoyment?

    Besides, I have fun watching other people play games. I had more fun watching saved videos in Halo 3 and Smash Bros. than I did actually playing them. Perhaps someone else can come up with a reason why this is a lousy, game-destroying idea, but for me this is a non-issue. It’s not even making a mountain out of a molehill. The very fact that this demo system is entirely optional, at all times, defeats any reason to be upset about it.

    —-

    Damien Lucifer:

    That seems like the most ideal solution, although can you imagine playtesting all of that? That would triple the production time. We are not going to see difficulty sliders like that too often, unfortunately.

    At least, not in mainstream products I don’t think. I’d be surprised if the Indie scene hasn’t tackled that sort of game design philosophy yet.

  12. Magnus says:

    @Damien Lucifer:

    The only game I’ve seen with that level of difficulty adjustment was System Shock, which IIRC had difficulty sliders (on a 5 point scale) for combat, puzzles, mission and cyberspace.

    I had hoped that it might catch on, but it never did.

  13. Krellen says:

    Difficulty levels aren’t even a good tool, because there’s no standard for them. I played through Gears of War on “Casual”, the lowest difficulty, and found it approximately right – until I got to the final boss. I struggled with that boss for at least four hours, if not more, and none of the problem was a lack of strategy. I stumbled upon the right strategy to defeat him my first try. I knew exactly what I needed to do, but after failing to pull it off (because I needed to do it not once, not twice, but six times (on the lowest difficulty, mind!) to win) for several hours, I started to doubt my strategy and had to consult the internet to find out that, yes, I was doing it right, just not enough.

    I’ve never been more frustrated by a video game as I was at that point. I was doing it right, but apparently I just wasn’t “good enough” to be “Casual” despite having had no difficulty whatsoever with the rest of the game.

    Someone had a serious problem judging difficulty there.

    It wasn’t a problem that I didn’t have the “skills” to complete the game, but rather that, after several hours of one style of gameplay, I was suddenly thrust into a new style of gameplay different from anything that came before.

    A “Demo Mode” to skip that would have been nice, even for a veteran gamer.

  14. Nyaz says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just add a direct link GameFaqs in every game?

  15. Decius says:

    @Magnus

    Cyberia had a two-slider difficulty setting as well. It just wasn’t worth playing through twice, so I don’t know what they did.

  16. Steve C says:

    Shamus you are right on so many levels (fun, patent law, etc.)

    The best solution to this problem I’ve ever seen is the “Bacon solution” from Psychonauts. Sometimes it was obvious what you needed to do like in a fight with a bull boss you had to throw spears into it. Other times it was not obvious, like a boss you had to figure out to run up it’s arm and attack the head while seemingly immune to all your attacks.

    To refresh people’s memory (since you must have played Psychonauts to be allowed to post comments on Shamus’ site) the “Bacon solution” was to pull out the bacon in inventory and ask the NPC connected to it if he had any advice on the current situation. He reminded you of goals, gave you tips on how to defeat monsters, and generally provided useful and amusing information on demand. If you seemed to be failing a lot at a particular activity, he’d automatically give a voice over of what you should be doing.

    The Bacon solution is the best new “technology” worthy of a bogus patent I’ve seen in a video game in 10 years. And it’s never used.

  17. Thereisnospoon says:

    I love seeing nintendo fanboys trying to defend their beloved company, it amuses me to no end XP

  18. Zaghadka says:

    Dunno. I’d have to see its implementation before I could criticize it, or indeed, eviscerate it.

  19. Annon says:

    @17: I’ve never played Psychonauts, but the bacon solution sounds exactly like the faerie that follows you around in the 3D Zelda games.

    “HEY, LISTEN!”

  20. Space Invaders introduced the demo mode in 1978, as far as I know.

  21. Daimbert says:

    I think there’s an assumption of purpose here that isn’t quite right. The assumption seems to be that the main goal of this should be to turn “non-gamers” into “gamers”. However, I think that the main goal of this is “How can we make it so that a wide range of people can play the game and have fun doing it?”

    Hardcore gamers shouldn’t even notice this, since they can play the way they always did and have as much fun battling past these things as they always have. Even more so, perhaps, because there’s no longer any need for dumbing it down for people who can’t do those moves.

    Casual gamers may like this because if they hit something that they absolutely suck at they can easily skip it and move on to the things that they CAN do. This stops them from getting stuck and getting frustrated and ditching the game, which is a good thing. They don’t NEED to learn how to play the game to the highest level, because that’s not why they’re playing the game in the first place.

    There’s a reason I never play the Persona games above “Easy”, even though I’ve proven with “The Answer” expansion that I can, in fact, actually survive at higher difficulty levels.

    Now, it WOULD be better if the AI played through it, but it wouldn’t work in general since for any game that’s really tough an AI isn’t smart enough to beat it, generally (see Persona 3’s AI party members and the utter relief that you could turn it off in Persona 4 for a prime example of that). Nobody wants to watch an AI lose repeatedly; it’s slightly less frustrating to lose yourself [grin].

    And simple “skip” doesn’t work if you want to put anything dramatic into the boss battle, like multiple stages or explanations.

    At any rate, doing this — or something like it — should allow for more varied game elements, because if you stick a puzzle or jumping thing or anything else into the middle of a game, people who are really bad at those can be walked through it without them giving up on the game in disgust.

    Sure, it won’t make anyone a gamer. But why should becoming a gamer take precedence over having fun?

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