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Going from T and M games to E..
by Tim Lang on 04/22/09 12:48:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've worked on my fair share of games in my career.  Most of the time we've been able to rely on combat in some form or another as the primary game mechanic.  In the RPGs it was sword and sorcery type combat.  In the WW2 games, it was shooting enemies with authentic World War 2 weapons.

Blood?  Who cares?  Dismemberment?  Cool!  These are things that game designer rely on every day to create conflict, drama, and ultimately, entertainment.  I'll admit that it's fun to blast soldiers, or raiders, or fire ants into thin red paste, if you'll forgive the Wasteland reference.

 I'm not going to get into the  appropriateness of violence in video games,...that's a whole different topic of discussion.  We can argue with Jack Thompson all day long over what sorts of content are appropriate for public consumption.   I think we'll all agree though that exploding human beings like a blood sausage isn't the sort of content you want to be directing at 6-12 year olds.

So what's the deal?  The biggest problem I've faced going from adult themed games to kid themed games is the inability to rely on game mechanics that we as designers take for granted. 

Most games rely on some form of conflict to drive the gameplay.  In shooters, that conflict is at the barrel of your gun.  In RPGs, the tip of the sword or the end of the wand.  it's the same with most strategy games.

So here's the challenge: try to design a core game mechanic that includes drama and conflict, but no one dies.  ToonTown and Raving Rabbits plunger shooter don't count.  Those games use non-violent versions of the same old mechanic we've used time and time again. 

In the beginning of my time at Spin Master Studios, we weren't sure what sort of game we were going to make. Before I got lucky with a skateboarding MMO, I struggled day in and day out with potential solutions for game mechanics that are appropriate for children, but aren't necessarily just sanitized versions of the same old mechanics that we use time and again.

Of course, there are plenty of games out there rated E, and plenty of game mechanics available that they use.  Sports games are one example, though you could argue that they're just sanitized versions of war in the first place. 

Mario and Sonic are two other good examples of game mechanics that aren't exactly violent (though they are in their own way, killing Koopa's and such) but they are mostly appropriate for a young audience.

So here's my challenge to you...can you design a game based on an RPG or FPS mechanic that would be appropriate for children?

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Tom Newman
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RPG's are easy for kids. Instead of fireballs and swords, you can literally make up non-lethal abilities only limited by the creativity of the design team. As an example you can have special abilities that turn your opponents into marshmallow for a short time, or you can tickle your opponent until they can't move. Many rpg battle systems rely heavily on buffs and other non-combat status changing states like haste or turn-time bonuses/penalties, and these are great to impliment for kids - not only will it prep them for "real" rpg's, but those stats are math based, and this can even be exploited (marketed) as a learning tool.

FPS are a little trickier as it has "shooter" right in the description, but you can use any FPS engine to build any type of game. You can build an adventure game where instead of picking up weapons, you can be picking up artifacts to solve puzzles or open new areas. You could even have a game in a FPS engine where you are rebuilding a village in a 3rd world country that will demonstrate the basics of setting up a rudamentary infrastructure, like sewage, water; etc. This sounds not very compelling, but if you set it up near old ruins or other archeological finds, and mix in some fantasy elements, it could be very compelling.

Tom Krausse
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One of the best examples of E-rated FPS games I can think of is Konami's Elebits. Held pretty much all the FPS design and mechanics, but contained almost no violence, relying on a "capture gun" instead. I'm also thinking of (I think Hudson's) upcoming Water Warfare title, an FPS based on squirtguns.

Reid Kimball
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Continuing on the FPS theme: An climate crisis FPS where players use a trash-attractor device (think gravity gun from HL) to pick up and throw trash into the correct recycling bins. It could be a "hidden" object game set in a physics driven 3D first person environment. Players can lift piles of scrap metal to find piles of junk food hidden underneath it. Using rendering tech like found in Prince of Persia, the environment initially is full of dirt and grim, but as players recycle more trash it gradually changes to look cleaner and colors being brighter, crisper.

Tim Lang
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@ Reid: That sounds like a blast! A little like Gary's Mod but cleaning up trash...

Reid Kimball
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Yeah, I think it can be fun, but I'm biased. Both as SP or MP. In MP players try to find more than everyone else. Maybe certain items that are more toxic are worth more.

I read someone else suggest taking Katamari Damacy and skinning it as a recycling game. You are collecting trash and the more you collect the bigger your trash ball becomes. I thought that was great because we already know Katamari Damacy has popular gameplay often the biggest challenge with serious issues like climate change/recycling is how to make it interesting for players.

Mac Senour
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What we need is what writers have had for a long time, a program that analyzes the text and tells you the required reading level. These things use a number of different test, length of sentences, the words used and other factors. In the end the result is something like: "Reading level: grade 8".

As a board game designer as well as a video game producer, I see this as one of the many crossover areas. When I'm making a board game I look at the number of steps of my "turn". I know that if there are too many steps, then I've made the game to complicated for my younger target market.

In board games I think its easier because most games are turn based... obviously not so in video games. (I can see my old friends from SSI rolling their eyes and dreaming of the good ol days) I wonder if there's a way to look at each game and give it a "Required gamer playing level"?


jaime kuroiwa
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I think the solution lies in why we block children from "mature media" in the first place:

1) We don't want children to see it

2) We don't want children to emulate it

You could easily make the transition from an M-rated RPG to an E-rated one by changing the content of the game to address the two points above.

However, for an FPS, the "shooter" aspect makes addressing the second point difficult because the act of shooting is general is a violent act, and children should be discouraged from emulating that action. As a solution to that problem, think of an object that can shoot, but you wouldn't mind seeing a child emulating that action in real-life.

One example would be Sega's Brave Firefighters; you shoot WATER at FIRE!