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Nintendo Files Patent For In-Game Walkthroughs
Nintendo Files Patent For In-Game Walkthroughs
January 9, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

January 9, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    26 comments
More: Console/PC



Nintendo has filed for a patent on a game system which would allow players to view pre-recorded gameplay and solutions unfolding in realtime.

Nintendo virtuoso Shigeru Miyamoto filed the patent on June 30, 2008, but, noted by game weblog Kotaku, it became public only recently.

The patent hinges on a form of automated gameplay -- likely sequences pre-recorded by a game's developer -- that users can turn on, described as "digest moving image." For example, it could show a game's character navigating a level to reveal its solutions to stuck players -- or simply to allow players to experience it without investing the time for an entire playthrough.

It appears there are a few sub-sections of the system, with one mode revealing pop-up gameplay hints throughout play and another allowing players to watch a play-through. Through a third "scene menu" option, players can choose specific segments of gameplay to view without relying on existing save data.

The system doesn't appear to allow players to actually bypass gameplay or save progress made by the automated playthrough. Specifically, the patent refers also to the method for storing pre-played gameplay data that doesn't interfere with the user's own gameplay saves.

The objective of the technology appears essentially to encourage completion of more games by allowing players to discover solutions more quickly and reduce the time investment required for large games.

"In some of these games, a volume of the story or the scenario is too large, and therefore a lot of time is needed for clearing the game," reads the patent text. "Further, in some cases, various puzzles are set in the scenario, and/or a skilled action (operation to be performed by a player) and the like are required, so as to enhance an interest in the game."

"However, there is a problem that these puzzles and the like are too difficult, and therefore the game may be stuck halfway, and the game may not be cleared to the end."

Simply providing hints has been insufficient to decrease barriers for players lacking in time and attention, the patent maintains. Such players "may not enjoy the large volume of game to the end and give up the game halfway even when the difficulty level of game is lowered by presenting a hint or the like in the middle of the game," reads the text.

"Therefore, an object of the present invention is to provide a computer-readable storage medium having stored therein a game program for allowing a player to freely play and enjoy the game to the end, and a game apparatus."

This ease of use should be balanced in a fashion that allows more traditional players to continue to play independently and be challenged, the patent text maintains, hence the need for the storage system:

"Further, another object of the present invention is to provide a computer-readable storage medium having stored therein a game program for preventing a player who desires to clear a game by him/herself from losing his/her interest in the game, and a game apparatus."


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Comments


Carlo Delallana
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The downside to this is that the application could lead to "lazy design".

Aaron Harris
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@Carlo Delallana



On the contrary, it might also lead to more complex and deeper game play elements by freeing the developer from having to keep things at an overly accessible level. Sometimes really great ideas have to be scrapped for *fear* of their being too difficult for the lowest common denominator.



My issue really would be trying to code the sucker.



I'm wondering also if in addition to on-screen tips, an actual voice narration would be a good idea for certain areas. This way it'll feel less like the machine is playing itself and more like someone is helping you out.

Steve Gaynor
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Sounds a lot like 'ghosts' seen mostly in racing games.

Roberto Alfonso
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Similar to ghosts, but not really them. It allows you to see how the game developer would have solved the problem at hand. For us gamers hitting IGN, GameFAQs or somewhere else to discover how to solve a problem is easy, but there are many players who don't have the time, will or ability to check such walkthroughs.



I find the concept brilliant because, as Aaron mentioned, developers could create more complex games without having to code tips everywhere. I guess there will be only certain sections with these walkthroughs, though.



The patent may fail if ghosts are taken as prior art, however they don't look similar: ghosts are used to compete with, while these walkthroughs would be for helping the user finish a puzzle or section.

Jacek Wesolowski
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The tutorial in the original Half-Life used ghosts, too. An NPC would explain a given section, and then do exactly what the player was supposed to do. It even said something like "watch me and do the same".



There were guides in the first "Gothic". You could ask an NPC "how do I get to such and such place", and they would give you a description, but they would also offer to take you there (as in: walk there so that you can follow). They would even help you defeat monsters, should you meet any on your way.



In the long run, I'm afraid this feature will end up being used the same way various aids are being used right now. A game often tells you what to do more or less explicitly, but it doesn't bother to create a way for you to figure it out on your own. The real problem games usually face is not the lowest common denominator, but the simple fact that players are not clairvoyant.

Steve Lansing
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There is definately a need for this technology - anyone who has hit a brick wall while attempting to finish a game has seen that need (and then headed to gamefaqs). Nintendo already attempts to alleviate this wall in games like Professor Layton's Curious Village by offering 3 levels of hints. Basically it looks like they're saying "Look, even with the hints - sometimes players don't get it...". Is it any coincidence that there's another Professor Layton game coming?



My worry is similar to what Jacek points out. Games have been doing this with ghosts for quite some time. Tutorials traditionally do this too "Faith, follow me and wall jump like I do to climb the wall" (Mirror's edge). My fear is with a patent, any game that challenges a player with a problem, then shows a solution when the player gives up (or maybe even highlights hints a la dynamic difficulty adjusting) could be victim of a lawsuit.



Tutorials normally have solutions proposed before gameplay... is Nintendo going to be able to patent the reversed operation - a solution proposed after gameplay?

Carlo Delallana
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@Aaron



Accessibility and Depth are not polar opposites, they should go hand in hand as the ideal game that can cater to players of varying skill levels. Based on the comments so far I see that people think this as the "magic pill" that will finally free designers with the task of worrying about less skilled players.



This line of thinking is dangerous in my opinion.

Russell Timm
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As an aside, and as a personal peeve, I would point out that you, or more appropriately "applicants", don't file patents...you file patent applications. The distinction is often missed by the public at large, but is important because patent applications are devoid of the important property rights that come with a patent, which in the U.S. includes the right to exclude others from practicing your invention.



My expertise is not in software, and I'm not familiar with ghosts, so I really can't comment on their relevance to this particular application. However, based upon what I've read here, I see no reason why "when" the solution is provided is relevant. It seems this application is geared more towards "how" the solution is provided, as opposed to when (i.e., released concurrently with the game's initial release as opposed to weeks to months after the fact).

Adam Bienias
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As Jacek stated, this is not innovative and many games were already using this. Also making a patent out of it will not magically happen that all games will start using this. There will be the opposite of it : "You want to have it in your game ? Pay.". That's the only purpose of patenting "the method for storing the wheel on computer media that will allow present wheelness of the wheel".

Jason Seabaugh
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@ Carlos



Agreed.



What's the point of a puzzle if you don't have to solve it yourself? I fear that the next Legend of Zelda will contain puzzles so obscure and difficult that most players will need to watch the "ghost" walkthrough just to get through it. If designers are "free" to create impossibly hard puzzles the majority of players will be forced to experience the "failure" of being beaten by the game designer... like these "less experienced players" ... lets just call them children.



Personally, I feel like I've lost a game when I have to look up how to beat something in a walkthough. But not all games for everyone. Children games are for children and Hardcore FPSs are for people who like those games and Fighting games are for people who can totally whip my ass at Street Fighter. It's not my game, I'm not good at it, so I don't play it. I don't need a special crutch to help me get through it. I think this comes from poeple just being afraid of putting some challenge into the game. But having the "ghost" available is making the challenge optional... what's the point? Just watch a movie.

Mike Lopez
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This is a smart application of prior Instant Replay and full Replay game systems, but shame on Miyamoto for trying to patent it.



Software patents only stifle the evolution of such game systems and mechanics. Had an earlier game tried to patent a Replay system Miyamoto would not be able to have come up with this variant for fear of potential litigation (baseless or not).



The US really needs to overhaul its patent system and prevent future patents such as these. I hope the patent office does not approve it but I suspect they are too over burdened and under-educated about entertainment and software and will allow it to go through.

Benjamin Hoyt
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Hahaha. This sounds an awful lot like the "Movie Mode" concept that I wrote about back in early-July. (http://www.benjaminhoyt.com/blog/2008/07/02/its-time-for-movie-mo
de/) It seems that Miyamoto-san beat me to the punch by about 2 days! Still, I'm flattered to know that he's in agreement. ;-)

Jim Burner
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Just goes to show how out of touch Miyamoto is with developing the craft of game design these days. A mode like this is an admission of failure on the part of the designer. Let Nintendo have this rubbish all to themselves.

Alan Youngblood
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My 2 cents:



Good article, good discussion, but good patent?



I'll try not to doubt Miyamoto-san, nay-sayers have been proven horribly wrong in the past.



I do wonder why nintendo needs a patent for this idea for reasons many of you have already stated. I'm not going to get into the tangent of why IP rights are stupid in current practice, but let it suffice to say that an idea cannot be owned such that someone else could have the same idea completely unaware to yours. The work put into an idea should be able to gain profit, not the idea itself.



But back to the issue at hand. Yeah I think this is kind of what Gamefaqs.com is for. Designers have forgotten that failure to complete the game, resulting in a stalemate is actually a valid ending, albeit not desirable. What happened to the days I played Miyamoto-san's brilliant Super Mario Bros 3 and got game over at World 3? Failure is ok. I just decided that the game was fun enough and worth playing to try again and keep at it until I beat it.



Games that are too long are not fixed by holding the player's hand through them. Make them shorter.



Let me close by saying that many of these problems come from having only one way to win and many ways of losing (losing being a stalemate in this case). One thing that makes any game good is giving the player multiple unique means of achieving a goal (and winning).

Chris OKeefe
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I'm just gonna toss my hat into the ring as someone who is shocked and dismayed that Nintendo would try to patent such a simple and basic idea.



Are we going to start seeing all manner of gameplay elements under patent, now? Are RTSs going to be the sole domain of Blizzard? Is ID Software going to patent the first person shooter?



Why is it that a method of showing a person how to perform a task patentable in a game, when it is a concept that we are all familiar with in a variety of different contexts and mediums?



All this sort of patenting is going to do is a) make good ideas for enhancing and promoting gameplay less prevalent because of the cost associated with using them, and b) make games that need these patented ideas more expensive, and that is more money going toward paying for patents and less money going toward development.



Patent your code, patent your characters and your world, patent your brands. Not the gameplay concepts. Such ideas should be rightfully shared to improve games and the industry all around.



As an idea it this whole thing is novel. As a patent it is an insult to developers and gamers. I don't know how anyone could regard this patent with anything other than contempt.

Daniel Ferlise
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All I can really say in response to this is gamefaqs.com and that isn't the only place you can go for walkthroughs and avoid spending up to $20 on a strategy guide. It's nice to see they want to add that sort of thing in-game, but I'm not sure the point of patenting it, especially if it leads to increased costs to make a Nintendo game. The last thing Nintendo needs to do is make their 3rd party developers pay more money just to make Wii games.

Z Z
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Reminds me of a long time ago when I heard a story of Sega patenting a game mechanic used in Crazy Taxi of pulling up to the curb and picking up a passenger. A quick google search and here is what happens when game mechanics are patented: http://www.out-law.com/page-4155



So you think this will help the casual gamer that doesn't have time to figure out the game? I doubt it, developers will be scared to include any tutorial in their game because they might get sued. The patent can't pass in my opinion because then it would be denying a developer from teaching how to play their own game without worry of being sued. Also since all games need to tutor their players how to play them it puts the developers in a situation where they have to decide to pay Nintendo or chance being sued. There is no reason to patent it unless you want to get some kind of payment for use of the "feature" so it is very possible someone, maybe multiple someones get sued if the patent succeeds.

Roberto Alfonso
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I am a professional developer from the healthcare industry, and I hate the patent system, but I must accept it and learn to live with it and not dismiss it.



Daniel, true, there are thousands of ways to learn what to do in a game when you are stuck. But you are thinking like a hardcore gamer. You know GameFAQs exists. Now ask your father what GameFAQs is. By the way, I think you are misunderstanding the patent: that a patent filing exists (and if it is issued) doesn't mean other developers will have to use it. In fact, they would not be able to use it without paying a royalty (that is what the patent system is for). So, it is likely they will be using this for their own games only. If a third party developer wants to use it, I am sure they will manage an agreement.



Kris, you misunderstand patents too. You cannot patent code, that is what copyright and trading secrets are for. You patent concepts and ideas. I recommend you to read a previous Gamasutra feature, "Intellectual Property: The Game of Swords and Shields", found at http://www.gamasutra.com/gdc2002/features/rubin/rubin_01.htm



Alan, times are changing. While I loved Super Mario Bros. 3 and died hundreds of times until I managed to end it, nowadays it is much harder to focus so much in a single game than before. This is because of several factors including the amount of games available for each console (the NES had less than 800 games through its 10 years of lifespan, the PlayStation 2 has over 1800), the length of each game (without counting deaths, Super Mario Bros can be finished in less than two hours, nowadays hardcore gamers and reviewers complain if a game lasts less than 10 hours), etc. Also, the Wii is targeted to different gamers, those who prefer playing small sessions, and this system will prevent them from losing interest the fifth time they have to redo a stage. These gamers don't care as much about "finishing" the game with the maximum score, but to experience it until they are bored. If they do that until they end the game, much better.



Considering the success Wii, having sold almost as many as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined, considering how Nintendo games are multiple million sellers, I guess they understand the base and know this will help them bridge the hardcore players and the casual ones. For a hardcore gamer there is nothing better than having to shoot twenty enemies in a couple of seconds to end a stage, for a casual there is no worse scene.



I am not discussing here whether the patent is valid or not, it is not my task (nor the task of any of us) to determine if it is valid or not. I am discussing the concept and the idea behind it.

Will Kerslake
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There were interactive in-game hints in the Solid Gold editions of the Infocom text adventures, which included Invisiclues into the game. It's a good idea but 20 years of prior art make the Nintendo attempt to patent it a bit of a joke.

Ken Nakai
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I think, considering Worlds.com's suit against NCSoft, we really should be talking about patents and their validity. I agree that the patent system is broken because a handful of overworked government employees are pushing out patents that shouldn't be out there because these people are not paying attention to the markets it applies to. I remember reading about a guy who had no job (he was a lawyer but wasn't really practicing) who got a patent that essentially covered e-commerce. He was holding mom-and-pop sites ransom demanding $10k or he'd sue. Funny, he never went after Amazon, Zappos, or any other large online retailer. How is that patent protection? Sounds like ambulance chasing.



Just like Worlds.com, here comes a patent for a system that logically came out of existing systems. The patent rules require the invention to be novel (and, no, you can't patent ideas either, just processes and designs). Like someone mentioned, this is a very small step from ghosting. This is just taking two existing ideas and merging them together to enhance one of them. Walkthroughs/recorded demos + ghosting = this. If no one recorded demos then sure, this would be novel. The only difference between this and the hundreds of walkthroughs people have posted to YouTube is that this makes use of the engine itself to render the walkthrough.



I wish they'd spend their thousands of dollars spent on this patent to patent something more novel.



Meanwhile, will someone please remind Worlds.com what happened to SCO when it tried to sue everyone who ran Linux over their patent? Just because you can't make money any more selling custom build MMOs for Aerosmith or whoever, doesn't mean you're going to be able to sit on some patents to make money. I'd love to see them go up against Blizzard with one of those patents they have, especially if Blizzard decides it's worth spending a few million (it's just a day's worth of revenue right?) to take Worlds.com to court rather than settle.

Chris Westin
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I'd bet there is prior art for this. It doesn't sound so very different from using pre-recorded gameplay for cut scenes very much like Warcraft III, which uses pre-recorded sequences from within the game engine to advance the story line. I think there are other examples of this as well.

Rodan Mistiff
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Next up - I am going to patent games that play themselves to allow kids to play games when they aren't there. Why would anyone want this?



I do however think this is better than a paper book walk through, but why not just do an electronic book like gamefaqs type site?



Congrats Nintendo on figuring out how to make kids lazier. Now they can play games without even thinking.

Tom Newman
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This is a great idea. Walkthroughs or not, I bet every reader out there has stopped playing at least one game in their life because they hit a brick wall.

The problem is that this does leave a door wide open for lazy programming, and poor level design, as some developers may be tempted to "just let the built in walkthrough" take care of hurdles that players come into during the play testing phase of development.

Tom Newman
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This is a great idea. Walkthroughs or not, I bet every reader out there has stopped playing at least one game in their life because they hit a brick wall.

The problem is that this does leave a door wide open for lazy programming, and poor level design, as some developers may be tempted to "just let the built in walkthrough" take care of hurdles that players come into during the play testing phase of development.

Raymond Grier
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I'm not a lawyer but my understanding is that a patent (at least in Canada) must provide a truly new technology or truly different way of implementing that technology, I'm not convinced it applies here. I beleive some countries still don't even recognize software as patentable.

Tawna Evans
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The manner in which the walkthroughs get saved on the console appears to be what makes this patent unique.



"Specifically, the patent refers also to the method for storing pre-played gameplay data that doesn't interfere with the user's own gameplay saves."



I speculate possiblities for players to be able to download tips for their games by using the Wii Shopping Center.


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