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The Designer's Notebook: PS3 versus Wii - The Designer's Perspective
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The Designer's Notebook: PS3 versus Wii - The Designer's Perspective


December 22, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2
 

So which do I want to design for? From a creativity standpoint, it’s the Wii, hands down (or up!). The human-computer interaction people have a buzzword they’re fond of: affordance. Affordance refers to the possible actions that a tool, or other object, provides or suggests to the user. The Wii Remote offers a different and quite new set of affordances to the player: steering with it, waving it, jabbing it, pointing it, stirring with it, paddling with it, and so on. It’s the wizard’s magic wand we’ve always wanted. All we have to do is supply the magic.

This point brings up a larger and more general issue. As game designers, we love the universality of computerized entertainment. You can do all kinds of things with a computer that you can’t do when designing a tabletop game such as a board game or a card game. The universality of the computer has made possible the staggering range of video games, from Pong to Civilization IV, and that power and freedom is attractive to us designers.

But that freedom lies entirely within the mental part of gameplay: the rules, the victory conditions, the challenges we offer to the player. It doesn’t speak to the physical part of play. In this respect, all video games are still constrained, and to some extent defined, by their I/O devices. Most mouse-based games stink on joystick-based machines. PC games seldom work well in multiplayer local mode, because PC input devices aren’t normally designed for more than one user. To offer new kinds of physical play, we need new kinds of devices.

In other words, Sony’s most revolutionary gaming innovation was not the PS3, but the Eye Toy. It wasn’t really the first camera for a game device – Nintendo had the Game Boy Camera, and Sega offered the Dreameye for the Dreamcast in Japan – but it was the first to be widely available, and to be connected to a machine with enough horsepower to do something useful with the images. Because the Eye Toy wasn’t bundled with the machine, few titles absolutely required an Eye Toy, and so its use has mostly been confined to mini-games or optional features. Still, it affords – there’s that word again – the players a new way to interact with the games that wasn’t possible before.


Now, longtime readers of this column will know that I’m not a big fan of hardware-driven game design. Designing a game specifically to show off a new graphics chip seldom results in innovative gameplay, no matter how good the game looks. But output devices are about you and what you want to show the player. Input devices, on the other hand, are about the player and what you want to enable him to do – and that, after all, is the point of video gaming in the first place. So cameras, microphones, and dance mats are all opportunities for us to think more creatively about games and play. A few, such as the Guitar Hero controller, are too specific to be useful for much else besides rocking out, but that’s OK – they make possible a unique play-experience that’s not available any other way. The genius of the Wii Remote is in its generality. It requires the player to use his imagination (and that’s no bad thing), but it also offers a much wider range of experiences from a single device.

So who, at the end of the day, will be the also-ran in this generation of consoles? On the global scale, I’d say it could well be neither the PS3 or the Wii, but the Xbox 360. The PS3 will win over the hardcore gamers who have to have the fastest, most amazing machine available. The Wii will skim off the younger players and those who don’t have as much money to spend.

Both have the advantage of being made in Japan, so they’ll crowd the Xbox right out of that market. In the US and Europe, it’s harder to say, but I see the Xbox’s early start as more of a liability than a benefit. They’ve racked up several million sales, but they can no longer claim to be the latest, greatest thing – especially as the PS3 plays Blu-Ray disks out of the box, but HD-DVD is only available for the Xbox as an add-on. The Dreamcast got an early start too, and look how that ended.

In the meantime, I’d love to design a few Wii games. Maybe I’ll start with something obvious, like a port of Whac-a-Mole. Try that with a pair of analog joysticks!


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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