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15. Sketch Platforming
Representative game: Kirby: Canvas Curse (HAL Laboratory, DS)
The player uses a pointing device, either a mouse or a stylus, to draw platforms directly on the screen, in real time, that the other objects in game treat as physical. In Kirby: Canvas Curse, the platform actually works like a conveyor belt.
Even if a system has a pointing device as standard, it doesn't mean it's easy to draw with. Other than the DS, mice present the best opportunity to use this kind of play, as the Crayon Physics flash games illustrate, so flash development may be the best outlet for this kind of thing.
The scheme in use:
The lines the player draws have interesting properties. The ball in the player's care tends to stick to it a bit, and travels along it in the direction it was drawn. If the player draws a loop not only does the ball roll down it with increased speed, but will often intelligently move through the "up" portion of the loop on the way out, Sonic-style. Not bad, and the game rewards the player for doing it with a burst of speed.
Drawing lines to maneuver the ball is one thing, but the lines also affect the progress of enemies. Some of the more frantic moments in the game come from trying to draw lines to help the ball without similarly helping the enemies. As the game continues, the level design subtly changes from situations where short lines need to be drawn over minor obstacles, to places where it's obvious where to draw longer lines to get between platforms, to more freeform, improvisational areas where the player is left to his own devices to go where he needs to be.
The shift between the two styles is significant, because this is ultimately a game about creation. Although the player's lines only hang around for a few seconds each, what the player is doing is quickly creating his own portions of the level, on the fly, in order to keep the ball from falling off the map or hitting too many enemies.
Lately, flash videos of hacked Super Mario World levels have been making the blog rounds, in which someone creates a layout of obstacles that results in Mario reaching the goal without any controls pressed, like a virtual Rube Goldberg machine. When you come down to it, the same impulse that led to the creation of those levels was the inspiration for Kirby: Canvas Curse. It was the first game to show people what the DS was really capable of, and even now, remains the most compelling use of that system's powers.
16. Foot Pad Grid
Representative games: NES Power Pad games (Nintendo/Bandai, NES), Dance Dance Revolution series & imitators (Konami and others, arcade and many consoles)
A mat on the floor (or a more durable equivalent for arcade versions) contains pressure-sensitive spots. Think large, flat buttons. Instead of using his hands to press them, the player steps on them according to the demanding expectations of scrolling arrows up on the screen.
One might think it'd be extremely low, but the game was popular enough to spawn a cottage industry of dance mats.
The scheme in use:
Like Track & Field (also from Konami), there is little strategy here. The arrows scroll up the screen. The player steps on each at the moment it touches a timing bar. It's like Parappa the Rapper without improv. And where the music plays okay no matter what the player does.
Dance Dance Revolution gets away with it because of its social element. In a way, the symbols and art on the screen are irrelevant to the real game, which takes place between the player himself and the eyes of onlookers, all of whom are thinking either wow, that's amazing or what an incredible geek. Fortunately, the agility playing the game well requires speaks against the "geek" interpretation.
It also means that the nebulous thing "performance" is essential to enjoying the game. The days where someone could play Pac-Man for hours and attract a crowd are long over; merely manipulating a joystick in public won't attract many admirers no matter how dexterously it's handled.
Dancing on a Dance Dance Revolution stage may not really have a great deal to do with actual dancing, but it's close enough, which is more than you can say about the similarities between playing a first-person shooter and getting in a real gunfight. And since harder levels mean more impressive performances, difficulty is also a tremendous part of the game. And if there's one thing the Dance Dance Revolution series tends to have in spades, it's difficulty.
The lessons are two-fold. First, the game proves that millisecond-sensitive twitch games, presented correctly, can still hit it big in the market. Second, that if a game is hot enough, people will buy all kinds of crazy peripherals in order to play it. (See Guitar Hero, below.) Whether the market decides a game is really all that great shakes or not can be humbling and risky; Konami had the advantage of the Japanese arcade culture, which is a bit more more open to blatant innovation, to start its ubiquitous franchise.