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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 15 of 21 Next

14. Barcode Battler

Hash-based character generation

Developed by Epoch.

Reason for inclusion:

A Pokemon-style game that generates monster stats in a unique way: it uses a hash function applied to data contained in UPC-style barcodes.

The game:

It's really an awesome idea.

There is this game called Barcode Battler, and it once caused quite a stir in Japan. The way it worked is, the players each swiped ordinary UPC-type codes, culled from any product in the player's house, into the machine's attached barcode scanner. This data, ordinarily used for retail purposes, would be read by the machine and, after putting it through an obfuscation process (like applying a hash function, or using it as a pseudo-random number generator), used to define the essential statistics for a "monster." The monster could then be pitted against another player's monster, generated using the same process but probably using a different code.

The result of this is that, since there is no real randomness in the monster generation mechanism, scanning in the same code always produces the same monster. The result is that, just as the data that defines a character in a game is, in a sense, identical with that character, the use of a physical barcode to generate statistics for an "animal pal" kind of character gives the code and its visual representation a kind of shared identity.

It also sets up a real-world, Magic: the Gathering-style economy around the codes. The story goes that Barcode Battler enthusiasts, upon finding a code that produced a good monster, would end up causing sell-outs of the code's product as many players rushed out to obtain their own copy. Yet unlike in CCGs, the makers of the Barcode Battler system obtained no financial compensation for their system, a powerful incentive to run such games.

And unlike the card games, the rarity comes not from limiting the availability of the signifying objects, for there is no good way to ensure a popular product won't produce the best possible monster, but simply through making the powerful attributes less likely to come up. It may well be that 20-ounce bottles of Coke could produce the SuperMegaDragon, but the designers can make this unlikely by using a much smaller portion of the species-space for the dragon.

Design lesson:

The obfuscation system is an important part of all this. If it were easy to tell which barcodes produced good monsters then players wouldn't actually have to scan them in, or even cook up their own monsters using homemade barcodes. The fact that the link between codes and monsters is unknown to most players makes the process mysterious, and thus, it seems more real.

It was copied by the U.S. game Scannerz, which uses a similar kind of system. Another series that uses this system is the PlayStation versions of Monster Rancher, which instead of barcodes uses the data off of ordinary CDs put into the console's disc tray.


Wikipedia's article on the game is informative.

An enthusiast site for the UK version of the device.


Article Start Previous Page 15 of 21 Next

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