While chatting about Takeshi no Chousenjou Andy mentioned Penn & Teller's "Smoke and Mirrors," a video game with the same aesthetic sensibility as their stage show. That is uncomprising, rude, and not always done with the audiences interest in mind. Andy writes:
Among the minigames is "Desert Bus," in which you drive a bus across the straight Nevada desert for six hours IN REAL-TIME to score one point. Then you drive it home. Also, I've heard the bus veers slightly to the right intermittently, so you can't just leave it propped up. And going offroad immediately ends your game.
Andy's made the game and the emulator files you need to play it available on waxy.org. He also highlights what seems to be the most excruciating "feature," the bus occasionally veers off to the right.
This got my attention because spontaneity and variation like this are what's missing from most games today, even as game play and interfaces get more interesting. The steps in Dance Dance Revolution are exactly the same every time you play it, likewise the beats and cues in Taiko Drummer are so static it could be played with your eyes closed. Both games overcompensate for their lack of variance in game play with over-the-top psychedelic graphics and sound effects. This is not a new problem of course with Pac-man and Super Mario Brothers often held up as classic examples. Mario Brothers even has it's own tablature!
Madden football treats variance as a feature, in fact it's one of the game's top selling points. The conditions and gameplay change from play to play as players get tired and injured, the sky gets darker and the field gets wetter (if it's snowing or raining) and the crowd gets louder (which distracts the visiting team from making plays). There's literally no end to the variation of games to play, which is one reason that Madden is one of the few true blockbuster video games year after year.
There's a further discussion of weather in video games over at armchair arcade (also at pasta and vinegar). Animal Crossing gets a lot of this stuff right as well, but I stopped playing when I got bored of watering turnips and picking peaches. We have a real peach tree in our back yard, it's much more exciting than the nintendo peach trees (even in the winter).
Katamari Damacy is somewhat of a sacred cow in hipster video gaming circles, but it's one of the worst offenders when it comes to turning innovative game play into a parlor trick. As Jason pointed out, the game is basically 3-D Pac-Man, with ~wild~ graphics and Asian accent/dubbing jokes thrown in to make the game seem more interesting. "We Love Katamari" was so disappointing as a seque, because it was the exact same as the original but bigger. There was nothing to introduce variation to the game play. A few things they could have done -
- Variation in the number, size and placement of the objects to pick up. This one is a gimme. Katamari as it's currently designed is the exact same every time you play it, which is why people can go on speed runs to the moon or attach rubber bands to their controller to roll up 10^6 roses wihtout human intervention. Any game that involves a speed run probably has little or no interesting variation.
- Truly collaborative game play - two players could work together to grow large enought to break through a barrier, or to roll over a very large object at the same time to knock it over and break it into manageable bits. Social gaming (Madden, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart) is the most obvious and effective way to introduce variance into games.
- Game play should change with mood and weather - the Prince should get tired, or angry, or fed up and sad. Wouldn't you, if you're abusive father kept insulting you and threatening to replace you?
"But all games are basically 3-D pac-man," game designers often exclaim, which is exactly my point. I do love Katamari, but I don't think Video Game designers are innovating fast enough.