Game design and mechanics in games that gamers don’t play: Part One

I don’t recall the details but I remember listening to a podcast once with a discussion about a professional dev team consisting of people that had never played any Zelda games. The speakers where appalled by the revelation of this teams existence. I agree with what they where saying in the sense that I do think its important that people working on games play as many as possible and are aware of whats been/being done in other games. Creativity is to an extent a myth. Everything is derivative and you can’t create in isolation. But I don’t think its really at all important for anyone to play a Zelda game.

I don’t mean that as an insult. They are good games and I acknowledge their historical significance. But there isn’t much to learn from them. They haven’t evolved at all and Twilight Princess is still essentially the same game as Ocarina of Time. More importantly the building blocks of the cliche Zelda design (the camera, the combat, the open but linear world, currency, stores, dungeons, abilities and equipment that is enabled gradually) may have originated from or perhaps been popularized by Zelda games but have been co-opted in so many ways by so many other games that you will inevitably learn them by a kind of osmosis without ever actually needing to play a Zelda game. If your nerdy enough to be reading this then you may enjoy Zelda games but I doubt you will be introduced to anything new by it.

But here are a couple DS games that I would consider interesting and worth looking into if your a “hardcore” gamer and want to be introduced to some new stuff.

Ping Pals

Ping Pals is effectively an instant messenger program. It seems to be limited to local wifi only (no online) which makes it a bit pointless but on the upside it does support game sharing. It has in game currency that can be used to customize your avatar with different clothes and things. One interesting thing is that it has a list of words and any time you use a word from the list for the first time then you get some in game currency. Its a small thing but I think its actually a nice idea and it would be interesting to see PC based instant messengers add a similar kind of meta game to talking with people. But that’s not the coolest part. It has a small hand full of mini games all of which are played within the same IM interface and presented as conversations with NPCs. There just simple things like guessing a number from one to ten (PROTIP: because of how the prizes are dished out your effectively guaranteed to get currency by choosing 5). What I really think is cool though is that one of those mini games is a chatterbot! It has several different bots and instead of being reactionary they actually have their own topics to speak about. The downside is that those bots aren’t very adaptive and things tend to fall apart pretty as soon as you say anything other then yes or no.

The Clique – Diss and Make Up

Diss and Make Up is a game about shallow materialism and a teenagers quest to gain the friendship of cruel and horrible people. It has a small but open world and the game follows a regular suburban high schooler routine. Wake up, get dressed, go to school, wander for five minutes, go to class, eat lunch and kill time, go to class, kill some more time, optionally go to a mall to work retail and buy clothing and then go home to sleep and repeat the cycle. Its monotonous in real life but interesting to see it recreated in a game format. Until you acquire the correct clothing most of your interactions with NPCs consist of them straight up telling you that your too ugly for them to speak to. As you get acceptable clothing though they will offer you the privilege of performing tasks for them to get them to like you which will in turn earn you invitations to parties. What I really liked though is that those cruel and horrible classmates will tell you gossip and encourage you to share it. The game has an inventory system for gossip. It treats ideas and anecdotes the same way that other games treat items and equipment. Depending on who you talk to a piece of gossip could be meaningless, it could make them like you, or it could make them dislike you and gossip can only be used once. I think it would be really great to see a similar system built into NPC interactions in other games. It’s failure to pass the reverse Bechdel test also amuses me. It has a truly massive cast of named characters with dialogue but only two of them are male and although I haven’t finished the game they haven’t yet complied with the third requirement and I doubt they will. They are somewhat important characters but not at all in a driving force kind of way. They aren’t really people their just potential love interests. Its a refreshing change and acts as a reminder of how often the non reverse is true of games.

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