Hintful Patent

When legendary game designer (see: Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, etc.) Shigeru Miyamoto patents something, interest is piqued.

Kotaku ran a story on the patent, dubbed “Kind Code,” explaining in layman’s terms what the many pages of the patent imply. Essentially, the folks at Nintendo are looking into a sort of innovative new hint system … up to the point where the game can essentially play itself.

Three modes of gameplay are described: The aptly titled “Game,” which is exactly like the games you know and love today, albeit with an option to access video hints at any time, “scene menu,” which allows players to access different parts of the game through what sounds like a DVD chapter selection style menu, and the most interesting mode, “digest.”

In digest mode, gamers will be able to watch what is essentially pre-recorded footage of the game being played by developers. The player can hit a button to jump into the game at any point of the process. The catch seems to be that saving is not allowed in digest mode.

Kotaku also went ahead and asked several well known developers what they thought of the proposed system. Opinions are many and varied. I personally echo the thoughts of Bethesda’s Todd Howard:

Most people stop playing a certain game because they get frustrated or confused by what the game wants them to do. It becomes work and frustration, as opposed to ‘playtime.’ This idea clearly tries to alleviate that. It’s much like passing the controller to someone who knows the game really well, so you can move ahead or simply enjoy the story.”

But then, “Prince of Persia” producer Ben Mattes makes a very good point: What about open-world games? Take Fallout 3, for example. The entire game is build on the premise that no two player experiences will be exactly the game. If I opted to fast-forward through a bit of the game in which I have to make a crucial choice, am I stuck with whatever choice the developer recording the walkthrough made? And what if I don’t have an item needed to make said choice?

And then there’s Jonathan Blow, creator of one of my Top 10 games last year, “Braid”:

The defining characteristic of a game is that you play it. If, in order for games to be accessible to a wider audience, we need to make it so that most people can skip over the playing it part, then what that really means is that our medium sucks.”

It’s an interesting issue. I think what gives me confidence in the idea is the fact that Nintendo is the company behind it. If anyone knows how to take an idea to which most people say, “What the hell?” and make it a well-oiled money maker (see: Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii), it’s Nintendo.

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