150: Play Like a 3-Year-Old

Play Like a 3-Year-Old

"Did you know you can win the first level of Star Wars just by standing in one place, turning in constant circles and holding down the "X" button? Aunt Wendy got something right. He was thrilled. And when he heard the cheerful chimes, a signal to those of all ages that you've won something, there was jumping around and fists in the air and lots of shouting I didn't understand.

"But then the next level came up, and things started to go downhill. The instant it began he looked confused. It took him a few seconds to put it into words, but then he said it. 'I already won this level.'"

Wendy Despain cleanses her doors of perception, and sees games as they truly are: fun or not.

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Haven't you already published this article in issue 132? Are there job openings for writers?

edit: My bad, its a best of :(

This qualifies for a "best of"? I mean the whole article is based on a falsehood. Even if Star Wars: Battlefront had a "first level" (it has various optional arenas for the first battle), you cannot beat the game by standing in one place and shooting while turning in circles. You might beat a single battle by doing that - IF it's one of the battles where your side is favoured - and IF you happen to be standing right next to an ammo supply droid - and IF you're REALLY lucky. Plus, if the author's three year old can't tell the difference between the forests of Endor, the desert of Tatooine and the deck of a floating city, he needs to see a vision specialist. The game is SORELY misrepresented in this article, as I pointed out when it first aired.

One of the great things about Battlefront is that, unlike many Star Wars games, it does NOT cheat in order to give the player a difficult yet meaningless victory. In Battlefront you get fair odds playing either the Empire or the Republic. What the author claims is a flaw is actually one of Battlefront's most intelligent features - AI characters that actually use intelligent battlefield routines rather than just being flung mindlessly in ever greater numbers at the player - it's a feature that sets Star Wars: Battlefront 1 apart from other similar games. It's also the feature that allowed her nephew to win while turning around and firing indiscriminately - i.e. the AI won his battle for him.

Even apart from her comment about SW:BF, the author's article simply doesn't hold water. She argues that game design is going downhill while at the same time calling into question the very design elements that are bringing games out of their childhood and into a more intelligent phase of their development. She decries AI allies as if these are a fatal flaw, yet the reality is that these are a Godsend! I, for one, would hate to go back to the dark days when every game pitted me alone against the world, and tried (in vain) to make me believe that the successful results of my lone efforts were the least bit believable. I prefer games to present a largely believable world, not a thinly-veiled fantasy where I'm a facile Superman-like character, able to kill numerous enemies with a sword swipe and a stifled yawn.

Yes, it would be great if games had more randomization and less linearity (which seems to be the author's sole specific point of any substance), and if the author had spent her time actually saying that more, and arguing the point, rather than mentioning it in passing on page 3 of her article, I would have heartily agreed with her. But instead she chose to single out games that DO NOT deserve ridicule and ridiculed them using a disingenuous argument. Then she argued that we all would be better-served if we enjoyed the sort of gameplay a three year-old likes.

The last thing I want from a game is to give me the sort of thrill that would satisfy a three year-old. I'm 45 now, and for long years I've wanted a bit more than the superficial stuff that would satisfy a young child. Maybe the author wants something less, and if that's the case it seems to me that handheld games are probably her cup of tea. I spent $3000 on a computer that can handle thousands of AI interactions and millions of 3D colour and shape calculations every second. For that amount of money I expect games to push the edge of the envelope in pursuit of deeper and more meaningful thrills than those a three year-old would desire.

Ha, I saw this reprint and thought, gee, I wonder if the complaints would be reprinted as well. Glad to see I wasn't disappointed.

Beery:
It's also the feature that allowed her nephew to win while turning around and firing indiscriminately - i.e. the AI won his battle for him.

You're right, we need more games that play themselves.

To Beery:

You are totally missing the point of the article. Its really about all the little shortcomings and logical flaws that weve gotten so used to we dont notice them anymore.

She is really not saying that game design should be focused on kids, the way you think she does.

Shes just asking game designers to cleanse their minds before go into designing games and not make the same mistakes again and again just because we have gotten used to them.

I actualy like this article alot and it definately deserves to show up in a "Best Of" issue. The games industry in general has to many rules and concepts set in stone, the more flexible we are the more gaming is going to evolve.

I enjoyed that article alot & I guess its true; most games when you dont strip most games down & remove the shiney cinematics & flashy graphics & wizz ban sound effects; the game itself is pretty bland & repetative.

Berry; that is the biggest fanboi response I have ever seen. I dont think even Yhatzees SSBB mail showdown caused such as responce & all the writer said was her nephew span round in cirlces & won the level (which is all there really is to any shooting game ultimately). Its just a game, let it go :-)

Dude! They have a nano-saur 2!? I remember playing number 1 at my grandmothers house when I was younger, lol.

PS: Good article.

you have a nephew named 'Caleb'? thats pretty cool in a nerdy kind of way, (Feist, Magician onwards, son of Pug) anyway, good article, odd when you do actually open your eyes to constricted game design.

Wendy, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I remember playing all sorts of video games when I was younger and they were fun. I spent HOURS playing because they were so fun. And they were simple. Super Mario Brothers must be the most popular game of all -- even my parents (who hate video games) played it. You jump on things to kill them. You move left to right on the screen. Mushrooms make you bigger. There weren't exactly a lot of rules to the game or complicated controls. Heck, besides the directional controls, there were only two buttons! My parents' favorite game was Duck Hunt, and all you had to do was point the gun at a duck and pull the trigger!

Games have grown overly complicated, and in the process, have ceased to be fun. The biggest challenge in most fighting games is learning all of the button combinations. Most games now have hour-long tutorials when you start them, just so you can figure out how to play. The actual game play is repetitive, tedious, and often times meaningless. Randomness, not skill and practice, determines whether the player wins or loses. The story line is directed by blocked off hallways, doors that don't open, and cutscenes that intervene at key points. A player does what makes sense (helping an old lady who is being robbed) and the game punishes him (you shouldn't have helped THAT old lady; you die).

Whatever happened to games that you could play and explore? Whatever happened to colorful graphics, playful sounds, and saving princesses locked in castles?

As computers have become more powerful, game developers have pushed the envelope on realism, but nobody wants realism. If I wanted something real, I'd get in my car and drive to work. Games are about fun and entertainment. Do we really need to see a perfect reflection in the water and strands of hair on a person's head? All the "pretty" in the world won't save me from boredom when I'm told to "kill 20 more guys".

You want games to be good? Make them make sense. When I see a door, I want to open it. When I see a car, I want to drive it. When I shoot a piece of glass, it had better shatter into a million pieces.

You want games to be fun? Make it satisfying. Let me save a princess. Let me take over a country. Let me fly to the moon. Or just let me take out some aggression on wave after wave of Nazis.

Make me feel like I'm in control. Make me feel like I'm accomplishing something. Make me feel like I'm playing a game. I don't want to sit back and watch a movie. I don't want help playing. I don't want somebody telling me what to do and where to go. I want to play it my way. I don't mind dying -- it just means I try something different next time. I enjoy pushing buttons (in and out of the game) and wondering, "What does this do?" I don't want to play a game where the only choice I'm allowed to make is the right one, I want to live by my choices, right or wrong, and die and try again if I must.

I agree that the industry as a whole has gone the wrong direction. They fight over graphics while gamers crave gameplay. They release sequel after sequel of the same thing. They release a game every year and each new version is still filled with the same bugs. They make everything realistic when we really want excitement.

Mario Kart will always be more fun than Gran Turismo because you don't have to be Mario Andretti to play Mario Kart. Duck Hunt will always be better than Counterstrike because you don't have to be a sniper to hit a target. Make games that are fun and playable -- give up the competition for realism.

ReverseEngineered:
Wendy, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I remember playing all sorts of video games when I was younger and they were fun. I spent HOURS playing because they were so fun. And they were simple. Super Mario Brothers must be the most popular game of all -- even my parents (who hate video games) played it. You jump on things to kill them. You move left to right on the screen. Mushrooms make you bigger. There weren't exactly a lot of rules to the game or complicated controls. Heck, besides the directional controls, there were only two buttons! My parents' favorite game was Duck Hunt, and all you had to do was point the gun at a duck and pull the trigger!

Games have grown overly complicated, and in the process, have ceased to be fun. The biggest challenge in most fighting games is learning all of the button combinations. Most games now have hour-long tutorials when you start them, just so you can figure out how to play. The actual game play is repetitive, tedious, and often times meaningless. Randomness, not skill and practice, determines whether the player wins or loses. The story line is directed by blocked off hallways, doors that don't open, and cutscenes that intervene at key points. A player does what makes sense (helping an old lady who is being robbed) and the game punishes him (you shouldn't have helped THAT old lady; you die).

Whatever happened to games that you could play and explore? Whatever happened to colorful graphics, playful sounds, and saving princesses locked in castles?

As computers have become more powerful, game developers have pushed the envelope on realism, but nobody wants realism. If I wanted something real, I'd get in my car and drive to work. Games are about fun and entertainment. Do we really need to see a perfect reflection in the water and strands of hair on a person's head? All the "pretty" in the world won't save me from boredom when I'm told to "kill 20 more guys".

You want games to be good? Make them make sense. When I see a door, I want to open it. When I see a car, I want to drive it. When I shoot a piece of glass, it had better shatter into a million pieces.

You want games to be fun? Make it satisfying. Let me save a princess. Let me take over a country. Let me fly to the moon. Or just let me take out some aggression on wave after wave of Nazis.

Make me feel like I'm in control. Make me feel like I'm accomplishing something. Make me feel like I'm playing a game. I don't want to sit back and watch a movie. I don't want help playing. I don't want somebody telling me what to do and where to go. I want to play it my way. I don't mind dying -- it just means I try something different next time. I enjoy pushing buttons (in and out of the game) and wondering, "What does this do?" I don't want to play a game where the only choice I'm allowed to make is the right one, I want to live by my choices, right or wrong, and die and try again if I must.

I agree that the industry as a whole has gone the wrong direction. They fight over graphics while gamers crave gameplay. They release sequel after sequel of the same thing. They release a game every year and each new version is still filled with the same bugs. They make everything realistic when we really want excitement.

Mario Kart will always be more fun than Gran Turismo because you don't have to be Mario Andretti to play Mario Kart. Duck Hunt will always be better than Counterstrike because you don't have to be a sniper to hit a target. Make games that are fun and playable -- give up the competition for realism.

What an incredibly narrow-minded and ignorant rant. Some people don't enjoy simple repetition because it bores them. Some people enjoy the thrill of competing. The fact that you label only stuff that you enjoy as the "right" way to have fun just shows your completely naive view of how video games work.

Half of your entire post comes down to "I'm stupid so I want everything to be spoon fed to me and anything that makes you think isn't fun".

wtf a game is ultimately repititious in nature. That's what makes it a game, because you repeatedly perform certain tasks according to set rules in order to arrive to a predetermined conclusion designed by the developers.

*Kudos to the nephew for seeking actual fun and not visual/audial masturbation.

namtastic:
Ha, I saw this reprint and thought, gee, I wonder if the complaints would be reprinted as well. Glad to see I wasn't disappointed.

Beery:
It's also the feature that allowed her nephew to win while turning around and firing indiscriminately - i.e. the AI won his battle for him.

You're right, we need more games that play themselves.

I'm hoping that you're being serious, because if that's sarcasm then I'm pretty sure it would qualify as a straw man.

At any rate, I'm gonna go with Beery on this one, only expand it to the whole article. The author seemed to be saying that games nowadays are too complicated, too repetitive, or both. And that the only fun ones are the old-fashioned "save the princess" type games that have no real plot to speak of. In fact, the entire article seemed a little odd all around. First the author complains of having games be too advanced for a three year old, then seems to overanalyze with things like "why won't this door in the background open?", going on to complain about an arcade (by the sounds of it) game that isn't realistic enough by not letting you walk on the ground, only to end it by asking why games can't be more simplistic.

The overall gist I got from it was that the author seems to want her games to either be at one end of the realistic or the other, with no room in between, yet still finds faults with both sides for not having enough of the other in them. I think I speak for all fairly intelligent people when I say that fun is relevant. If you don't like one type of gameplay, fine. But don't go around saying that the only things that are "fun" are the things you like, and everything else is, in one way or another, repetitive drivel. Games are meant to be fun, and overanalyzing any form of entertainment will make it suck.

Entertaining read!

For those who agree with the author there are many great games that three year-olds enjoy. Try Backyardigans for the PC - it's great and my daughter (who has just turned 5) has been playing it for a few months now - although it's about the most repetitive game in existence she doesn't get bored with it. I played it once and got bored because although it's great for 3 year-olds it does not have enough in it to satisfy me. Another great game for a younger crowd is Viva Pinata - very deep, very addictive and tons of replay value even for adults, but like all games it grows stale after a while, not because it's bad but because we humans like change. Even the best game gets old after a while because humans aren't wired to be satisfied with one single experience, no matter how fulfilling it might be. Right now I play games like KotOR, Assassin's Creed, Star Wars: Battlefront, Call of Duty 4, Silent Hunter IV, Rome: Total War, GTA IV and LotRO, but I don't fool myself into believing that any of those games can keep me interested for more than a few weeks at a time - such a thing is impossible because humans aren't wired to be satisfied with even the most playable and replayable game forever.

The one thing that really surprises me is that so many people who have responded seem to want the author's impossible dream - and they seem to think it's a realistic expectation. But I wonder how many of them own Viva Pinata and play it often - somehow I doubt any of them do. Viva Pinata is about the best example of 'the perfect game that 3 year-olds would enjoy' but I really doubt that adults would ever remain satisfied with it.

Clearly, the author touches on a note of nostalgia that many players feel - the 'games were better when I was younger' idea. But the reality is that games WEREN'T better when we were younger, they were just simpler. The notion that games that would satisfy young folks are somehow better is kinda like an older person saying that things were better in the '50s. The problem with that attitude is that it's a fantasy: things like mom's apple pie are lauded while stuff like the McCarthy hearings and racial segregation are conveniently forgotten. It's very telling that the author doesn't cite a single game that she feels lives up to her demands - the thing is, such a game probably lives only in her fantasy world that has a 'rosy-coloured glasses' view of the fabled 'perfect game', because what she's demanding - the deep game with infinite replay value that is chock-full of meaningful content and that both a 3 year-old and a 33 year-old can find fun - cannot exist in reality. Such a game would require a supercomputer to fit all the necessary details in and if it was built to satisfy three year-olds it certainly would not satisfy 33 year-olds. Even if such a game could be built we'd still tire of it because our nature means that we demand more than any single game can give us. If we could be satisfied with a single game forever the games industry would go out of business immediately - I'm not sure I'd be happy about that.

The fact is, the perfect game probably already exists. It's called Chess. But after playing a few games of chess I like to mix it up with lesser games like Dominoes, Backgammon, Draughts, Whist or even Tic-tac-toe. The thing is, people aren't built in a way that allows them to be satisfied with any game - and that's a GOOD thing. Our inherent dissatisfaction with any one game - the feeling of "Why can't I go through THIS door" or "This level looks the same as the last" - is what allows the diversity of different games and it's what keeps game companies churning out new games. It would be a sad world indeed if we suddenly all became devout Chess (or Viva Pinata) fans and refused to ever play all those other games.

It doesn't look like a single one of you understood what the author was saying. The entire point was:

If you put a door on the map, it should be openable.
If you give the dinosaur feet, they should be useable.
If you add something to the game, it should do something, especially if it's an object that is expected to do something!

I think the story was very interesting and many of the posts were equally so. But as Izakata said, the entire point was that if the programmers put something in the game, you should be able to use it.

I agree, often the designers miss the most obvious things because they are so caught up in trying to make amzingly complicated stuff.

All games should be play tested by 3 year olds. This would be funny, functional, and breed a race of 3 year old super gamers that cut their teeth on the hardest games since the age of three- finally enabling us to take on the Koreans.

I really enjoyed this article! can't believe I missed it before. . .

yes, I agree with Izkata

Izkata:
It doesn't look like a single one of you understood what the author was saying. The entire point was:

If you put a door on the map, it should be openable.
If you give the dinosaur feet, they should be useable.
If you add something to the game, it should do something, especially if it's an object that is expected to do something!

it's a variation on something professionals in the theatre industry have known a long time - it's known as "why is there a goose on stage?" (also known as the "loaded gun")

essentially, if you're going to put something there, (a goose), then it had better be relevant or useful to the scene. often in games, aesthetic choices trump gameplay function, which can often be frustrating in terms of immersing yourself and believing in the game's universe.

so basic'ly, the goose is there, it's not relevant to anything, and it's distracting everyone from the play.

 

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