Saturday, February 25, 2006


I'd like to take a moment to talk about Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball.

Okay, well, not really. But I would like to talk about that niche.

"What, the 'I wish I were porn' niche?"

No, the "utterly relaxed exploration" niche.

The problem is, there aren't exactly a whole bunch of examples floating around. In fact, one of the two big-name titles I can find in that genre is - you guessed it - XBV. The other is Animal Crossing.

There's a place for games with no real challenges. There's no real challenge to XBV. The whole point of the game is blatantly to collect swimsuits. There are "volleyball tournaments", but if you don't win them, you just have to play for longer. They aren't exactly challenging gameplay, anyhow. There's no "lose and restart".

In Animal Crossing, you get a similar situation. The game is all about exploring the options that the world offers, customizing everything. There's not exactly a whole lot in the way of tense, skill-based play, is there?

Why are there so few games like this, where the whole purpose is to explore the gamespace at your leisure, in any direction you please?

I mean, these games obviously sell poorly. XBV only outsold 99% of the other XBox games, and Animal Crossing sold worse than... uh, Nintendogs, which is a third title I had momentarily forgotten about.

Maybe they cost a lot to produce? I don't think XBV cost much at all, save for modeling 18,000 swimsuits. Nintendogs was probably expensive because it was new hardware, but I doubt Animal Crossing was expensive at all - not compared to, say, a Zelda game.

Thing is, I think these games are the latest descendents of adventure games. I mean Monkey Island-style games. They kind of feel the same to me, with their "no real rush" methodology. You're obviously there for the setting, not for the plot.

Zelda games are the same way, but they have all sorts of pushing and pulling.

Some of you are probably saying, "first he yammers on about gameplay needing goals and challenges and stuff, now he's saying the industry could use more games without goals or challenges?"

Well, these games have rules, patterns, goals, and challenges. They're just... very, very relaxed. The goals are usually presented as aesthetic lures. The challenges are things which don't cause you to sweat, and your grandma could do them if she spent any time at it. They definitely have rules and patterns.

Even if all you're doing is exploring space, one of my latest posts gave some examples as to how you can do that in a number of interesting ways.

Why do we feel that every game must be tense and challenge-driven? Every game must be a test of our skill? We seem to think games need to be like that, but I have lots of fun just exploring a world. And, more importantly, being able to affect that world.

I don't know the answers. All I'm saying is: isn't it a bit odd? That a "genre" sells so well when published, but doesn't get any more popular?

I occasionally want to sit down and just experience a universe. Don't make me play XBV! Please! It's really poor! Give me other games!


Patrick Dugan said...

The "wanderer" play style, and its sexy cousin, the "particpant" play style, are two under developed forms of play that I think could appeal to the majority of people, i.e. casual and non-gamers.

In the case of the wanderer style, its all about exloring a setting, in case of the particpant style, its all about playing role (a real role, in social/dramatic terms, not just another sword/spell slinger). They naturally go together, and the play of a storyworld would aim to appease both.

Duncan said...

I'm a big proponent of the wander/explore and story-driven play styles. The gameplay is a lot more relaxed and usually requires more thinking-style challenges rather than twitch challenges. I've also gotten several people I know interested in games through the more free-form and exploratory types of games. The better ones are easy to navigate, fun to explore and are less "scary" than games that require even a modicum of skill to play. Plus, in some cases, they build a social element which is not unwelcome.

Craig Perko said...

One thing I'm not fond of is the idea of a "wanderer" play style. I don't think it's a play style. I think it's a horrible juxtaposition of "architect" and "participant" - which are two very different play styles!

I'll post on this later.

Other than that, it sounds like a bit of the Mikado in this comment section. "He is right and we are right and all is right as right as right can be!"