this site was made for ramblin'

October 13, 2005
Thought of the Moment
Can you make an Impressionist game? A game where the formal system conveys the following? The answer is, of course you can. It's called Minesweeper.

--Raph Koster, "A Theory of Fun for Game Design", talking about Impressionist art in different media and how Games could follow some of the same ideas.

Ramble of the Moment
I've been thinking about the conventional wisdom concerning the similarities between Apple and Nintendo. (Heh, back in 1988 then Apple-president identified "Nintendo!" as Apple's biggest threat.) Neither is the market leader in their fields, but both are well-respected, with a rabid fanbase (plus a few naysayers), and producing some really striking design work.

It was when I was temporarily unable to recall the name of the iPod "Shuffle" that it hit me how many products Apple has churned out lately. I suppose many companies churn out wide product lines, but no one combines the innovation and sense of design of Apple. (The effect may be exaggerated by my personal sense of "time speeding up"...I couldn't find a complete product timeline.) Consider the online Apple Store... desktop-wise there were those old fruity iMacs (which of course harkened back to the original Macintosh, which was probably the most innovative thing of all!) and that was it for a while (except for the brilliant but ill-fated silent Mac cube...) but more recently there was that one with the swinging arm (no longer sold I guess), the other one where the CPU, DVD etc are built into the back of the screen (an idea I saw on a few PCs in the 90s, but crappily done), and the Mini. Laptop-wise, less distinction but great execution, and I admire their realization that some people prefer smaller, more lappable laptops (and shouldn't pay hugely inflated prices for it, ala Sony's pintsized models.)

iPod-wise, it was that one for a long while, then came the Mini (now totally eclipsed by the Nano, which is probably why Ksenia was able to get a 100% rebate on one when she bought her powerbook), the screenless "stick of gum" Shuffle, the impressive Nano, and then newer models with screens and, finally, video.

I can't think of any company that has matched, though Nintendo comes close. Most famously they're known for the terrible flop of the Virtual Boy (strain your neck peering through the binocular-like, ugly red goggles, and just generally feel like a total tool even further removed from the real world...) but they've done a lot of industry-advancing things...cross pad arrangement of buttons and shoulder buttons on the SNES controller, analog stick with 4 built-in ports on the N64, the cool clamshell of the GBA SP, and the twinscreen / touchscreen of the DS.

Nintendo seems to be taking another gamble with the "Revolution" and its controllers. Initial images of the remote-control looking controllers are almost alarmingly reminiscent of the Phillips CDi system. (My Aunt enjoyed the Backgammon game, but that's about it.) Supposedly, though, they're very good at tracking position and rotation. They used similar gimmicks on certain GBA titles (most notably "WarioWare Twisted") and the responsiveness of the new "in space" controllers should be much better than similar gadgets in the past.

These should allow for some unique and distinctive gameplay forms, ones that might have an appeal to a huge swath of gamers. Nintendo is fighting against the "elitism" of games (described by Raph Koster in his "Theory of Fun" book) where game designers start catering to their hardcore fan-base 'til finally the barriers to entry are surprisingly high. Anyone could step-up to Pac-Man or Space Invaders and start interacting, but not so much for, say, Halo or Mario Sunshine. It's a gamble, but it's refreshing--especially since Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PS3 seem geared around "more of the same, but prettier."

Hmm. I'm not sure if I have much of a point with all this, except...Hooray for scrappy companies doing good design!