I’ve been reading up on the “Kind Code” of late, regarding Miyamoto’s/Nintendo’s newest patent idea which in effect plays the game for the gamer.

Having grown up on gaming and having worked in the industry myself, I can’t help but wonder what this translates into. On one hand, helping a gamer is not exactly uncharted ground, as evidenced by the number of gaming strategy guides published over the years. And I will openly admit to having to resort to using one from time to time, or GameFAQs to look up a solution for a tricky area.

In my own defense, I only use the guides to nudge me to the next step without spoiling what I need to do next or divulging any plot details. And my reference has only been with a path is not obvious after a few attempts, and I am genuinely stuck to the point where I can no longer play anymore. But I certainly don’t want someone to do it for me. Even the slightest bit of outside help invalidates my sense of achievement, and having someone play it for me becomes an exercise in “What’s the point of playing”.

When looking at patents, however, one can only largely speculate, but the idea of essentially putting a game on auto-pilot to play for you is more than a little disturbing to me. What’s the point of playing a game that will play itself for you?

It’s a mark of being lazy, and I don’t know who is at fault: The developers or the gamers. Back in the NES days, games like Kid Icarus, and Metroid didn’t hold your hand and tell you where to go, yet millions of players used their own initiative to make it through. I could beat games left and right, yet it took me over a year to beat the original Super Mario Bros. because I couldn’t navigate the jumps, and despite countless Mario games completed since, I still struggle at times with World 8. To be quite honest, I’ve yet to beat Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! – But I still try every now and then to get back up on the horse and hope today will be my lucky day.

The 8 and 16-bit generations either left gamers to their own devices, or if you needed a strategy guide, you could break down and get one. When games started shifting from 2D to 3D, things like maps and directional arrows to guide one to the next objective became more commonplace, and for many games, made sense. It wasn’t the 2D planes of Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania where the only sensible course of action was to press right and go. 3D games made it possible to not easily find that particular cave, or walk minutes in one direction to realize that people were going the wrong way. It gave gamers a nudge, but didn’t directly tell them. But over the last few years, “nudges” have gone to genuine hand holding, and this suggested idea is simply “cruise control”. It’s the same as gamers setting up macros in MMOs to level grind. Sure they’re level 70, thanks to leaving the computer to run itself for a few days. I just never saw that as fun.

Developers need to make themselves aware of this. If game AI or level design is so convoluted that it has the option to play itself, there is something seriously wrong with the overall design. Game puzzles and challenges need to make sense, even if the answer isn’t readily apparent. Braid is one game I can think of that nearly made my brain leak at times trying to figure out some of those puzzles, but the answers WERE there, and upon piecing together the answer, it made perfect sense. It wasn’t some obtuse solution like needing to use a blue duck on a certain door when every other entryway required a key. The answer sat clearly in front of you within the level, with no backtracking, get an item later, etc. Even games that required backtracking like Super Metroid made perfect sense. Once Samus cleared the objective to get a certain item, the world opened up that much more, and became that much deeper.

Basically, if a game can not be understood without a hint system, then it’s a flawed game.

The same can be said for more modern gamers. The mainstream media has defined “casual” gaming as more catered to a “simple” person, which isn’t true anymore than the “hardcore” (a term I loathe) gamer being little more than a pure FPS enthusiast. By either definition, I am neither. Yet, games are being created more with the “casual” gamer in mind, with Nintendo leading that charge after the success it has found in the Wii. Nintendo’s programmers weren’t exactly “kind” to me every time Pit fell to his death in World 1, or the Like-Likes ate Link’s shield for the billionth time, or Fox failed to save the base before StarWolf destroyed it. But if the chance for the game to ask me “Would you like me to do this for you” ever came up, I would have rejected the option then the same as I would now.

Part of the problem with the “casual” market today is this self-fulfilling prophecy that the casual market not only can’t handle the challenge, but doesn’t even want to. If we don’t give gamers the option to try, then we’re denying them the same chance that the last three decades of gaming has offered its fanbase. And people who so blatantly “free ride” in this manner that the kind code potentially offers…. Part of the fun of gaming is bragging rights. A gamer saying that they completed a game would essentially have to prove it a la The King of Kong every time, and high scores would be a whole other matter of contesting. It’s not like a video recording could be sent to Twin Galaxies anymore. Who really earned the score? The gamer or the game? Would all accomplishments have to be played in public? Would every gamer have to travel to a spot like Steve Weibe?

If anything, I could understand the addition of a “Story Digest” in a game’s option menu that allows the player the option to watch all the cinematics. I can think of a number of games where I would like to watch the cutscenes again, but not have to play the entire game from the start or my last save point. And I do know there are a lot of gamers who just like watching the story unfold without interest in playing the game. Movies and books offer the story progression without having to do more than sit and look at the media. Then again, YouTube offers the same effect for gaming cut scenes and endings today, but where are the gaming companies going to make a profit off of that?

Again, at this point, a patent is speculation of an idea, but the potential of what it could do to gaming is a concerning prospect, and in Nintendo’s current mindframe, I could see them pursuing this as part of a game design option in the near future. I’m not a big fan of this idea. I think it’s counter-productive to what gaming represents, and saps the fun out of gaming. I don’t need my games winning themselves for me, and the idea of having this as a feature to be exploited by lazy developers and embraced by lazy gamers…. Making games for all walks of life is fine, but don’t patronize them, or flat-out hand them the reward instead of having to even work for it anymore.

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