April 17th, 2008


More On Innovative Video Games

Last time, I spoke a little about innovative game play and a bit on interactive computer sprites or avatars with egos controlled through StoryTron. This time I'm inspired by the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

The game play of Guitar Hero is simple. A falling set of instructions crosses the screen. As they get to the bottom, you "play" what is illustrated by pressing the correspondingly colored buttons. The more buttons you press at the correct time the better that you play and the higher that your score is.

The controllers are vaguely guitar shaped molded plastic, with the five colored keys in a line at the end. Geeks, the furiously creative people that they are, then began modifying real guitars into Guitar Hero guitars. Then came devices that would interface a guitar with a computer or video game system. All the while, non-video game people complained that others should be learning how to play real guitars rather than spending their time learning how to play a game.

Well, check that second link again. With technology like that we may someday be able to learn to play real guitars through interaction with a video game system.

In fact, I would say that the real world applications of video games to teach are staggering, and not in the simplistic Math Blaster or Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing way. Because, let's face it, I've played both of those, and they don't put enough thought into them to make them very interesting. Yeah, you might get progressively harder math problems, but you don't feel very rewarded by them. There's no complex story or end video. The graphics and the engine are static and cartoony.

Imagine though, a game with the graphical sophistication of Call of Duty that requires the knowledge of real world communications equipment to do well in. Perhaps a sci-fi spy game that teaches you to manipulate a unix or linux environment to change the parameters of a real world system.

You could even play in teams where each person has their own specialty and abilities based on their ability to negotiate complex systems.

With the SoundTech Ediface from above, you could even have a game along the theme of guitar hero that teaches you how to play a real guitar. Someday we might have a drum set that teaches you drums. And perhaps even something that teaches you Jazz Flute.

This isn't even as new as I imply. Flight Simulators have been around for years and today they're so good at simulating conditions and terrain that people actually use them to train on routes that they haven't previously flown.

I think one of the biggest problems to this is that people have long associated educational games with the poor production values and infantile subject matter that the elementary school games I cited above have.

Look at the amount of effort and time that people put into mastering games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy or Eve Online. I've personally spent hundreds of hours on games like that, and just imagine if there were good games that proffered real world knowledge in complex and engaging simulations.

I think that we're soon going to be reaching a point technologically where it won't make any sense not to make games somewhat more realistic and complicated in order to drive innovative game play. If a computer can speak Arabic, why not program a game that requires a player to learn the basics of Arabic (or Spanish, or German) to bypass some of the challenges?

At that point, the people above will no longer be able to complain about how gamers should learn to play real guitars instead of playing video games. They'll be doing both at the same time.