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Nintendo Patents Self-Playing Games, Developers React

A US patent application reveals some elaborate gameplay assistance technology.

Just hit cruise-control until you get to the pie factory!
Here's an interesting piece of business. Kotaku reported earlier today on a Nintendo patent filed in June 2008 under Shigeru Miyamoto's name for something called “Kind Code,” which appears to be a gameplay system that will effectively allow games to play themselves. You can check out the full patent application for yourself, but it's pretty technical and dense. The basic idea is that you could essentially flick an auto-pilot switch whenever the game got too hard or too tedious, sit back and watch the game progress from a passive perspective, then hop back in when it starts to look like fun again. Alternately, you could just skip to different parts of the game directly, DVD-chapter-style.

It's a pretty ambitious concept, and I suppose there's some merit to the idea of making games more accessible to people who don't play games. Kotaku got responses from a few different well-known developers about the potential of such potent hand-holding technology, though I think that Jonathan Blow sums up my perspective on the issue quite nicely.
The defining characteristic of a game is that you play it. If, in order for games to be accessible to a wider audience, we need to make it so that most people can skip over the playing it part, then what that really means is that our medium sucks.
Simply put, if people don't like playing your game, you're doing it wrong. I find this non-interactive approach really peculiar coming from Nintendo, since the whole hook behind the Wii is that it's interactive in a really novel way. The logic that you'd get people to play your games by making it so they don't have to play them seems profoundly circular. If people want to not-play The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, they don't need to buy anything. Prince of Persia producer Ben Mattes also makes this really excellent point.
It makes sense to me in a purely linear game, but as soon as we get sand-box, or even remotely open ended, the number of variables would seem to invalidate the potential of this system.
He goes on to cite Fallout 3, which is a superb example of the direction that games seem to be headed. If any one idea defined the games of 2008, it's that, whether it be through realistic physics systems, moral choices, or user-generated content, the player has more of an impact on the world inside the games than ever. This “Kind Code” technology would've been a much more compelling piece of kit 10 or 15 years ago, when games were much more focused and linear. Though, I suppose you could argue that many of the games Nintendo makes today still retain that relatively narrow structure.

Keep in mind that all of this is based on a patent application that Nintendo hasn't publicly acknowledged, and it's hard to know if or how it would be applied. I have some grave concerns about the implications of making the interactivity of video games optional, though if the past four years have taught me anything, it's not to discount any of Nintendo's crazy, left-field ideas out of hand.
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Posted by Ryan
Just hit cruise-control until you get to the pie factory!
Here's an interesting piece of business. Kotaku reported earlier today on a Nintendo patent filed in June 2008 under Shigeru Miyamoto's name for something called “Kind Code,” which appears to be a gameplay system that will effectively allow games to play themselves. You can check out the full patent application for yourself, but it's pretty technical and dense. The basic idea is that you could essentially flick an auto-pilot switch whenever the game got too hard or too tedious, sit back and watch the game progress from a passive perspective, then hop back in when it starts to look like fun again. Alternately, you could just skip to different parts of the game directly, DVD-chapter-style.

It's a pretty ambitious concept, and I suppose there's some merit to the idea of making games more accessible to people who don't play games. Kotaku got responses from a few different well-known developers about the potential of such potent hand-holding technology, though I think that Jonathan Blow sums up my perspective on the issue quite nicely.
The defining characteristic of a game is that you play it. If, in order for games to be accessible to a wider audience, we need to make it so that most people can skip over the playing it part, then what that really means is that our medium sucks.
Simply put, if people don't like playing your game, you're doing it wrong. I find this non-interactive approach really peculiar coming from Nintendo, since the whole hook behind the Wii is that it's interactive in a really novel way. The logic that you'd get people to play your games by making it so they don't have to play them seems profoundly circular. If people want to not-play The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, they don't need to buy anything. Prince of Persia producer Ben Mattes also makes this really excellent point.
It makes sense to me in a purely linear game, but as soon as we get sand-box, or even remotely open ended, the number of variables would seem to invalidate the potential of this system.
He goes on to cite Fallout 3, which is a superb example of the direction that games seem to be headed. If any one idea defined the games of 2008, it's that, whether it be through realistic physics systems, moral choices, or user-generated content, the player has more of an impact on the world inside the games than ever. This “Kind Code” technology would've been a much more compelling piece of kit 10 or 15 years ago, when games were much more focused and linear. Though, I suppose you could argue that many of the games Nintendo makes today still retain that relatively narrow structure.

Keep in mind that all of this is based on a patent application that Nintendo hasn't publicly acknowledged, and it's hard to know if or how it would be applied. I have some grave concerns about the implications of making the interactivity of video games optional, though if the past four years have taught me anything, it's not to discount any of Nintendo's crazy, left-field ideas out of hand.
Staff
Posted by Arkthemaniac

That's dumb as hell. It's also what difficulty settings are for. Don't waste time making new technology that's worse than old technology.

Posted by HandsomeDead

That's so innovative. Only the Wii could be so innovative in its innovation. Microsoft and Sony are so last gen, this is the future, baby.

Posted by John1912
Posted by Sephiroth9997

Nintendo does what Microstole.

Edited by Endogene

Wait a sec, this is not all that the patents states...

3 modes

Mode: Game


a small screen in the corner with hints


Mode Digest


The mode that Ryan's article is about. The player watches a video of the dev playing the game where the player is blocked. whenever the player wants he can press a button and continue the action from where the video was. The game will look up a save file online with the equipment and all of the point where the player stopped the video.

Mode Scene


This is the "DVD chapter" select, it will be impossible to save however.
Posted by zoozilla

Wow.  That is a horribly stupid idea.

I mean, I can kind of see the logic behind it, but....I mean, come on.

Posted by TheFreeMan

That's very odd.....I don't think I'd want any of those in my games. But, I can see where it can be necessary.....like......long ocean trips in Wind Waker, but that's about it.

Posted by KillerFly

I can't totally hate on this idea.  If I love playing a game, but hate one specific part of it, what's wrong with me being able to skip that part.  If skipping something that is, in my opinion, frustrating means I get more enjoyment out of the game as a whole, I see no problem with that.

Edited by adny2

and off in the distance we can see the two towers of  Brady and Prima Games go down in a cloud of smoke.

Posted by CallMeRotten

Stop it Nintendo. Just stop it.

Posted by Claude

I read that, but I thought you still had to play the game after the hint or play through. I think it's for the people who bought the Wii, but are too afraid to buy a more hardcore game. I would be lying if I said I didn't use hints or walk-throughs and the option to use them seems like a good idea. I read some forum posts that said it could increase developer creativity, because they have a fail safe.

Posted by HandsomeDead
Claude said:
"I think it's for the people who bought the Wii, but are too afraid to buy a more hardcore game."
Those people don't really exist.
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Wow, this is dumb. Really dumb. Why don't they just release $50 DVDs of someone playing the game instead?

Online
Posted by adny2

when you skip over the more difficult areas, then you wont learn how to overcome the even 'MORE' difficult areas later on in the game.  Then when you skip over that, and all other more and more difficult areas....you'll come to the ending credits with no fulfillment of actually accomplishing anything. You'd simply return the game saying that it sucked...why? cause the game was waaaay to easy!

Posted by Scooper

Nintendo's got the power. Now you're playing with power. Now you're not even playing, it's just power playing power.

Power.

Posted by KillerFly

@ adny2

But not all games are so nicley balanced.  Example: Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox is a 16-chapter game, but the chapter 7 boss is the hardest boss in the games.  A lot of my friends never beat NG because of that boss.  What if they could just skip over that part and keep playing?

Or what if you good skip over some dumb swimming section, or a dumb mini-game, or a dumb escort mission, or anything that makes you say "you know, I like this game, but this one part is fricken stupid"?

Posted by Claude

I first read about this on Gamasutra and this caught my eye.

"The system doesn't appear to allow players to actually bypass gameplay or save progress made by the automated playthrough. Specifically, the patent refers also to the method for storing pre-played gameplay data that doesn't interfere with the user's own gameplay saves."

I don't think that sounds like a DVD, just an option.

Posted by Mister_Snig

Come back, Nintendo. I miss you.

;_;
Posted by QuattroRS6

This pretty much makes a game a movie.  Non interactive story telling.

Posted by KillerFly

@ Claude:

Oh wow, that sounds way different.  That sounds like the game doesn't play itself at all.  It's just that if you're having a hard time with it, you can watch a video of someone else doing it, and then you have to do it yourself.

Posted by Shinryu

This idea could potentially ruin console gaming as we know it.....im growning to dislike Nintendo more and more these days which sucks because i used to love the company :(

Posted by oldschool

Yes, bring on the hate, but stop and think a moment.

The whole style of games has evolved and this is just another 'potential' evolution.  Who can remmember how rock hard many old school games were, simply because you had nowhere to save, or they were too far apart?  REAL hardcore gamers cried foul as more save points were added to make a game more accessible, crying the end of gaming as they knew it.  This is much the same thing.

It is not as if Nintendo are shouting that all games should have this.  It would surely just be an option for games that suited it.  You wouldn't have to use it.  I myself would like this option, even if I woulf likely use it only sparingly.

Don't certain car racing games do something similar to this?

Dear lord, anytime something new, just as a concept is brought out, up from the basements come the dries of the end of gaming.  Really?  How about you wait and see?
Posted by JJOR64

I read this on Kotaku.  I wonder if it will be used in the next Zelda game.

Edited by FalcomAdol

Alone in the Dark already did the "DVD Chapter Select" thing.  Video hint guides are readily available even though networked consoles (360), and the "hint" button has been a staple of games since the first electronic simulation of mahjong tile stack matching games.

I'd say we've got partial or complete invalidation based on prior art.

Edited by Endogene
KillerFly said:
"@ Claude:

Oh wow, that sounds way different.  That sounds like the game doesn't play itself at all.  It's just that if you're having a hard time with it, you can watch a video of someone else doing it, and then you have to do it yourself."
No, you have the option to do it yourself afterwards. If you so desire you can continue the game yourself from the point you stopped the video.

Endogene said:

Mode Digest


The mode that Ryan's article is about. The player watches a video of the dev playing the game where the player is blocked. whenever the player wants he can press a button and continue the action from where the video was. The game will look up a save file online with the equipment and all of the point where the player stopped the video.

Comes down to if you choose not to hop into the video you will be back where you where when you started it.


I would really appreciate this for some boss fights, its the same as going to youtube to see how you have to kill it without having to actually go to youtube.
Posted by Shinryu

Oldschool dont you think that this ide kind of takes away the whole "playing" aspect out of a game though?. Whats the point in a young developer pouring hours of hard work into a game that a good chunk of the market are going to skip to the end of simply because they are too lazy (or more likely a failure of a gamer) to play!....

Posted by ElectricHaggis

(Clearing of the throat noise)......Dumb!

Posted by ArclightBorealis
Edited by Arc

While I agree that such an "automated" way of playing can bring new posibilities like gags, humor, drama and other deep, complex emotions, it is my opinion that videogame already has those in the shape of cutscenes, intelligent programing & level design; likewise, if you need a tutorial on how to do something or how to complete a level so you can achieve progress in the game, I would point, like Jonathan Blow did, that there is a deep flaw in the way the title was made.

Videogames, to me, represent an active way of interaction; to hinder such interaction (hinder at best, murder at worst) should be considered an act of involution.
From full duplex to half duplex. I want to comunicate back, I want my actions and opinions to have weight and consecuences in that world.

Interactivity is an integral element of what sets appart video games and films, for instance. And considering that the video game industry is giving the film industry a good run for its money, I would think twice to spend such a behemoth effort to make videogames play like movies.

I have considered the posibility that maybe this is the way for video games to, in a not so immediate future, consume the film industry. Maybe like cellphones did to PDA's, or how the internet is doing with every other mass media outlet. But to me, it keeps coming back to the uncanny valley.

Posted by Shinryu

Yes because the developers interviewed by the Kotaku article's opinion surely fails in comparison to a few people from neogaf -_-

Edited by Arkthemaniac
Endogene said:
"Wait a sec, this is not all that the patents states...

3 modes

Mode: Game


a small screen in the corner with hints


Mode Digest


The mode that Ryan's article is about. The player watches a video of the dev playing the game where the player is blocked. whenever the player wants he can press a button and continue the action from where the video was. The game will look up a save file online with the equipment and all of the point where the player stopped the video.

Mode Scene


This is the "DVD chapter" select, it will be impossible to save however."
THAT's actually not a terrible thing. I gotta learn to read stuff for myself rather than believe what people say, especially when they're goddamn video game journalists. Basically, it's a tutorial that you can take it up from if you want. So, in essence, if you were fighting a really hard boss, you could find out how to fight it by watching a video, and then take it up after you understand how.
That's not exactly new. It's in Symphony of the Night. It's just that now you can take up from where it left off. That's actually kind of intriguing, and I have no problem with it. After all, I'm not being forced to use it, and if it makes people somewhere have more fun, what the hell, go for it.
Posted by oldschool
Shinryu said:
"Oldschool dont you think that this ide kind of takes away the whole "playing" aspect out of a game though?. Whats the point in a young developer pouring hours of hard work into a game that a good chunk of the market are going to skip to the end of simply because they are too lazy (or more likely a failure of a gamer) to play!...."
Yes and no.
You are looking at it from too narrow a perspective.  When you buy a CD, do you listen to the whole album, every time, because that is how the artist wanted you to listen to it?  Probably not.  What a consumer does with a product after they purchase it isn't really any of the developers business (within the law).  In the end, I also don't think they care if it sells more and they make more profit.

I have over 600 games with a completion rate below 2%.  I don't feel guilty about not seeing out the developer's grand vision.  I am not expecting a call from them either.  We should just accept that the market isn't a single entity.  It is a massively diverse one where the needs vary enormously and any option is only ever a good thing.
Posted by Shinryu

I suppose I see your point oldschool, I guess its just more of a personal thing that I have to complete every game I own and dont enjoy the concept of such things as Gameshark.

I guess ultimately If its only on a nintendo platform its irrelevant to me at any rate since i dont play my wii as it is lol :)

Posted by TrulyAlive

If I want to experience a medium of digital entertainment with focus on graphical visuals, I'll watch Beowulf. But seeing as I like to play video games, I think I'll skip the CG-athon.

Posted by DXSSI
Ryan said:
I have some grave concerns about the implications of making the interactivity of video games optional, though if the past four years have taught me anything, it's not to discount any of Nintendo's crazy, left-field ideas out of hand."
Says it all right there.  I would express the same reservations, but I know several people whose idea of playing a game is to cheat through the hard parts or make me do it for them.  How overjoyed would they be if they had a "beat this next section of the game for me" function?

Ben Mattes said:
It makes sense to me in a purely linear game, but as soon as we get sand-box, or even remotely open ended, the number of variables would seem to invalidate the potential of this system.

Now this I must disagree with.  People have been programming games that play themselves for years; they're called sports games.  Two AI opponents facing off each other with no human interaction?  No problem.  Of course that's a more linear example, but take that and apply it to something like Grand Theft Auto, the ultimate example of a sandbox game.  A keen developer would take one of two approaches: either itemize every in-game event on an ordered flow chart demonstrating optimal order (think Mega Man boss order) and then have the AI-assist follow it as a guide, or else define key chapters or sections of the game (i.e. a mission for Larry, a mission for Steve, and side-quest taxicab missions) and limit player interaction to "which goal should character pursue next?"

Either way, you've just made the impossible possible.  Sure, the game won't be sentient and randomly start busting caps in the knees of random passers-by (although even that would become possible if the game just kept statistics of how often the player did just that outside of a mission and then mathematically determined when to deviate from its set course for just such a thing), but it would more than satisfy any "gamer" who can't game.

Jonathan Blow said:
If, in order for games to be accessible to a wider audience, we need to make it so that most people can skip over the playing it part, then what that really means is that our medium sucks.

I both agree and disagree with this statement.  On the one hand, YES, absolutely.  A game that immediately comes to mind which could have used such a feature was Sonic and the Secret Rings.  I grew bored about halfway through and lost all passion for playing the game.  But I still wanted to know how it ended.  So I trudged through a few more levels before I finally couldn't stand it anymore and shelved it.  Some time passed and I became curious about the game again—but still didn't want to play the damned thing.  That's when I had an idea, and a quick search later, found that yes, indeed—some kind soul had uploaded the game's final battle and ending to Youtube.  And I watched it.  And I was finally satisfied.  And if there had been an auto-play feature in SatSR, I most certainly would have exploited it.  Now, certainly I could have beaten SatSR if I chose to; I just didn't enjoy the game enough to actually do it.  And I'd already put down my $50, so I was going to enjoy what was left in whatever way I possibly could.  And I won't be buying Sonic and the Black Knight when it launches (although I will watch it on Youtube.)

Now take this and think about it—does this strike you as a condemnation of the whole medium?  Or just of this one game?  Well, of course it's just the one game.  And that's where the opposing viewpoint comes into play.  My personal thoughts on this game does not mean that it is universally unloved.  Not only would many greatly disagree with me about SatSR (some people even believe it to be the epitome of what Sonic games should be), but at least one person took the time to complete the game and upload video of it to Youtube.

Nintendo has already demonstrated quite clearly with the Wii that there are millions of gamers (whether we as a community choose to refer to them as such or not) that don't want and/or can't handle the more advanced, "hardcore" games that most of us here grew up playing.  I also happen to know a couple of people who think the Wii is too complicated.  Thus I can only come to the conclusion that anyone who seriously believes that games which feature some form of auto-play would be the automatic downfall of the industry is not tuning their thoughts market-wide, and will be the first to miss the boat if Nintendo starts selling games and game consoles en masse to people we never dreamed might call themselves gamers.  Gaming purists may not like it, but it's not going to be their decision.

And if you disagree with my assessment, I have one final question to ask of you before I hear your rebuttal: what say you of the availability of an auto-aim function in any particular FPS you might treasure?
Posted by oldschool
Shinryu said:
"I suppose I see your point oldschool, I guess its just more of a personal thing that I have to complete every game I own and dont enjoy the concept of such things as Gameshark.

I guess ultimately If its only on a nintendo platform its irrelevant to me at any rate since i dont play my wii as it is lol :)"
Wow, a mature conversation with disagreement (that sarcasm wasn't directed at you, it is just a pleasant surprise to have someone actually concede a point rather than dig in) on the internet!
I have never used a gameshark style device either, but I certainly don't discount the possibility.  I have used inbuilt cheats, be it sparingly and only for fun reasons.

Some of us kind of suck at playing games.  We get stuck in a game, try to figure it out for a while and give up.  The alternative is, we print out a walkthrough.  We then backtrack what we have done and use it to get us through to the next part.  The alternative is stopping.  That isn't taking the fun out of the game.  It isn't even taking the challenge out.  It is just giving yourself a chance to progress where you would otherwise give up (especially on some RPG).

Even though you don't play Nintendo at the moment, if successful, doesn't mean that similar things won't end up in all platforms.  Nature of the beast, the product must follow the consumer.  Hardcore gamers will always get their fix.
Posted by Shinryu

"And if you disagree with my assessment, I have one final question to ask of you before I hear your rebuttal: what say you of the availability of an auto-aim function in any particular FPS you might treasure?"

I dislike Auto-aim in FPS games.

Edited by exfate

Ok, so it doesn't actually play itself in so far as making progress for you?

I've only skimmed the patent, but the general idea I'm getting from reading around is that it just shows you what you should do next. If so, that would be just like using a guide. You're stuck, so you select an option to show you what to do rather than checking out GameFAQs or whatever? That's a pretty clever idea, but it only applies to linear games or linear sections of games.

"[0107]In the scene shown in FIG. 11, when a player cannot find how to open the door 103, a player may press the hint button 102. In this case, as shown in FIG. 12, a relatively small window 104 is displayed in a portion of the upper right area of the screen so as to reproduce moving images (hereinafter, referred to as an approach movie) indicating how to open the door 103. In FIG. 12, an approach movie representing a state where the player character 101 moves onto a switch 105 provided on the floor for opening the door 103, and stands on the switch 105 (that is, presses the switch 105) is reproduced. By viewing the approach movie, the player can know how to open the door 103. Therefore, the player moves the player character 101 to the switch 105 provided on the floor, and causes the player character 101 to stand thereon, as indicated by the approach movie, so as to open the door 103, thereby continuing the game."

Inclusion of excessive help features directly into games is potentially a bad thing and a good thing. It would make hardcore games more accessible, meaning first time players (of hardcore games) would be less likely to have a bad experience that turns them off forever - which happens a lot. The negative side is that it's increasing the temptation to give up trying, which means that the feelings of accomplishment that drive almost all games in some form or another would be lost.
Posted by Icewind

Thats pretty much what the new Prince of Persia is doing.  Holding your hand through the game.

Posted by JoshLarson

I have a solution for the outraged gamers in these comments: simply don't use this possible feature. It will be there to assist those people who want to use it but it won't be forced down anyone's throat. When I play games, I almost never play on the easiest difficulty setting but the mere existence  of it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the game because I don't use it. Just as I probably won't use this possible feature too often but I welcome it's presence in future games.

Some people argue that the autosave key in PC first person shooters ruins games because of possible "abuse". Bullshit. I'll tell you what ruins games, first person shooters without an autosave key (Farcry I'm looking in your disgusting direction). How does your knowing someone out there playing the same game you are and using many more autosaves than you diminish your enjoyment of a game? It shouldn't affect the experience at all just like this autoplay feature won't. Little Timmy from Australia letting the AI get through a hard song in Guitar Hero 15: Dead Horse Milking won't negate Pierre the frat boy from America's wicked performance in that very same song. Having options is never a bad thing except at GiantBomb apparently.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

Thats.. Really not so cool. Balance the game, and stop trying to widen the audience pools, seriously, they exist for a reason. So basically, it makes the game into a movie you can just watch. i think it would be cooler to habe you play through a game, then have it go back and watch your character play with fancy animations and effects and stuff, plus up the visuals a tad like one might in an ingame cin. And even that isn't really a cool idea... lol

Posted by Demokk

Though I agree that this would help non-hardcore gamers complete many games (it is quite obvious that is directed towards the "casual" audience), it is completely dumping the value most of us know as "Perseverance". Of course, you can choose whether to use it or not, but the fact that the option will be there will cause many people to give in way to early and just run through the game; therefore, not enjoying it in my opinion. I am mostly referring to the Scene and Digest features, as we already have the "Hint" feature in many websites such as GameFAQs.

Of course, developers could choose not to use this on their games.

I just can't imagine a Ninja Gaiden game (if by any chance we get another) with this feature.

Posted by LiquidPrince

That is the most insanely retarded idea I have ever heard in my life... So not only has Nintendo gone the casual route, but they are also alowing the games to now play themselves. That's just plain idiotic.

Posted by Media_Master

nice read, yeah I can see this concept used

Posted by Usagi

If you don't want to play a game, then don't play a game!  WTF?!

Also, if a game would make me think of ever using something like this then it is a shitty game and I wouldn't want to play it anyway!

Posted by atejas

inbefore MGS4.

Posted by Claude
LiquidPrince said:
"That is the most insanely retarded idea I have ever heard in my life... So not only has Nintendo gone the casual route, but they are also alowing the games to now play themselves. That's just plain idiotic."

You too, my god... you played Prince of Persia and it had a replay mechanic/character,  please read.
Posted by LiquidPrince
Claude said:
"LiquidPrince said:
"That is the most insanely retarded idea I have ever heard in my life... So not only has Nintendo gone the casual route, but they are also alowing the games to now play themselves. That's just plain idiotic."

You too, my god... you played Prince of Persia and it had a replay mechanic/character,  please read."

It had a replay mechanic, not a "let me play for you while you twiddle your fingers" mechanic.

Posted by HandsomeDead
Claude said:
"LiquidPrince said:
"That is the most insanely retarded idea I have ever heard in my life... So not only has Nintendo gone the casual route, but they are also alowing the games to now play themselves. That's just plain idiotic."

You too, my god... you played Prince of Persia and it had a replay mechanic/character,  please read."
That game gave you an idea of what to do next, it didn't do it for you.
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