Saturday, June 11, 2005

Nintendogs: The case of the non-game that barked like a game

A game design review of an innovative game

My beautiful lass recently borrowed a copy of Nintendogs from a friend (Thank you Porter!). This title has been burning up the charts in Japan and managed to get a perfect score in Famitsu magazine, a feat matched by only 4 other games in history. Why is it so successful and what can we learn from it as game designers?

This is a game design review, not a game review. A game review typically is written for the consumer and is intended to help them decide if they want to purchase the title. A game design review is written for other game developers and is intended to highlight successes and failures of the various layers of the game design. The hope is that we learn from the successful design practices and apply them in an intelligent fashion to our future titles.

Not a game?
The first thing that arises whenever someone talks about Nintendogs is the claim that it is not a game. "Dude, it is just a stupid Tamagotchi clone with dogs!" Such a vehement response is indicative of a larger trend in both the designer and gaming community. Unfortunately, it is a trend that has its roots in a fundamental misunderstanding of game design.

To generalize, there are two camps of designers in the world

  • Craftsman designers: Craftsman designers look at existing titles on the market and build up these to create improved titles. Craftsman designers are always hardcore game players with intimate knowledge of their preferred genre. Craftsmen know details, but fail to see deeper patterns.
  • Theoretical designers: Theoretical designers looks for common elements across all game genres and builds their designs from these fundamental parts. Where a craftsman designer might say "My FPS (First Person Shooter) needs a double shot gun to replace the single shotgun", a theoretical designer might say "Player enjoyment is dropping at this point, so we need to add a new risk/reward schedule."

The craftsman definition of a game.
Each of these two groups looks at a title like Nintendogs in very different ways. A craftsman designer classifies a title as a game if it fits into a pre-existing category. Is it a RTS game, a FPS, an adventure game, etc?

  • Is the game title part of a pre-existing genre?
  • If so how does that title compare to my personal enjoyment of other games in that genre?

This method works well when you operate within well defined genres (as is the case with most hard core gamers.) It breaks down when a title doesn't fit into a pre-existing genre. They'll still apply the same analysis, but generally end up shoe horning the title into a genre that is a poor fit.

There is nothing on that market that compares to Nintendogs. If you dig into the game mechanics at an abstract level, it has surprisingly more in common with a RPG than most virtual pet games. Yet hardcore gamers make a snap judgment and instantly assume it must be a Tamagotchi-style game. This is an unfortunate mistake that limits our understanding of the game design.

The theoretical definition of a game
The other way of looking at it is to look for the key elements that make up any game.

  • Are there psychological risk / reward systems?
  • Are there overlapping reward cycles on different timescales?
  • Can the game design be classified into standard game design elements such as tokens, verbs and rules?
  • Can the various layers of the game design be separated out so that the title can be examined in terms of core mechanics, metamechanics, contextualized tokens, plot, etc?

Nintendogs has clear game mechanism in each of these areas. There are clearly specific elements throughout the game that match existing game system that have been used throughout the history of game design. The theoretical designer realizes that a powerup is a powerup whether you call it a 'Quad Damage' or a 'Doggy Brush'.

To get this point across, let's look at Nintendogs by identifying the various game play elements that make it such an addictive experience and then compare those to the same mechanics used in other genres.

Overall Structure
Nintendogs follows the path of many successful titles. You start out with a novice character and through a variety of challenges and adventures, you grow the character in strength and power. Along the way, you gather treasure, gain new abilities and discover far away places.

In Nintendogs, it just happens that your character is a puppy and the world you are exploring is the city around your house. The battle sequences where you gain experience are dogshows. The powerups you get a hair care products and doggy snacks. Strip away the setting and plot of Nintendogs and you are still left with an innovative title, but it is one that bears more than a passing resemblance in structure to many other games.

This big structure is composed of smaller elements

  • Core mechanics: Layers of risk / reward activities
  • Meta Mechanics: Additional activities that tie together groups of core game mechanics.

Core Mechanics: Learning tricks
The primary activity you do with your dog is tell it commands and pet it. The first level of risk / reward cycle goes something like this:

  • Action: Say a phrase in a clear concise manner.
  • Reward: The dog responds with an attractive animation.
  • Example: Say "Lucky!" and the dog comes up to you. Say "Sit" and the dog sits.
  • Comparisons to other titles: In a fighting game, you hit a button with specific timing and it kills an enemy. The enemy crumples to the ground in an attractive animation. For Nintendogs, voice is certainly a fun new control mechanism, but in many ways it is no different than hitting the attack button in the fighting game. From a game mechanics viewpoint, pressing a button that means 'sit' is identical to saying 'sit' and having a voice recognition sub-system return the value 'sit' to the game.

The second level of risk / reward cycle builds on the first.

  • Action: Once you have gotten the character to perform a 'success' animation, you can now rub your stylus on the dog.
  • Reward: The dog plays an additional success animation, and gains 'happiness'
  • Example: After the dog sits, you can pet the dog and he arches his back contentedly. Pet long enough a sparkle appears that states you have improved your dog's happiness.
  • Comparisons to other games: In our fighting game, the dead enemy drops a heart. You need to run up to the coin and collect it, thus improving your 'health'. The meter that records your dog's happiness and the meter that rewards your character's health serve nearly identical purposes despite their very different names.

The third level of risk / reward cycle adds an additional layer.

  • Action: Periodically, the dog will perform a new action. You can enter into a minigame in which you must say a particular phase associated with that action over and over again.
  • Reward: The dog plays an additional success animation, and gains a new ability that will let you take on additional metagame challenges.
  • Example: During petting the dog rolls over on it's back you are presented with the option to train it to do the 'rollover' command. You say 'rollover' repeatedly until the dog understand what you are saying. Music plays and your dog learns a new trick. As a higher level reward, this is immensely satisfying.
  • Comparisons to other games: In our fighting game, the character fights their way past a boss enemy (think Megaman). At the end battle, an animation plays and you gain the 'Ice attack." Woot!

Metagame: Competitions
Once you've gained a few skills, you can participate in dogshows. Think of this as a game of Simon. You must perform certain actions within certain time limits. If you succeed, you win money that can be spent on additional goodies and powerups.

There are a variety of other competitions ranging from agility contests to Frisbee tossing events. These events help put your skills to use and provide a clearly defined set of challenges for goal oriented players. The 'win challenge stage, get money' is a system found in most games. Just because it involves a puppy doesn't mean you aren't dealing with old school proven game mechanics.

Metagame: Walking your dog
Walking your dog is very similar to the overworld in a typical RPG. This how you discover new places such as training courses and special encounters.

One innovation that Nintendogs adds here is that the distance you can travel is dependent on the strength of your character. This creates a challenging mini-game. Given a limited amount of energy, what path exists through the city that lets your dog hit the maximum number of bonus points and special areas? This is a minor variation on the Traveling Salesman problem that most computer science students run into in their undergraduate courses. There is no easy solution to this class of problem, which makes it a constant challenge.

The special points on the map are randomly generated so the player is required to come up with new routes each time. This helps prevent burn out. Also, there is an explicit 30 minute timer in place that reduces the rewards if you play this section too often.

Other game systems
There are numerous other common systems involved in Nintendogs.

  • Random reward schedules: When your dog brings you a present, it can be something good or something useless. By having intermittent reinforcement, the designer maintains the enjoyable addictive nature of the reward for a longer period of time.
  • Sandbox Levels: The interior area that you start out in acts as a sandbox area for introducing new actions (like the Frisbee). When the goal oriented challenges appear, the player is already trained in the basic use of their character's abilities.
  • Time penalties: When you don't play for very long, your character loses some of it's powerups. The dog gets dirty, hungry and thirsty.

Everywhere you look are standard game design techniques. The initial structure of the game, how skill are introduced and then used in challenges, the entire broader meta-game that drives the player forward...all these can be found in great games going back decades. Nintendogs is a good game because it has a solid game design, not just because older Japanese women like dogs.

However, the reason Nintendogs is a great game is because older Japanese women like dogs. Nintendogs is also a glorious example of game anthropology at work.

The game anthropology of Nintendogs
A solid game design is one piece of a successful game. However, a successful break out design needs to also identify an unmet need in the society at large.

Game Anthropology: Game anthropology is about watching how ordinary consumers go about their lives; what sort of things do they do, what do they want to do, how do they use the things they have? Amidst all this, what opportunities exist to play games?

It turns out that Japanese folks love dogs, but due to their cramped apartments they are rarely able to own them. Every child dreams about owning a dog, yet very few ever will. There are actually dog renting services that let you walk a dog just for a little while so you can capture the thrill of pet ownership.

The designers of Nintendogs recognized that if you can build a game that lets people experience the joys of owning a dog you can tap into a market rarely touched by traditional games. This is a very different thought process than "Let's make a game like X except better". Instead, it requires game designers to go out in the field and understand how games an be applied to broader trends in their culture. The designer of Nintendogs asked the simple question "How do games apply to the world outside of me?"

Such big picture thinking that is utterly alien to people who think of games as the sole domain of elite geeky guys. The good news is that people who successfully apply the techniques of game anthropology are rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.

Conclusion
Nintendogs is a game that get two key elements right:

  • It addresses a niche need within the broader culture that is highly underserved.
  • It understands game design theory well enough to build an original new game experience out of proven game design techniques.

Kudos to the theoretical developers behind Nintendogs and their mastery of the game design process. Anyone who calls themselves a game designer should pick up the title when it comes out in English. It is a perfect case study of how to build a highly innovative game that achieves impressive market success.

Ignore the fools who claim that it isn't a game and dismiss it's success as a random chance. The myth that game designers must be derivative to be successful is fundamentally false. Creating successful innovative games like Nintendogs is wholely a matter of hard work and a deep understanding of the game design process. The phenomenon of Nintendogs is completely reproducible if we heed its design lessons.

take care
Danc.

PS: There is one poor design choice in Nintendogs that I wanted to call out. Time penalties for not playing are a horrible way to encourage people to start playing. The person may feels obligated to play but games should not be a guilty activity. I much prefer systems like those found in World of Warcraft that give the player bonuses if they return after not playing for a while. The player feels "I haven't played in a while, but if I play now I'll get something good!"

Time penalties can backfire on the designer. Often, the player assumes that their work has decayed so far (the dog has forgotten words, etc) that it is simply not worth playing again. The player who has fallen off the wagon feels "I am so far behind now, why try?"



50 comments:

  1. Awesome article! Made me want Nintendogs even more.

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  2. Great work!
    I think that although negative reinforcement might scare away some gamers (the casual at least) more advanced/hard core gamers should be more familiar with the concept and would like to try shift the situation (eg in animal crossing the character's village was infested with weeds and his house with pests but they just had to clean) i also believe but up to a point negative reinforcement is desirable by some gamers in order to see the diferent animations provided and to troublesoot the situation more likely taking a chalenge.

    May I translate some parts of the article for my blog?

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  3. Translate away. :-) Feel free to link back to the english version.

    Aye, some people do react well to timers that cause penalties if they do not play. I've noticed that though I personally am not motivated by this type of reward system, my girlfriend is highly motivated by it. I'm curious if there are any cultural or gender trends based on a 'feeling of duty' that make this technique more effective with particular groups.

    take care
    Danc.

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  4. Wonderful article.

    Well, one could argue that any real live pet would suffer if neglected by its owner. So if you leave the game unplayed after a while, of course your puppy will be sad (or whatever it is they use as negative reinforcement). It kind of encourages you to develop some sort of affection for the puppy (or your avatar/character, if you want to call it that), so that you want to take care of it.

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  5. Thank you, Danc!

    Thank you and your girlfriend, for helping me to better understand this wonderfully innovative Japanese game design.

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  6. Good article. Unfortunately, the people best served by reading it probably won't :(

    No reflection on you though ;)

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  7. How about *losing* your dog if you don't play for a long time (you always find it though). But there might be a fun game mechanic involved in finding the lost dog again... The dog would run up and greet you... tears streaming from your eyes... that would make you feel guilty for not playing, but in a good way!

    I'm nuts.

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  8. Actually that's a great idea. I remember in the Tamagochi craze that many people became so emotionally attached to them, that when the tamagochi died they became severely depressed.

    Such a mechanism would definitely help to foster a stronger bond with your virtual pet.

    By the way I thought your article was very well thought out and interesting. I must admit that I too dismissed the game when I saw it in Japan last month on a trip.

    Really though this game fits in the the genre of 'simulation RPG' which is a fairly well defined genre at least within Japan. So even as a craftsman designer you would compare it to other games such as "Princess Maker" and such.

    It's true genius it tapping into as you say a cultural niche that needs filling. As such I don't think it would do very well outside of Japan/asia.

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  9. I think that the time penalty comes from the Eastern school of thought in motivation. You even said yourself that WoW was the one that got it right with positive reward. This is all part of the eastern VS western work ethics and psychology. You can see many divergences like this in the RPG genre (Bresada vs Square is a good example)

    Anyways, the real reason that I stopped by was to say, excellent article.

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  10. I think that the time penalty comes from the Eastern school of thought in motivation. You even said yourself that WoW was the one that got it right with positive reward. This is all part of the eastern VS western work ethics and psychology. You can see many divergences like this in the RPG genre (Bresada vs Square is a good example)

    Anyways, the real reason that I stopped by was to say, excellent article.

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  11. You know, while I appreciate some of the innovations you're mentioning here, I'm still not very sure that this is much different than one of the Petz titles that had a little popularity last decade.

    While, now that I've read about them, I appreciate the gameplay elements that could make Nintendogs something that you likely *wouldn't* put down after about 2 weeks of playing with the animal, I'm still not sure that there is any truly innovative central element being added. The Dogshow part is fairly interesting in that it adds something to do that isn't directly related to *just* playing with the pet.

    I'd like to hear more about the storyline.

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  12. How about negative reinforcement for using "it's", which is a shortened form of "it is", where you meant to show ownership?

    Bad writer. No cookie.

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  13. I played quite a bit of the various Petz games (at one point I was convinced that virtual pets were the next big break out genre)

    However, there are substancial differences in the design structures between Nintendogs and Petz. Petz was a toy and Nintendogs is a game.

    - Nintendogs has clearly defined goals, mini-games, and a meta-game progression system. There are very obvious risk/reward systems that influence player behavior.
    - Petz was a simple sandbox. Do what you want, when you want. There were few (if any)interlocking serious of risk / reward systems that I can remember. It was certainly a 'fun' activity much like simply blowing bubble is a fun activity. But it wasn't a game in the theoretical sense.

    Mind you that there are a billion definitions of 'games'. Most importantly is that the systems and the effects of the systems on player behavior in Nintendogs are different than those in Petz.

    I think the reason why most people think they are similar is because both involve feeding and playing with toys at certain stages. But that's a bit like saying Pong and Half-Life belong to the same game genre because both involve moving objects. As designers, we need to seperate the primitive idea or concept (which are a dime a dozen) from the successful systems of gameplay that produce addiction.

    The simple summary message of the whole article: "Don't limit your gameplay analysis to surface details."

    -Danc.

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  14. I was just curious if you have ever played the game Dogstation for the PS2. It came out in 2003 and the first thing I think of when I see Nintendogs is Dogstation. I played through Dogstation as much as I could until I got to the point where I couldn't select correct answers because of my lack of the Japanese language. I haven't had a chance to play Nintendogs yet (I opted for importing Band Brothers instead) but plan on playing and comparing the two once Nintendogs comes stateside. If you have had a chance to play both games, would you share how you feel they compare? Here are some links to the official page and some screenshots of the puppies (as you start out) in Dogstation.

    http://www.konami.co.jp/am/dog/index.html
    http://www.konami.jp/am/dogstation-dx/index.html

    I don't have a blogger account but you can reply here or to the games.slashdot.org story that links to your blog.

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  15. "I played quite a bit of the various Petz games (at one point I was convinced that virtual pets were the next big break out genre)"

    Well, I think The Sims fits the bill there.

    Pretty good article, but I'll conitnue summarizing "Nintendogs" as a virtual pet type of game. Gran Turismo and its tuning / improvement progress curve are RPG-ish, but it's still a racing game.

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  16. Very interesting article, and one that convinced me a little more that Nintendogs is a game -- I was always looking forward to it, but before I'd been swayed by arguments that it was little more than a toy.

    However, there's one part of the essay that I think could use some tightening up. You talk about how the game has traditional risk/reward cycles like any other, but a close reading of all three examples didn't yield any insight into exactly what the risks are. In the parallel fighting game case, a failure to perform the moves will result in *your* character being defeated -- I don't yet see what the parallel potential setback is to heighten Nintendogs' risks. Could you elaborate a little on this?

    At present, not having played the game, I feel like the lack of any appreciable risk is the biggest thing holding it back from being seen as a true game. Even the Sims, similar to Nintendogs in many respects, is acknowledged as a game due to the possibility of the kitchen burning down, Sims losing their job or their sanity, and so forth.

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  17. "veminent"?

    What is this word?

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  18. For someone so set on defining things I am amazed you'd refer to Megaman as a "fighting game." You also mention earlier killing an enemy and getting a power-up. That's not really special to fighting games in any way, and really, it's not IN most fighting games. Fighting games incorporate some sort of fighting, almost always with martial arts. There are versus fighting games and beat 'em ups, and the closest to what you're talking about is the beat 'em up. In most beat 'em ups, killing an enemy does not drop a power up: there are static objects that contain those in the game, if there are any at all.

    If you're going to refer to another genre/type of game, please get it right, because otherwise it leaves people like me wondering "If you know so much about game design, why don't you know the differences between other games?" I don't see how that mistake is any different from gamers calling Nintendogs a tamagotchi.

    Also, what game designers are calling this a "non-game" or calling the success "random" luck? I get the impression you're criticizing the average ignorant gamer rather than addressing game designers, which I thought was the intended audience.

    As a last aside, please use a spell checker. "Veminent" is not a word, so I think you're wanting "vehement."

    The article does bring up some good points, and I think you're spot-on to criticize the use of negative reinforcement, which in this case can also be seen as punishment. Ask B. F. Skinner if that would be an effective game mechanic, and he would say no. Punishment usually leads people to avoid the situation entirely, and in this case, to avoid the game. In game psychology, punishing a person during the time they've chosen to play the game is one thing; punishing a person when they've not chosen to play a game is simply bad design. It's an inherent problem in MMOs (but Blizzard showed that it can be dealt with), but not in a game like this. It simply has no good reason to be there.

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  19. Updated a couple of typos.

    With regards to 'risk' in Nintendogs, some examples I can think of:


    - When you do not pet your dog, you don't get the little happiness sparkle.
    - When you don't teach your dog well, you fail competitions
    - When you fail a competition, your dog becomes unhappy.

    Risk can be defined in terms of opportunity cost either in time or alternative activities. Not all failure states require an explicit animation or indicator to play.

    take care
    Danc.

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  20. Well, I just want to say I have a hard time understanding why some game designers bitch about interactive toy by saying it's not a game or anything like that. A game designer has the job to entertain through an interactive medium. So for me, even a little interactive toy is a game. Shoot me a really simple version of Wario Ware without any progression at all or a version of collapse without any points collection and I still call that game. Personally, I do think that a game designer should think behind preset game design rules and ask the question: How I can entertain people with my medium?

    That can generate game ideas that go beyond any rules we know so far... Anyway, naturally, some rule will come out since every interactive 'toy' or ‘game’ needs structure to be understandable and fun. That's what I had to say.

    Thanks for this great article, if it helps sell GAMES like Nintendogs here in America; it is definitely a good thing.

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  21. I own nintendogs and I just love it, and I've got one addition the 'risks' in nintendogs: should you lose a competition, you go down one level, which means less money to win. Also, you can do only one contest a day.
    BtB: real good article, am a game theory major myself, and i love this game. It is a game.

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  22. As said in one of the other comments, there are many different definitions of what a game is.
    I, myself, subscribe to the theory that a game is an interactive environment with a clear and defined beginning and end, whereupon actual play is the progression between the two points.
    In that context, things like The Sims or Nintendogs or Tomagotchi pets or *** Tycoon or Sim *** are all not really games. There is a defined beginning, wherein you start with the basics needed to progress to the next stage of development, and there is a defined Game Over type of situation for most of these (is there one in Nintendogs?) where your character dies or your park or city goes bankrupt and you simply cannot continue, but there is no defined end. You can build your city as big as you can manage, or make your Sim just the way you want it to be.. but there is no real satisfaction of "beating the game," so to speak. You may be content with where you ended up, but you didn't win.
    To me, these types of Sandbox games are interesting in that they are successful at all. Just my own personal bias speaking, I guess. I hate these types of games because I'll get far into it and eventually hit a point where progression is either impossible or impeded to the point that it isn't worth continuing. It is unfortunate because these games are very trendy, and are generally very successful sales-wise which means we WILL be seeing much more of them. And probably for a long time to come.

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  23. I'm the "lass" he speaks of, who never plays any games except for Nintendogs. (I hear people actually buy DS just to play Nintendogs, which may become the case for me.) I'm ignorant as far as games or game design, but for those of you interested in the storyline, I thought I'd add:

    - You can also remodel/upgrade your residence with the money you save up from winning contests (obedience, agility, etc.). To win these you have to train/practice, practice, & practice (you also have to build up your puppies' strength by taking them to walks, in order to get to where you can practice effectively).
    - As you walk your dog and your dog builds up strength and go further, you run into other pet owners giving you various useful advices.
    - Along a walk you also find toys, accessories, random objects, etc., to keep or sell at recycle shop to build your funds.
    - You also rack up "owner points" dependent on how much time you spend w/ your dog(s), what you do with them, if you're a responsible owner, etc. I believe as you build up these points you gain options to acquire different types of dogs. Then your owner classification changes - e.g. I'm apparently a semi-pro trainer.
    - I don't know if I can do this bcz I'm attached to my dogs, but it's kind of like cars - you can trade in your dog and get money that way, & get a new one.
    - The part I'm missing out on, because there aren't others playing Nintendogs, is where you can communicate with other DS's for your puppies to build a network of their dog friends. How that communication develops over time is currently a mystery to me.

    I never play games (except board games - sorry!); I tried playing Sims for a bit & got bored quickly, but this one may be a keeper - I walk my Nintendogs religiously, even when I get home from work late & am super tired! & I've had real dogs, thank you very much. And I don't think I am very "Eastern".

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  24. You go! :-)

    It must be said that I had to get her a DS (the cute turquoise one, naturally).

    There is a lesson for all us males in this. When a developer finally releases a game that your girlfriend or signifigant other loves, jump on the opportunity. If getting more women to play means buying games for them, so be it. ;-)

    -Danc.

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  25. Not to generalize about women/men, but my two cents:
    And I might also add, thinking that "winning" or "beating the game" is the only ending to a story is a very linear & traditionally male way of thinking about a storyline... and please note, half the population is women (BIG market!). (This is off the subject, but there are a couple of governments in the world that have been ruled by only women, and none of them have ever participated in a war - it may have to with the mentality that creating something new and nurturing it is a very valid and satisfying story.)

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  26. i'm getting nintendogs in august(or whenever it comes out in canada)

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  27. Does it really matter if this is classified as a game? I find it funny that some people say "This is like the SIMS or this is like PETS" Even if you consider them in that same category, there would still be far less of these types of games versus First Person Shooters. I for one am so tired of games that require huge chunks of my time and have very complex game play. I have a family and a job now, so I can no longer spend 40 hours a week trying to conquer (spelling?) Zelda. Do I think they should stop making Zeldas? No! However, I don't think that is all they should make. Thankfully, Nintendo still makes games that I can play for about 20 mintues at a sitting and still progress and have fun with. I'll never understand why a game that is easy to pick up and play gets so much flack from "true" gamers.

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  28. I couldn't agree more to the comment above. I for one am way too busy to dedicate hours at a time to games. I don't even have time to watch TV. That's why Nintendogs worked so well, because I could play for 20 minutes, put it down, and come back to it the next day (not having to remember all the intricate tricks and mazes). To me, as long as it's entertainment and it's not real world, it's a game. Btw, there are apparently items you can only get from communicating with other Nintendogs. Too bad I may never see those.

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  29. When is Nintendogs coming out in the U.S.A.?

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  30. I enjoyed reading your takes on the "craftsman" and "theoretical" camps of design, but I would question whether they are mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that all great games acknowledge both the top-down and the bottom-up perspectives, because neither one can show the whole picture on its own. You say that Nintendogs addresses a social need- that means that the game's creators were looking from the "top-down", theoretical perspective. However, if it were not crafted on the basis of a genre, it would have turned out like Petz, which I have played and got bored of very quickly. The RPG elements didn't just "magically" appear there- they are in the game because Miyamoto was apparently (I don't even have a DS, so I'm just basing this on what you wrote) building on his experience with Zelda (not an RPG, but a closely related Form) to create a new genre from the foundations of the RPG.

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  31. Nintendogs comes out in the US this August, if I remember correctly.

    Mory: Thanks for the comment. The difference between the craftsman designer and the theoretical design is not about top-down or bottom up design. It is about seeing patterns outside of the context that they typically appear within. A craftsman designer knows how to create an RPG. He can describe in detail most RPGs and can tell you how to construct one. A theoretical designer understands the systems that make an RPG success as a game and can strip those systems of their surface meaning and apply them in a radically different setting.

    I'll have to dig up the various stages of learning, but the craftsman stage corresponds to rote understanding in which a student can mimic, but not innovate. The theoretical level of understanding corresponds to an internalization of the concepts behind the information and allows students to synthesize new scenarios.

    Mind you that there is a mixture of both craftsman and theoretical skills in most designers. As an industry, however, our dialog tends to lean a bit towards the craftsman side of the spectrum.

    take care
    Danc.

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  32. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  33. Nice review of the design elements in Nintendogs.

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  34. yea, but yanno.. if you have a dog in real life, if you neglect it, you won't get a bonus for coming back to play with it after a while... you might even have to start retraining it. Same thing... they were just trying to make it realistic.

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  35. A difference between Nintendogs and RPG's is that in a normal RPG, you usually don't get emotionally attached to your character...

    Reading this article made me think that, if you think of those same points, raising a real dog could be a "game"...a little disturbing...

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  36. nintendogs comes out on august,22 in the U.S.A.

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  37. This is off the subject, but there are a couple of governments in the world that have been ruled by only women, and none of them have ever participated in a war

    That's not just off the subject, but an extremely precarious thing to claim when it is, in fact, controversial as to whether truly matriarchal societies ever existed outside of myth and pre-civilisation. Matrilineal societies, however, have verifiably existed and one of them was responsible for burning London to the ground.

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  38. Wonderful artical! I my self LOVE these kind of games that dont end, you always seem to come back and play more because it doesnt end. I do enjoy adventure games with plots such as "Sword of Mana" but I think theres just something fun about games like this. Like the Sims2 for example, I dont know why I like it so much its just fun to boss people around I guess.

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  39. Sorry to keep being off the subject (which, being Japanese, I was being polite and round-about - I actually think it's quite relevant as sociology would play a big part in making a successful game for the market), but:

    That's not just off the subject, but an extremely precarious thing to claim when it is, in fact, controversial as to whether truly matriarchal societies ever existed outside of myth and pre-civilisation.

    The Mosuo, an ethnic minority in the boundaries of China, is a living matriarchal society. (Now the Chinese tourist industry is setting up brothels outside it geared toward western men, taking advantage of the fact some outsiders think Mosuo women are "exotic" and promiscuous - putting underage Chinese girls in fake ethnic gab. Eek.) I forget the name of the government, but there is another one in Africa, which has not been "researched" as much.

    I'm no historian (my father is), but I hate it when a westerner acts as though he/she got to know everything there is to know about the world because something has or has not been published in an academic journal - or worse, you can or cannot find it on the Internet. (And make no mistake, I see the value of empirical research, and love, love, love Internet.) You have to realize there is more to the world than what you already know, as you presently see how you "know".

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  40. its a great little thing! the puppies are really cute!

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  41. OMG TYRIAN!!11!!!

    That's the best top down shooter, ever. Go talk to Nintendo and make a Stylus-based DS port, and you can retire on the zillions you'll make.

    Thanks for providing this Australian DS owner with a single-link answer to his (Sims playing) friends who keep calling Nintendogs 'that tamagtochi dog thing'...

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  42. Have had the game for a couple of weeks now, and I feel that you are neglecting the main reason why it never will be as exciting as more traditional games:

    Outside of the competitions, there is no risk. I don't get punished for choosing the wrong path for a walk, or for not having the dog catch my frisbee. It may be a let-down to see that the dog doesn't understand what I'm trying to say to it, but other than that, it's a very non-threatening atmosphere, with not a lot of interactive elements other than the dog and its toys.

    Don't get me wrong; I love the game, but it's not something I'll go on to play for hours upon hours. The structure is simplified and non-threatening enough for almost every single human being on planet earth to be able to enjoy it, but at the same time, it is missing the skill element somewhat.

    So, as you sidestepped the lack of actual risk/reward, and quietly substituted with action/reward, i have to say that the analysis in incomplete. :)

    Still nice read, though. :)

    -oerhört

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  43. I'm very impressed by this essay. However, I agree with some in that there is no true 'risk' in the game, except for not playing it for a while. And anyone can tell you that's not a very good thing, if you don't play a game, that it then punishes you. (On a slightly different tack, all games have these 'negative rewards'. If you think about it, say in an RPG such as Fable or Knights of the Old Republic, if you leave it alone for a while and come back to it, you'll forget what you were doing, and be forced to relearn where you were. In a way, putting an actual system in place for negative rewards defines what happens for the designers. Instead of 'They left it, now they picked it back up... How do they know what to do?' there is 'They left it, now they picked it back up, this is what happened, now how should they deal with it?' While I don't truly approve of these systems, I do see where they come into play.)

    While there is no true 'risk' in the game where you lose, game over. (I think, I haven't played it.) There is, as pointed out, the fact that if you don't perform well, your dog becomes unhappy. If you perform very poorly, well, you're better off starting over. Hey, did you just lose? :)

    (Oh, a quick note: While yes, there are 'designed-to-let-you-win' opponents, most games you cannot go through thinking this. You have to try. And, an interesting study could probably be made as to how a game is designed to be unbeatable, yet a human is able to beat it. Humans are innovative, they can think around problems if necessary. Programs, even the best AI programs, still do not have this capability. They must still think within the confines of their programming. A common example would be a path system for AI opponents. While you could theoretically devise complex paths that let them go theoretically anywhere, a human player CAN go LITERALLY everywhere, and they are not restricted to having to go a certain route to go there. (Paths are rarely used now, mostly there are pathfinding systems, and they are usually quite good... Provided they don't get stuck somehow.))

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  44. Wow that was a long and boring review!

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  45. This is a bit late, but it's important to mention:

    Nintendogs has an easy way to avoid the negative penalties (i.e. time penalties) All you have to do is put your pets into the Pet Hotel. You can have up to five dogs here. So if you limit yourself to only five dogs and not the maximum eight you will be able to fill up the hotel whenever you don't feel like playing and then remove the dogs when you get back.

    Also, the negative penalties are not even close to permanent and can be solved with about four minutes of care (although I've never experienced leaving the dog for more than a few days so don't know what weeks, months, years will do)--probably nothing extra.

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  46. Great article - very perceptive.

    About the negative at the end, all you have to do is take the cartridge out of the DS and it freezes at that point (so if your puppy is fed and watered, it will be so when you next put the card in and fire up the game) - No penalty, but no extra incentives either!

    fantastic game.

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  47. I can't see how a game sould be defined as having a starting point, and an ending point, with the playing of the game being the progression. If you take a look at various MMMORPG's there is certainly a beginning, and progression, yet there is no point at which the game ends. Could you imagine the fiasco if someone finished Ragnarok Online for example and a big "Game Over" came up and the credits rolled in front of thousands sitting at their computers, prompting them to insert a coin.
    If this is not a game for not having an ending, then what is it (bearing in mind that the "G" on the end of "MMORPG" stands for "Game")?

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  48. An MMORPG is really just an online community filtered through RPG elements. The last letter of the acronymn fails to solidify its existance as a game. "Online multiplayer diversion" might be a more apt name for the genre. Or perhaps, "fantasy life sim".

    Technically though, the RPG is pretty much over once you max out your level. Playing after that can be likened to continuing a Starcraft game after victory has been achieved. Unless you continue playing for the social aspect, which proves the above point.

    As far as Nintendogs goes, I would also call it a diversion. It boasts process-based gameplay, like some of those old Atari or arcade titles that were impossible to beat (difficulty increased over time by the gradual change of several variables, which usually translated to the game in the form of speed). It's also reminscent of some of the puzzle genre classics, where (although many do have endings now), the focus was on the mechanics. You could rely on it for a fast, predictable entertainment.

    However, I see a few glaring differences. In the overarching design, there is no difficulty. Even without victory, the game is endless in the sense you cannot lose. Sure, you can 'not win' a dog trial, but this doesn't negatively affect anything (just in the temporary lack of a player reward).

    In addition, sessions of Nintendogs differ from the process-oriented puzzle model, since they're an endless continuation that starts every time you purchase your beast. In this respect, Nintendogs is a simulation. Perhaps some find it fun, but that's not enough to make it a game.

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  49. Great article! And also good guide to analysis game design to me.

    May I translate this article to Korean? I'll be post it on my own game docs translation page. I want many people to see articles like this great.

    Take good inspiration and good bye!

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