The release of any new gaming hardware sets the imagination afire about the possibilities for new gaming genre and content. The announcements this week for the Xbox ONE are chock-full of such sparks of inspiration. What fantastic new games and genres of games will emerge from this new creative sandbox? And, as we know women and kids are fast growing segments, what delightful new gaming experiences could be engineered with them in mind? Finally, with kids in mind, what new genres could be invented that would allow them novel play experiences pitched at the appropriate age ranges and gaming preferences?
After all, ‘there is a gamer in all of us’ and we ‘are the controller’, so let’s think about gaming Nirvana.
First, a quick review of the major innovations announced for Xbox One:
- Recognizes different users as they are logged in via camera recognition.
- Voice recognition for commands is improved.
- Integrates a variety of devices and services.
- Stores session state to take users back to wherever they previously were when they are logged in.
- New universal gestures to control the whole entertainment experience.
- SnapMode allows multi-tasking and integrated browser access
- As much as I loved the first Kinect it definitely had responsiveness and performance issues which negatively affected the overall experience. The new Kinect improves responsiveness and performance with improved processors, cameras and sensitivity.
IllumiRoom (not available at launch)
- A projector that lives on the coffee table and expands the viewing and play space beyond the confines of the television screen.
- The device projects digital effects surrounding the primary gaming screen, and allows virtual items to swirl and drop on the floor.
Xbox as a digital media and communication device
- Aggregates content from many media and game sources, including live broadcast TV.
- Supports Skype video calls, allows side by side viewing of media.
- Expanded interactive TV options for sports and other media content.
- Xbox ONE guide helps you find what to watch, all via voice command.
- Supports personal and trend ‘channels’.
All in all, pretty exciting. It definitely looks more streamlined and easier to use. But the BIG question is, what will game developers and publishers do with it?
Don’t get too excited about playing your current favorites, however. Xbox ONE is not backwards compatible for Xbox 360 titles.
Here are some of the many ideas that immediately began percolating as I reviewed the various announcements and reviews. They’re a crop of games that I think would be of particular interest to women and kids: some could launch new genres, and some could extend existing entertainment franchises through transmedia storytelling:
Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, and is not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchises, sequels or adaptations. (Wikipedia)
Playing in new or nostalgic story universes:
The Oz Universe
The Oz books were literally my favorites as a kid, and there is a huge bigger-than-Harry-Potter universe to mine. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 books himself, and there are several others written by other authors. Plus the illustrations from the original books are just so beautiful. I could be very happy spending time in the magical Oz universe, and I am sure others could, too. There are also new franchises now to weave into a transmedia narrative, like this year’s Oz: the Great and Powerful.
Not a whole lot of people know Studio Ghibli, but those who do love them with a passion equivalent to Star Trek or Star Wars fans. Popular titles include: My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, The Secret of Arietty, Kiki’s Delivery Service and many more. The animation and music are particularly beautiful, with a slight Japanese wistfulness. And unlike much anime, the stories are sometimes Western (The Secret of Arietty was derived from The Borrowers) and there are a plethora of adorable characters.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
One of the great things about Buffy director Joss Whedon is that he loves strong, empowered female characters. Buffy is a teenager who fights the evil vampire and demon scourge, along with her coterie of magically empowered friends. The franchise is also infused with a great deal of humor, and yes, some teen angst and romance.
Firefly is another of Joss Whedon’s creative franchises, best described as ‘cowboys in space’. It was sadly cancelled after a mere 13 episodes on television, but resurrected by a massive fan response which led to the feature film, Serenity. Why not extend the universe into the gaming space, as a way of perpetuating a narrative so many sci fi fans seem to love. Again, because it’s Whedon, empowered women and teens prevail throughout, and the characters are loveable and very funny. (An MMO based in the Firefly universe has been rumored for some time).
The Classic Adventure Game
In my early days of gaming, my favorite genre was the classic adventure game. Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, SpaceQuest and Monkey Island were among my favorites. Basically you walked around and talked to characters, explored areas, gathered things and used or combined items in order to progress. I would spend literally HOURS noodling through puzzles then would dream about them at night.
The genre was full of fun nerdy humor, too, and clever puzzles. I was always so excited to see what was going to happen next. In recent years, Ico is a gorgeous hybrid platformer/action/adventure game with puzzle elements. Much more beautiful than the earlier adventure games, and nearly as fun.
Trying on fantasy professional identities:
Kids, in particular, love trying on new identities and imagining future careers. I can imagine a whole crop of games that would allow both kids and adults to play with all these possibilities, and maybe learn a few things along the way.
The Kid Detective
The Nancy Drew books were long ago adapted to some popular videogames for girls, but there are other detective heroines that could also be leveraged. Trixie Belden was a favorite of mine long ago, and more recently there are other popular young adult series featuring a young female detective or mystery hunter. The great thing about Kinect and IllumiRoom in this instance is that it expands the play space beyond the measly limits of a TV screen. This significantly expands the areas in which mysteries can unfold and be explored.
Explore our solar system and outer space and learn all about the intricacies of astrophysics, quantum mechanics and space travel. Could be a NASA collaboration, or maybe XPrize or Virgin Galactic. Of course IllumiRoom will also be your own personal planetarium, and Kinect can allow you to collect those stars you’ve been admiring from afar.
Several years ago I saw a concept for a serious game from MIT: it was to allow players a chance to experience the human body from the point of view of a virus. One of the amazing things about games is how they allow us to shift our perspectives and few things from entirely new angles. This is the skill that propels many scientists forward, as when one day Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple in a whole new way. Just watch out for IllumiRoom explosions!
The Fashion Designer
I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, as a devotee of Project Runway, with a kid who is very interested in fashion design and illustration. The game could support both controller and Kinect play: controller for designing outfits, and Kinect for modeling them on the runway. IllumiRoom can project the audience and lighting effects, and voila! New York or Malan fashion week.
Learning to cook is a long and arduous task full of trial and error? Why not leverage virtual spaces into an interactive game and cook training tool? Existing cooking games (like Cooking Mama) are fun little simulations, but the concept could be taken much further. Perhaps the Top Chef people could get involved. But at the very least, cooking is something that could be readily explored in virtual space, then players could try their creations out in real life (also infinitely share-able).
The show Chopped could serve as one of the gameplay options: players are given a box of items that they must then use to create interesting meals. Sure, our virtuality doesn’t currently allow smelling or tasting, but the player can at least learn about techniques, food combining and other important fundamentals of cooking and global food cultures. Mini-games could include ‘what do people eat for breakfast in Taiwan’ and other challenges. A bit of ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?’ from a food perspective. And who doesn’t love food?
I spent 5 years playing and studying NCSoft’s City of Heroes and City of Villains for my dissertation, and it’s still one of my favorite games ever, though sadly defunct as of last year. How about a Kinect/IllumiRoom enabled superhero game, in which you can flex superhero powers, and fly or super jump your way around? Wonder Woman would make a great character, though the designers would have to think a bit about the most logical magic lasso gesture!
The Crime Investigator
A lot of crime and forensics shows are very popular with women. Creating a game that allows them to try on criminal justice professions could be very appealing, especially if woven into broadcast or streamed content. On a practical level, Kinect allows the player to explore the space as they would in real life (controller use should be optional) and IllumiRoom expands the canvas for hidden objects and other clues to be gathered. It also allows the game designer to include ambient effects, like making the room more creepy.
The Paranormal Investigator
As much as some people loathe them, paranormal shows are popular, especially among women. Ghost hunting, in particular, is a favorite, and well-suited to the Xbox One, Kinect and IllumiRoom.
The House Decorator
Women love to nest, but it’s not only women who like trying on new ideas. The house decorator game would allow you to redecorate your own house (after uploading photos) or build and decorate a house from scratch. With Kinect and IllumiRoom, you can walk through your new house, view it from different angles, and experiment with lighting and even the outdoor environment. This would be a great opportunity for some subtle product placement and purchase opportunities, too.
What little girl doesn’t watch the Olympics and yearn for that physical prowess? Rhythmic gymnastics could be a perfect Kinect game, with the cheering crowd painted in for the IllumiRoom expansion.
The Historian/Time Traveler
More constructive gaming as kids and adults learn about history via a nifty time travel device. The mechanism would be wormhole travel and the IllumiRoom could make for a fully immersive and exciting experience.
Self-improvement and exploration
This is another genre that I think has loads of potential. There are already quite a few good exercise and fitness games available for Kinect: Nike: Training, Your Shape Fitness Evolved, Zumba and more. But I also think there is room for some gentler, more exploratory gaming experiences.
Love and Dating
It seems like there is a great opening to create a simulation/game that allows players to explore the nuances of dating & relationships. Perhaps it could be played with a partner, like the old dating game show.
Imagine being able to transform your living room into a Zen temple, beach or other tranquil location, with subtle lighting effects to enhance the experience. While some of the fitness games have yoga or tai chi components, I’m looking for the all-in-one that combines yoga with meditation, and supports me in tuning out the ‘real world’. Deepak Chopra made steps in this direction with his meditation ‘game’ Leela, but I think there is so much more that could be done.
What new games or genres can you imagine? Let us know! Also, let us know what you think should happen with independent developers on Xbox ONE, as that bit seems a bit murky at the moment. We’ll do another article shortly with ideas from all of you!