Friday, September 18, 2009

ScribbleNauts, Social Discovery, and Claustrophobia

So, I’ve been reading more about the pros/raves associated with ScribbleNauts in order to better figure out what I’m missing.

It seems to boil down to this: Some folks have identified wild and crazy (and fun) ways of completing some of the more interesting puzzles by summoning things like Cthulu or arming elephants with Bazookas or tying things to me and jetpacking across the screen. Hearing those anecdotes made me excited to dive back into the game and try these wacky things.

[As an aside, I did finally meet up with a creature that my bear could not kill: a “Megalodon”. Interestingly, my bear COULD kill a shark, its smaller cousin.]

So, what this means to me is that hardcore fans of the game who have read press releases, seen demos, and scoured fan forums will have a huge leg up on more casually interested fans who haven’t done research outside the game on how to play it.

In terms of approachability, this seems rather unfortunate. It seems like the equivalent of telling players to RTFM or search the forums before they play the game. Why can’t I learn these things as part of the actual game play experience?

What this really made me think of was Armadillo Run again. What made that game fun was that its core mechanic was quirky and fun enough to make learning by experimentation (both successes and failures) enjoyable. What made the game awesome was the tight integration leaderboards and game replays into the core experience. You learned from others’ triumphs by observing their ground breaking experiments. You were able to stand on the shoulders of giants who could see through the matrix and creatively engineer solutions that blew your mind open to new avenues and possibilities.

And you could contribute back to the community your incremental improvements – and your paradigm breaking innovations.

I’m trying to imagine what the ScribbleNauts experience could have been if it had been a Flash application for a popular social network like Facebook. Leaderboards would have links to replays. Popular levels would have their own discussion boards. Content creators could share new levels with others. It’s really the kind of game that cries out for this kind of social play.

I’m also kind of curious about potential synchronous game play modes. Imagine a sandbox where folks could strategize together in real time to solve more complex puzzles? Or where they could create simulations and ecosystems and pit them against the forces of physical and social entropy?

This sort of segues into the “Claustrophobia” portion of this post. I couldn’t help but have a sense that game screen limitations really worked against ScribbleNauts. Part of this was a controls issue (scrolling the map was tedious and the return-to-center “feature” was super annoying). Part of this was that larger objects and creatures really did take up a huge amount of screen real estate which made the environments feel cluttered. Operating helicopters and planes in rooms only 2-4 times their height didn’t really convey a sense of flight.

Which, of course, leads me back to wondering about choice of platform. Would this game be better suited for a browser window? There would be no need to scroll the map. Point-and-click controls could be made more crisp and precise.

To sum it up: I guess what I’m really talking about is how platform limits and defines the user experience. Not just input/output device platform (stylus and small screen vs. mouse and browser) but also social platform (Nintendo wi-fi vs. Facebook).

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