Real time clocks and wireless communication aren't new features in the gaming industry and they certainly aren't exclusive to the DS. For the last entry in the DS Design series, I want to highlight some of the creative implementations of these features.
Real Time Clock/Calendar
Club House Games
- The current time is displayed on the top screen in this game. Sure we have watches, clocks, cell phones, and other ways of getting the time. But what's more convenient when you're in the middle of playing chess, darts, or solitaire than looking up to the top screen?
Brain Age Series/ Flash Focus
- These games are all about doing a little every day to keep one's mind/eyes sharp. Every day you make an effort is marked on the in game calendar. Perhaps more so than any other type of game, the stats in Brain Age/Flash Focus are real and personal. Using the calendar, these games track your progress over time. The time of day is also recorded into your stats making it possible for the game to suggest taking the tests at the same time every day to keep the results consistent. Flash Focus knows that my eyes get really tired later in the day. No other game knows such things about me... except Wii Fit.
Pokemon Diamond & Pearl/Animal Crossing: Wild World
- The real time clock design goes further in these games than changing the brightness of the outside areas (see image above). The gameplay is also affected by the changing time and day. Certain Pokemon only come out at night. Some are only seen on Fridays. In Animal Crossing Wild World, you can only buy and sell turnips in the "stalk market" on Sunday. And holidays in real life correspond to holidays in the game world. In these ways, time in the real world and the game world are linked.
The World Ends With You (TWEWY)
- Like in Pokemon/Animal Crossing the game world changes with time. In TWEWY, fashion and market trends will change by the tick of the clock. A far more interesting implementation of the real time clock is how the game "plays" even when it's turned off. What I mean by "play" is that the game has features that are determined by real time. Eat a hamburger, and you'll have to wait for that burger to digest in the character's stomach. Eat too much in one day, and you'll have to wait until the next day to eat again. And if you're not a fan of grinding battles to gain more levels, TWEWY will meet you half way with a clever real time clock solution. By not playing TWEWY for a small period of time (3 days) the game actually gives free experience points to your pins (special attacks). Though the characters can only level up with battle experience, the special attacks at their disposal can be powered up using this clever feature. So, if there's ever a battle that's too tough for you, wait it out for a few days and try again.
Wifi Wireless Connectivity
All of these creative uses of DS wifi also take advantage of the DS's portability and/or its closed, energy saving mode.
Nintendogs/Metroid Prime Hunters
- Even with the DS screen closed, in "bark" or "hunters" mode the DS wireless communications remain open. Walk within range of another DS in the same mode, and data will automatically be exchanged. In bark mode I believe small items are traded between dogs. Hunters mode trades anonymous matchmaking information so that two players can find and fight each other on the internet later.
- What is essentially just a tech demo, this homebrew application scans all the local wifi connections (even locked ones), takes the data, and generates enemies based on the signal strength. If you walk around while playing or play in a car, you'll definitely notice a change in the enemy activity. The core concept has great potential.
Pokemon D/P Explorer's Cave
- After obtaining the explorer's kit, players can journey into an underground cave. In this cave players can run around setting traps and excavating rare items. What's interesting about this feature is that you can't go into this cave without activating the DS's local wireless communications. This allows any other player within range to explore the same cave you're exploring. So, even though you were in the middle of playing a private, single player game, by entering the cave you enter a "public" domain.
This concludes the DS Design series. Hopefully now you can understand why the DS is my second favorite gaming machine of all time. The flexibility of the system and the design has great potential that we haven't even reached yet. Many have tried to make quality DS games, and many have succeeded. When you think about it, the common problems developers face when developing for the DS are very similar to the Wii: weaker graphical power, strange new controls, and new wifi features not to mention balancing that fine line between conventional and innovative. Perhaps I should do a Wii Design series.