Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On My Mind: Asynchronous Gameplay (More thoughts on Wii U, from 2003)

Nintendo is a a very interesting company, no matter how bad an idea seemed in the past, they always find a way to revive it, with variating degrees of successes:

(Image source courtesy of Ivan)

It's not just their consoles or technology either, it's also in their games (ok, I don't mean rehashing franchises). Case and point, the Chase Mii demo for the Wii U:

Nintendo calls it "Asynchronous Gameplay", which is a pretty good description of what it really is: there are two classes of players, one type that gets different information from the other, and the game is not just interacting within the game world, but rather with the different classes of players.

In Chase Mii, players with the normal Wii Remotes have a much more limited over the shoulder view, and they need to chase down the player with the Wii U controller, who can see the entire playfield in their personal screen. Players who are playing with the Wii Remotes needs to work together by relaying information about what they see to be successful. Sounds ingenious, right? Something that's brand new, and completely original...

... or is it?

In E3 2003, Shigeru Miyamoto unveiled a new twist on a classic game. The presentation itself was a disaster (You can watch the trainwreak here), and there's a specific reason for that (and Nintendo has managed to avoid it in the Wii U presentation). That game in question: Pac Man Vs:
Just by the title screen, can you guess what's the similarity?

In Pac Man Vs, players with the Gamecube controllers have a much more limited over the top view, and they need to chase down the player with the Game Boy Advance Controller, who can see the entire playfield in their personal screen. Players who are playing with the Gamecube controllers needs to work together by relaying information about what they see to be successful.

You see what I did there? I replaced 4 phrases (in italics), and managed to describe Pac Man Vs in a nutshell!

Sure, the game is more defined in mechanics (ghosts chase Pac Man; Pac Man needs to find the power pill, and the chase is reversed; the fruit is a powerup for everyone, etc), but essentially, this was Chase Mii, from 2003.

Recently I had fired up the game again with a few friends (HI!!!), and the game still holds up well (as far as gameplay is concerned). The game is still all about outsmarting the other "group" of player(s), and it was entertaining for all of us, until the physical boundaries of wires came into play. Unfortunately, the lack of wireless controllers meant that within 10 minutes, the cables were all in a tangled mess, and we had secondary meta game of untangling wires.

I think my point of this post wasn't to show that Nintendo isn't original (well, it's debatable), but rather I think the general public might have brushed off the potential of asynchronous gameplay much too early without trying it out. Off the top of my head, I can come up with quite a few variation of new gameplay with this setup (especially within the online realm):
  • In a team based online sports game, two teams of four play on the field, with normal movement (think baseketball or soccer), whereas the players with the Wii U controller can be the coach, drawing and highlighting sections of the playfield to the players (think of TV broadcast tele-prompts)
  • Team based capture the flag FPS, where the player with the Wii U controller is in charge of base management (perhaps a tower defense like resource gathering), and can communicate with their team
  • In a racing game where cars and helicopters are involve (Split/Second's air raid mode comes to mind), the Wii U controller is the helicopter player, shooting at the opposing team's cars. Cars can fire back at the helicopter.
It's not hard to see that there's quite a bit of potential in just this one usage case of the controller. If you can hunt down a copy of Pac Man Vs, and the necessary hardware, I would wholeheartedly recommend experiencing the future for yourself.


  1. The trading of the GBA to the previous round's winner definitely led to wire tangle. They definitely used the equipment better with Zelda: Four Swords.

    Could definitely have some neat horde invasion games where the general sends in their forces against a town/castle with 4 champions who must defend it. Also, I can really see some classic card and board games (eg Scotland Yard) expanding into this, as none of the other systems really offer that simultaneous hidden information play, except by saying "Player 2, look away", which never works properly and really detracts from the interactiveness. It'll be interesting to see what type of non-adversarial games they'll come up with as well.

    If they could get multiple Wii U Controllers working with it at the same time, then it would really open up the horizons.

  2. Zelda Four Swords and FF:Crystal Chronicles sure had a better, but even more pricier use of the screen. It's a shame that the Wii U as it's currently announced can't seem to duplicate it either.