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“Brdrdrding, Brdrdrding! Brdrdrding, Brdrdrding!”

After coming home this evening, I thought I might want to clarify what I meant in saying that the only interesting games ever released on cell phones were Konami’s port-job of the original two MSX Metal Gear games (both of which were again redone for the “Subsistence” version of MGS3). In fact, I’m largely wrong. There have been many interesting games released on cell phones besides my beloved Metal Gear. Off the top of my head, there’s been puzzle games like Tetris, arcade games like Pac-Man and Q-Bert, a few adventure titles like Prince of Persia and a couple of shooters in the 1941 vein. However, all of these have one thing in common with my Metal Gear observation, and I’m sure that all of you should be able to tell what it is:

NONE OF THEM WERE DESIGNED FOR CELL PHONES.

Yes, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the only games on cell phones that have been worth playing have all been ports of games previously released and expressly designed for personal computers and consoles. Aside from hybrid phone/gaming devices like the N-Gage (which I don’t think anybody ever took seriously to begin with), I can’t think of a single game which merited being played that was created solely for a cell phone (though if anybody disagrees, I’ll gladly stand corrected.)

Now, the reason as to why this condition exists is fairly obvious to me, though I enjoy considering the question it raises as to the nature of gaming itself. Exactly how do the players of cell phone games view the medium of games? Do they see them as simple diversions from their daily routine, or something deeper? Does playing a game on a communication device sideline the game to the periphery of a person’s life, or integrate it as deeply as their phone conversations and text messages? Is a game on a cell phone more of an appliance than a game on a portable gaming device like a Game Boy or a PSP? Basically, does the game which shares a space with another mode of communication lose or gain privelege?

Granted, these are all rhetorical questions. Cell phones don’t allow for enough memory or graphics to keep up with the current generation of modern portable gaming, or even the last one in most cases. Furthermore, portable devices like Game Boys and PSP’s are interesting in that they differ tremendously from console games played on television sets, computer games and cell phone games, in that they exist on a device which is dedicated solely to video games. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so drawn to the PSP lately (sure, it’s probably just that I’m obsessed with MPO, but still), as playing a game on that or a DS represents something a bit purer than one on my TV at home, which I primarily use to keep up with the news and watch stuff like Lost and Star Wars, or running a game on my computer, which I primarily use to write. Sure, those are the ideal conditions for playing games nowadays thanks to technological requirements, but isn’t there something just plain cleaner about the portable gaming system, where the primary focus is games?

Still, please everyone, because I’m interested in figuring out the answer to this: Can there any good games indigenous to cell phones?

2 Comments

  1. Charles wrote:

    I think so, absolutely. What doesn’t usually get mentioned when people talk about cellphone games is that videogames have almost always been designed for two hands. It’s very difficult, especially on smaller phones, to use both your hands to control a game. Even games like Tetris can’t be played on the higher levels without being able to rotate *and* move the piece at the same time. I think that the first great cellphone game is going to be designed with this in mind.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 5:17 am | Permalink
  2. Bob wrote:

    I was thinking about something like that, although there’s another issue that the one-hand thing comes with. What kind of actions can you expect a player to accomplish with one hand, which is most likely going to be their dominant hand for phone usage, which is probably their right? Thanks to the two-hand controller design we’ve had for the past several gaming generations (and will hopefully continue to have for many more), gamers and people in general approach controllers with rather basic motor-memory assumptions and expectations as to what hand they’re supposed to use for what kind of task, especially when it’s assigned to a character based avatar. Physical navigation– walking around– has universally been placed on the left hand side of controlers, where the D-Pad and primary analog sticks have habitually been located, while physical interaction with NPC elements– jumping, fighting, handling objects and talking to characters– has been customarily located on the right. This is true even for navigating and making selections in menus for turn-based RPG’s or vehicle racing games.

    In other words, if you’re going to make a game for cell phones, you have to assume the player is going to play almost entirely with not just one hand, but their right hand, and that as such they’re going to expect a right-hand gaming experience. How, then, do you give them a game in which they play exclusively through interacting with NPC elements without having to navigate through a physical landscape? Frankly, I find the idea really intriguing.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 5:57 am | Permalink

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