Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hardcore Casual: A New Audience?

It's funny, as I was playing some Shadow of the Colossus the other night, I was thinking about my play style and how it meshed with Shadow's design. The game affords real progress in short segments (ie, I can usually bring down a colossus in 30 min. or so). This fits nicely in my busy, adult schedule. On the other hand, the game is involved enough to really grab me. It presents interesting and deep challenges trimmed in wonderful art direction and truly cinematic camera work. Shadow of the Colossus seems to me to be simultaneously Casual and Hardcore.

The very next day, I noticed an article in the Escapist, that addressed this issue from a demographic side. The author describes himself as "Hardcore Casual," a former hardcore gamer whose life has caught up and who can no longer devote himself to the hardcore gamer lifestyle (nor does he want to). He has the taste of a hardcore gamer, but not the time or patience (or funds). While I've never thought of myself as hardcore, I think that my tastes run beyond casual, and the term hardcore casual feels like a pretty accurate description of my approach to games. If a game doesn't grab me, I generally don't give it too much of a chance.

The big question to my mind is this: Is hardcore casual a big enough market to design and produce games for? I would like to think the answer is yes. As the first generations of gamers hit so-called maturity, I think the hardcore casual market will grow. Likewise, as gaming becomes a more prominent part of pop culture, even casual gamers will move towards the hardcore, making the hardcore casual group a pretty sweet target for gamemakers. Maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part (I guess it's natural to want more games for me).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Appropriate Levels of Realism

Clive Thompson brings his usual insight to bear on the topic of the Uncanny Valley in Xbox 360 launch titles in this recent Wired News article. What got me thinking is his reference to the manga/anime techique of juxtaposing realistic surroundings with iconic or even cartoonish characters. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud references this same style and even goes as far as to describe how it influences our empathy with the characters. The more iconic the depiction of a character, the easier it is for the reader (or player, in game terms) to identify with that character. The reverse is also true. The more realistic the rendering of a person, place, or object, the easier it is for the reader/player to objectify.

Thompson references the Xbox 360 title Kameo as an example of this sort of thing in action. I wonder if other games (or perhaps all games to varying extents) consciously use this technique to enhance a player's immersion in the game.