The 4th Dimensional Console

2021 Update – I originally ran this one up the flagpole back in 2015, on both NeoGAF and on the Gamers With Jobs forums. I always seem to like to try to dream up Nintendo’s new console before it happens, but in 2016 they announced the Switch, which has turnd out to be immensely succesful for them. So maybe I should just let Nintendo design Nintendo consoles! 🙂

THE SETUP
We are all familiar with the point in time in which polygons and 3D modeling and movement helped move console game experiences from two dimensional movement, gameplay, and strategy to three dimensional gameplay. There’s no denying it was a transformative time, characterized by watershed releases like Super Mario 64 that redefined gameplay interaction in a 3D space.

I propose a console that tackles and grapples with movement, gameplay, and strategy along the dimension of time.

THE FOURTH DIMENSION?
Yes I know full well the 4th dimension is not time, but rather something I cannot even conceive of. I watched that video where this high school kid put me in my place by being way more brilliant and able to understand actual physics, and you can too:

So, yes, I know “The World’s First 4D Console… It’s About Time!” is pure marketing drivel. Brilliant, earth-shaking marketing drivel.

THE MOCKUPS

And for fans of offset sticks I made this one:

THE SKINNY
Essentially the console “records” all of your gameplay progress and activities in a game, and this information is kept on your console and available the next time you visit the game. This is not a video recording, but rather a recording of 3D positioning and movement data, game variables and world data, game choices.

We’ve seen a couple of seconds of this concept executed in various racing games, or other games with a “rewind” feature. Think “Braid, the Console.” That time-rewind feature is the concept of this console taken to the Nth degree, using it to solve a number of pernicious gameplay challenges that have plagued both 2D and 3D games, and maybe unlock games that take new forms.

This is why the Play/Record button is a combined entity. When you move forward you are playing and “laying down gameplay.” Scrub back through that gameplay if you didn’t like how you did, and play it differently, and lay down a new history of your exploits!

PROBLEMS SOLVED

  • Why a Console? – Nothing is unique about a game console now that they play the same games as PC’s, patch and require online like PCs, use the same controllers as PCs, etc. Significant engineering would be required to support this “4th dimensional” feature, something for which a dedicated console engineered for the purpose is best.
  • Save Points – Eliminated, hit the stop button to stop the game. Come back, and pick up where you left off, or rewind from that point. Maybe a few seconds “lead-in” replay would get the player going. You could also add “Chapter Points” for people to use to be able to skip back to specific points in their playthough, if such a thing ends up needed.
  • Checkpoints – ditto, in fact this development would actually, by necessity, change the whole concept of game difficulty (if in EVERY game you could rewind to just before you made a mistake).
  • Branching Narrative – Easing the ability to “see” the whole game ensures branching narrative development is not wasted on players who “don’t want to replay.” Games could even safely shift to shorter experiences with more possibilities for where it could go, leaving whole sections of content unseen on a typical playthrough, knowing the game would be rewound and re-attempted.
  • Streaming and Media – How about a rich video recording and editing suite with full camera control allowing you to build flythroughs or machinima of your playthrough?

PROBLEMS REMAINING

  • Engineering – I don’t even
    Online Gaming – Um, well, this is why Nintendo is the first company that comes to mind with this. You could always disable those features online and still have the playthrough recorded for makin’ videos of the exploits.
  • VR – No reason why this concept wouldn’t work with it, but given it’s status as Big Buzz right now I should probably assume Nintendo is already work on “WiiR”
  • Motion Control – Like above, this concept pretty much ignores all that and pretends that the unnamed Nintendo-like console maker is focused on controller-based console-gaming and what can be done in that area that can innovate and create excitement.
  • No, Seriously. Engineering – I’m not sure of the challenges of “record all gameplay” but I imagine it would take a top-down engineered framework for tracking variables, items, whatever is recorded. I know PS3 Skyrim issues came from the amount of stuff recorded in the game saves and limits on memory. So put 128 GB of RAM into the thing or something I dunno I’m the idea guy. If it limits the amount of graphics whiz-bangs, then Nintendo’s the shop to do it. Make it a handheld and you limit the graphics a bit, and yes, you could call it The 4DS.

THE CLOSE
It takes a little bit of thinking about this idea before you look into the ways it could change games. Development has become so expensive that houses are reluctant to put together content that is off the “critical path,” yet at the same time all this development cost dumped into a roller-coaster thrill-ride game seems to impress less and less. So much discussion is about game length that you would think we are working a a one-dimension media! Let’s spur some discussion of breadth, on depth.

My hypothesis here is that a console can come into this space with a dedicated, engineered function spurring a round of gameplay innovation from a top-down level in a way the PC can’t. The N64 analog stick took an existing innovation and made it the centerpiece of a transformation in the way we interacted with our games, spurring innovation in the way we navigate 3D spaces.

I propose someone should do the same with the way we navigate our game TIME.

THE DEFENCE
i.e. some selections from my arguments on GAF

I’m not sure why everyone is hung up on whether this justifies new hardware. Nintendo could have arguably released Wii motion control as a peripheral for Gamecube. But that would have doomed the initiative and ensured its lack of success, instead of its huge success.

Launching the concept AS a console is the way to “mean it,” and ensure ubiquitous and consistency in the feature. Finding a seemingly innocuous “gimmick” feature, like the DS’ second touch screen, which in fact transforms the way games are developed on the system is something that is right in Nintendo’s wheelhouse when it comes to consoles.

It is what they failed to do with the WiiU, whose gimmick in truth felt like nothing new but a repeat of the trick the DS pulled.

The larger argument here is a console that, in its basic feature set, solves all the problems that lead publishers to favor linearity in games, as well repetition in games as a gameplay consequence.

The shame of this is that I can envision, but not properly articulate all the things this could effect. I imagine open world games sans the towers and icons driving one all over the map to ensure every corner is seen. Instead the world would be filled with stories, as many as could be made without fear of fitting them together or structuring the linear narrative. Each one could be a narrative, taking you to different places in the world, without concern that you walk by all the other places.

If you choose to join, oh I don’t know, the Assassin’s guild, you would see a completely different world, story, game even then if you chose to join the Mage’s guild. You wouldn’t have to have a “critical Path” with a sprinkled selection of Mage’s Guild content, for flavoring of the same experience everyone else is having.

And these diversions could be everywhere throughout the story you do play, these permutations. Because you wouldn’t have to balance it for subsequent playthroughs to avoid having a player repeat half of the story before the game-changing choice. You wouldn’t have to figure out a save system, or how to notate progress or significant plot-changing choice points to the player so they could understand how not to miss them on subsequent playthroughs.

I think all these factors together might push games to be actually developed a bit differently, giving the console and its games a unique identity. So that’s why new hardware.

But if it also meant Nintendo was dropping other gimmicks for a straight-up controller-gaming console of modern graphic spec with some killer Mario games, while focusing their “gimmick” on an area that, at the very least, would standardize and make simpler the checkpoints and save points and stuff I detailed above, that’s also a win in my book.

But it might actually do a lot more than that.

Maybe you could put a standalone microphone in each controller, too, to record an audio track to go along with the gameplay, as well as to enable speech recognition.

I picked up Lost Treasures of Infocom on iOS the other day and have been playing it using voice recognition. It’s gotten me thinking how close we could be to a revolution in adventure gaming with natural voice recognition interfaces parsing input text in newer, advanced ways and presenting stories and scenes with all the modern beauty possible.

It’s really adventure games that currently take advantage of branching narratives more than any other. Have I invented the adventure game console? Or would a Mario game now be free to also be an adventure game?

I think the quick rewind feature would be a big help in any implementation of voice control. Really minimize the frustration of misrecognition while the program is training to your voice.

Screw Nintendo. I should Kickstart the thing and call it Twouya.

One more:

I’ll bet if the rewind button just had LED lighting under it you could toggle the feature on and off for multiplayer without much confusion.

The entire match being recorded reliably and ubiquitously every time would seem to be a boon to local multiplayer. You could augment that with some intuitive editing software or even some “highlight detecting” work to automate the process to get a good “brag video.”

Maybe a camera and some sort of video recording along with the audio is necessary to complete the metaphor of recording and provide what is necessary for streaming/video culture these days. All simple stuff, really.

The software/OS architecture to make it happen (I don’t remember saying it had to be a hardware-based solution, just new hardware) and the dev environment it would require that would somehow standardize all these variable is indeed a challenge. But having standards for a lot of those things might also open things up in other ways.

DEFINITIONS:

Temporal Support
– The level of support each game has for “4D Features,” or use of the rewind/fast forward features of the console/OS/framework.

Function
Recordable – Games record gameplay history while played, that can be reviewed, edited, mixed, and shared. Pause and rewind functions may not be available at all times during gameplay, particularly during online games. Record history may be limited to a specific length of time or individual rounds or matches of gameplay.
or
Rewritable – Games permit forward Play movement through time from a rewind point “rewriting,” or creating a new gameplay history and set of choices. Existing gameplay history can be reviewed, edited, mixed, and shared. Rewrite function can take different forms:

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Form
Open – All points in time are available for pausing, stopping, rewinding, and fast-forwarding throughout full gameplay history. Rewriting is available from any moment in time in past gameplay, at which point (obviously) fast-forwarding is no longer available in the new timeline until it is laid down.
or
Structured – All points in time are available for pausing, stopping, rewinding, and fast-forwarding throughout full gameplay and cutscene history. Limited “choice points” in history, indicated clearly in the UI while accessing temporal controls, allow progression into a new history of gameplay. This accomodates skipping cutscenes and non-interactive or non-significant gameplay sections, and the choice points can be visually mapped, and directly skipped among, in the UI for these titles.
or
Mixed – Full pausing, stopping, rewinding, and fast-forwarding support. Games with segments of mixed gameplay styles may operate in Open or Sturctured mode at different times, with real-time, arcade, and reflex-based gameplay segments supporting Rewrite at any time, while conversational, navigational, or other segments present Structured Temporal navigation..

USE CASE:
“The Walking Dead”

Rewritable – Mixed
Adventure games like The Walking Dead from Telltale, with consequential choices, are a logical fit for the platform. A Walking Dead game on the platform could use the built-in UI for the functions of tracking and representing choice points in the story, currently indicated in-game with prompts of “So-and-so will remember that.” These prompts could use UI system notification nomenclature, and a player can turn them on and off as needed as with achievement notifications. Though I would think if you could achieve some consistency with notification behavior you could relax consistency with color, graphics, sound, etc. and let that vary per game.

Being able to rewind to any significant decision without complete replaying of chapters or from save points will ease that process for players and Telltale, as the behavior is standard and a no-brainer across games. It will stimulate players to explore different choices. Yet The Walking Dead will still ensure that choices have real-to-the-player consequences by ensuring the decisions can fester and/or pay off well after they are made.

It will also ensure immediate consequences with far-reaching implications that will also mean a good deal of skipping back or rewinding to undo. In the beginning of The Walking Dead, the player must choose one of two characters with which to ally himself. Depending on the choice, the rest of the game will be set in the city of Atlanta or in the surrounding countryside. Halfway through the countryside storyline, the player can set out to sea on an ill-fated voyage using a discovered sailboat. Alternate settings and storylines like these can vary in length, and in The Walking Dead for this new platform, some storylines are shorter and some are longer. This offsets additional development costs of the varying story and settings, as does the standardized structure for all the meta (temporal) functions of the game.

For The Walking Dead, the rewind/pause anytime function is a great boon to players who otherwise would find themselves playing with subtitles to ensure they didn’t miss any dialog, due to an accent in the voice acting or a distraction. The “Previously on The Walking Dead” segment for each episode would be informed directly by the stored play data of previous chapters, replaying even navigational or arcade section performance exactly as part of the highlight reel. Your game is your game in all ways.

But the ease of rewinding and rewriting history will also bring back “Early The End” nature of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, allowing you in The Walking Dead to tell Leroy he’s a big psycho at the wrong moment and have him shoot you down. Ha ha no big whoop, skip back that choice and try it again. Let’s face it. We all have the option of quitting out of the game, reloading it, and trying the conversation again, if the time limit made us hit the wrong thing. If you don’t want to play like that, don’t hit rewind. But don’t expect The Walking Dead to remain so predictable that a simple conversation choice can’t have immediate deadly consequences.

Speaking of deadly consequences, how would the arcade seqments of The Walking Dead hit you if you never had to replay any more than a few seconds by missing them. What is the consequence of “messing up” during gameplay? A selected length of the player’s time is forfeit, enough for them to reach that section and try again. So what is the real harm of lessening that time, and giving the player control of it?

In Structured Mode, even in action and arcade gameplay, I suppose you could establish the choice points in much the same way checkpoints are now, manually. Alternatively, require at least :xx seconds or rewind before rewrite becomes available again, if the rise and fall of repeatedly gameplay vs. player time is the consequence loop you must establish for a player in your game.

But for The Walking Dead, I have placed the title at Mixed mode because the arcade gameplay segment of The Walkind Dead and the like can sure as hell be done in Open mode allowing full rewind and rewrite. In The Walking Dead players will of course make mistakes and die, but special extra care is given to a large variety of gruesome zombie death animations in each scenario. If a player dies, the environment being less consequential to their time allows them to return to that challenge quickly, after watching and enjoying the unique death animation. The experience stays fun and positive for the player. No one played Dragon’s Lair for the gameplay; they played it partly to see Dirk’s death animations, but that fun is lost when your adult time is at stake. Once a player sees a repeat death animation, they then skip it, hitting that rewind button as soon as they can. If need be, the gameplay loop to beat that moment of challenge is honed to a few seconds, repeated over and over until beaten.

Right now, having tried for months to get her to play it, I have to sit down some time and do the arcade gameplay segments for my wife to get her past them in Season 1 of The Walking Dead. Mystical future Walking Dead on this platform rarely gets put down and given up on due to player frustration with difficulty spikes. 4D platform Walking Dead is pulling in more players without changing the fundamental nature of the gameplay–just changing the fundamental nature of all the peripheral gameplay contrivances that waste the time of both developers and gamers.

If you needed a nice custom gameplay engine/OS integration to make this happen, well then you might stand a pretty good chance of getting Telltale on a new engine, too. So, there’s that.


DEFINITIONS:
Temporal Support

Function
Rewritable
Form
Open (Plus) – All rewind and rewrite features of Open form are available. In addition the game may include gameplay that involves laying down multiple gameplay paths or other overall metagames using 4D features.

USE CASE:
“Pikmin 4D”
aka 100 Olimars

Rewritable – Open (Plus)
Receiving a catastrophic distress signal from his compatriot Louie (who stayed behind on PNF-404 at the conclusion of Pikmin 3), Captain Olimar returns to the planet of the Pikmin to find he is too late. Despite dispatching fleets of ships to evacuate the planets indigenous life, fifteen minutes after Olimar arrives the planet’s sun goes supernova, destroying the planet and all its unique life, as well as the fruit and seeds needed to provide food to his home planet of Koppai. Olimar is able to find Louie and a few Pikmin and get them aboard his ship, but his fleet arrives with 5 minutes to spare and must jump away before the explosion.

All that survives of PNF-404 are a few Pikmin and three artifacts gathered by Louie during his “research.” Olimar fits the artifacts together and upon pressing two symbols on the finished piece, finds himself standing in the past, watching himself discover Louie before they escape. With the artifact (which resembles the 4D button panel from the controller), Olimar can control time, and even travel back in time exactly fifteen minutes to make another copy of himself!

Olimar decides to use this power to make an army of himself, up to 100 Olimars, working in syncopated conjunction to prepare two of each form of indigenous life for escape aboard his Ark fleet, destined to arrive with only minutes to spare.

Pikmin gameplay is at first seemingly deconstructed by full Rewritable Open form of gameplay, since any mistake in a level involving sending a group of Pikmin into battle can be rewound and immediately erased. However it can be argued the process of replaying and reattempting levels with a trial-and-error method can be off-putting. Plus, the stringent time limit of the first game, created a sense of urgency that has since been missing from the series, sadly because it involved such a significant consequence (in player’s gameplay time wasted) on a doomed effort.

So during a typical level full gameplay rewind and rewrite features are available, allowing a player to quickly master the strategy and task of a level and lay down a fairly perfect run. At the conclusion of a level, if satisfied, the player then presses Play/Record and Rewind at the same time (watching Olimar do the same with his onscreen artifact), leaping back to the beginning of the game with a new Olimar.

This unlocks, essentially, MetaPikmin gameplay, where the players coordinates multiple gameplay runs with Olimar up to a certain number (average of five) inside each level (let’s say 20) for a total of 100 Olimars (Olimar is pretty much an anagram of Mario right?). Eventually an interface is presented by which the players can select between Olimars and fine-tune or change the gameplay run using rewind and rewrite controls.

In world, this translates into a series of segments in one level where an Olimar leads his team of collected Pikmin and other specimens to gnaw through a rope tied to a root, seemingly randomly, on their way to a battle. The loosening of this rope weakens a rotten tree, and another Olimar running through a different area of the same level leads a squad of Pikmin with a pair of beaver-like critters to knaw at and weaken the base of this rotten tree. In an entirely different level, high up in the mountains, another Olimar has his team remove a stick, setting a stone rolling down a hill…

In another entirely different level, a desperate Olimar tries to herd a large set of pairs of unique species through a deadly swamp, pursued by a cat-like predator preying upon the endangered animals. His Pikmin dwindling, he carefully maneuvers into place luring the creature into a random spot in an opening… where it is suddenly crushed by the rotten tree nudged the final step into falling by the tap of a rock rolling from a far off hill. The triumphant Olimar gathers some one-of-a-kind moss samples from the top of the tree and moves on with his mission.


It’s easy to continue following the idea of a console from Nintendo with this set of features because it is they alone who would attempt the set of tentpole releases uniquely tailored to the 4D features. But it would take unique deployments of the features like this to sell the concept. Obviously some of the concept comes from Super Mario 128, and a Mario game on the system… might… look a little something… like this….

If adjusting and synching Pikmin timelines sounds a bit fiddly well I think Pikmin is a bit fiddly as it is. But at the end of this fiddly Pikmin game you should be able to easily edit and share replay of your coordinated army of Olimars evacuating the planet, or even go back and just tweak and perfect your existing saved game to 100% all the collectibles without replaying anything more than is necessary. So let’s call it efficient fiddly. Thanks for reading!


11/15/2016 – Bump.

Ah well. I’ll probably get a Switch but I feel like it’s solving a problem that everyone knows exists but no one particularly cares about. Maybe it’s just my age: years ago I was riding the bus a lot more and playing Gameboy Advance SP, I suppose I can see the appeal of playing the same game seamlessly. Mainly I just see the appeal of Nintendo’s development teams being focused on one console. I’m curious if portable games that are just smaller versions of consoles games will work. I guess we’ll see.

I bumped this though because it made me think back and wish Nintendo’s new jimmy was something a bit crazier like this, answering a problem that no one knew existed. Maybe this case isn’t solid (though I’m not sure my Pikmin idea got full consideration there), but Nintendo’s always done best when they’ve come out of left field–I think their stock dip might indicate that the core idea of Switch is not… Revolutionary. I hope we’re all wrong.

I still love my 4th Dimensional console though for having standardized stop, play, and rewind buttons that you would at least force every cutscene to obey. Or even those in-game, computer-takes-the-camera semi-cutscenes that never seem to end up on in-game cutscene replay menus (and seem to end up part of the appeal of longplays on YouTube). It’s 2016, and in single-player games you still miss crucial plot sometimes if something takes your attention, because you have no control as something plays out.

I also didn’t make a strong enough case for the basic usability, instant save on stopping games and quitting, instant restart where you left off (with some review run-up if you like) like Wii VC NES games. I’d imagine Switch would be nice if it had something similarly streamlined.

I also think if you’re going to have a future of VR support, you have to account for sharing VR experiences, not to standard video but to other VR helmets. This is only possible if you record the timeline of entire environments, and each participant can then move independent and not be sick. The concepts of recording gameplay and video etc are just not up to this task.

It’s clear Nintendo is out of that arena with Switch, however.

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