Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pac-Man, Risk, and Guitar Hero

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

I have one thought about Pac-Man referring to Risk, and then a few thoughts about Guitar Hero.

I read this bit about Pac-Man:

http://blog.games.yahoo.com/blog/443-five-things-you-never-knew-about-pac-man

The section entitled, “Each ghost had specific orders,” is what I found the most interesting. A while back, when I was still rocking my Commodore 64 as my primary computer (go ahead guess, it was probably more recent than whatever you guess is), I bought the C-64 version of the classic board game Risk. My biggest complaint about this version was the AI. The computer players had one goal in mind, which was to destroy the human players. The problem with that, of course, is that if you were the only human player in a six player game, you would not even come in fifth place. I tried. I would hole up in Australia, if I could take it, and let them fight it out as I stockpiled armies, but it never seemed to work out anyway, and it was boring. What I ended up doing was either playing me against one computer, or three me against three computers, but that’s still not the spirit of Risk.

I think the problem with the Risk game could have been easily solved by giving each computer player a different style of play, much the way that Pac-Man made the game a bit more balanced by not having all four ghosts specifically trying to take out Pac-Man. From the article:

“Instead, it's only Blinky, the red ghost, who doggedly pursues you throughout the game. Pinky, the pink ghost (naturally), simply wants to position itself at a point that's 32 pixels in front of Pac-Man's mouth. The blue ghost, Inky, is seeking to position itself at a similar fixed spot. And Clyde, the orange ghost, moves completely at random.”

In Risk one computer could always go after the player with the most armies that it can attack, one could go after the player with the most territories that it can attack, one could go after the player with the most army gain per turn that it could attack, one could have it out for the human players, and one could attack randomly. It may not still have been as balanced as playing a real game of Risk with human players, but it would have been far more balanced than, “Everybody kill the human!”

I read a blog about Activision dropping the Guitar Hero franchise citing a decline in sales in the music genre:

http://blog.games.yahoo.com/blog/374-activision-axes-guitar-hero-franchise/

One commenter on the blog said that Rock Band isn’t suffering. Whether or not he had valid information, I don’t know. What I do know is my own personal experience. It seems like every time I open up a Game Informer magazine there is some new Guitar Hero or Rock Band product being reviewed. As a fan of music games, I am reasonably happy that there are so many games to play, and that Rock Band has moved in the direction of more realistic instruments. I just wonder if maybe they over did it.

Let’s look at it this way. If once a year there was a new Guitar Hero title released, it would probably sell pretty well, right? Even Rock Band could have a once a year release and it would probably be a pretty big seller. But what happens when between the two franchises there seems to be a new game out quicker than even the most avid fans of the games can complete the last game they bought? Do they really rush out to buy the new one?

It seems that everything I’ve read wants to act like the genre either started sucking, or the fans were fickle at best. This kind of thinking might lead a game company to do something rash, like drop a whole franchise to focus on what’s hot right now. I’m not knocking them for putting their resources where their resources need to be. I just wonder why they wouldn’t continue to develop a new game each year, and let the music game community miss it a little while. It’s possible that they don’t wish to reinvent the wheel to follow Rock Band into the more realistic instrument arena, and I guess that would be entirely valid. Sales aren’t quite as valid to me as long as the games are profiting, but I don’t know the gaming business. They may be making the right decision moving their people to games that need the attention, and will bring in enough money to keep the company going.

My hope is for a smaller publisher to purchase the publishing rights to Guitar Hero. It’s happened with other franchises, some of which have been revitalized by the new publisher. If that doesn’t happen, I simply hope that the makers of Rock Band stick it out. I feel that the music games genre has many new and interesting directions it can still go, but it needs to be supported by publishers that believe it.

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