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This one-button mechanic of keeping the player aloftfirst appeared a couple of years ago in a game version of the After Dark Flying Toasters. It is a brilliant design move for phones because it solves the inherent challenge of using a dialing pad forgameplay input by simply ignoring the keypad entirely. I have seen phone games that actually start with a map of dial pad in which every key is assigned a function. The day I can remember the keypadassignments for mobile Metal Gear Solid is the day I start worrying about myself. You also can't make it soothing enough. There is a therapeutic quality to the most successful casual gamesthat is anathema to the action-oriented "challenge" of typical video games, and many designers miss this. Keeping Snoopy and his doghouse aloft with gentle key presses is a game goal with a tangiblepayoff; it is a bit hypnotic. A study of male and female gamers years ago discovered that men tend to game for the "challenge," while women play for the relaxation. So games with a simple, soothingrhythm and tone such as Bejeweled and Zuma are like crack for soccer moms. But once you do pare down the design to the bare essentials of a single key press, then you can introduce detailand complexity gradually via more intricate levels. For instance, a double press of the OK button makes Snoopy loop the loop. And then storm clouds and enemy fighter start appearing. One ofthe things the Snoopy game gets so right is the simple balance of story and gameplay. At the outset, Snoopy is gathering balloons in order to lift Woodstock's nest back up a tree. This all soundsdisarmingly simple, but in fact it is the necessary element to give the game play some sense of purpose. Just as important is that the story is communicated as cleanly and visually as one of CharlesSchultz's original Snoopy strips. For those of us who were fans of the original strip, the Snoopy ones tended to be short silent films: no word or thought balloons, just pantomime. This approach worksbeautifully on a phone, and game designers would do well to follow Schulz and Namco's good examples. On some platforms, making your characters shut up is the best way to help them communicate. We areonly beginning to understand that despite its postage stamp size, the mobile phone is a visual content medium. One of the cool little things that the Snoopy game does is reward the player with comicstrips at certain milestones. The game progresses through a series of "Acts" in which a set of levels satisfies a plot point or advances the situation. The design telegraphs to the player howlong this will take, because you can see how many levels are ahead of you. The sense of accomplishment at reaching meaningful milestones is always present. Again, this is something that gamedevelopers generally don't get, that players like to attach meaning even to the mindless play and that they need to sense an end point, especially when they are squeezing in a few minutes of phonegaming. I suspect that "Snoopy the Flying Ace" successfully hijacked me from my original topic (it is coming next time) because it really is a welcome respite from the rest of my phoneexperience. I wonder what mobile marketers could learn from this? That we could do more to help users "glide" through information and mobile experiences, not just "access" them. There isa reason why the iPod and now the iPhone interface feels so different; it is because they let us slip down into data. That we could use transparency to help users know from the outsetwhere they are going in an application, how long it will take, and what the goals are. That the deck is, after all, more visual than we think -- and that we may do better showing ratherthan saying. Schultz demonstrated how a simple line, a hint of movement, and an arched eyebrow can communicate so much more efficiently than text. The combination of image with spare dialogue is theessence of the one mass medium in the last two centuries that has endured in its original form and continues to satisfy us. Comic strips are also the medium that communicates in precisely the sameminiature form factor as a cell phone screen. Imagine if a media historian of the next century decided that the mobile content platform had its roots more in the daily comic strip than it didin the Web? Or maybe I am just being Snoopy's blockheaded owner.
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