To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: Make All Games "Casual"
Date: April-May 2006

I have just played a game that has a breakthrough help format -- Keepsake, by Wicked Studios and published by The Adventure Company. The game takes place in a gigantic and complex castle. Essentially, the location is a beautiful but complex maze of rooms and corridors in which there are many puzzles to be solved. If you choose to summon help you are greeted with different levels of hints. The first explains what you need to do to solve the puzzle -- make a picture, get the dragon into his cave. Most times figuring out what the heck to do is part of the puzzle -- but this is a help scenario. When asked, additional tips progress until you are asked if you wish to have the puzzle solved and in a flash it is solved. You are not penalized for not solving the puzzle yourself, and you receive the item or hint behind the puzzle as if you had.

Because the castle is so complex and large -- help is also offered as to where to go for the next puzzle, with an image of the character in that location. It is enough of challenge to try and locate the place even with the hint, but what it does is lessen the frustration because you are not stuck and can go on with the story. You basically have a walkthrough with pictures.

This technique works particularly well for adventure games or ones which have a story. Not being able to finish a game is like having a book with pages stuck together. Every game that is not finished makes the player question whether the game is worth the money, and this thinking doesn't make for future sales. Imagine if players could return games they couldn't finish as defective merchandise!

This game is rated E for everyone, but this technique would work equally well for games like the James Bond series -- opening the game to more casual players. Don't want help? Donít ask for it. Interestingly enough, when playing Keepsake I didn't pay attention to the help function and played it cold. After I discovered it, I used it to find out hints as to where the puzzles were. By the end, with real life impinging on me, I used it to finish up the game. Instead of trying to make casual games -- why not make all games with a "casual" function. It would be an easy way to increase the market.

And -- we've got to find a better name that "Casual". Maybe -- "This game comes with a buddy system", maybe helpmate, bespoke, amanuensis, Majordomo. I don't know -- send me suggestions -- I give attribution.