Thursday, February 5, 2015

Video Games and Board Games: The Connection

You can find board game structures in some video games.
The roll of the dice. The spin of the wheel. The dealing of the cards. The movements of pieces. It's not hard to make the connection between video games and board games when you review the structures of some games. Both video games and board games have rules that players must follow in order to play the respective games properly, and the structures of all these games are very similar to each other in some aspects. You are given some limitations because of the rules that are in place, but you are free to express how you approach the game with your actions. No matter where you move on the game board or in a game level, you are given the opportunity to affect the direction of the game.

I find it unique that both mediums of video games and board games share a bond with each other in the sense that they do tend to borrow ideas from each other. In fact, we have seen both extremes of transitioning from one game form to the other. We have seen board games transition into video games and we have seen our favorite video game franchises test the waters of being a board game. Is it as easy as it sounds, though? To be honest, I don't think so, but I believe that with enough thought and creativity the transitioning process could become at least a little bit smoother.

Monopoly for the Nintendo 64
Let's begin with a basic example. Monopoly is certainly no stranger to being implemented onto television screens to be a video game as there have been numerous attempts made by Parker Brothers to allow gamers to take in a different experience. When playing Monopoly as a video game, the same board game rules still apply, but now we have to take into account a defined set of game mechanics that will compliment the character of the game. What button do you push to roll the dice? Do you accept buying a property or do you decline? What happens when you land on a Chance or a Community Chest space? How can players negotiate and make trades? How fast or slow will the pace of this game be? There are plenty of questions to ask that will make up the scope of a Monopoly video game.

Mario Party: One example of a board game-themed video game
Now what about our favorite video game franchises? What could these franchises do to make the transition into a board game environment? Well, speaking only about actual board games, there have been many attempts by gaming companies to tap into the board game market. Take Mario for example. The 1980's and 1990's saw a huge boom in Mario merchandise being sold, and eventually Nintendo got around to selling board games that revolved around the theme of the original Super Mario Bros. games. In the picture above, we see a Mini-Game take place in Mario Party 2, one of the many installments. Mario Party involves players pressing buttons to roll dice, using the analog stick to choose which path they want to take, and performing typical gameplay stunts that you would see in normal platforming games in Mini-Games. This particular concept initially won over the masses as gamers couldn't stop talking about board game-themed video games. It was as if an actual board game was being played, but here you have options in the video game scope.

Sonic Shuffle: A not so good example...
Of course, with success stories in implementing board game themes into video games also comes failures, and Sonic Shuffle would have to relate to the latter. Instead of rolling dice, players had cards at their disposal that they could use on any given turn. Once you played a card that had a number on it, let's say 5, you would get to move 5 spaces ahead. Since this took on the Sonic environment, you would collect rings if you were to land on ring spaces that were blue. Red spaces with rings meant that you lost rings. (By the way, Mario Party was the first to come up with this mechanism.) The main problems for Sonic Shuffle were that the loading times in between events were unbelievably long, there were some glitches and there was also the sense that some board game elements were simply lacking in this game. No real broad sense of achievement was gained from winning at Sonic Shuffle.

Pac-Man Party: A rather interesting example...
Take a look at the next two examples above and below. The first example is Pac-Man Party, a game that was built pretty much like Mario Party but combined some elements of Monopoly to come up with the game's foundation. Having an interesting cast of characters, and some of which were never seen prior to this, Pac-Man Party is played with the purpose of obtaining the most properties as you possibly can while also winning enough Mini-Games to reach a certain amount of pellets, staying true to the Pac-Man theme. This was a game that had some hits and misses, and while loved by some gamers, especially Pac-Man fanatics, it didn't become a very popular success.

Fortune Street: Reminds you of Monopoly
Fortune Street obviously pays homage to Monopoly even more so than Pac-Man Party because it puts even more of an emphasis on buying properties, avoiding bankruptcy, buying and selling stocks, and even holding auctions. If you are willing to go through the ups and downs of economic business in a board game setting, then playing this video game would be sufficient. The basic objective is to reach a certain amount of gold coins (most players prefer to play up to 10,000 but there are ways to extend the game) before anyone else with the help of establishing your territory as a business tycoon, so to speak. It's all in good fun and there are plenty of wrinkles thrown in to make the gameplay experience memorable. In just a matter of moments, you could see yourself elevate from 4th place all the way up to 1st place. That's how unpredictable Fortune Street's turn of events could possibly be.

With video games that take on the life of a board game such as these examples, it's very important for game developers to keep in mind that they need to keep the players interested in playing these kinds of games. It takes much more than a simple roll of the dice to get the players hooked. We need to establish a distinct set of rules for this board game, as well as providing the right kinds of incentives and rewards for the players. We need to make sure that the Mini-Games we provide in this game keep the players coming back for more. Just keep the player engaged. Implement bonuses if you need to. Try to maintain a balance of all the things a player can possibly do on a turn. Have a goal, shoot for it and build around it.

It's interesting that I bring this topic up because I myself have been developing my own custom video game script that revolves around the atmosphere of a custom board game. My board game only features a simple goal; score the most points to win the game, but to be honest, there is more of a competitive aspect attached to my custom board game-themed video game script. I treat this custom world as if it takes on the vibes of football games, baseball games, chess matches, croquet matches or any sporting event. I consider this idea of mine to be somewhat radical and it features a ton of different items. I would love to show this idea to you in the future, but I will have to wait.

Until then, let the good times roll.

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