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December 08, 2010

What I want for my next dashboard update

I don't often ask for new features in my console itself, because a) no one's listening and b) I rarely have cause for complaint. But I had an idea last night that, while it could be implemented in individual games, makes far more sense to be integrated by the platforms themselves.

As a gamer with lots of responsibilities and other interests, one of the things that can really be a drag is that I often have trouble keeping track of the context of a particular game I might be playing. What I mean is, while games can be really good at keeping track of specifically authored side goals, they're not really good at helping me keep track of little bits of ephemera I might like to return to later.

Take Mass Effect, which I'm finally playing now¹. On a couple of occasions I've come across planets that I land on and in the course of exploration I'll come across items that I can't salvage yet because my electronics skill is too low. This is often the case with collectibles or other investigations, or will come up in games such as Zelda or Metroid where you can't quite get to a particular location yet but once you have a special ability later on, you'll be able to reach new areas in places you've already been.

I don't mind that mechanic at all; I find it kind of interesting to see how your perspective on a location changes once you're able to navigate it in new ways and such. What I really want, however, is a simple system to remember those places, since it's likely that there will be some extended period of time between the session of play I'm ending and my next opportunity to investigate those areas. Sure, I could write it down, but the piles of paper I have hanging around my house and desk and whatnot are already sufficiently depressing without starting to add to-do lists for the various games I'm playing².

All the modern consoles have system-level software that is running in the background; this is why you can hit your dashboard button or the PS button on the controller at any point and have a standard interface come up instantaneously. My 360 has a headset that I could theoretically use on Xbox Live to communicate with friends or in multiplayer matches, but as I'm not too interested in the culture I might thereby encounter, it mostly lies around gathering dust³.

What I'm looking for is device-level functionality that lets me record little clips of audio and associate it with a game, ideally with the option to attach a screen capture to help me remember what I was doing when I made the note. The user experience would basically be, 1) Press system menu button, 2) Navigate menu to record (preferably saved between presses of the button, so that step 2 needs only be done the first time) and 3) Record my little clip.

Retrieving the data could be just as simple. Currently, my Xbox 360 lets me know what my friends are doing when I start up the device by putting little notifications in well-known spaces on the screen. Similarly, I'd expect the system software to let me know, when I started a game up, that I had voice annotations associated with that game just as a reminder, and allow me to navigate quickly to them, paging through little thumbnails and allowing me to delete them, etc.

It's not all that different from how I code, when I'm working on little projects at home, or even in the day job. I write comments in at the point I was working and expect the editor to remember my place so that it's the first thing I see when I start up again (or, at worst, it's quite visible in a diff browser).

This functionality could, of course, be a social affair. There's no reason why I couldn't share these annotations with friends, sort of in the mode of Demon Souls. And further, I could see a place for DLC whereby game developers can provide downloadable audio cues which are attached to their games, in the vein of what Valve has been doing for years, starting with I believe Episode One of Half-Life 24. Think of that as a device-supported RiffTrax.

I've long lamented the inability of games to provide me with good information about what objectives I was pursuing when I saved days or weeks or even months before; having a built-in and easy-to-use mechanism that I could use across all the games I play on a given platform would be terrific.



Sorry not to post more frequently; I have a few more essay ideas and thoughts that I've been noodling with over the last few weeks, but nothing quite ready for prime-time. I tend to write long-ish posts, and setting aside regular time to do so hasn't been easy, with all the various demands on my time. But I may have time to finish up a couple between now and the New Year, so check back. Cheers.



¹My backlog is large.

²Generally speaking, I have games going on three or four platforms, DS, PC and a couple of consoles. This doesn't help with the "extended time between sessions" problem.

³I gather that the PS3 has a similar, Bluetooth-based device for voice communication.

4It's also something we toyed with in Jedi Starfighter; we had videos of two of the levels in the game with overdubbed commentary by the game's creative director, Project Leader, and the mission designer for each of the levels. End plug.

Posted by Brett Douville at December 8, 2010 08:48 AM

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