RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jan 14th 2014 at 10:29:15 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Space Team, mobile, platform bias

I've always been something of a salesperson for the video game experience.  When I was little I enjoyed sharing our C64 with the neighborhood kids.  When I was in middle school, I droned on about the incredible story of Final Fantasy II (IV) to mostly disinterested classmates. In high school, I was the nerd who recorded Gate of Thunder and Ecco the Dolphin onto a mix tape/CD and gave it to all my friends.  In college I was constantly setting up huge LAN games in the computer labs.  As an adult, I love how our entire family enjoys spending time gaming together.

And while I've always had particular games and genres I much preferred, I've never been much of a fanboy to the exclusion of a 'competing' side.  As entertaining as Nintendo vs Sega, Madden vs NFL2k, or mouse/keyboard vs controller rivalries can be, even if I 'pick' sides I still appreciate everything video games have to offer.  To completely dismiss and write off an alternative selection in gaming seems to me like a Pittsburgh Steelers fan loving the team but hating a rival team so much it affects their enjoyment of the sport.  One gamer's Superman 64 is another gamer's Shadow of the Colossus.  There's simply so much to video games in the modern world, it makes sense to keep an open mind about new experiences as well as to find and pursue preferences.

Even though I'm more resistant to digital download-only games than physical copies, I still investigate the market, and occasionally purchase and enjoy.  I've made sure to pick up occasional sports titles and try them out, despite not really getting into one since Double Dribble and Blades of Steel.  MMOs are inherently problematic for me due to the time required, but I love to read about Eve Online and experiments like Second Life.  And while I've stopped short of installing a PC full of games for productivity reasons, I finally got a Steam account to tinker with.  All this to say, basically, that when it comes to video games, I try not to just write anything off.

Well, except mobile games.  I've liked a few, notably Plants versus Zombies and N.O.V.A., and I read about new titles on occasion.  But by and large mobile and tablet gaming just did not appeal to me for a variety of reasons.  Given how adult life and responsibilities keep gaming time at a premium, for me it has been the easiest sub-sector of gaming to dismiss.  And since I don't think the average adult can keep up with everything in gaming anymore unless they work in the industry full time, I felt somewhat justified in keeping my not-interested-in-mobile/tablet gaming bias.

Which means I tend to miss out on some excellent experiences like Space Team.

The requirements can be a barrier; exclusively 2 to 4 player, on iOS and Android, only local play on WiFi or Bluetooth.  And even directly next to a router, we experienced some occasional connection problems.  But once we get started...

The idea is that you and your friend(s) are on a spaceship hurtling through the cosmos.  At the beginning of every stage, the bottom two-thirds of your touch-screen is filled with randomly generated virtual dials, knobs, and switches, each labeled with goofy technobabble like P-muffler, Sloping Solvent, Harmonic Shutter, etc.  Occasionally the scientific pretext is dropped completely in favor of humor, such as when you end up with a 'Make Waffles' or 'Eulogize Previous Crew' button.

Above your control panels, an instruction pops up, such as 'Turn Sloping Solvent to 2,' or 'Set Wafflemaker to On.'  Under the instruction is a timer, and if the instruction is not followed, the ship takes damage.  Too much damage and your ship falls apart, including panels that swing off hinges and have to be manually replaced, green goop sliming the screen that requires wiping, and the eventual destruction of your ship.  The catch is that most of the time, the instruction you are given is for someone else's panel, and the most efficient way to communicate is to simply shout to your team-mate.  By the fifth stage, the game easily begins to break down into hilarious verbal expressions, phones and tablets shaken to avoid asteroids, and screens flipped around to escape wormholes.  You really just have to see it in action:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/aBfHhfxLNPE&rel=0" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/v/aBfHhfxLNPE&rel=0</a>

Here is a simple concept with brilliant execution.  The random panel names and placements are a reminder that unlike most video games, the point is not mastery of the controls.  Efficient, effective closed-loop communication under strict time pressure is what saves the day in Space Team. And as laugh-out-loud and fun as the game is, it also forces the development of useful real-world skills.  Our successful advancement in the game was in direct correlation to how well we developed a rhythm of communication with each need as it came up (and the speedy resolution necessary.)  It would usually work until our nerves and communication would break down under the speed necessary to exchange what was needed and what was already done.  By then everyone is shouting excitedly, laughing uncontrollably, and our little virtual ship starts popping and fizzing like the Enterprise on an old Star Trek episode.

I couldn't help but be reminded of my EMT training so many years ago, and the constant necessity for effective communication under duress.  If some surgeons are reported to play video games in order to progress and maintain vital hand-eye coordination, and Minecraft is used in schools for creative exercises, Space Team fits perfectly as a game with real-world benefits and application.  Plus it's hilarious.  And free!

After playing Space Team I recognized how ill-advised my near-complete disregard of the mobile and tablet gaming market has been.  Much like the Wii U and 3DS, the best games for the platform tend to be ones fitted to the unique traits of its hardware.  From the simplicity of Atari's original Combat, to the brain straining of the Professor Layton series, to the crazy sim-like complexity of Steel Battalion, there are so many experiences video games have to offer, some even with potential real-world benefits.  Guess that includes those mini-computers we carry around that I used to play Snake on all the time. Smiley 



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Comments
 
First, I would like to welcome you to the mobile gaming market.  It's...  okay.  Don't get me wrong, for the most part it is great, but sometimes I feel like it doesn't really know what it wants to be when it grows up.  But that is when things tend to get interesting, and you get the strange and wonderful games that pour into the market, desperately trying to get their spaghetti to stick to the wall, much like what happened on the PS1, the PS2 (to a lesser extend), and the Wii.  It's a lot of fun if you go digging, but you really have to dig sometimes to find those treasures.  Game Dev Story, for example.

While I haven't played it, I've watched many videos of groups playing Space Team, and man does that look fun.  Even of it is not your bag it's a hoot just watching the madness.

Great article, Jes. 

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