Wednesday, June 6

Designing To a System: Nintendo DS

After too much ado, I finally bring you the first Designing To a System article, previously espoused upon. Today's topic is the Nintendo DS.Nintendo DS is a very special system. The handheld is not original, as most probably think. Its neither the first handheld to have two screens, nor is it the first touch screen system. However, the DS is the first successful system to boast these features. The reason for this success is another story. Right now we want to look at what the DS has to offer, then figure out how to make a game specifically designed to it. The most important aspects of the DS, to me, are the touchscreen and the hinge space between the two screens. The touch screen is important for obvious reasons, its literally integral to the system. Touch screens are by nature tactile experiences, more so than buttons or triggers or even remote waving. The reason for this is because their is so much feedback to the player. Touching allows players to feel the screen, see the result of their touching on screen, and hear the touch through both the physical tap and the system's speakers. The stylus brings the game outside of the screen, serving as a bridge between game and player.
On the left we have Yoshi's Island DS, making use of the dead zone. On the right we have Sonic Rush, which pretends there is no gap (note the mesh).

The second aspect of the DS, which I find to be critical to a game's success, is the gap between the top and bottom screen. The fact that the DS has two screens is negligible when considering the hinge strip chasm that separates them. But the blank spot should not be thought of so negitively; just the opposite, think of the hinge as white space. Most any artist will tell you that use of white space is pivitol to painting well. The DS is the same. Designers must be wise to use both screens as effectively as possible while taking into account the space between them. Let us make another analogy: just like with a sonnet or villanelle or any other poetic form, designers must work within the bounds of a systems strengths and weaknesses. The DS's white space is known as the dead zone, there are two ways to use it. One way, the more popular of the two, is to split the two screens by showing distinct and separated images on each. The other way ("using the dead zone") is to fill in the gap between the screens. The latter is to my knowledge exclusively seen in games that play across both screens, like Metroid Prime Pinball and Yoshi's Island DS. To be clear, not all DS games using a single play field across both screens use the dead zone, Sonic Rush is an example of a game that skips the gap.
Yay! The best DS game ever...except for one other. Can you guess my favorite DS game? If you know me personally your excluded from the competition. P.S. Who ever is play stinks.

Whether or not to use the dead zone or the touch screen are not the questions you want to be asking yourself, not even close. We must design in cooperation with the features of the DS in order to create a game that truly fits. When making a game for the DS, one must take the correct approach. Think, "The DS has a touch screen, two screens, and a space between them (among other things that are also important). How can I craft a game that takes advantage of these opportunities?" Design to a system. Otherwise you'll just end up making a square peg for a round hole. And that wouldn't do at all.

I had originally intended to talk about Ninja Gaiden DS in this post, but the post got kind of long. So that's what you'll be getting next, sorry to spoil it for you.

Touching Is Feeling
What other aspects of the DS do you find most important?

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