Monday, August 3, 2009

On the need to stop playing videogames to play videogames better

As a rule, playing a videogame, like flying a Colonial Viper, is done from the seated position. The Nintendo Wii has done a lot towards getting the sedentary gamer up and moving, but still remain within the range and arc of the wiimote sensor bar. Aspyr's new game Treasure World actually requires you to leave the house if you want to get anywhere.

It's primarily a puzzle and building game - with an assortment of bits of art and items you can build little pictures and bits of art. Most of the items also make noise or play music, so you can also design little musical ditties, about the length of an old-school ringtone. These creations can be uploaded to the Club Treasure World website where they can be downloaded or duplicated by others.

There are THOUSANDS of these little building blocks, from flowers that sound like musical instruments to sound effects, and a bunch of costumes for your on-screen character. How do you collect these items? By setting the game to scan, closing the DS, putting it into your bag or pocket, and going out for a walk. The game scans the ether for wi-fi connections, and based on god knows what sets of parameters, unlocks various prizes and "treasures" in the game. The networks don't need to be "open", merely recognizable - the game doesn't actually try to connect to them, just uses the public connection info it finds to unlock more items in-game. Connecting to the games website does require a nintendo-accessible wifi connection, and upon linkup, will upload your data to the site, including your discoveries and creations to date. Much like games like Spore and Rollercoaster Tycoon, it's a place where an impressive amount creativity is on display, especially considering the relatively small canvas available to you.

Turning the game on in my office alone, it found three wireless networks, a two block walk to the bank and local deli grabbed another eight, and the drive home and walk through the local mall got over sixty. And each connection unlocked more items, puzzle pieces, and mysterious "keys" which will open treasure chests at some point in the future, provided I keep visiting the website to check in.

Each wifi network will only generate one prize, so to get more prizes you need to take your DS to more and more places. While this may prove infuriating to folks who can't get to very many places on their own, the challenge of finding more connections is engaging. A walk through any shopping center or bookstore will likely find you another few, and as time passes you'll be amazed at the number of prizes you've collected. I'll bet more than a few industrious kids will ask mom or dad to take the game with them to work in the city, with heaven only knows how many wifi networks available.

I'm reminded of the Monster Hunter franchise that generated monsters for you to raise based on what music CD (and with later versions, DVDs) you popped in the Playstation. Players would generate massive databases of what CDs would generate what monsters, and I spent more than one night popping discs in to see if I could get something other than another damn Mochi.

The "Game" part of the package is more of a little art tool than any thing else, but it gets quite engrossing, trying to combine the best sounds to get a recognizable song in the limited number of notes available.

I'm on the site here - I may have gotten a couple of songs composed by the time you find a copy of the game.

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