Weekend Reading: Casual games for hardcore gamers

I just love it when I can pick up and play a game for 10-15 minutes, or however long it may be, and just play. I’m not necessarily talking about something like Guilty Gear or Red Steel or anything — instead, I’m talking about games like Geometry Wars, Red Star, or Elite Beat Agents. I love these games to death, and I want to see more. The thing is, I’ll likely have to wait for fans to create them. No problem there, though.

This week, I’ll be talking a bit about XNA, Microsoft’s developer tool for the Xbox 360, along with original downloadable content for the PS3 and Wii. The fans that love the genres and understand the ideas behind the games, given the right tools, could create something utterly jaw dropping.

For us, the games that you can just pick up and play usually aren’t the headlining titles — they’re obscure, hard to find, and require plenty of research. Elite Beat Agents wasn’t a commercial success, but for those who own it, you know that it’s something to pop in whenever you feel like distracting yourself for five minutes.

On the console, it’s the same way. I wouldn’t have known about The Red Star if I wasn’t told to go buy it. Geometry Wars was a surprise hit, too — it wasn’t expected that a little minigame would be one of the top sellers on Xbox Live. Yet, shmup fans clung to it and made it a huge success.

So, is there a chance that we can get these sort of casual games that are meant for us, the hardcore gamer? I sure hope so.

First off, Microsoft is delivering with XNA. The kit is essentially a developer’s tool that will allow people who aren’t programmers to create games using a sort of drag-and-drop type system. If you go find Ron Workman on Ventrilo, he’ll tell you all about it. It’ll allow people to make whatever game they want, without knowing all the complicated code behind it. Sure, you can’t make Shadows of the Collosus in a week, but something like Geometry Wars or Super Mario Bros. sure is possible.

Essentially, XNA looks like it’s going to be the most wide-spread of the three consoles’ casual games, simply because you have fans creating games that they want to see out there in the market. Thus, XNA will likely be the breeding ground for innovative games and development (and probably where you’d want to put out a game if you’re looking to make it to the big leagues).

Next, Sony has given us FlOw. Hey, it’s an interesting game! OK, so besides that, we’ve seen some more games like Calling All Cars pop up on the Playstation Network. I have a feeling that Sony is going to be the place where developers will go to put out their casual games. Either that, or they’ll have plenty of influential casual games come out on PSN — essentially, it’ll be a showcase for famous creators to show off their mini-projects to the community.

Finally, Nintendo says that there will be original content on the Virtual Console, but we’ll likely be waiting a while to see that. I have a feeling that it’s going to end up botched, but we can always hope for the best. What I’d like to see is Nintendo provide people with a XNA-like kit, where people could make NES/SNES games for the VC. As it is, the VC is making itself out to be the holy land for retro gamers, so giving them the ability to make their own games like this would turn out to be hugely successful.

As you can see, there’s the possibility of these three systems taking different shares of the market and each reaching success. Of course, this is just a prediction, and I doubt it’ll end up this way, since Microsoft and Sony will likely try to move in on each other’s territory, while Nintendo just screws with its fans. What do you readers think of the opportunities laid out by these companies? Will this mean that us hardcore gamers will have our own bite-sized games?