Lars Holmquist spoke of “PacMan Must Die” at Intel’s Berkeley research lablet Friday.
This is an innovative game developed by Holmquist’s students at the Viktoria Institute’s Future Applications Lab in G–teborg, Sweden. It’s a tweaked-out multi-player version of the classic game Pac Man, with two major twists.
The first twist: characters’ roles are switched. Players control ghosts invading Pac Man’s home turf, trying to recover the dots stolen by Pac Man in the original game.
The second twist: the playing field is distributed across two or more devices held by multiple players.
To finish a level, a player must eat dots not just on her own screen, but on the other players’ screens as well. If you send your ghost through a doorway on the bottom of your screen, the ghost disappears from your device. It enters another player’s screen through a corresponding doorway. The game allows up to five players to join in on the distributed fun.
Players have to look over at one another’s screens to see where to guide their characters. Physical strategy and cooperation become central to this virtual game. Opportunities for new sorts of pranks arise — for instance, you can physically run off with your friend’s ghost.
I love this; it’s another way of combining video game fun with the fun of play in real-world places.
This is the sort of rich, simple innovation that I hoped would emerge with the wi-fi enabled Nintendo DS portable video game system. But Nintendo seems to have locked down DS development, limiting it to internal and professional developers. Such professionals have years of experience and training in building traditional games. This background cripples their ability to innovate, to see beyond the constraints of traditional game platforms.
Nintendo, learn from eBay and Google and Amazon: let customers and outsiders build value for you. Open your platform and let it thrive.