Game Development Reference
the other you can't. It is a major differential with multiple implications, all of which
must be taken into account when designing and writing for these platforms.
Sound versus silence. The console game player is in her personal space, set up as
much as possible to her preference. It's almost assured that the TV volume is on, so
that game audio intended for the player to hear will actually be heard (sometimes in
glorious surround sound!).
Not so with the handheld game player. She is quite possibly playing your game
someplace where openly audible cutscenes, sound effects, voiceover quips, and music
will not be appreciated or, in some cases, even allowed. Examples might include
airplanes, buses, study hall, and even the back seat when Dad's driving and Mom's
got a headache.
Maybe the player brought a pair of headphones, but maybe she didn't. Based on
observational experience, it doesn't seem unreasonable to venture that a good number
of people playing a handheld game in public do it with the volume turned down and
without the benefit of headphones.
Shared versus solitary. The console game player, relaxing on his couch with a good
game, is not necessarily the only person in the room, watching that TV.
Modern game consoles ship with four controller ports for a reason: the console
experience is made for same-room, local multiplayer game sessions. You've got a
couch, a big-screen TV that everyone can see, and room for drinks and snacks. What
could be a better set-up for in-person, shared gaming goodness?
Even for a console game that lacks multiplayer modes, it's quite possible that
other people are simultaneously taking in your content. The size of the TV screen
and its natural position in the home as a center of family attention means that if
anyone else is nearby, they're probably absorbing the game experience as well.
For the console game writer, this means being conscious of those extra pairs
of eyes and ears. For example, parents or older siblings watching a young child
playing a kid-targeted game might appreciate something thrown their way once in
a while, such as the occasional Warner Brothers-style, over-the-kids'-heads adult-
However, the thought and effort that goes into developing that multi-tiered type
of content would probably be wasted when applied to the development of most
handheld games, due to the intimate nature of the handheld gameplay experience.
On a portable game system, no one else can see the screen very well while you're
playing. So any “over the kid's head” jokes or references will simply disappear into
the ether, as opposed to entertaining a more savvy observer.
Of course, the same-room, local multiplayer experience is possible on some hand-
held games, via wireless ad hoc gameplay. Get some friends who own the same hand-
held system together in a room these days and you can have some shared fun that's
reminiscent of the communal console game experience. However, due to the higher
barriers to entry—you need multiple game systems and, in some cases, multiple
copies of the same game—this is the exception to the handheld gameplay experience,