Game Development Reference
not the rule. Additionally, the ad hoc multiplayer experience on handheld systems
is often relegated to the arena of simple minigames, which don't generally require or
lend themselves to narrative elements.
When it comes to handheld gaming, the majority of the time it's an intimate,
private experience between the handheld game player and the game itself, one on
They reasons why someone chooses to play a console game as opposed to a handheld
game—or vice versa—are worthy of examination, because they affect what the player
wants (and is reasonably able) to get out of the experience.
Settling down versus squeezing in. When a gamer fires up his console system, it's
unusual for his intent to be to play for just a few minutes. He is generally settling
down in his own home with the intention of playing for what is likely a significant
period of time. Once locked in, he may play uninterrupted for hours at a stretch.
The handheld gamer, conversely, often knows he will be playing for only a short
time. Many times, the handheld game system is pulled out when the player has some
time to kill: waiting for an oil change, or in a doctor's waiting room, or at a bus stop.
And the gameplay experience could be interrupted at any point, to be continued at
some unknown time in the future.
Experienced handheld game designers know that this means they must deliver
gameplay in small, bite-sized chunks and design the gameplay experience to survive
interruption. A 25-minute mission in a console game would be a poor choice for a
handheld SKU; it's likely the designers would try to break it into five- to ten-minute
chunks. Wise handheld game writers know to follow this example and keep away
from extended, noninteractive presentations of story content.
Hardcore versus casual. Because of the previously listed differences, handheld gam-
ing tends to be more casual in nature, since casual games are easy to get in and out of,
whereas hardcore games have steeper learning curves, demand a player's full attention
for longer periods, and don't withstand interruption as well.
The relatively casual nature of handheld gaming is a design consideration that
can affect how much writing is appropriate for the title. A gamer playing a hardcore
title expects and will generally tolerate much more narrative content than he will
when playing what he expects to be a casual game.
The where and why of a player's game system choice at any time has direct bearing
on how he interacts with that system.
Engrossed versus interrupted. Being at home in his own, controlled environment,
the console game player is generally able to devote his full attention to the game he's
playing. He is not waiting for a train, sitting on a plane, riding in a car, sitting in
study hall, or listening for his name while waiting in a jury duty pool.