We’re getting close to the public launch of our NanoStars™ characters, a new gaming platform that is something like Pokémon for adults. The NanoStar characters are virtual items but unlike purely functional swords or guns, they have a lot of personality and emotional qualities, and they feel grown-up. And while the rest of the world’s virtual items have only one functional use, the NanoStar characters turn into different things that have different functions in different games. This is a big opportunity and we are trying hard to make sure we don’t screw it up.
Great games “go the distance” to do whatever it takes to be great. But you have to balance features against time and money. How much is enough? I’ve always believed that God is in the details and great games have a strong central concept, but you also have to put the “cherries-on-top” by tending carefully to a lot of details. To truly “go the distance” you need a lot of carefully polished details.
Some obvious details fall out naturally as a result of making a game authentic to its core concept, which gives the game integrity. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about going further than the basic requirements of authenticity and integrity, beyond what is necessary or expected. Doing extra things just to delight, surprise, or blow people away, evoking special notice from both players and critics about something unnecessary that made it really special. Walt Disney called this, “plussing”.
At Disneyland, plussing began with his mantra that there would be no chipped paint, and only escalated from that point. He needed some kind of rollercoaster but it was plussing to build a Matterhorn. And when you ride the Fairyland boats and see Pinocchio’s village with its tiny Alps, they made a point of arranging the ride so that the larger Matterhorn looms in the background of that scene. And how about the animal topiary outside the “It’s A Small World” ride. Are they even organized by continent of origin? And how all the speakers are hidden inside fake tree limbs or rocks? It adds to authenticity but it is so far above and beyond the call of duty that I’d include it as plussing. Minnie’s house has furnishings like books but it takes the parents to appreciate a book like “Five Cheesy Pieces,” or the corny jokes on the tombstones outside the Haunted Mansion. And the dinosaurs: of course they had to have a brachiosaur and give it a chewing mouth, but they make it chew somewhat more side to side, like a kid chewing bubble gum. And the “cud” is enormous, just to make sure you don’t miss it, so it is swaying back and forth. And a smaller brachiosaur is hovering just below it, hoping to snag some if it droops. All plussing. Then the triceratops has to be having babies, of course. And the babies have to be coming out of their shells right now, how cute. But even that is not enough: we need to have a piece of shell on top of the head of one of them being worn like a hat.
In pioneering and building the EA Sports game franchises, I was a fiend for details in the name of authenticity. But there was still plussing. I was thinking in terms of authenticity when I had John Madden appear as a TV announcer, coach advisor and AI computer component in his own game. While building our first team NBA game, Michael Kosaka and Don Traeger did some plussing when they created EASN, the “Electronic Arts Sports Network”. They went so far overboard on mimicking a TV sports broadcast that elements of this plussing became a major component in the brand positioning.
At Digital Chocolate, the Tower Toons in Tower Bloxx are an example of plussing, and so are the exotic power-ups in Brick Breaker Revolution: we took a simple classic mechanic like breaking bricks with a paddle and a ball and just blew people away with the creativity in the power-ups. In our new game, MMA Pro Fighter, we keep expanding the repertoire of trash talk announcements you can make to your friends.
And we’re doing plussing with NanoStar characters in several ways. Our debut game, NanoStar Castles™, began as a fairly simple and conventional card game with a traditional deck of 52 cards. We then added the NanoStar characters as power-ups, or what trading card game fans would call modifiers. Unlike the hardcore hobbyist trading card games, it’s an excellent game that anyone can play. And a card game with a lot of personality beyond just the numbers that make up a game like solitaire or poker. It’s a trading card game for the rest of us. And we could have stopped there, but we went plussing. The NanoStar character art is exceptional. There are hidden jokes in every character and text name. And then we took the whole thing and themed it in a medieval setting for the card game. Every card deck has royalty – the jacks, queens and kings. Building on top of that theme, we imagined competing kingdoms and their castles, and that is how we present it visually. Every NanoStar character has wonderful, medieval-looking art for what it does in the NanoStar Castles game, along with more humor. All in the name of plussing.
It is a powerful idea to have virtual items that are characters and can transform into different things in different games. We’re doing a lot of plussing on top of that, including the fact that we have several games in development that will use the NanoStar characters. Our second game, NanoStar Siege, will bring a lot of plussing to the tower defense genre. We hope our NanoStar characters will go the distance.