Nintendo patents new Help/User Assistance system

Various computer games magazines are reporting news of a Nintendo patent for providing user assistance to players during a game.

The patent describes “Demo Play”, which is intended to keep casual players interested in complex games in a way that doesn’t conflict with hardcore gamers’ requirements.

Advanced players can play normally, while less experienced players can get the occasional helping hand. Hints will appear in a screen that pops up in the top right corner of the screen at different points of the game. These video hints would appear only when the player gets stuck on a particular puzzle for a set amount of time.

Potentially, the computer could take over the game playing at points too tricky for a less experienced user. In a second mode, an introduction or overview form named “digest mode”, the computer displays the game’s key scenes, and allows players the opportunity to stop the digest at any time and play the scene themselves.

According to the Kotaku Web site:

This patent, if implemented correctly, could successfully help gaming make the leap from narrative fun, to something more open-ended and free range, the first real sandbox video game.

Imagine being able to play a game with all of the benefits of characters, story and goals, but without having to spend 10 to 20 hours of your life to enjoy doing so.

It’s likely to be first seen in the Wii version of “The Prisoner of Zelda”, due out later this year.

User assistance developed for computer games could move across to desktop software and Web (SaaS) applications. It’s also possible that computer games developers will draw upon the lesson learnt from developing traditional user assistance, as their user base becomes more diverse.

Whether the patent restricts the opportunity to build on these ideas is something technical communicators and Help Authoring Tool developers will need to consider, should they wish to create a similar system.


Brian Harris

Nintendo are always very innovative when it comes to helping users understand and enjoy their games. Their focus on accessibility is to be applauded, and we can definitely learn a lot from them. I’m intrigued that they are considering this type of integrated training/assistance mode, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, especially how it may be applied to software generally. I discussed this issue in a blog a few months ago – What software designers can learn from video games (hope you don’t mind me linking to this).

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