In a sense, Ico is what Myst should have been in the first place. The graphics -particularly the way light is used- are breathtaking and the animation is as good as it gets. The ink demons are probably the wildest-looking game characters that I have ever seen. Somebody put a lot of care on this game and it shows. By the way, I was really disapointed to find out about the much better Japanese and European cover art, portraying a De Chirico-style scene (some marketing guy probably thought that the American audience was not sophisticated enough for this artsy cover. I hate when jerks underestimate players). But what makes the game compelling is not its gameplay -good ol’ puzzles after all- but the genius of the designers, who were wise enough to not jeopardize the game by trying to go further of the current possibilities of the genre. In other words, it would have been easy to put a lot of "narrative" elements on it, particularly dialogue. But videogame dialogue generally sucks, because machines are not yet good at dealing with it and it ends up to be a patchwork of pre-scripted phrases that look as artificial as a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream. Designers kept dialogue to an absolute minimum, pretty much as Wright did with The Sims. Instead of using icons, Ico's creators relied on animation, light and sound and let the players to fill-in the blanks. Dialogue would have looked artificial, but body language flows through the game with amazing grace. From the gameplay point of view, it is also original. Somebody at a panel at E3 said -sorry I do not recall his name, if you were there please let me know- that best feature in Ico is that they turned the "key" into a character, which is a very good observation. But the stroke of genius is on hands of the characters. They hold hands most of the game. Something as natural in the real world but so absent in games: two characters hand in hand. Surely, not any genre can handle this (imagine holding hands in Quake III), but this shows that for designers to be brave and bold you do not really need to develop the most amazing technology but rather put some more humanity within the experience. For example, so far, I am only aware of two games that portray pregnant women (2 in the whole gaming history!): Little Big Adventure 2 and one of the Wally series games from the ZX Spectrum. Again, The Sims has also championed in this section (Janet Murray loves its "virtual backrub" function and I agree with her that it is an important step for games' maturity as a medium).
What other everyday things would you like to see more in games? What would you like to do in a virtual environment? Here's my short list, but please share your thoughts in the "comments" section.
-Tying a little-kid's shoelaces.
-The ability to clip my nails with a joystick.
-A mudpie and ricochet simulator.
-Making presents to game characters I like and not expecting them to give me a key or a clue in return.
-Crossing the street with the red light.
-Smelling and caressing somebody's hair.