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"When I was your age, we had to PLAY our games!"
First off - Matt: I hope you have at least played through the original Final Fantasy IV before its DS remake. FFIV is one of my favorites in the series, yet I found the 3D remake for DS to be a bit stale. One major flaw was the terrible music compared to the SNES renditions of the same themes. I believe the encounter rate was upped in the DS version, but then it has been awhile. You still have to deal with the random battles in the original version, so perhaps you still wouldn't quite make it. Ha. I have numerous other complaints about the DS FFIV, but that is not why we are here.
As a programmer, I have to wonder how complex and evolved this "anytime a.i." could possibly become. Of all things, our first example is a "2D" platformer. This is quite a simplistic genre that could easily have an on-the-fly help-me-out available. What of something like Fable 2? Where do you engage it? Standing in town? In battle? In the middle of a quest? I assume that this couch potato gaming would be limited to only the specified times at which the game has told the player they can engage the training wheels. That is an awful lot of "ifs" to handle if you are standing in town doing nothing. Follow the main quest? Do we need a sword first? Do we have enough gold for the sword? Where can I work for gold? Does the wife take priority? Clearly there are errors that can be made by the a.i. If you turn on the cheat and the a.i. goes off and kills you...then what? We're talking extra money, programming, debugging, and time that goes into this sort of thing.
Of course you then have to ask yourself - Would Nintendo seriously crank out anything NEAR Fable 2 in the future? No.
That said, I wonder what would happen if I were to buy the next Zelda game, engage lazy mode, pop some popcorn and proceed to watch the entire thing unfold. Aside from dying of total boredom, watching the a.i. accurately (a relative term) play the entire game would cause me to have to stand and applaud the programmers for the feat. ...or would it? If Nintendo is committed to making games accessible to wider audiences, this also means they are most likely quite content to dumb down games and suppress the innovation in the area of game mechanics in order to simply make their games easier to play.
Could this help feature be quite useful? Sure. Have games been developed simply (and solely) to make use of the wiimote, nunchuck, DS touch screen or dual screens? Sadly, Yes. Could Nintendo first party games be developed in such a way that they lend themselves to an "easily supports help mode" design by simply suppressing forward thinking and creativity in the area of game development? I fear the answer is "you betcha."
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