Monday, September 10, 2007

Motion Control and the Future of Gaming

There has been a lot of debate recently on the use of motion controls in video games. But the more I play games that use it and the more I hear about games that rely on it, the more I'm convinced that motion control is not the future of gaming.

With all the buzz surrounding Wii-waggle and the PS3 sixaxis controller, you'd think motion control were the second coming of Mr. JC himself. But for all its novelty and innovation, the control scheme is not quite where it needs to be yet. There are a number of games that use it well, but for each of those, there are a dozen more that fail to use the control scheme properly. I don't fault Nintendo or Sony for trying to push the hardware technology forward in creative new ways (improved graphics, larger digital media, and faster CPUs are getting rather tired). I do think that developers should make a better effort to include these new controls in more appropriate ways that don't bog down the gameplay.

Having motion controls in a game for the sole sake of using every part of the hardware is the the worst way to add a feature to the back of the box. If it works, use it, if it doesn't, please give us the option to turn that shit off. By far, the most notorious example of this so far has been Lair, for the PS3. Fresh off of developing all those nifty Rogue Squadron games for the N64 and Gamecube, Factor 5 (or Factor 4.9 as they've come to be called) decided that controlling your Dragon rider via sixaxis motion controls would be the best way to make this beautiful PS3 title appeal to a broader audience. Only problem is.. the controls don't always work. Now I haven't played it yet, but the general consensus online is that in the later stages of the game, when your precision is required to pull off complex maneuvers, you end up unfortunately flinging yourself the wrong way, or speed boosting into a wall, or doing any number of things you didn't plan on doing. This is a little disconcerting, because I figured the next generation of games would actually be more precise and intuitive. Now I understand games have learning curves, but if you're constantly dying by no fault of your own, I'd say that game has a bit of a problem.

I guess I come from the old school of gaming where if you push a button, you expect it to do the action you intended. But with many of the games coming out on the Wii, that function has shifted from pressing the X button to instead waggling your right wrist. Which is fine with me (a little wrist exercise couldn't hurt), but it gets frustrating when I'm trying to make Link do a spin attack and I get ass raped by 5 goblins because the damn thing didn't pick up my waggle at the proper time. Granted this doesn't happen a lot, but I remember it happening far less when all I had to do was spin the analog stick around on the Gamecube and N64.

It's also a shame that motion control on the Wii has not given us a game with good 1-to-1 movement in areas like sword fighting (c'mon lightsaber wii game) or any other type of quick and precise hand movements. When I first heard about the wiimote, this is what I envisioned. Some games, like Warioware: Smooth Moves and Wii Play, have some mini-games with this type of control scheme, but when the action gets too fast, that little sensor bar has trouble keeping up with your wildy flailing wiimote. Likewise, when you use the cursor like a mouse on your giant HDTV set, a little lag is noticeable, which may just be an indication that these are simply the first generation of consoles that are using this technology.

There are some exceptions that seem to work really well. Warhawk (PS3) gives you the option to fly futuristic jets and a number of other vehicles with or without motion control. Wii Sports (and esp. Wii Bowling) gives you simple, yet direct control over your actions. Heavenly Sword (PS3) allows you, at certain times, to steer canon balls in slow-motion toward your enemies with the use of your sixaxis. What I'm getting at is that in the right situations, motion control can be great. But a developer doesn't necessarily need to utilize them for everything. In fact some things are better without them. At least give us the option to waggle or not waggle.

I just can't see motion control becoming the sole control method for games any time soon. At least not without a vast amount of improvements in the technology. The 19-button gamepad will continue to remain in some form, albeit maybe scaled back a notch, with a bit of waggle added for good measure. Heck, maybe 10 years from now, some form of the PS2 Dual Shock controller will become the new "classic controller". For now, I feel comfortable knowing that if I get beat down by a melee attack in Halo 3, I have only myself to blame.. or our horrible internet connection. Yeah, that was probably it. Damn packet loss!

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