Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hardly Poetry - Motion Controls

While the Wii was the system to really kick motion controls into the forefront - with the PS3 and 360 following with their own motion control peripherals - motion gaming has been around for a little while longer. The earliest offhand example I can think of in terms of consoles was the EyeToy for the PS2, although in terms of arcade games any light-gun game has the rudimentary elements of the gameplay present.

It wasn’t until the Wii introduced the motion control as the primary interface to their game system that people really started to pay attention. Nintendo was quick to point out that these controls would allow people to play who had never considered playing a console or indeed any games at all. This was an open market concept: everyone can go through the motions, so-to-speak.

There is no doubt a certain amount of appeal to being able to introduce your grandfather to the Wii by saying “Hey, you can bowl just by holding this and going through the motions of throwing the ball” or your other family members by showing them games that have activities relevant to their interests. Also, did anyone in the gaming community see these and not pretty much instantly think of lightsabers or just sword related combat in general? These controls could really help you literally get into the game.

There’s no doubt that at their peak efficiency motion controls can do some really damn impressive things, I mean look at the work that this engineer did with the Wii sensors and controls in order to allow it to track head and finger movement. Not to mention the fact that doctors have been using the Kinect in order to do complex surgery both are pretty amazing applications of the technology.

It’s just sort of strange that in both cases it took someone other than the actual companies to unlock that capacity, and of course although using the Kinect for medical applications is unprecedented and unique, a lot of gamers will look and go, “Well, that’s cool, but how will it affect how I play anything?” and the sad odds are that, well, it won’t. At all.

Motion controls for the games themselves are ultimately a mixed bag, I find. Although I don’t own a Wii, I have friends that do. I’ve played a racer in the form of Mario Kart, an FPS in the form of the Goldeneye remake, and a couple of other titles, and while I have to say that for these games that while there is fun to be had using a motion control, that it comes at the expensive of both accuracy, and ironically, intuitiveness. Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon, but the most glaring example I can think of is Mario Kart: when I was using the motion controls I was about the middle of the pack. Switching to a classic controller, I was placing top two every race. Now, I admit there could be a number of factors involved here, but honestly I’d have to say that when it came down to it I had to think less when I was using the pad based control style: I could be more precise and overall just less sloppy, whereas with the motion controls I often found myself either hopeless over or under shooting what I wanted to do. It was the same thing for Goldeneye. The second I switched back to a regular controller I actually stood a chance as opposed to just being a target that said “shoot me, I can’t do shit about it” in big bold neon letters.

This is the sad sort of paradox of motion controls: they’ve made games more accessible, but at the same time oddly more cumbersome. It’s like comparing a regular console controller to a keyboard and mouse setup for an FPS: one just blows the other right out of the water, no contest.

I’m not saying that there’s absolutely no use or future for motion controls. The technology still has quite a ways to go, and the links I provided earlier prove if nothing else that it does have the potential. I guess what I’m trying to say though is that if I want to play a game using the “old, clunky controller” then shouldn’t that be my prerogative? I grow increasingly concerned that things like 3D and motion controls are being forced upon gamers without us really having a say in the matter - ah, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

Until next time.

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