Editorials

Motion control, losing control

April 28, 2010, Author: Simon Weatherall

As a gamer I like to sit back, relax while playing a game and make as little movement as possible! It’s not that I’m lazy or anything like that, but to me gaming is supposed to be a time for me to wind down, not getting wound up at frustrating controls or waving my arms around like a retarded chicken. Maybe with an attitude like that you may think I weigh in at a weight of twenty stone and counting with every slice of pizza, cream cake and beer that I consume. You couldn’t be more wrong, I would say I look athletic, but I don’t think you can classify an eleven stone empty wetsuit as athletic.

Why are console developers intent on trying to get us off our backsides by providing us with the bad idea that is motion control? Why are the big three always trying to make the “supposed” best gaming experience possible one where their only actual aim is to compete with the other manufacturers. Why do we have to complicate gaming even more than it already is? Is this something that we are as gamers are pushing for or are we being manipulated by the egos of our console manufacturer?

Now I know what you’re thinking; what could be possibly wrong with motion control in gaming?

Motion control isn’t a new thing, but is something that is more widely being implemented on consoles. The first to make it really popular was Nintendo with the Wii, combining tried and tested technology and optical sensors within the console, with accelerometers and infra-red within the controller. This combination keeps the stability of the console but adds something unique and fresh to gaming. One thing I like about the Wii is that it’s always good for a laugh but not in the way you’re thinking. I love watching people wave their arms and shake the controller like they are masturbating furiously only to find out they have nothing but wankers cramp with no orgasm in sight. It gets even better when they loosen their grip and smack themselves in the face; you can’t beat laughing your head off at the idiot as he is dancing around the living room with a swollen nose, two black eyes and a deflated ego.  Those are just the problems that we have now, the waggle without benefits, the injuries, seriously is it really worth it? Gaming is supposed to be a pastime isn’t it? It’s supposed to be fun and relaxing, or at least that’s what I thought.

Help the aged... erm..

Ok, so I do understand there is a market for this sort of thing. Let’s face it; the Wii is the most popular console in the market. It’s targeted at the casual user but primarily used at family functions involving large groups of morons drinking alcohol and pretending they’re Tiger Woods. I have to admit, playing a party game when you have a lot of people around your house is brilliant idea, what’s not brilliant is giving us what are essentially weapons, and telling us to play games. I do get that it’s not a prerequisite to consume copious amounts of alcohol, but let’s face it, what fun is a party without it? I also see the benefits of the balance board and Wii fit game; it’s like paying for a permanent aerobics class.

Nintendo have always set trends and it was a pretty sure-fire assumption that Sony and Microsoft would eventually cash in on motion control too. After all where is the fun in letting Nintendo take all the credit? Sony are giving us the “move”, which is apparently going to revolutionise gaming and Microsoft is giving us what is currently names Project Natal. Both companies are trying to market their own version of motion control as the best thing to be hitting the gaming market but in reality it seems to be nothing more than a dick waving contest.

The Playstation Move comes packed with the “Navigation Controller” and uses a combination of accelerometers and the Eye Toy to focus on depth perception (Basically it’s a Wii remote combined with a lit orb and uses the camera to check distance and some movement). It’s not the most original idea; in reality is similar technology that is used in motion capture within movies, it’s just scaled down and simplified.

Natal works on a similar idea, but rather than using a focal point it assimilates information based on gestures of the human body. Once again this isn’t the first time this technology has been used, hell, how do you think you’re in the movies works? The only difference is that the majority of the technology is not in the software but is incorporated into the camera itself to allow a wider application.

It’s a safe bet to say that both devices will be popular to a certain clientèle but in respects of the core user it’s too much and too fast, and definitely a little too late. This isn’t the first time that gaming has been subject to change but when we moved from keyboards and joysticks to controllers, it was something that would benefit gaming and allowed people to adapt without change really being forced upon them. It’s bad enough that people are still injuring themselves with motion control technology that’s readily available, but soon we will be tripling the chances. Both companies will be making more and more reasons to not want to be anywhere near the person playing the game. Safety isn’t the only reason that this type of technology is bad, it’s the fact that they are trying to change the way we play games. Making us “move” (sorry Sony but thanks for stating the obvious) is insinuating that either we are lazy gamers or that we want more interactivity. The point that I’m trying to make is that there is far better ways of doing that.

How many of you know this following scenario. You get home from a long day at work and there is nothing on TV. You decide that you want to relax by playing a game and chill out a bit. Last time I checked, chilling out didn’t mean you pretended you have a real sword in your hand. The argument could be that it’s an extension of the gaming experience; if that’s the case then games shouldn’t solely rely on it; people should have a choice to game how they see fit.

I have no doubt that eventually this will benefit the gaming experience but it’s been a rash decision by Sony and Microsoft to impose this on us for nothing more than an ego trip. At least with the Nintendo Wii we have the choice to not buy the console, soon with the way that Sony and Microsoft are implementing the technology, in order to play certain games properly, we will have no choice but to buy a motion controller. I’m not claiming that it doesn’t work either, but what I am saying is that the gaming experience shouldn’t just rely on it. Sony and Microsoft should impose restrictions on the developers to make sure that gamers get to game how they want to not how they are told to.

At the moment the only games that benefit from motion control are sports games like golf, baseball or bowling. You can’t very well kick a football with your hands so trying to use motion control for a footie game would be idiotic, it’s not like you would want to tie it to you foot (although I do get the feeling that someone will try that). Natal could be used in this manner but application will still be limited to simplistic games.

First Person Shooters can be fun with motion controls but the controls are usually clumsy. If you tried to make a motion controlled game for the Xbox or the PS3, it would be nothing more than a basic shooter with no real playability. Anything requiring any fast response or accuracy will be out the window, so games like Halo or Killzone would lose all appeal if they were to incorporate full motion control. Using the Wii as an example, to turn your character you move the cursor to the edge of the screen until you turn where you want to then move back to the centre, then take aim at your enemy and shoot. Shooting enemies in front of you is ok but if you have to turn in another direction to kill another enemy or in several directions to kill multiple enemies, it’s gonna get frustrating. Just in case you were wondering, I’m not saying that it doesn’t or can’t work; I’m just saying it’s not very good. Red Steel was an okay game but the controls were the only thing that made it interesting; if it was recreated on the 360 or the PS3 it would have been in the bargain bucket two days after release. It’s safe to say that the only shooters that should get to use motion control should be on-rails shooters.

Beat-em-up’s can be fun too, but due to simplifying the gameplay down to work with what a person can realistically do it would be nothing more than an arm waving competition. Even with Natal I can still see issues due to what people can physically do, it would be a good way to exercise or be fun for practising if you’re a martial arts nut, but it wouldn’t be for everyone. Boxing games on the other hand would definitely be a plausible type of game, maybe the next Fight Night could incorporate that?

Real Time Strategy games could be improved by using motion control, now that could be fun and even work well.  Imagine using your controller like a floating mouse. That approach would benefit the likes of Command and Conquer maybe even improve the gameplay making it easier to control troops, it could even be a decent alternative to mouse controls. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not comparing it to a mouse at all, mainly due to the way you would interact with the controller. I don’t see this working well with Natal unless you have something that would act as a focal point with buttons to press. Gesture control really wouldn’t work and be highly frustrating.

Now with my favourite genre, RPGs, I’m a little on the fence with mainly due to how long you could realistically play. They could work with PS Move but Natal would not work as a standalone. Swinging your sword around as an alternative to pressing a button would be a nice feature, but it will suffer when you eventually can’t be bothered swinging your arms around any more. Most RPGs tend to be played for long periods of time, I myself often get wrapped up for seven or eight hours at a time but I couldn’t do that if I was swinging my arms around killing enemies every two minutes. Natal could work as an addition by having the odd gesture to control certain actions as short-cuts or attack-like spells. Anything more complicated than that would fail big time.

Play with motion control and look like this knob...

Racing games are brilliant when you use a steering wheel or a pad and to some extent I can see motion control as a worthy addition as it already is with Mario Kart. I can already see the PS Move getting its own attachments like the Wii remotes already have. It’s a fact that using accelerometers to steer is brilliant control system on both Mario Kart and on the iPhone racing games. Natal and racing I really don’t get. It may look cool to pretend you have something in your hand and press your imaginary peddle either stood up or in your arm chair but could you realistically control a car for several laps at a time? I think not. It may be accurate but you can’t simply scratch your nose or that itch between your legs. You can’t even pause the game mid-lap if you need a toilet break, so what good is it? There would be benefits to subtle implementation in addition to the pad, perhaps tilting your head or turning it slightly to change the direction of the camera. Maybe even add a gesture for nitro or to make your car jump up and down like a pimp-mobile.

Now, I know I have treated Natal as nothing but gesture control, but in all honesty it’s the only thing I can see it being good for. It’s not that I think that gesture control will be the only application for it; I just feel that it will be limited due to having nothing in your hands. Your every move, regardless of how small, is evidently measured and it would be a good idea if it’s combined with a controller of some description. It’s also not like you need a depth sensor for gesture control either; most cameras will do that if the right software is in place. The only other application I can see it being good for is (yes, I dare say it) sex games. Feeling a virtual breast or spanking an on-screen character may not be mine or your idea of fun but I can assure you that someone somewhere is already thinking about it. There already are interactive pornos, and Natal could give more pleasure to the people that use them or allow them to fulfil deeper fantasies.

I hope developers stop and think before making games, and I hope for the sake of the future of gaming that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft stop this childish competition of having the best console with the best gadgets. There is no way to stop this motion control fad. I just hope for the sake of the people that buy these stupid contraptions, that support will continue and well-thought out games will be produced. The way I see it, if I do get motion control, it will be a pretty cheap add on, and one that I will begrudge paying.