Friday, December 3, 2010

Motion (mis)control

In recent times I've seen calls by fans for games to cater for two technologies: 3D and motion control.  Some gamers apparently believe that having these two things will help make games "better". Now I'm not mindless against 3D, and I think done right, it can actually add a fair amount to movies.  I think there's also the potential for it to add to games, though I'll have to confess that after seeing Gran Turismo 5 in 3D, I was wholly underwhelmed. However, when it comes to motion control, I'm of the belief that currently it destroys immersion more than it adds to it.

Firstly, let's deal with the fitness issue. Now before everyone gets out their stereotype cards and starts calling me an overweight nerd, let's get a few things straight. I eat healthily, have a lean figure, and exercise a couple of times to keep fit. I'm not an elite athlete by any means, but I'm no slob constantly sucking down soft drink and chocolate bars who can't get off his couch. But if I go around to a friend's house and play Wii boxing or tennis for an extended stint, I'm going to get pretty exhausted. Funnily enough, I can probably be less exhausted from 30 minutes having a hit on an actual tennis court with a friend than 30 minutes of Wii tennis. Pretending to play the game is more exhausting than playing it for real? How does that work?

At least I don't have to suffer this

For one, with tennis it's possible to have a casual hit with a friend. Even if you do play a match, you're likely to intersperse it with some casual hits back and forth to warm up or cool down or possibly even to relax between games or sets. On the Wii, you don't get that. You can't just hit back and forth because every single point is scored. The game does it for you automatically. Computer games are designed to create tension and excitement, they're designed to draw players in and make them engaged with the game. This means that players will "get into" the action and become more active and animated, because the game rewards winning. That happens even on a "casual gaming platform" like the Wii.

The game also ditches "dead time" from the real life experience. You don't have to fetch the next ball from the back of the court in Wii tennis. The ball just magically appears in the server's hand after a point is finished. Breaks ruin immersion, so they have to go. Everything is designed to keep the action going and to keep players active. Let's be honest with ourselves here, we don't play video games for a physical workout. Sometimes we come home from a hard day at work/school/whatever and just want to relax and unwind with a game. The last thing we want is to work up a heavy sweat from playing the beat-em-up through a vigorous motion-control workout.

Which brings me to the point that video games are games. They are fantasy. They allow us to do things that we cannot possibly do in real life. Can you wall-run like Prince of Persia? Can you do Chun-li's lightning kick? Can you backflip-spin-double-twirl-triple-sword-slash like Ryu Hayabusa? I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you can't. In this case, how do you get your character to perform these unbelievable and amazing moves? How can players act as someone extraordinary in a believable fashion when there is a huge disconnect between their actions and that of their on-screen avatar?

How do you propose to motion control this?

I have nothing against Kinect or Moooove or the Wii controllers, but if people are just using them for the sake of using them, then they're nothing more than an (expensive) gimmick. Just like 3D. Making people motion like they're swinging a sword that they aren't actually holding is going to break immersion, not add to it. Let's go back to the Wii example to prove that motion control breaks immersion rather than adds to it.

When I play Wii tennis as a new player, I'm mimicking the actual moves required to perform the action in real life. Swinging the controller like I would a tennis racket. However, as I continue to play, I come to the realisation that I can achieve better results with less realistic actions. Eventually my action to play Wii tennis becomes so centred around the controller that the way I play the game doesn't resemble playing real tennis at all. As a player, I have reduced the motion control down to the simplest and most basic action centred around the control device itself, because then I can more accurately and consistently reproduce the "ideal" action for hitting the ball back across the net.

A sedate Wii tennis player is a skilled player

This is the core reason that motion games at the moment aren't actually making games better. In essence, we're still dealing with a controller, and because of the limitations of the current motion hardware, "mastery" of the mechanics of the game actually lead to our actions diverging from the reality of the actions of the on-screen character. By getting "better" at the game, we're returning to the original gaming paradigm of merely "using a controller" to manipulate our avatar, rather than having them mimic us as a player. Motion control merely highlights the difference between our own actions and that of our in-game persona, which is far from engaging.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I can't really comment on 3D because my eyes are incapable of percieving all 3D effects that I've attempted to see. So I'll leave my bias at the door.

    As for motion control, I agree on pretty much everything you said. I was playing "Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End" on the Wii, which is mostly a port of the 360 game, meaning the controls are not even set up to take advantage of Wii motion detection. Then my mom walks in and asks "Why aren't you actually swinging the controller?" So I demonstrate and get murdered.

    Even a game like the Wii version of "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" (most controls made with the Wii in mind, separate from the 360 game in all but story and environment) has limitations. One has to press a button to Force-dash, to shoot lighting, etc. The most "immersive" controls were force push (shove controller forward), force repulse (swing both controllers down), and force grip (hold a button and move an analog stick around.) That's still only about half the controls.

    I see the addition of motion controls to be a gimmick as it is right now. While I see so many people lauding it, and even (good God) staging "Wii workouts", I'm really not enamoured with motion control in its current state. Potentially good idea, not quite there yet.