Waving My Hands In the Air (And I Really Don’t Care)

Written by Lee Garbutt

As a long-time gamer, I find it incredibly difficult to keep an open mind about the use of motion controls in gaming – After more than three decades of using various joysticks and controllers, why to anything else? As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Honestly, you could strap analog sticks to an SNES pad and I’d be totally happy.

I admit that I was completely sold on the prospect of the Wii’s motion controls. I purchased the console at launch day, without playing any games (admittedly, my main reason for purchase was Zelda: Twilight Princess) and I was eagerly awaiting the imaginative gameplay additions that could come from the advent of motion controlled gaming.

It’s nearly 5 years since the Wii was launched, and nearly a year singe Sony & Microsoft’s own motion solutions have been released. Yet I don’t think I can see an effective non-casual application of these controls so far – Not to say that there is anything wrong with the “casual” games ( I really do apologise for using that term), it’s just there is nothing to satisfy the need for AAA gaming experiences.

Even 5 years later, too many developers are happy to just take their existing games and tack motion controls on to do things that could as easily be done with a button on a standard controller. Even Nintendo’s own Wii output is guilty of this ( as great as Super Mario Galaxy is, do I really need to shake a controller to spin?). Meanwhile on the Playstation 3, Sony’s Move controller has more software with tack-on Move support, than those designed specifically for motion controls – I’m disgusted that Quantic Dream cancelled their planned DLC for Heavy Rain in order to implement clumsy Move support.

The of course, is Microsoft’s Kinect; a hi-tech controller-less solution that has offered dance games, fitness software and very little else. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but after a quick glance at Wikipedia’s list of release Kinect games my previous throwaway comment is truer than I wanted it to be. While I am impressed with the Kinect as a piece of technology, I fail to see how controller-less technology  can be implemented in games that usually require a physical input system; and why are developers not using this amazing technology to create new genres and original game ideas? Where are the “hardcore” titles that give me 30+ hours of play?

The problem I find with Kinect is the challenge of creating a game where a player can control a character traversing environments. It seems that few developers have attempted the challenge either, with many Kinect games taking place “on rains” or on a single screen. The Wii and Playstation Move have the upper hand in this regarding, with both having a standard set of control sticks and buttons. It’s a barrier to motion gaming that I think needs to be passed before it can really be a valid method of input.

An observation I have made regarding motion control, is that the best used of motion control have been where it is hardly used at all. Take Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes, for example. In the most part, the game makes use of an analog stick and standard buttons to move and attack – But occasionally with performing particular moves , a quick-time event flashes up with a direction in which to swing the Wiimote/Move controller. Because motion control is kept to a minimum, when the game prompts you to move the controller is far more effective and (dare I say it?), more fun. I found myself really getting into the movement of thrusting both Wiimote & Nunchuk upwards to perform a suplex on an unsuspecting foe, and it was a far more effective experience than spending the whole of Twilight Princess waving the Wiimote around.

The lessons that need to be learned from motion gaming are those taken from the original Nintendo DS. The first batch of DS titles relied on using every feature the hardware allowed, with little regard on whether it made sense – But it was when developers took a step back and started to use these features sparingly and only when it made sense  from a gameplay standpoint that the DS’ library shined. It’s the same advice I would give to those looking to implemented motion controls in the future – Just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

With the Nintendo 3DS, Vita and Wii U promising some form of motion control in the future; it looks like the technology will be with us for a while yet. I don’t see motion controls overtaking the traditional control pad, but I’m open-minded enough to look forward to seeing someone do something genuinely new with this young technology.

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1 reply »

  1. I agree with you.
    I look at the idea of “it ain’t broke so don’t fix it” in another direction, I don’t need my FPS games to have motion control, or my platform games or whatever. They work exceedingly well with a controller (or mouse & keyboard). I think if developers make games that are suited for motion controls, motion gaming it will take off.

    Instead of using a motion controller for a game that a regular controller works well with, maybe make a game that a regular controller struggles with. Maybe a real time strategy game.

    My point is that instead of trying to replace controllers, create your own genre to thrive in. Something that can’t be done with a controller, and makes a player say “Hey that is pretty cool, and it works”.

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