It can take years for studios to create a Wii remote responsive game. It took Zipper Interactive around six weeks of serious development to drop in fluid PS Move controls in their simulation shooter SOCOM 4: US Navy SEALS.
“I would say that there was obviously more time here and there, but the core work was done in 6-8 weeks,” game creative director Ed Byrne told me at GDC. “We had one engineer and he, Mike, implemented all of the basic technology to get it running and then exposed the tool to the design team.
He and one of our designers have been jamming on it and they’ve essentially got to this stage where it feels pretty good.”
Byrne and I spoke over SOCOM 4’s pounding pyrotechnics in a darkened, sheeted-off lounge room reserved for game demos. The objective of our meeting wasn’t to talk shop -- it was for me to get an idea of what the PS Move brings to SOCOM 4 and then put my hands on the device in combination with the game.
I was thrust onto a worn dirt road, torn from travel. A crumbling eastern town’s buildings line the horizon. On the right shanty houses, broken and beaten like the road the protagonist and his four well-equipped AI SEAL companions are plodding along.
On the left side stood a battered two-story warehouse with rust-covered makeshift walkways. Degenerated cement barriers are pointed towards it -- obvious makers for an upcoming firefight. When I took my character and slammed him into the first of the permanent barriers the bullets started rushing in.
The PS Move controls are simple and satisfying. A swing of the wand moves the reticule and pans the over-the-shoulder camera. The large PS button in the center zooms the camera in for tight shots. The trigger underneath it fires weapons.
The digital stick on the sub-controller, which I held in my right hand, moves the character. One of its triggers brings up the squad tactics mode that allows you to order the AI around to locations.
When the nameless, unarmored thugs started marching from the building I ordered my two squads, yellow and blue, to other barriers around me. Using this mode slows down time for moments and monochrome becomes the dominant colors, washing out the dirt and the nasty abodes. Only the squads retain their natural look.
The orders are basic, reminiscent of the PSP versions of the game from the past. But there is an interesting wrinkle: you can plot paths for the AI, having them move from barrier to barrier while you focus on whatever and move around freely.
With the PS Move, plotting these courses felt natural. Byrne echoed my gut reaction while I fiddled with the mode. A large third-person RTS reticule, almost like the grenade reticule in Gears of War, pops up allowing you to place characters with ease. The D-pad on the sub-controller allows for quick-swapping between the squads.
From behind the barrier I was able to stop and pop each foe with simple flicks of the digital stick and the brutal and smooth 1:1 accuracy of the PS Move. Byrne made special note of the smoothing during the session as I realized that the reticule wasn’t responding annoyingly to the slightest jitters of my hand.
“What we wanted to do was make sure that we had very high-fidelity movement in broad sweeps,” Byrne told me. “But it was imperative that we don’t have a lot of jitter when the reticule comes to rest. So Mike put in a lot of algorithms to make sure that when you need it to move it moves and when you want it to stop it stops.
That smoothing aspect is really good. It allows you to really get a bead on a guy but be very particular about where you hit them.”
After the firefight the demo became a blur. The squad and I kept pushing forward down the road, stopping behind barriers to put down more enemies as they shot out of their own cover. Our session ended as I called in an airstrike with a button on a gaggle of thugs unaware of our approach.
I described the PS Move controls in conjunction with SOCOM 4 as “baller” after the session, and I continue to do so. Moving the character, issuing orders, and dumping bullets into bodies was simple and satisfying. I wasn’t left wanting for more control or even a controller -- but, then again, I still haven’t played with simulation shooter with a Dual Shock.
If I were to pretend that I did have a Dual Shock in my hands during the demo, then I would have been able to switch to the PS Move somewhat on the fly. According to Byrne, Zipper Interactive has plans to allow both methods of control within the same session.
“Currently we’re intending that. We’ll have to see how it goes. We’re looking at just being able to detect that when you turn off the PS Move and pick up a Dual Shock be able to keep going.
But there’s no difference in the game other than the controls when you’re using the Move. We didn’t want to have to retune things or move the difficulty up and down.”
As Byrne confirmed to me, the game isn’t being dumbed down when the PS Move is being used. You can tell. The enemies react naturally and swiftly and you will still get punished with projectiles if you don’t take a methodical approach to the combat.
As for further integration of the PS Move? Byrne tells me that the game won’t have any specific sections created for use with the motion controller but future DLC might.
“That is a great idea. Now that we have it implemented, the design team is busy wrapping up and tuning SOCOM 4, but moving forward there’s a ton of possibilities we’re looking at going forward.”
SOCOM 4 hits this Fall and should come to stores with PS Move and Dual Shock support.