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Vidya ex machina

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Motion Control: One with the world


No matter how long you search, you'll never find a true definition of what motion controls are. The general idea of the term is "flapping your arms around like a 10 years old kid with a serious epilepsy problem", but how accurate is that sentence? Motion controls arrived to the mainstream with the Wii, but a more accurate research shows that they've existed for a long time. Or have they? There's this underestimated problem in the gaming industry: we don't know what a "motion controller" is yet. Sure, the EyeToy was a motion controller, but what about those driving setups with pedals and steering wheel you'd find in the big video game shops during the early 2000s for computers? Would those have counted as motion controls as well? It is like playing Mario Kart Wii after all, only this time around you've got pedals and it doesn't feel so clumsy. Or perhaps are motion controllers "anything that isn't your average console controller or mouse and keyboard"? I've been thinking a lot about it, and I recently came to the conclusion that motion controllers have always had the main goal of immersing you completely in the game world, and that's what should define them apart from other controllers.

Let's go back to the driving set we mentioned earlier - remember seeing it and wondering "That really costs a lot. Who would want to buy this stuff"? Well, back then you probably also didn't know just how many people want to emulate driving a real car. The entire Gran Turismo series is based around that (and is probably the reason for which the driving sets exist on consoles as well). People would buy those driving sets for the only reason that it would make them far more immersed in their driving experience than a simple mouse and keyboard or even a joystick/controller would. They wanted to become one with the game.
Railway shooters? Who doesn't love railway shooters? Remember those long sessions at the arcade playing House of the Dead? You were kept constantly on edge just for two simple reasons: you couldn't pause... and you had the gun/shotgun in your hands, forcing you to always be ready to aim at the right spot. Just how easy was it to get lost there, thanks to the game forcing you to focus on it?

Immersion is a deeply underestimated factor in video games, one that has got far less importance from developers as technology progressed (and most importantly, as multiplayer started getting the upper hand on singleplayer). But at the same time, we don't want to completely abandon immersion. It still exists, but as a ghost in our minds - sure, 95% of the people played Modern Warfare 2 for the multiplayer, but are you really sure it's that rare to find someone that while playing the rather short 5-hour-campaign thought "Damn, I wish I was there"? Was the main appeal in Fallout 3 tons of areas to explore and to loot in the name of honest good old OCD... or was the main appeal of it being placed in a post-apocalyptic world where you would be free to do whatever you wanted and live the adventure you've always dreamed of?
The ancestor of role-playing games Dungeons And Dragons is completely centered around living a fantasy adventure.
So on one side, immersion is getting less and less attention from developers because they think it's not important since gamers don't care anymore (or seem not to). On the other side, technology is advancing a lot allowing us to get rid of the infamous immersion breakers. And when developers manage to create a compelling atmospheric and immersive experience (to make a recent example, Bioshock) the critics and the public will love it.

I used to be very skeptic about the Wii U. I considered the tablet-controller a useless gimmick that would only look well in the living room of a fourty-year-old-woman who wants to look trendy and not technologically inept like the rest of her friends. Then the internet made me rethink everything. While lurking I found a thread on a board where screenshots of well-known games were "adapted" to become Wii U games. In particular, one image that stuck with me for weeks was a screenshot of Fatal Frame where the tablet took the place of the camera. At that point I just sat back and thought: "Okay, I was wrong. That would be pretty damn awesome, actually". And the rest of the images gave me a similar vibe too - if developers are going to take the Wii U in the right direction, it's going to become an amazing console.
The same could have happened with the Wii, if only it came out later and with a few different design choices (mainly in console power). Where did we go wrong with the Wii? How could the possibility of having your own hands play the game fail (from a game-developing point of view, certainly not from a sales point of view)? How did we get to the infamous "waggling"? Simple. Let me tell you a story - I had to go to my vacation home, and so I brought my laptop with me. Once I got there, I realised - I had forgotten my mouse. So I had two choices: I could either use the trackpad or I could... experiment. I took my mother's drawing pad and connected it to my PC. I used it to play Morrowind. I didn't last long, sadly - I wasn't used to a drawing pad (I normally use my right hand for the mouse and hold a pen with the left, so trying to manage the keyboard with my right hand was terrible) so I couldn't move it swiftly like my mother could. But the experiment got me thinking either way: why couldn't I shake off the feeling that if I had the abilities to use the drawing pad, I would have enjoyed Morrowind far more than with a mouse? Because it would have increased a whole lot more my immersion. Just as the driving set's increased immersion was the main reason for people to buy it, motion controllers have the great occasion to restore the role of immersion in video games- but I'm not talking about a simple PS Move Killzone 3 feature added in. I'm talking about completely reworking player physics. Something that couldn't have been possible in this generation but will be possible in the next. I'm talking about having complete control over the player character's hands. As long as the only "motion controls" developers can think of are just a bonus "move your aim with the controller" or "flap your arms like a penguin to shake off the enemy", motion controls are headed full-steam-ahead towards a dead end - but if developers manage to make each game unique through motion controls, if they manage to make the player character reaction in the game the exact same as what the player just did with his controller, then motion controls are set to become the future.

And you know what? As a player who grew up breastfed with mouse and keyboard, I'll happily accept this future, because it means I'll finally be able to become one with the world of the videogames I love so much.
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About Eprahimone of us since 3:08 PM on 03.14.2009

I'm just a person who likes video games. Favorite genre is RPG. Top 3 video games are Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Deus Ex and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Now move along, citizens.
Steam ID:eprahim


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