Motion Control: The good, the bad, & the ugly

[Today’s promoted blog on Motion Control is from SephirothX! Make sure you write a blog on this week’s topic, eSports, if you want a chance to see your own blog on the front page next week. — JRo]

Motion control it seems is a dicey topic for gamers because, due to the wide range of opinions regarding it. Conversations will either boil down to people complaining about “gimmicks” infesting gaming and that the traditional way of gaming is the true way or people defending it proclaiming that it’s the dawn of a new age in gaming and Wii’s lifetime sales justify its place. Followed by PC gamers jumping in claiming their way is the only way.

Obviously there’s a bit of hyperbole in that previous paragraph, but it’s hard not to find someone who hasn’t been in one of those types of conversations.

Before I go any further I just want to make my stance perfectly clear: motion gaming isn’t entirely my thing. Perhaps it’s just that I’m an old timer stuck in the old ways (considering my youthful mid-20’s age, I find this ironically funny.) Since I essentially grew up with NES and SNES controllers in hand that’s the way I want it to stay and the way I think player input is most efficiently performed. If I am not waving a wand around erratically with a motion controller I tend to be doing basic movements like flinging the controller up/down/left/right in order to perform various tasks. I look at this and tend to just say “sorry, I’ll stick with the old ways” because I generally don’t get the appeal of looking like an even bigger doofus while playing my already silly games. It sometimes makes me wonder if the people who defend and preach motion gaming are just blinded by the fact that this stuff is new and different and ignore that just because something is different does not inherently make it “good,” a la the classic idea that a bent out of shape fork is different but not useful for what is needed.

Alongside this, I honestly haven’t personally seen enough implementations of motion gaming that are done in a manner that genuinely make me interested in the game itself. Most motion games, for me, are like sitting through Nicholas Cage or Michael Bay movies. I can see what’s being attempted and appreciate it but can’t ignore the fact that it’s done poorly. Then occasionally you get those moments where Nicholas Cage and Michael Bay join forces and on paper it should be a recipe for disaster yet somehow you get something that defies all logic in the cosmos resulting in something awesome like The Rock.

There are games out there that exist in this paradoxical realm of motion gaming. These types of games in my opinion stop trying to be a motion game and instead just try to be a videogame, as a result it becomes the metaphoric “that guy” that does his own thing and ends up taking the prom queen to bed.

While motion gaming isn’t my thing, I will admit that there are some areas where motion gaming is being used well or being implemented in a nice manner. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I won’t give it props for being well after all … unless it’s the Chicago Cubs, of course. As I was considering ways to describe the ways motion gaming was being used properly and improperly I thought about the “big three” in console gaming right now (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, respectfully.) I realized there was only one efficient way to break things down. With this, allow me to switch gears a little bit and shift from one cinema reference to another.

Considering PlayStation Move didn’t fly off shelves like Kinect did or set the world on fire like the Wii did you’d probably thing I’m crazy for putting Sony in the “good” portion of my blog, and to be honest I’d understand. However, I think motion gaming is best used as a complimentary tool alongside traditional gaming that’s innocuous instead of it being a flat out replacement for buttons and joysticks. With that mindset in place, when I look at what Sony is doing with Move I genuinely think they “get it.” Move is a complimentary piece of gaming technology that accompanies the old fashioned ways and it isn’t forced onto anyone who doesn’t want it. To top that off, Move isn’t being relegated to silly party games or stuff the common gamer might consider shovel ware. Obviously your personal tastes in videogames might vary a little, but it’s hard to consider Killzone 3, SOCOM 4, or Resistance 3 shovelware and it’s also hard to deny that including Move support into these games is a good way to wrangle in some otherwise hesitant hardcore gamers.

The rallying cry against PlayStation Move is that it’s a knockoff of the Wii. So what, the Dualshock controller is essentially a knockoff of the Super Nintendo controller but I don’t remember seeing people get up in arms about that. The common complaints I tend to see from gamers regarding the Nintendo Wii are that it lacks high-definition support and doesn’t have enough good games for it. Yet, here’s a system that functions just like the Wii but has hi-def support while attempting to put out more solid games for the platform and people are still bashing it. I’m not going to let gamer hypocrisy blind me from seeing a good idea that’s trying to do things in a good way.

Remember earlier how I mentioned that I think motion gaming should be a complimentary tool to traditional gaming instead of a flat out replacement for it? I think Microsoft essentially read my mind and decided to do everything in their power to be the opposite of that. I’m not sure if its Kinect’s limited potential or Microsoft’s adamant rambling about Kinect being the future has turned me off to the device. Anybody remember the Sega Activator? It was an octagon type thing you placed on the ground which used infrared beams to emulate what a typical controller could do. It was eventually dismissed because of its price point, twitchy responsiveness, and because simple stuff such as ceiling fans or a slanted ceiling could throw off the device (simple stuff in your room hampering your motion gaming, sound familiar?)

I would say that Kinect is the Sega Activator except with potential but even that might be a stretch because at least the Activator had the foresight to include methods of character movement into it. Something that Kinect already seems to be having an issue with. This is a form of motion gaming I dislike because not only does it force me to be a complete doofus in my living room but also ends up taking away from my gaming experience and limiting what I can and cannot do.

There are some areas of Kinect that do try to be more complimentary to normal gaming, such as Child of Eden which uses Kinect as an alternative to the traditional controller or the Mass Effect 3 demo we saw at E3 2011 that showed off voice commands. The only issue I have with Mass Effect 3‘s use of it is that Tom Clancy’s EndWar exists and is a pre-Kinect game that can let you play the entire game via voice commands. Thus, I have to call into question just how necessary Kinect is for stuff such as this when it’s been proven that some areas of Kinect’s abilities have been fully implemented without it. Overall it seems like the best area for potential with Kinect comes from PC use, which seems (to me) like a bad foreshadow of Kinect when people in their own homes can find better uses for it instead of its intended purpose.

Finally we get to Nintendo, the reason motion gaming is popular at all right now. Nintendo has found some good uses for motion gaming and it has bared some fruits so I can’t throw the Wii into the realm of bad. Yet when you look at the Wii’s library and look at the lack of good Wii games beyond Nintendo’s first party lineup it’s hard to call it anything but ugly. For every Twilight Princess or No More Heroes there seems to be more Wii Musics or Game Party 2s right beside them. Then tied into this is the fact that Nintendo had to release another peripheral item just to increase the accuracy of the device, forcing gamers to doll up more cash just to make the device work better. Oh, and that new item doesn’t even get fully supported by games that come out after its release.

Then there’s the 3DS which also uses a different version of motion control. Anybody who’s played Face Raiders or Ocarina of Time 3DS is well aware of this. To be honest, I’ll admit that I actually enjoy the motion control of the 3DS as I think it helps Ocarina and it makes for some interesting handheld gameplay. The ugly issue with this motion control is that I think developers forgot that in order for the 3D effect to work you need to have your head and system at a precise distance & angle for it to work. When you have to move or look around with the 3DS you tend to throw off your viewing angle just enough to get annoying double-vision on your screen that ruins the 3D effect. The only reasonable solution for this requires you to keep yourself fairly rigid and pivot your body around, a task that can get annoying if I just wanted to save Hyrule from the comfort of my leather recliner.

I just feel that motion gaming works best when it compliments traditional gaming instead of replacing it, a la a mistake of the Power Glove. Think of traditional gaming as a nice juicy steak and motion control is a nice spice or flavoring you apply to the steak. Yes you can eat nothing but the spice flavoring if you really want to, but you know it works better when it’s with your nice steak. Look at games like No More Heroes, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Twilight Princess, or Killzone 3 as great examples of the two working together in unity. I just hope that the success of the Nintendo Wii hasn’t polluted developers with the idea that “the traditional ways are old now.” PC gamers have been using keyboards and mice for seemingly forever now (not totally true, but you get the point) and those gamers would crucify anybody who suggests ditching them. Why should the good old fashioned dual analog controller be any different?

Gaming’s had cyclical trends in the past. Side-scrollers had their glory days in the Super Mario era, RPGs had their glory days in the 16-bit era, and we’re currently in an era that’s heavy with first-person shooters. If I, a simple observant consumer, had to make any guesses on the future of motion gaming I’d probably categorize it in the same place as 3D movies were in their early stages. Yes 3D movies are the “thing” right now, but people tend to forget that 3D movies have gone in and out of vogue dating all the way back to the 1950’s (look at the eyewear on Biff’s goonie in Back to the Future.) If recent sales of the Wii and Move are any indication of the future it’s possible that motion gaming could already be fading out of the picture in terms of general interest. In fact if you look at the Wii-U, Vita, or any of Apple’s iProducts, it looks like touch screen technology is becoming the new “in” thing for gaming (furthering Star Trek styled tech infiltrating real life in sweet ways.)

Speculating whether motion gaming will be a constant future presence or the flash in the pan is exactly that, speculation. Only time will tell on whether this will be continuously accepted or discarded for the next cool thing. My opinion on the topic is as shown above and if I had to make any summarization of the topic of motion gaming as it presently is, it would probably go like the following sentence. Motion gaming is a very interesting idea that has only touched upon how it can be properly used yet when something rises to prominence as fast as motion gaming did with the Wii it tends to fall and fade into the background just as fast. Because of this I don’t think we will see a completely proper application of motion gaming for a long while.