When the Wii arrived on the scene some five or so years ago, it changed the face of the video gaming industry with a heretofore unseen and ridiculed innovation – motion controls that worked. Instead of only improving on the graphics, sound, and number of buttons to press, as every other console had done before, the Wii transformed our notion of how to play video games. Suddenly, we were hurtled much closer to that horizon of virtual reality, as flicks of the hand and controller were translated into the moves of our onscreen personas. Enchanted by such staple titles as Wii Sports, millions of people who weren’t really into video games before jumped on the Wii bandwagon and became avid gamers – or at least they were for a while until the novelty wore off. Meanwhile, hardcore gamers, those elite button-crunchers, and joystick-jabbers who didn’t particularly appreciate the intrusion of casual gamers into their domain, largely ignored the motion control craze. There were a few exceptional titles that lured hardcore gamers in, but many of these succeeded independently of the motion control3 aspect and would have done just as well if they had been made for conventional controllers.
In a couple of months, Nintendo appears poised to reveal its follow-up console to the Wii, a machine which apparently outpowers the PS3 and the Xbox 360. This is, of course, welcome news, but will the motion control4 that made the Wii so popular still be a feature of this next-generation system? And if so, will this combination of powerful hardware and control innovation finally convert the hardcore gamer population to the cause of Nintendo?
The Kinect and the Playstation Move may help to shed some light on this issue. Though these motion control5 devices have met with modest success, the titles that support them offer little beyond dressed-up versions of the best that the Wii has had to offer. The inferior graphics capabilities of the Wii, it seems, have never been the problem. Rather, some of the blame of the hardcore alienation must be placed on the game developers, very few of whom have really made the effort to take motion control6 beyond the glut of sports games, party games and lame third-party offerings that toss in a bit of waggling here and there. This is curious, considering that many of the games that are lauded by the hardcore community today are first-person shooters, which a refined motion control7 setup would execute perfectly. Button-mashing can hardly compare to the sensation of holding a gun-like device and actually shooting at the screen, mowing down despicable foes as you advance.
And then, it becomes apparent that many first-person shooters aren’t just about pointing and shooting. There’s weapon changing, stealthy movement through uneven terrain, climbing and crouching, and a whole bunch of other actions that may be difficult to capture completely through a series of physical movements. With so much going on, the whole button-pressing/combination mechanic does appear to be a much better fit. Other games, the epic adventures and frantic side-scrollers, become a lot harder to play if every jump and attack must be geared to one’s motions. The tougher Mario games, for certain, would be impossible to play if I had to jerk the controller upwards every time I wanted Mario to jump. And really, when you’re playing a vast, world-spanning RPG, the last thing you need is a motion control8 option. That’s the first problem, then – most hardcore games either don’t need motion control, or would become too complicated to play if you keyed moves off of a motion control9ler instead of simply assigning commands to buttons.
The other problem, one that has long since been addressed, was that the motion control10 did not provide 1:1 coordination between your motions and those of the onscreen character. Playing a sword game with the Wii was inconceivable in its early days, but an upgrade to the Wii controller was introduced to deal with this concern, and the Kinect and the Move do feature highly accurate translation of movement. If the new Nintendo console starts out with a hypersensitive controller, then it should also clear this hurdle.
It thus seems that the main obstacle to getting hardcore gamers to embrace motion control11 is the fact that the industry seems content with simply tossing out sports titles, quirky games, and the occasional watered-down action-adventure. Game developers have got to meet the hardcore community at their level and design games that are not only deep and engaging, but also must be played with motion control12 – as in, it makes the most sense to use a motion control13ler to play it, instead of tossing the motion control14 in as an afterthought. Red Steel 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are two such titles that show how this concept could work, with Link’s latest Skyward Sword shimmering in the distance. Motion control15 in these games is intuitive, rather than restrictive. Each swing, each precise flick of the controller, makes complete sense and feels like the natural thing to do to get a response out of the onscreen character. More importantly, the motion control16 doesn’t stand alone, but is blended with a traditional analog stick for normal movement precision, and buttons that perform more complicated functions like shifting between menus.
Of course, there is the possibility that some hardcore gamers are just lazy and too lethargic to perform any movements past the tapping of controller buttons. Perhaps the next generation of quality motion control17 games will force these folks off their couches and into what could still be the future of gaming.
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