I probably don’t have the most popular opinion when I say that I believe that motion controls are the future. I don’t think they every game will use them, when they are not needed, but I do think that the most new and exciting games that will come out in our lifetime, will involve some kind of motion (and really all kinds of new inputs like touch and voice controls).
Motion controls really do offer an exciting new frontier for game developers, easing the learning curve for games, allowing them to be more complicated. Red Steel 2 for example used the Wii Motion Plus in a great for its sword combat. Sure, moving a control stick up, down, left and right, to attack and block could be done on a regular controller but just trying to imagine how all the mechanics in that game could fit onto a regular controller just hurts my head. But when discussing it in terms of motion controls, suddenly sword combat is easy and intuitive, hidden techniques aren’t difficult to learn or master, and more attention can be focused in how you play rather than how to play.
But it seems like for every game that shows how motion controls can be done to enhance an experience, there are 5 games that demonstrate that developers don’t quite have the whole motion control thing down. I recently went against my creed of never reading reviews and read a review for Fable: The Journey where one of the biggest complains was not only did the game take control away from the player by putting them on rails, you would get really tired from just having your arms held up the whole time.
This is a problem that I know all too well when playing Kinect games. The Kinect Disneyland Adventure game also had the problem of your arms constantly being held in front of you making even 10 minutes of gameplay feel like a workout. When making a motion control game, the developers need to pay more attention to the pacing in their levels and in long fight sequences where the player will need to be using motion controls a lot. For breather moments, Red Steel 2 did it perfectly, by placing you in a what is almost a ghost town. You explore the city, occasionally dispatching a few enemies but you can still spend a few minutes holding your arm in a rather relaxed position so that when the next fight starts, you aren’t dying from the cramps.
Metroid Prime 3 also is a good example of a game where even though a majority of the game requires pointing and shooting, the long battles use little tricks to make sure that your arm doesn’t become tired. The first is making you move your arms differently. The cramping that can bother most players when playing a motion controlled game comes from hold their arm in the same position for long periods of time. When playing some Kinect games, they demand me to holding my arm out fully extended and only moving my shoulders as input, while the rest of my arm starts to hurt. In Metroid Prime 3 (as well as some other great Wii games), bosses would often require more than just shooting to defeat. Some would require the grapple beam that uses the nunchuck rather than Wii remote give the right arm some kind of break for a bit. Others would require the morph ball mode which does require any pointing at all, another way to let the players rest their arms while still playing the game. Some bosses even have attacks that require you to shake them off, by shaking the Wii remote and the nunchuck. As much as people tend to hate the Wii waggle, being able to move the arm helps it not start to hurt. It’s all these little tricks that keep motion controls fun and functional, without feel like exercise.
The pacing of the level also becomes important. How enemies are approached as well as how many enemies there are suddenly becomes a big factor because it can give the player that time they need to relax their arm while still playing the game. Think about The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword and how the Zelda format really lends itself to motion controls. While running around and solving puzzles, you don’t have to swinging your arm around so much, so when it comes time to do so, you aren’t exhausted just from walking.
Of course, the other glaring problem with most motion control games is that a lot of time they just feel unnecessary. Why have waggle when you can just rapid press a button? From what I can tell, Sorcery doesn’t require the Move to still be the same game, so really what is the point? This has been something pointed out ever since motion controls hit the market, that developers are just hopping on some kind of Wii bandwagon and ruining otherwise fine games.
But you must believe me when I say that I’ve seen the promised land that is well-implemented motion control support. How they can be used in ways that no other game control scheme could replicate effectively. Take Conduit 2 for example, one of my favorite shooters out there has a gun called the Deatomizer that can fire a laser flail. With the Wii remotes twisting, you can twist the direction that the flail fires opening up all sorts of possibilities. Other games that I’ve already mentioned really play up on precise aiming or fast targets that with a normal control scheme, might be deemed poor design, yet with motion control those design decisions are allowed to flourish.
All the while control is never taken away from the player. The problem with a lot of Kinect games is that they don’t know what they want to be, except a Kinect game. Fable: The Journey seems to run into the problem of wanting to be the next Fable game and a Kinect game, but without really knowing how the two can mesh together. The Star Wars Kinect game really pushed the lightsaber combat, (and the dancing), when it should have been sequel to the Pod Racer series because that idea works well with what the Kinect is. The Move is just as guilty and early Wii games like Madworld just couldn’t really think about how to really use their motion controls, and suffered because of it. The key is just not to think about making a motion control game but to think about the kind of game that might benefit from motion controls. A sword/gun brawler isn’t a new concept, but Red Steel 2 transformed their game into something totally unique, because of what the Wii motion plus could offer them.
I hope to see motion control become more utilized in the future. I am really excited about how the Wii U is going to further the use of the Wii remote in interesting ways (either with or without the use of the game pad) and I really, really want the Kinect to succeed. It is just going to take the right talent and the right ideas to do that, and when it happens I guarantee that I’ll be the first in line.