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Controls for the 'Other' Masses

My personal experiences and hands on difficulties and observations when playing games with either particular controls systems or motion controls.

Tom Lockie, Blogger

January 17, 2011

8 Min Read

Introduction

Like many of you I’ve played games since I was a youngster. My first fond memory of playing games comes from playing Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo and only continued to other consoles and games Like Donkey Kong Country, Virtua fighter, Tomb Raider and onwards. This dynamic continued to the current day where I still enjoy playing many of the latest games that are out.

There are many games however that I have not played (like many of you) I have not however excluded these games for their poor reviews, or there poor stories or even for lack of interest on my part. One of the games that has made my exclusion list is the ‘2009 Game of the Year’ Super Mario Galaxy and this did not make the exclusion list for lack of effort on my part at all.

The reason for these exclusions? Well the problem stems from well before my first contact with computer games, more precisely my birth. I was born missing my right forearm just below the elbow.

With my hand missing at birth I know no different from anything else and like most people in my position I just get on with it. Even at a young age I took to games very quickly and always found a way to play them (A description that I will save from you and hope you just take my word)

This disability has not caused many problems when playing the majority of games. As ever though, there were a few bumps in the road.

Clarification

I want to make the point early on that I am not trying to rant about  game developers making games that must redesign entire control systems to suit my needs. My aim is to highlight the little changes that can make games that can be literally played by anyone who just doesn’t quite fit the profile.

Over the years I have played a reasonable amount of games and have always adapted to play them. I have however looked at many games and wondered why they perhaps have designed it in this way or done this instead.

I have recently graduated from university with a game programming degree and have always taken a keen interest in the design of games and I feel my disability has given me a different perspective on how games are designed and specifically how games should be played. Now with my greatest efforts I’ll refrain from making this sound like a rant.

Customisable Controls

This was firstly highlighted when I acquired a PS2 with the release title ‘Timesplitters’. My first attempt to play this was met with frustration, annoyance and a struggling grasp of the controls. This game then went back to the bottom of the pile as I continued to play the other games I got for that Christmas.

After a couple of weeks I attempted to persevere and gave it another shot. I’m so glad I did as I found a little gem hidden. This gem was hidden within the options and it was the custom controls options. This was a glorious menu allowing me to place the game actions on any button. This also included the mapping of the movements of the analogues, which could even be changed when aiming.

Upon the hidden gem revelation the game opened up to me the way that it was designed. It was enjoyable, fast and most importantly great fun to play. I was able to play the game under my profile with my friends co-operatively and competitively on a level playing field.

This gem though was not too last though, as the gem was lost within the following sequels to the point that fully customisable controls were replaced with controller presets (If my memory serves)

Presets controls do not offer the same flexibility as custom controls. Also, the ability to map double taps, held buttons and certain key combinations would truly allow for people to play games the way they want to. As game control systems got more and more advanced controller presets struggled to handle the complexity of the game systems and reduced there effectiveness compared to customisation.

Mouse and keyboard support for consoles

Some games when you play them are naturally suited for different types of controls systems. Flight simulator enthusiasts will also prefer to play the game with a joy stick as racing or driving fans wills always prefer a steering wheel. There are also some games that lend themselves well to be played with a mouse and keyboard and being confined to a controller does not help these games.

Supreme Commander 2 was made for both Xbox 360 and Windows PC’s. However Xbox360 version of the game did not support any keyboard or mouse support. Now it seems like a logical progression to at least have the option for using a keyboard and mouse with RTS’s and FPS’s are the most common games to suit the keyboard and mouse control systems.

Now I can appreciate there are some problems with introducing keyboard and mouse support to consoles. Firstly the balancing issues of multiplayer. With most FPS’s and RTS’s having competitive features there will be clear advantages to the keyboard user with his increased pointer speed and accuracy. This advantage can clearly be seen in the games with analogue stick users having less accuracy than mouse users.

Motion Controllers

It was only a matter of time before this came up. Now where to begin? Well as you can imagine I struggle with these a lot. Somebody got me a Wii for Christmas and after initially setting up and trying it out with Wii sports I then tried to play Zelda: Twilight Princess and that is where the problems began.

Any games requiring the use of the nunchuk were instantly unobtainable to me. This effectively made the Wii a no-go console for me (which is a shame for someone whose gaming childhood memories reside in many past Nintendo consoles and games).

As PlayStation move was released there again felt little need for me to attempt to try and use the move controllers or the games that come out for it. I feel that the controllers are a brilliant addition to the games industry and are a brilliant way to abstract the controls to more natural gestures for new players making it easier to understand and take part.

The more interesting of the motion controls to currently hit the market is the Microsofts Kinect. Now this has the potential to solve all the problems of the other two with no need to actually hold any peripherals and from the brief opportunity I got with it I can honestly say it is close but no cigar.

As I am missing my right arm just below the elbow I have a tiny amount of forearm still there and the Kinect camera attempted to pick it up with limited success.  It attempted to make the movement of my tiny forearm the whole movement of the avatar’s arm, this can create problems for the Kinect camera.

It sometimes loses the direction that my forearm is pointing and then sometime assumes that my arm must either be pointing directly forward or directly hidden behind my arm (with arm breaking consequences) and it will swap between the two with an pace that I could not mimic.

Now one solution that does spring to mind that could perhaps solve this problem would be the ability to customise the limbs of your avatar ( I have wished for this for years – I would have loved to seen a create-a-player in a game that I could make him with one hand)

I am well aware of the complication this would create for developers to be able to handle the different amount of avatars people are bound to create for the sake of hilarity (A one-legged avatar  in Kinetic  football games perhaps) but this setting of the avatar would certainly help the Kinetic camera in being able to create recreate the player’s avatar and perform their actions accurately.

As for the other Wii and PlayStation motion controls I am can only really suggest a change in the motion controls as a whole. The option to play a game with either one handed controls or two-handed controls would help the situation (a task made easier by the use of customisable controls )

However, one of the essentials problems that will make this difficult to overcome is the design of the hardware. Both the Wiimote and Move controllers have only one analogue stick that is on the additional peripheral (E.g. the nunchuk) so without at least one analogue stick movement in many of the games this will become an issue.

The other problem that could arise is the limited amount of buttons on a singular motion controller, however with the use of double taps, held buttons and key combinations all performing different action to their single press counterparts many actions should be able to be mapped on fewer buttons.

Conclusion

Motion Controllers are brilliant for the pick-up and play aspect of gaming (no lengthy tutorials on how the controls system works and what this vast array of buttons do) which has clearly made an impact introducing new people to gaming and making games a far more sociable experience.

They are clearly a brilliant way of further immersing yourself in the games (I mean I could not feel more involved making the final killing strike on a boss by performing the actual move) and I see a very bright future and look forward to some very innovative ideas to come from the games that use motion controls.

Throughout this article I have never wanted to make it sound like a bitter games player when this industry has brought me so much Joy. Because of my disability I have been forced to play, design and analyse games from a different point of view in hopefully opening your eyes to the problems that other people might face and need to overcome when playing games designed for you.

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