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Using a Game's Fiction to Work Around Interface Limitations

A brief, case-study based observation on how designers can work around limitations and weaknesses of input and output hardware by making smart choices about their game's fictional world.

David Canela

January 23, 2017

2 Min Read

As a game designer, every time a new game console is announced, I'm excited to see what new types of gameplay and interactions the hardware might facilitate. At the Switch's presentation, the detachable joy-con controllers certainly caught my attention with their instant local multiplayer potential and features like HD rumble. However, what I enjoy the most is when novel input and output hardware like motion controllers and VR headsets is paired with game design that works around its limitations in creative ways. Enter ARMS:


Motion controls are a viscerally satisfying way to interact with games. They can feel very immersive. But that immersion can easily be broken if there's a dissonance between the feedback the player gets in the physical world and the kind of feedback they'd expect from the action their avatar performs in the game world. For instance, cutting through droids with a light saber is a good match for a Wii controller, whereas a light saber duel will make the player painfully aware that they can't feel the opponent push back when their blades touch.

ARMS elegantly circumvents the issue of feeling no impact in a boxing game by detaching the characters' fists from their bodies in the game world, with only a loose, spring-like connection remaining. The lack of feedback is legitimized through the game's fiction and player expectations and actual stimuli are brought into congruence, creating an immersive experience. Crucially, this conceit also works in favor of other aspects of the game by allowing for interesting special moves and it probably also glosses over input latency nicely. So it benefits the game as a whole, rather than being only a band-aid for a specific issue.

It's the kind of trick that can seem obvious in hindsight and unlike for example the popular fiction of sitting in a cockpit in a VR game, it's harder to think of a large range of games where this particular conceit makes sense. But from what little I've seen of ARMS it seems to work great for this particular game. Kudos to the designers! :)

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