The general consensus among gamers is that motion controls suck. It’s a resentment that grew out of the software shortcomings of the original Wii, motion control games that literally don’t work, and a noticeable discrepancy between your actions and what’s displayed on screen. Throw in the passionate relationship between gamers and their traditional controllers and you have an audience programmed to resist a far more intuitive control scheme. Still, for an industry so adamant about innovation it’s surprising to see reactions to the technology. Some have argued it’s just a fad but they’re wrong. Motion controls will only get bigger and you should be happy about that. Why? Because they are one of the few things helping this industry to grow.
From a pure sales perspective it’s easy to see why hardware companies invest so much money into it. Yes Nintendo saw some epic failures but they also enjoyed unrivalled success. Three of the top four most successful games of all time were sold on the Nintendo Wii (Wii Sports - bundled with the console, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Sports Resort), two of which required motion controls. Motion controls rake in a mainstream audience usually unfazed by the likes of even Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, opening up hardware companies potential revenue streams exponentially. The more money the big three make the more they can invest in future technologies and the bigger the growth this industry will see.
One of the other inevitable futures this industry will see is virtual reality, and it coincides perfectly with advancements in motion control technology. Part of the Dusty Cartridge crew checked out the Oculus Rift, and while they largely enjoyed the experience (though one nearly vomited), they all agreed the experience was somewhat jarring, owing to the visual disconnect between body and brain. “The rift is all about immersion” says Peter Zaluzny, “Anything that can be done to eliminate any hint of the outside world will improve that”. Doesn’t it make sense if the gun your character is holding, the ammo he’s keeping for reserves and the doors he’s required to open, are all controlled by a camera recording your movements? Motion support is the second part in the virtual reality equation, if you will, to fully immersing players in a virtual world.
One company that’s hinging all their bets on motion controls is Microsoft. Their next-gen console – the Xbox One – comes bundled with the new Kinect, an expensive inclusion that’s sent many of their fans running off to Sony. It’s understandable considering this generation’s inadequacies with the technology, but it’s premature. The only real disparity between Sony and Microsoft this generation has been their first party exclusives, which Sony most arguably won. Now with the next-generation however, they’ve granted Microsoft a point of difference by dislocating their next-gen motion control peripheral (the PlayStation Eye) from the system. The Kinect, therefore, will receive far better support because of a larger pool of potential consumers, not to mention the possibility of attracting a large slice of the mainstream market. The Wii U meanwhile, added nothing to the power of the Wii’s motion support, save for the inclusion of a second screen. This means the future of the technology largely rests in the hands of the Xbox One. So what can we expect?
First off the new Kinect camera is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor, and offers three times the fidelity (degree of accuracy). Microsoft is reporting that even subtle movements will have significant impacts, with the ability to track finger gestures, how much weight is placed on one limb and even the twisting of one’s wrist. The peripheral’s 1080P camera can also scan a gamers face, offering a convincing personalized avatar, and detect heart rate and facial expressions. The breadth of possibility with this is endless; imagine playing a survival horror title where the game reacts to player emotions, capitalizing on their building horror at a moment that will have maximum effect. Yes, there will undoubtedly be a lot of crap, but there’s no arguing against the might of its potential.
The core issue facing motion controls however is their inability to replicate the feel of a particular activity, for example, the kickback after firing a shotgun. Rumble packs have filled this void since their introduction 15 years ago but their singular action, a rumble, is a one size fits all motion. Thankfully a company called Tactile Haptics is working on a piece of technology that provides convincing ‘tactile feedback’. Dubbed the Reactive Grip it features four sliders that move up and down your hand, mimicking the sensation of swinging a sword, the resistance felt when stabbing in-game material and the mass felt above your head as you swing a flail.
To all those worried motion control support is going to eliminate traditional controllers, don’t. All it offers is an alternate, potentially more immersive way of playing our games. That’s what keeps this industry running after all, its ability to offer new ways of enjoying the beloved medium. I know it might have left a bad impression first time around, but give it another chance. One day, I promise, it will pay off.