Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
14 May 2006
A Wii Control Problem
(I refuse to title this "Losing control of one's Wii.")

A lot of people were less than impressed over Red Steel, the UbiSoft-developed first person shooter/slasher for Wii shown at E3, and it's striking that lackluster polygon texturing was not always considered the main problem.

The thing that most people hated was the fact that, in the slasher sections, the pointer control did not actually control the sword. Instead, various motions the player made with the remote would be recognized by the system and translated into canned moves, entirely missing the point of having such a versatile controller in the first place.

While many observers loved Mario Galaxy (and personally, I think it looks awesome and I'm looking forward to it a lot more than even the new Zelda), I think it's important to note that, except in a couple of places (the blue star-orbs and the drag-and-launch places on the path to the spider boss), the pointer is not really well-integrated into gameplay. The process of using the cursor to collect star pieces reminds me of old video shooters, such as Namco's old Starblade arcade game, where what happened on-screen was not really affected by the pointer except for targets overlaid upon a static video clip. The static clip here was replaced with an amazing revision of Mario gameplay, but from the pointer perspective, it was almost as static.

The Wii Sports games, especially, Tennis, appeared to use the controller with more skill, although at the apparent expense of traditional controller functions. Reports were that the Tennis game allowed the player to very intuitively aim the ball at different parts of the court, as if he had been swinging a racket! That would be totally cool, if it was not for the fact that it was largely pointless, since wherever the ball was hit, the opposing player would automatically be moved to a proper return position anyway.

I think in the future, the controller will be used in three primary ways, in ascending order of coolness:

1. The controller can be used as a way of delivering gestures to the game, for recognition and translation into discrete events. Speaking for the general case here, I have to say this sucks. I think it might be possible to create a game in which gestures are used entertainingly, but until then, I am unimpressed with this usage. Leave the gestures to Wii's port of Opera.

2. The sensor can be used as a method of manipulating an on-screen pointer. This is better, if a bit obvious. Mario Galaxy, Zelda Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3 and Red Steel all used this system. For shooters, this allows for looking around and aiming at arbitrary points on-screen. For Zelda, it lets the user aim the bow with great fidelity and to point and click at UI elements. For Mario Galaxy... well, it allowed for pointing, that's for sure. It's obvious that the pointer is here meant to emulate a mouse. That's quite cool, but ultimately not as cool as we want.

3. The best uses will be those that endeavor to use the motion sensing and/or pointing aspects of the controller to sense how it's held in space and translate that into a game-world representation. The Wii Sports games seemed to do that to some extent. The flight games that Nintendo and Hudson are developing definitely do this. The new Monkey Ball game seems to do it really well. Project HAMMER might be the best conceptual usage of the controller shown at E3, although people tended to complain that the game frequently loses track of the controller's orientation when the pointer left the screen. To my mind, that is inexcusable: what the game should do, unless some important implementation detail is escaping me, is use the motion-sensing controller for the game, and using the screen pointer as an extra source of spatial information to calibrate the motion sensors on the fly.

While it's true that Nintendo showed some very cool uses of the controller at E3, I've yet to see it live up to the mental image I had formed of it from the original announcement. If Sony or Microsoft were to have announced something like it, I would have taken it skeptically, but I hold Nintendo, who has tended to shoot straighter when it comes to announcements of system capabilities than its competitors, to a higher standard. I'm not disappointed yet, and I still think I have every reason to believe that I won't be, maybe when the second wave of games comes along.

So get cracking on that, Nintendo.


--John Harris at 21:58
Comment [ 6 ]

Comments on this post:

...various motions the player made with the remote would be recognized by the system and translated into canned moves, entirely missing the point of having such a versatile controller in the first place.

This is brilliant! Finally, the role of videogame player and videogame watcher have been merged! I am ecstatic at the prospect of gesturing frantically "go that way! no, go that way! Slash! Slash!" and having the in-game action whimsically interpret my spasming hand motions as it sees fit.

By Blogger Bob, at 15 May, 2006 05:37  

"For Zelda, it lets the user aim the bow with great fidelity"

It didn't actually work for anyone at E3, it was awful.

By Anonymous zachary, at 15 May, 2006 12:40  

It didn't actually work for anyone at E3, it was awful.

In fact, I think the problem there isn't that it didn't work. It's that it worked better than players were expecting.

It all came out in an interview Joystiq had with series creator Shigeru Miyamoto:

Some people found that when they were aiming with the bow, as they release the button to fire the arrow your aim would move slightly, and that would make it more difficult to hit the enemy. So the natural thinking was that maybe on the software and programming side we could make it so that even if your aim moves just a little bit as you release you'll still hit the target, kind of almost like an auto-aim type of feature. That was kind of the natural thinking in terms of how we could improve that.

But I went back to the team and I said, well, you know, if you think about it though aiming a bow is not something that's very easy to do. So the fact that you have to be very precise adds reality, it adds realism to the game. So rather than try and take that type of aiming system and change it into something that's more along the lines of a shooting game, it's better to retain that type of realism and challenge the player to really kind of get into the feeling of shooting a bow.

In other words, shooting a real bow is hard, so they purposely made shooting a virtual bow hard in a similar way. I actually like this thinking, although it'd be nice if you had the option to turn this off.

By Blogger JohnH, at 15 May, 2006 18:46  

I agree with John, I think the second wave of Wii games will make better use of the remote's functionalities.

Two reasons:

1) Developers are weary at spending too much time into developing games which use the Wii's features to the max.

2) Get the conventional gamers to get used to the new functionalities before pushing on them usage which demands a certain basic mastery. Get us all in the groove with stuff like Mario Galaxy, then serve the hot stuff.

By Blogger Citizen Wii, at 16 May, 2006 15:47  

I agree that the current implementation of the motion sensor on Wii is a bit underwhelming, with the marked exception of Warioware.

I was amazed at how Warioware made a fun yet challenging introduction to the possibilities the Wii brings to the table. Different challenges required a different grip of the remote, accompanied by visual representations. Movement in the z-axis wasn't too good, but each game was fun to play and new, without being frustrating.

By Blogger TTV Team, at 16 May, 2006 16:28  

This is an approach to controlling games that has had little development in the past, so I wouldn't expect the average developer to get it correct right away. I think refinement of the Wii's control schemes will be something akin to the way programmers steadily wring better graphics from a console over its lifespan. Much work remains to be done.

For an analogue, I don't have to look back very far. When I first started playing Kirby Canvas Curse on the DS, I had a difficult time with it. My movements were short and stilted, often not getting Kirby where I wanted him to go at all. After a couple of worlds, I was making fluid sweeping gestures with a great deal more accuracy.

It struck me that my brain and muscles were pretty much just trained to push joysticks and buttons, and I had to learn a whole new set of movements, to light up entirely new areas of my brain, to play on the DS. I suspect the Wii may be no different in practice. Lots of people will grouse because it's not the way they've learned to do things. I would be very curious to see how a small child who hasn't yet been set in the ways of controllers took to a Wii controller.

By Blogger BruceC, at 16 May, 2006 18:00  

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