Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kinetics in Play

Contrary to what the title might imply, today's blog post has nothing to do with Microsoft Kinect, Sony Move wands, Wii remotes or any form of VR.  Instead I want to get back to basics.  On-screen movement and controller inputs in video games are a tricky combination to balance well.  Too much emphasis on natural looking motion and it can become difficult for the player to traverse the in-game environment.  Meanwhile, placing an overriding priority on control can lead to a disconnected weightless feel.  In first person shooters it sometimes manifests itself in the form of a "floating gun" effect, while in other genres it can result in problems like button mashing or clipping with objects in the environment.  Of course it's perfectly possible to end up with flat out bad interface that neither looks realistic, nor is particularly responsive to player inputs.  However, when it comes to complaints, I notice far more people taking umbrage with realism messing up what they want to do than the other way around; case in point - horses.

Players love to grumble about horse handling in Red Dead Redemption, The Witcher 3, and Shadow of the Colossus, but the bitter truth of the matter is that's the way horses act in real life.  They aren't motorcycles with legs.  Another great example of design choices that players take issue with is sudden changes in directional input.  Realistically, it isn't so quick and easy for a fully grown person to suddenly reverse course once they're going full tilt (especially true if said person is burdened by heavy equipment).  Either the character needs to skid to a sudden stop (like in Mario Brothers) or pull a tight 180 degree turn.  Personally, I slightly prefer the former over the latter, but I don't think either is objectively better than the other.  Ultimately it comes down to gameplay design decisions.  Wind-up animations might seem annoying to some folks in games like Monster Hunter or the "Soulsborne" series, but they're integral design elements.  The same goes for tank controls in Resident Evil.  They might be frustrating and seem bad all around, but take them out and the main antagonists of the series, shambling zombies, are no longer a threat.  Granted developers could make them into the fast sprinter zombies, but that would fundamentally alter the gameplay.  I happen to like Resident Evil 4 along with the remake of the original, the second entry and Nemesis, but I know people who feel that the frenetic pace of the more recent additions to the series killed the mood that they enjoy in the originals.

So to summarize, I'll say this; there are good controls, bad controls, and then there are controls meant to enforce a certain style of gameplay.  For the sake of accurate developer feedback, make sure you are certain which it is before ranting/raving about it.  As a side note, I'm not all that keen on standardized controls because as it stands now there's already a lot of homogenization - Mad Max, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted, they all play similar to such a degree that I sometimes worry it's preventing innovation.  So, in that sense, I think it's important to keep an open mind (although there's no excuse for not having an invert axis option).  You might not be able to teach a old dog new tricks, but I don't see why a keyboard-and-mouse guy can't learn how to use a video game controller or vice-versa.

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