I had always thought that the hate directed at motion controls stemmed from irrational fanboyism – the usual “It’s not on my console and is therefore crap” mentality. Once motion control was something coming to all consoles, I thought, even the self-proclaimed hardcore would be more than happy to change their minds.

But even though motion control is a clear hit with the mass market, the hardcore continue to view it with suspicion. The type of cynicism that gamers have over Natal – and to a lesser extent, the Sony motion controller – is more usually reserved for Italian politicians. Discussions about motion control cause otherwise rational people to froth at the mouth at the mere idea of their games being poisoned with “waggle,” or the suggestion their relaxing game time might have the slightest bit of physical work involved (a damning reflection of our lazy-ass society if ever there was one, but I digress).

This thread on the Escapist’s own forums is the kind of thing I’m talking about, or the comments section to the last column I wrote on the subject. To read some of these opinions, you would think Microsoft was re-branding their system with an all-new pink color scheme, replacing the TV with a mandatory Virtual Boy interface and renaming it the WonderSwan 2. I knew gamers were cynical, but when we’re writing off potentially revolutionary technology over a year before release simply because it’s different, it’s time to take some deep breaths and calm down.

We cling to our controllers, not realizing how they limit us. Developers’ ambitions are already outgrowing what can be comfortably done on a pad with two sticks and 16 buttons, as a finger-warping playthrough of something like the MGS games will show you. Our desire to hold on to what we have reminds me of the days when technology shifted from carts to CDs. And while,sure, there were certain things that we could have done without, like the acceptance of long loading times and the mercifully brief era of overpriced memory cards, is there any doubt that the shift to digital media was the right one?

Just as with that debate, gamers today frame their discussions in terms of what they know right now. They talk about how motion controllers can never be suitable for twitch games like Tekken – and you know what? They’re absolutely right. They’re right, because those games were designed around the types of controller available on the development platform. Motion controllers could never hope to mimic the type of sensitivity demanded by the very fixed mechanics of something like the fighting genre.

What these gamers either don’t realize – or else they realize yet fear – is that motion controllers will not just change the way games are played; in time they will change the very way games themselves are designed. Our current controllers are very good at twitch gaming because that is primarily what the controllers have been designed for. Natal may not be as responsive as a button press if, say, you were to duck your head to take cover – but our thoughts about what games it could create are limited by the types of games available right now. Those games, in turn, are limited by today’s interfaces.


Nobody would ever say a keyboard and mouse were not responsive, but they’re lousy ways of controlling games like Devil May Cry. Is that a flaw in the keyboard and mouse combination? Of course not. It’s a limitation of a game that was designed to be played with a controller. Serious PC twitch FPS players will still tell you that consoles cannot match the accuracy of the keyboard-mouse FPS PC experience, and on the type of games they’re talking about, they’re absolutely right. The incredible degree of accuracy that a mouse can provide is the foundation of games like Quake or Counterstrike. However, the success of games like Halo and Call of Duty 4 on consoles show that most gamers are more than willing to give up a degree of accuracy, provided the experience provided is still fun.

When it comes down to it, the controller is a mere conduit to the experience. When applied to good game design, you shouldn’t even notice it’s there. If a game is a car, then the controller is the road – something you should only notice when there’s something wrong with it. It should not stand out – anyone who’s played a truly great game knows that the best will suck you in so far you’ll forget you ever have a controller in your hand. That’s as true of Super Mario Bros’ still delightful jump and perfect inertia as it is of the table tennis in Wii Sports Resort, or Halo’s pitch-perfect transposition of the mechanics of PC FPSs to the world of dual analogs.

How responsive Natal will be is a much more legitimate argument – what will the latency be like, how well it will be able to read individual motions, and so on. And let’s face it – it’s not going to get everything right the first time. Just as the Wii did at launch, the system will have its flaws, but with a new technology that’s inevitable – the N64 analogue stick was a revolution when it was introduced, but use it today and it’s noticeably unresponsive and limited when compared to the controllers on offer today. And while you’re using it, enjoy the wrist pain that the Rumble Pak will cause. These flaws still did not make Ocarina of Time or GoldenEye any less fun.

As we fumble – or waggle – our way into the world of motion-controlled gaming, what too many developers and gamers forget is that the best games do not try to recreate experiences – they try to recreate the feeling that you would get if you lived that experience. That’s why a goal in FIFA is so satisfying, even though you have done nothing even remotely related to soccer. As anybody who’s ever shot a real gun knows, even the best recreations of shooting in modern FPSs are about as close to the real thing as using your thumb and forefinger and saying “bang” – but getting that perfect headshot in a game that gets it right provides a very tangible physical reaction in the player.

The mechanics of these two gaming experiences have not changed over the last 15 years, but almost everything else around them – the graphics, audio, force feedback, and the inputs – have. The games that will succeed in the new motion generation will be the ones that put the strengths of motion control into making those feelings even stronger. And that is nothing for gamers to be afraid of.

Christian Ward works for a major publisher. In his continual quest to take the least popular side of any argument, he will next time attempt to defend the validity of the QTE as a game design tool.

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