E3 2009: Changing the way you play games...or not...but really!

I think it's almost a guarantee that anyone you ask will tell you that this year's E3 was one of the "good ones". The '09-10 forecast, before a mostly barren horizon that only a few could see clearly has become much more vivid, with the titles coming at the end of the year and next year really looking like an industry role call. This E3 was presented as being all about the games, and the press conferences varied in quality depending on who you're talking to, but most will agree that it was definitely a high point in the industry (whether it's the games industry in general or the E3 industry I can't decide).

The other big talking point, was, of course, all the motion controllers and how they're going to change how we play games and who we play them with. At first, I was skeptical of Microsoft's Project Natal, or any new motion controller at that point, really, and was ready to dismiss it as an attempt to grab onto the Wii's market share. However, they did manage to show it off in a way that got everyone talking, predicting this and that about how it could change games, and it was impressive that it was more than just a tech demo at this point. They were demoing the technology with Burnout, or so I've heard. It isn't some pie in the sky concept that will never see release; Microsoft probably won't let you forget it exists for a while.

Sony also showed off its motion controller attempt, and reactions were mixed. Personally, it's my favorite of the three, a halfway point between Natal and the Wii. The wands' articulation to hold objects (as superimposed as they were) and strike with accuracy really gets me excited, and it was probably the best of the demos, between Kudo Tsunoda's almost irritating arrogance and Nintendo's boredom with its own product.

It's hard to argue that these new ways to interact with games aren't an attempt by companies to syphon the success of the company that made a technology big, and that these products will eventually lead to something interesting down the line (who it'll be from is anyone's guess at this point), and that soon we'll be off our couches and moving about and become more engaged with playing games, and that this will in turn lead to more immersive games.

Which raises the obvious question: Is something wrong with our current input method?

All three press conferences seem to be saying yes, then saying no, or "not yet". Microsoft showed off Natal, saying it was the future of games, and how it was going to change the way we play games, right after we'd been shown ten or so games that showed the exact opposite sentiment. Sony's was much the same, cramming a tech demo for their motion controller and saying how it was going to change the way we play games in the middle of Metal Gear and Assassin's Creed demonstrations.

Nintendo, at this point, is the only console entirely committed to their motion control, but at this point it doesn't seem like enough. Clearly, if you have to add another motion sensor to the one you already have, then you weren't too committed to the idea that moving around as a valid input method. The Motion Plus will add a certain amount of ingenuity to games that handle it, but introducing "true" motion control wasn't part of their plan until this late in the game. And Sony and Microsoft are only now banking on the idea of motion control, after it has proved to be successful.

What this is saying is that they weren't confident enough in motion control to begin with. At the time, it seemed like Nintendo was taking a bold stance on where games were going, while Sony and Microsoft were both fighting to see who could get the most polygons on-screen. They were both fine with using controllers to play games.

And so were we. We were doing just fine pressing A to jump and B to shoot. Even as controllers got more complicated and added more analog sticks we haven't been yearning for more creative controls. We can play games on most any controller they make, and will, no matter how horribly designed, adjust ourselves to the feel of button placements and trigger responsiveness.

The counterpoint here is that most people are intimidated by controllers. They see way too many buttons, too many things to do, as well as interfaces on games so complicated that they would never dare pick up something so obtuse and use it with any sort of grace. Controls have gotten so out of hand that regular people can't be bothered to learn how to use them, because it'd just be too hard.

I don't think this notion is right at all. If the average person is so intimidated by game controllers, why are they so prone to master cell phone interfaces, not to mention computers? A windows interface or a common Nokia phone menu and controls can be just as complex if not more so then a 15+ button setup. Computer are definitely more complicated, helped along by mouse controls, but dampened by a seemingly cluttered interface. But there they are, people as young and old as the Wii's target demographic, blogging, chatting, twittering, and checking news on their computers and phones.

So I don't think that the problem with controllers is necessarily with the our "intimidating" interface. So why don't these people play games? The amount of time and money that's being spent on trying to entice new people to play games certainly says that there are throngs of people just waiting to play games (Nintendo's "Maybe") and have some sort of barrier to entry. Like I said, I don't think it's a matter of people being afraid of picking up controllers and learning to use them. I think it's a matter of people not having a need to pick one up.

To the people who just don't want to play games at all (Nintendo's "NEVER"), the reason that they don't play games in general isn't because someone hasn't handed them some streamlined interface that is easy to use and intuitive, but because they don't feel the need to play games in the first place. They occupy the time that we'd normally use playing games with other things that aren't playing games. It may not be that they're condemning games (at least not all the time), it just isn't what they do. Playing games an interacting with environments just doesn't appeal to them.

Even if they are interested in playing games, they don't see the need to buy a dedicated game console. They may play games on their iphone or on their laptop, which they see as part of the deal of that product. They don't want to buy a $400 console to play their games when they can just as easily play Peggle on their phone or computer.

Just because there are people who will never play games or don't want to buy a console doesn't mean console makers shouldn't try something new, though. They just need to know who they're going to sell these things to. Games have done a pretty good job of immersing by just letting us press buttons to perform actions. There aren't too many people complaining that their experience was ruined by having to press buttons. What lets us as players get so engrossed in games isn't how we're interacting with our experience; it's that we're doing it.

And also, for people who've played games for a while, the imperfections of an interface that presents itself as a more realistic way to play will present themselves, as a sort of uncanny valley (the closer you get to the real thing, the easier it is to find flaws). We know that controllers aren't going to let us do everything we want, and we accept it and suspend our disbelief accordingly. When someone tells us that we can do anything with something new, and we find we can't, points are going to get docked not because of the technology itself, but because we've been set up much too high be anything more than let down.

With as much of a damper I've been putting on these new techs, I think I'll end on a high note. There's no doubt that new interfaces like this will attract a certain number of people to play, and that if these new technologies really catch on, that developers will try their best to exploit it and wring something great out of the whole thing. These things are, as they say, the future. People just shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the way we've been doing things up until now so easily (I'm looking at you, Spielberg).
 
From: My Generation is For Sale.

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1 Comments
Posted by Flabbergastrate

I think it's almost a guarantee that anyone you ask will tell you that this year's E3 was one of the "good ones". The '09-10 forecast, before a mostly barren horizon that only a few could see clearly has become much more vivid, with the titles coming at the end of the year and next year really looking like an industry role call. This E3 was presented as being all about the games, and the press conferences varied in quality depending on who you're talking to, but most will agree that it was definitely a high point in the industry (whether it's the games industry in general or the E3 industry I can't decide).

The other big talking point, was, of course, all the motion controllers and how they're going to change how we play games and who we play them with. At first, I was skeptical of Microsoft's Project Natal, or any new motion controller at that point, really, and was ready to dismiss it as an attempt to grab onto the Wii's market share. However, they did manage to show it off in a way that got everyone talking, predicting this and that about how it could change games, and it was impressive that it was more than just a tech demo at this point. They were demoing the technology with Burnout, or so I've heard. It isn't some pie in the sky concept that will never see release; Microsoft probably won't let you forget it exists for a while.

Sony also showed off its motion controller attempt, and reactions were mixed. Personally, it's my favorite of the three, a halfway point between Natal and the Wii. The wands' articulation to hold objects (as superimposed as they were) and strike with accuracy really gets me excited, and it was probably the best of the demos, between Kudo Tsunoda's almost irritating arrogance and Nintendo's boredom with its own product.

It's hard to argue that these new ways to interact with games aren't an attempt by companies to syphon the success of the company that made a technology big, and that these products will eventually lead to something interesting down the line (who it'll be from is anyone's guess at this point), and that soon we'll be off our couches and moving about and become more engaged with playing games, and that this will in turn lead to more immersive games.

Which raises the obvious question: Is something wrong with our current input method?

All three press conferences seem to be saying yes, then saying no, or "not yet". Microsoft showed off Natal, saying it was the future of games, and how it was going to change the way we play games, right after we'd been shown ten or so games that showed the exact opposite sentiment. Sony's was much the same, cramming a tech demo for their motion controller and saying how it was going to change the way we play games in the middle of Metal Gear and Assassin's Creed demonstrations.

Nintendo, at this point, is the only console entirely committed to their motion control, but at this point it doesn't seem like enough. Clearly, if you have to add another motion sensor to the one you already have, then you weren't too committed to the idea that moving around as a valid input method. The Motion Plus will add a certain amount of ingenuity to games that handle it, but introducing "true" motion control wasn't part of their plan until this late in the game. And Sony and Microsoft are only now banking on the idea of motion control, after it has proved to be successful.

What this is saying is that they weren't confident enough in motion control to begin with. At the time, it seemed like Nintendo was taking a bold stance on where games were going, while Sony and Microsoft were both fighting to see who could get the most polygons on-screen. They were both fine with using controllers to play games.

And so were we. We were doing just fine pressing A to jump and B to shoot. Even as controllers got more complicated and added more analog sticks we haven't been yearning for more creative controls. We can play games on most any controller they make, and will, no matter how horribly designed, adjust ourselves to the feel of button placements and trigger responsiveness.

The counterpoint here is that most people are intimidated by controllers. They see way too many buttons, too many things to do, as well as interfaces on games so complicated that they would never dare pick up something so obtuse and use it with any sort of grace. Controls have gotten so out of hand that regular people can't be bothered to learn how to use them, because it'd just be too hard.

I don't think this notion is right at all. If the average person is so intimidated by game controllers, why are they so prone to master cell phone interfaces, not to mention computers? A windows interface or a common Nokia phone menu and controls can be just as complex if not more so then a 15+ button setup. Computer are definitely more complicated, helped along by mouse controls, but dampened by a seemingly cluttered interface. But there they are, people as young and old as the Wii's target demographic, blogging, chatting, twittering, and checking news on their computers and phones.

So I don't think that the problem with controllers is necessarily with the our "intimidating" interface. So why don't these people play games? The amount of time and money that's being spent on trying to entice new people to play games certainly says that there are throngs of people just waiting to play games (Nintendo's "Maybe") and have some sort of barrier to entry. Like I said, I don't think it's a matter of people being afraid of picking up controllers and learning to use them. I think it's a matter of people not having a need to pick one up.

To the people who just don't want to play games at all (Nintendo's "NEVER"), the reason that they don't play games in general isn't because someone hasn't handed them some streamlined interface that is easy to use and intuitive, but because they don't feel the need to play games in the first place. They occupy the time that we'd normally use playing games with other things that aren't playing games. It may not be that they're condemning games (at least not all the time), it just isn't what they do. Playing games an interacting with environments just doesn't appeal to them.

Even if they are interested in playing games, they don't see the need to buy a dedicated game console. They may play games on their iphone or on their laptop, which they see as part of the deal of that product. They don't want to buy a $400 console to play their games when they can just as easily play Peggle on their phone or computer.

Just because there are people who will never play games or don't want to buy a console doesn't mean console makers shouldn't try something new, though. They just need to know who they're going to sell these things to. Games have done a pretty good job of immersing by just letting us press buttons to perform actions. There aren't too many people complaining that their experience was ruined by having to press buttons. What lets us as players get so engrossed in games isn't how we're interacting with our experience; it's that we're doing it.

And also, for people who've played games for a while, the imperfections of an interface that presents itself as a more realistic way to play will present themselves, as a sort of uncanny valley (the closer you get to the real thing, the easier it is to find flaws). We know that controllers aren't going to let us do everything we want, and we accept it and suspend our disbelief accordingly. When someone tells us that we can do anything with something new, and we find we can't, points are going to get docked not because of the technology itself, but because we've been set up much too high be anything more than let down.

With as much of a damper I've been putting on these new techs, I think I'll end on a high note. There's no doubt that new interfaces like this will attract a certain number of people to play, and that if these new technologies really catch on, that developers will try their best to exploit it and wring something great out of the whole thing. These things are, as they say, the future. People just shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the way we've been doing things up until now so easily (I'm looking at you, Spielberg).
 
From: My Generation is For Sale.