Barriers to Entry

Barrier to Entry

@matski53 For more articles like this head on over to my blog - http://gamewhelk.com/

Shining a light on how motion controls break down barriers, whilst inadvertently creating others. And why gamers shouldn’t sneer at alternative control options.

I recently handed my 360 controller to my Grandad, I never got it back.

He had questioned me “What are these things you play, do you get high scores?” Clearly he had some vague memory of space invaders or an old arcade points based game, but no knowledge of any subsequent advancements in Videogame technology.

My Grandad enjoys Western movies I thought; maybe Red Dead Redemptionwould be a good starting point to introduce him into the world of modern Videogames. It is centred around classic Western themes of technology encroaching upon the old ways of life, morality, redemption and the struggle for survival in the barren lawless dust ball that was the southern American frontier circa 1911. Maybe he would come to think of John Marsten as some kind of Eastwood type protagonist I pondered. “Look Grandad, instead of passively observing a western you can now take part in an interactive one!” I handed him the controller.

Nothing happened for a while. I looked at him, watched his eyes, he wasn’t looking at the screen, he was staring at the controller. He twirled it in his hand, sizing it up. “Come on granddad, just press the green button to run” He thumbed the big shiny green button in the centre of the controller. “No Grandad not that green button, that’s the home menu button, press then one with an A on it”

A strange expression crumpled his face, a triumvirate of bemusement, bewilderment and bafflement. He was attempting to comprehend this alien piece of technology before him. Fear and apprehension contorted his face, his eyes clouded with worry and confusion. Cautiously, tentatively, he slowly squeezed the right trigger.

Marsten raised his pistol and fired off a round shooting a passing civilian.

Startled he sprung from his chair, cast my controller into the fireplace, held aloft a crucifix and began dowsing the room with holy water. “What is this black magic!? This evil tool of bodily contortion. BE GONE VILE DEMON, SICK PUPETEER OF PEOPLE, LEAVE THIS HOUSE AND NEVER AGAIN RETURN!!”

Imagine if I had given him Demon Souls.

No entry for you Grandad, silly NOOB!

OKAY, so that might have been a slightly exaggerated embellishment of a true story, I actually got my controller back unscathed. But the point remains that my Grandad had shown a passing interest in Videogames, he was actually impressed by the look of Red Dead Redemption and appeared to be genuinely intrigued by my description of its narrative themes. Yet his unfamiliarity with the controller posed a barrier between him and a gaming experience that he most probably would have enjoyed, one that could have changed his perception of the medium.

I am sure many gamers have encountered the same paradigm; unsuccessfully attempting to guide a non-gamer by yelling out button instructions: “Square to kick, no not circle! Does that look like a square, are you stupid! PRESS SQUARE YOU IDIOT, SQUARE!! Ohhh nooo you dead.” Videogames can look like a pretty silly hobby to the outsider when Commander Sheppard spends 5 minutes running into a wall.

The fact is that people without the necessary skills and dexterity to successfully navigate the treacherous minefield of buttons, sticks and triggers constituting a modern day controller, simply cannot experience the rich and complex worlds that gamers champion as the great milestones of ‘core’ gaming experiences.

An illustration from an article on Gizmodo illustrating the evolving complexity of Videogame controllers. Look how big the Xbox controller is! That thing was a beast. (link)

Unlike my Grandad however I was born in 1989, and like most gamers grew up as part of a Videogame generation. Throughout childhood I developed a familiarity and adeptness with numerous controllers. From the NES to the Genesis, and the N64 to the Xbox, the first joystick to shoulder buttons, triggers and vibration, handling Videogame characters through a controller has become second nature to me, much like a second language. And it is increasingly common that children are exposed to Videogames at younger ages, developing these skills earlier and earlier.

But what of the older generations, or those that missed out on the medium during their youth? Those that do not understand it, but might wish too?

They remain rejected by the classic controller as we know it, uninvited to the party and deemed unworthy on account of their impudent lack of skill. I would not be so naive as to suggest that everyone in the world hides secret desires of becoming a gamer, but those that do face the impervious obstacle of the controller.

Consider other creative mediums. Music, Movies, Literature, Sculpture, Paintings etc. All of which can be universally appreciated by anyone so long as you have a working set of human senses. Yet not Videogames.

The arrival of Nintendo’s DS in 2004 and Wii in 2006 appeared to address this problem. Whether through the wise omniscient sage like perceptions of MR’s Miyamoto and Iwata, or simply by sheer luck Nintendo had stumbled across a potential solution to the off-putting complexity of the controller to the videogame outsider. Suddenly there appeared to be a control method that required no prior knowledge of button layouts, it would be intuitive for everybody, only demanding that you had working use of your limbs. We would all soon be spanking Epona around the planes of Hyrule, twirling the edges of Wario’s moustache and lobbing Pikmin about with the simple ease of a few intuitive arm movements. The future was indeed bright and full of unicorns and candyfloss, and we would all play happily ever after, gamers and non gamers hand in hand.

But fast forward to the present and very few successful core gaming experiences centred around full motion control implementation exist. Granted there are some examples; namely Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 and Red Steel 2 (and judging by the early Skyward Sword reviews link is will soon join this list), yet they all utilise motion controls as a supplement to ordinary button inputs. Instead the shelves of GameStop and GameStation are littered with cheap waggle-ware, with poorly implemented motion controls. Microsoft and Sony’s recent forays into this arena with Kinect and Playstation Move have produced no better results so far either.

To their credit they are however the pioneers, the initial stepping stones toward breaking down that button filled barrier between the non-gamer and the medium of videogames. And whilst I might find Wii bowling about as substantial a gaming experience as a leaf of lettuce for lunch, my parents, girlfriend and everyone I know that isn’t a gamer finds motion controls to be a great deal more intuitive than a multi-buttoned controller. Much more so than me shouting button commands.

Looking back now it may have been slightly foolish to think that all core games could effectively incorporate motion controls. Videogame design has evolved hand in hand alongside the classic controller, and it takes a lot of a lot of time, money and resources for developers to start from scratch, designing new gameplay around such unexplored and unique control methods. Instead a situation has arisen in which it is easier to tack motion controls onto existing designs, instead of developing from the ground.

Consequently they may be lacking in great motion controlled core gaming experiences, but as consoles the DS and WII have succeeded in challenging perceptions of the industry from the casual observer, and for that they deserve praise.

You may look like a bit of a floppy sausage flailing your limbs around the living room, but motion controllers allow those that would otherwise has bolted at the sight of an ordinary controller to enter the world of gaming.

So don’t quickly dismiss Bioware’s inclusion of voice activated commands inMass Effect 3, the ability to play Bioshock Infinite with Playstation Move or any other implementation of alternative control options. These are experiments that have the potential to make such experiences more accessible to the non gamer.

Or maybe progress will halt and we will all be left waggling our phallic wands around the living room in search of Elbits. Who knows?

If motion controls can eventually accomplish anything though, it will be the breaking down of these barriers through the development and implementation of new control methods, that are far more intuitive to the non-gamer. Breaking down that generational gap that lead to the misunderstanding between my Grandad and me.

There is however a different problem with removing the classic controller from the equation. In doing this the element of skill that comes with a lifetime of accumulated controller expertise is lost. If everyone could control Call of Dutywith their minds then the playing field is levelled, and the sport-like competitive aspect of skill associated with controller dexterity would be lost. It is little surprise then that many core gamers have a rather dismissive attitude toward casual motion controlled gaming. It at once breaks down barriers for non-gamers, whilst also creating barriers of hostile non-acceptance from gamers who feel the skill of their favourite pastime is being lost.

It takes an undeniable level of ability to execute Zangiefs' Spinning Pile Driver flawlessly (watch this guy - link).

This hostility from the core gaming community over casual motion controlled games was evident after Microsoft’s press conference at this years E3. Where Many journalists were off put by the focus on Kinect controlled games.

It is all well and good for us children of the Videogame generations though, we piffle at the task of organising a Zerg rush through an assortment of mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts with all the flexibility and skill of Catherine Zeta Jones navigating a laser maze. But the level of skill required for what many would call a proper hardcore gaming experience is a barrier to anyone that may have ever developed a passing interest in the medium. So don’t knock the Wii, Playstation Move or Kinect. Embrace them for what they are; attempts to widen the market, increase the exposure and acceptance of games as a form of entertainment, and maybe serve as a portal through which your Grandad can enjoy the adventures of John Marston sometime in the future. But by the same metric do not dismiss the skills and reflexes that have proved so integral to the evolution of gaming so far. These are genuine skills and as such should not be lost to inadequate waggling.

And buy your Grandad a DS and Dr Kawashima's Brain Training for Christmas. He won’t throw that on his fire or attempt to exorcise it.

Hopefully.

For more articles like this head on over to my blog - http://gamewhelk.com/

16 Comments
17 Comments
Posted by matski53

Barrier to Entry

@matski53 For more articles like this head on over to my blog - http://gamewhelk.com/

Shining a light on how motion controls break down barriers, whilst inadvertently creating others. And why gamers shouldn’t sneer at alternative control options.

I recently handed my 360 controller to my Grandad, I never got it back.

He had questioned me “What are these things you play, do you get high scores?” Clearly he had some vague memory of space invaders or an old arcade points based game, but no knowledge of any subsequent advancements in Videogame technology.

My Grandad enjoys Western movies I thought; maybe Red Dead Redemptionwould be a good starting point to introduce him into the world of modern Videogames. It is centred around classic Western themes of technology encroaching upon the old ways of life, morality, redemption and the struggle for survival in the barren lawless dust ball that was the southern American frontier circa 1911. Maybe he would come to think of John Marsten as some kind of Eastwood type protagonist I pondered. “Look Grandad, instead of passively observing a western you can now take part in an interactive one!” I handed him the controller.

Nothing happened for a while. I looked at him, watched his eyes, he wasn’t looking at the screen, he was staring at the controller. He twirled it in his hand, sizing it up. “Come on granddad, just press the green button to run” He thumbed the big shiny green button in the centre of the controller. “No Grandad not that green button, that’s the home menu button, press then one with an A on it”

A strange expression crumpled his face, a triumvirate of bemusement, bewilderment and bafflement. He was attempting to comprehend this alien piece of technology before him. Fear and apprehension contorted his face, his eyes clouded with worry and confusion. Cautiously, tentatively, he slowly squeezed the right trigger.

Marsten raised his pistol and fired off a round shooting a passing civilian.

Startled he sprung from his chair, cast my controller into the fireplace, held aloft a crucifix and began dowsing the room with holy water. “What is this black magic!? This evil tool of bodily contortion. BE GONE VILE DEMON, SICK PUPETEER OF PEOPLE, LEAVE THIS HOUSE AND NEVER AGAIN RETURN!!”

Imagine if I had given him Demon Souls.

No entry for you Grandad, silly NOOB!

OKAY, so that might have been a slightly exaggerated embellishment of a true story, I actually got my controller back unscathed. But the point remains that my Grandad had shown a passing interest in Videogames, he was actually impressed by the look of Red Dead Redemption and appeared to be genuinely intrigued by my description of its narrative themes. Yet his unfamiliarity with the controller posed a barrier between him and a gaming experience that he most probably would have enjoyed, one that could have changed his perception of the medium.

I am sure many gamers have encountered the same paradigm; unsuccessfully attempting to guide a non-gamer by yelling out button instructions: “Square to kick, no not circle! Does that look like a square, are you stupid! PRESS SQUARE YOU IDIOT, SQUARE!! Ohhh nooo you dead.” Videogames can look like a pretty silly hobby to the outsider when Commander Sheppard spends 5 minutes running into a wall.

The fact is that people without the necessary skills and dexterity to successfully navigate the treacherous minefield of buttons, sticks and triggers constituting a modern day controller, simply cannot experience the rich and complex worlds that gamers champion as the great milestones of ‘core’ gaming experiences.

An illustration from an article on Gizmodo illustrating the evolving complexity of Videogame controllers. Look how big the Xbox controller is! That thing was a beast. (link)

Unlike my Grandad however I was born in 1989, and like most gamers grew up as part of a Videogame generation. Throughout childhood I developed a familiarity and adeptness with numerous controllers. From the NES to the Genesis, and the N64 to the Xbox, the first joystick to shoulder buttons, triggers and vibration, handling Videogame characters through a controller has become second nature to me, much like a second language. And it is increasingly common that children are exposed to Videogames at younger ages, developing these skills earlier and earlier.

But what of the older generations, or those that missed out on the medium during their youth? Those that do not understand it, but might wish too?

They remain rejected by the classic controller as we know it, uninvited to the party and deemed unworthy on account of their impudent lack of skill. I would not be so naive as to suggest that everyone in the world hides secret desires of becoming a gamer, but those that do face the impervious obstacle of the controller.

Consider other creative mediums. Music, Movies, Literature, Sculpture, Paintings etc. All of which can be universally appreciated by anyone so long as you have a working set of human senses. Yet not Videogames.

The arrival of Nintendo’s DS in 2004 and Wii in 2006 appeared to address this problem. Whether through the wise omniscient sage like perceptions of MR’s Miyamoto and Iwata, or simply by sheer luck Nintendo had stumbled across a potential solution to the off-putting complexity of the controller to the videogame outsider. Suddenly there appeared to be a control method that required no prior knowledge of button layouts, it would be intuitive for everybody, only demanding that you had working use of your limbs. We would all soon be spanking Epona around the planes of Hyrule, twirling the edges of Wario’s moustache and lobbing Pikmin about with the simple ease of a few intuitive arm movements. The future was indeed bright and full of unicorns and candyfloss, and we would all play happily ever after, gamers and non gamers hand in hand.

But fast forward to the present and very few successful core gaming experiences centred around full motion control implementation exist. Granted there are some examples; namely Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 and Red Steel 2 (and judging by the early Skyward Sword reviews link is will soon join this list), yet they all utilise motion controls as a supplement to ordinary button inputs. Instead the shelves of GameStop and GameStation are littered with cheap waggle-ware, with poorly implemented motion controls. Microsoft and Sony’s recent forays into this arena with Kinect and Playstation Move have produced no better results so far either.

To their credit they are however the pioneers, the initial stepping stones toward breaking down that button filled barrier between the non-gamer and the medium of videogames. And whilst I might find Wii bowling about as substantial a gaming experience as a leaf of lettuce for lunch, my parents, girlfriend and everyone I know that isn’t a gamer finds motion controls to be a great deal more intuitive than a multi-buttoned controller. Much more so than me shouting button commands.

Looking back now it may have been slightly foolish to think that all core games could effectively incorporate motion controls. Videogame design has evolved hand in hand alongside the classic controller, and it takes a lot of a lot of time, money and resources for developers to start from scratch, designing new gameplay around such unexplored and unique control methods. Instead a situation has arisen in which it is easier to tack motion controls onto existing designs, instead of developing from the ground.

Consequently they may be lacking in great motion controlled core gaming experiences, but as consoles the DS and WII have succeeded in challenging perceptions of the industry from the casual observer, and for that they deserve praise.

You may look like a bit of a floppy sausage flailing your limbs around the living room, but motion controllers allow those that would otherwise has bolted at the sight of an ordinary controller to enter the world of gaming.

So don’t quickly dismiss Bioware’s inclusion of voice activated commands inMass Effect 3, the ability to play Bioshock Infinite with Playstation Move or any other implementation of alternative control options. These are experiments that have the potential to make such experiences more accessible to the non gamer.

Or maybe progress will halt and we will all be left waggling our phallic wands around the living room in search of Elbits. Who knows?

If motion controls can eventually accomplish anything though, it will be the breaking down of these barriers through the development and implementation of new control methods, that are far more intuitive to the non-gamer. Breaking down that generational gap that lead to the misunderstanding between my Grandad and me.

There is however a different problem with removing the classic controller from the equation. In doing this the element of skill that comes with a lifetime of accumulated controller expertise is lost. If everyone could control Call of Dutywith their minds then the playing field is levelled, and the sport-like competitive aspect of skill associated with controller dexterity would be lost. It is little surprise then that many core gamers have a rather dismissive attitude toward casual motion controlled gaming. It at once breaks down barriers for non-gamers, whilst also creating barriers of hostile non-acceptance from gamers who feel the skill of their favourite pastime is being lost.

It takes an undeniable level of ability to execute Zangiefs' Spinning Pile Driver flawlessly (watch this guy - link).

This hostility from the core gaming community over casual motion controlled games was evident after Microsoft’s press conference at this years E3. Where Many journalists were off put by the focus on Kinect controlled games.

It is all well and good for us children of the Videogame generations though, we piffle at the task of organising a Zerg rush through an assortment of mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts with all the flexibility and skill of Catherine Zeta Jones navigating a laser maze. But the level of skill required for what many would call a proper hardcore gaming experience is a barrier to anyone that may have ever developed a passing interest in the medium. So don’t knock the Wii, Playstation Move or Kinect. Embrace them for what they are; attempts to widen the market, increase the exposure and acceptance of games as a form of entertainment, and maybe serve as a portal through which your Grandad can enjoy the adventures of John Marston sometime in the future. But by the same metric do not dismiss the skills and reflexes that have proved so integral to the evolution of gaming so far. These are genuine skills and as such should not be lost to inadequate waggling.

And buy your Grandad a DS and Dr Kawashima's Brain Training for Christmas. He won’t throw that on his fire or attempt to exorcise it.

Hopefully.

For more articles like this head on over to my blog - http://gamewhelk.com/

Posted by Lunar_Aura

MS's E3 wasn't a disaster for me because it focused too much on motion controls, it was a disaster for me because the bulk of their conference was built from a $150 add-on I didn't own and the conference itself failed to entice me to buy it.

Posted by JasonR86

My God that's a lot of text.

Edited by nintendoeats

There are other aspects to the controller than the skillset that we build around it. Different control methods favour different types of input. Motion controls are inherently imprecise, lack feedback, and make it more difficult to pay attention to what is happening on the screen. I don't wish to invalidate your other points, but it's good to keep in mind that controllers are an incredibly non-intrusive way to interface with a computer after the brief acclimatization period. I also doubt that we can build games around the controller that will play just as well with motion controls (or vice-versa) except in specific anomalous situations.

EDIT: Oh yeah, stop pimping your blog on GB.

Posted by matski53

@nintendoeats: To say that motion controls are inherently imprecise is a little conclusive. Do you honestly believe that in another 50 years from now they will still be as imprecise as they currently are. I agree that they are generally imprecise in their current form (and just so you know my perspective I don't actually enjoy using motion controls) but I do not think the imprecision is 'inherent', if anything they have the future potential to allow for far more precision than a normal controller. The lack of feedback is a separate issue, but what feedback does a controller offer other than vibrations. I have never played a game where the joystick locks and stops me from pressing it into the wall I have been running into for the past 5 minutes.

I also did not mean to just talk about motion controls, I mean any possible future alternative control method; if you could control a game with your mind then that has the potential to afford a much greater degree of precision. My point is that motion controls are far more intuitive alternative for anyone who has no experience with a control pad, regardless of how unwieldy and imprecise they currently are. As for the brief acclimatization period with a normal controller, well that obviously depends upon the person, but I doubt it would be a brief lesson teaching my dad how to control Ninja Gaiden.

I too doubt that we should build games for both classic and motion control, I think they require separate design processes and should be approached from different perspectives. I think my post lacked a little clarity with regards to that point.

As for the pimping of my blog: I am apologise for that, it is rather unashamed and blatant, but check it out you might enjoy it! Here - http://gamewhelk.com/

Thanks for the comment, I enjoy your arguments.

Posted by matski53

@Lunar_Aura: Fair point!

Posted by nintendoeats

@matski53: Motion controls are not imprecise because of the technology, they are imprecise because of people. We make all sorts of involuntary movements, and we have trouble planning our actions without looking at what we are doing (taking your eyes away from the screen).

Posted by Eudoxia
@nintendoeats said:

@matski53: Motion controls are not imprecise because of the technology, they are imprecise because of people. We make all sorts of involuntary movements, and we have trouble planning our actions without looking at what we are doing (taking your eyes away from the screen).

So we all have Parkinson's or Tourettes? Nah, to say technology is not at some fault makes no sense to me.
Posted by nintendoeats

@Eudoxia said:

@nintendoeats said:

@matski53: Motion controls are not imprecise because of the technology, they are imprecise because of people. We make all sorts of involuntary movements, and we have trouble planning our actions without looking at what we are doing (taking your eyes away from the screen).

So we all have Parkinson's or Tourettes? Nah, to say technology is not at some fault makes no sense to me.

Try to make a precise motion with a part of your body other than your hands. Unless it's something specific that you have trained yourself to do (and even then it probably won't be perfect) you will find it exceptionally difficult. Just like analog sticks, the technology needs to include a "deadzone" in which it won't discern between different variations of the same motion. Because this deadzone has to be reasonably large to account for human fallibility, motion controls are inherently incapable of being as precise as a hand-based interface device like a controller or mouse.

Edited by Eudoxia
@nintendoeats said:

@Eudoxia said:

@nintendoeats said:

@matski53: Motion controls are not imprecise because of the technology, they are imprecise because of people. We make all sorts of involuntary movements, and we have trouble planning our actions without looking at what we are doing (taking your eyes away from the screen).

So we all have Parkinson's or Tourettes? Nah, to say technology is not at some fault makes no sense to me.

Try to make a precise motion with a part of your body other than your hands. Unless it's something specific that you have trained yourself to do (and even then it probably won't be perfect) you will find it exceptionally difficult. Just like analog sticks, the technology needs to include a "deadzone" in which it won't discern between different variations of the same motion. Because this deadzone has to be reasonably large to account for human fallibility, motion controls are inherently incapable of being as precise as a hand-based interface device like a controller or mouse.


Yes but that's also an issue with the technology, not just the person. They cheaped out on the build of the Kinect and it will never run properly in the state it is in.   When you create technology such as this and marker it the way that this has been you have to design it to compensate for the fact that not every person moves exactly the same and that some movements are gonna be off. It should be able to detect this on its own and make up for it. if the move is way off that is one thing but if it is just a little off it should make up for it. They are capable of being very precise as long as they are built properly. I realize not everyone is in tune with themselves and sometimes people may get confused with movement. I don't but I took dance in high school many moons ago and learned to control my body maybe better than others, so yes a tiny bit may be due to human error but for the most part it should work if the technology is built properly.
Posted by BlinkyTM

I feel like I read this already.

Posted by AlexW00d

The PS2 controller only had two 'options' buttons, not 3.

Posted by matski53

@Eudoxia said:

@nintendoeats said:

@Eudoxia said:

@nintendoeats said:

@matski53: Motion controls are not imprecise because of the technology, they are imprecise because of people. We make all sorts of involuntary movements, and we have trouble planning our actions without looking at what we are doing (taking your eyes away from the screen).

So we all have Parkinson's or Tourettes? Nah, to say technology is not at some fault makes no sense to me.

Try to make a precise motion with a part of your body other than your hands. Unless it's something specific that you have trained yourself to do (and even then it probably won't be perfect) you will find it exceptionally difficult. Just like analog sticks, the technology needs to include a "deadzone" in which it won't discern between different variations of the same motion. Because this deadzone has to be reasonably large to account for human fallibility, motion controls are inherently incapable of being as precise as a hand-based interface device like a controller or mouse.

Yes but that's also an issue with the technology, not just the person. They cheaped out on the build of the Kinect and it will never run properly in the state it is in. When you create technology such as this and marker it the way that this has been you have to design it to compensate for the fact that not every person moves exactly the same and that some movements are gonna be off. It should be able to detect this on its own and make up for it. if the move is way off that is one thing but if it is just a little off it should make up for it. They are capable of being very precise as long as they are built properly. I realize not everyone is in tune with themselves and sometimes people may get confused with movement. I don't but I took dance in high school many moons ago and learned to control my body maybe better than others, so yes a tiny bit may be due to human error but for the most part it should work if the technology is built properly.

I agree. I don't believe that there is no fault to be placed on the current state of the technology. I am sure that you are right about inaccurate human movements, but surely the technology has to be developed and improved around this.

Posted by lockwoodx

@AlexW00d: This is going to sound really nit-picky but it does indeed have 3 options because you're forgetting the button that turns the dual shock on and off.

Edited by AlexW00d

@Buzzkill: Oh wow, I only thought that was only on the first Dualshock controller. This makes sense then.

Edited by lockwoodx

@AlexW00d: I became so curious too I went and looked it up myself. You know it's been a long drawn out generation of consoles when people have trouble remembering what your brand of choices last controller looked and felt like.

Posted by nintendoeats

@matski53: I never said that the technology could not be improved, merely that it is inherently limited in a way that finger-based input devices aren't.