Monday, 11 February 2013

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Interacting with a game is not something that I have ever been very interested in or bothered about. I was playing games when the control pad was a small box with only 2 buttons and a d-pad and you had very little interaction or input into the game. I personally really enjoyed these games and they remain some of my all time favorites, the limited input didn't affect my enjoyment of the game. In fact it may have even enhanced my experience with the game as I didn't have to think about all the complex inputs, remembering what button combination does what. Everything was very simple. 1 button to jump, 1 button to attack, that's it. This type of control system also made the game very accessible to almost everyone, young or old.

Having said all that it doesn't mean I think new controllers, with all their new buttons and combinations makes things less enjoyable, not at all. The advancements of our technology and the way we can interact with games has made games more interactive and gives you more options. Its not jump and attack anymore there is a range of choices and movements you can make, especially depending on the game. These days gamers are everywhere and we have the capacity to learn controls very easily. Despite the fact that most games will have a slightly differing control layout, which can some times be awkward to get used to, we are still able to pick up a new set of controls and ideas pretty quickly into a game. People are capable of learning a fairly complex layout of keys, such as the keyboard, while the layout of the keys generally doesn't change the size of the buttons, the distance between them and the shape of the keyboard can all impact their actual placement and we can pick up pretty quickly where they are, remember and start typing away without even thinking about it.

Steel Battalion controller - I own it, its HARD.
Where the new controls might be a problem in my opinion is the current non gamers. While most gamers will have learnt the general layout of control pads, which tend not to differ to much, and the basic uses of buttons, such as X is jump, others don't inherently know that. This can alienate people from the world of gaming sometimes.Its not as simple as it used to be, there can be a lot happening on the screen as well as the input you have to make as the gamer. I've seen people try do the cut scene sequences in a game, where you simply press the corresponding button that is on screen, while most people could do this without thinking and without looking, this person was really struggling and had to actually look at the control pad every time. I was amazed they didn't know where the triangle button was on a PS3 pad, but that's what happens. Non gamers who don't know the layout of control pads off by heart can't just pick up a pad and play like they used to be able to.

This is where the new motion systems come in, something which I personally have never really liked. The Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move are all exactly the same thing, they might all work in slightly different ways but the result is the same. Controlling the game with your body, which has now become so big even TVs are starting to be controlled with the flick of your hand. I felt it was a novelty at first and that it would fade out and go away, but it seems its here to stay. I honestly can't see that being down to the more experienced gamers, I doubt there are people out there really wanting to play CoD by running around their living room, ducking and diving. They're to busy being angry for that. I think the success of these new forms of interaction is down to the non gamers finding a new and intuitive way to play that doesn't require you to learn a bunch of button combinations just to give it a go.

I guess this is the future of the gaming industry, making things easier, more accessible to everyone and at the same time striving for realism which, at some point, will be down to our own physical interaction with the game. There's a limit to how realistic a game can be if your only playing with your thumbs after all. Maybe somewhere, really far down the line we'll be able to play games completely with our minds, but it will feel like we're actually there. We might not be swinging our selves about the living room playing virtual tennis but we could really feel like we are there, in the moment, running for our lives and things can't possibly get any more realistic than actually doing it. Something everyone can pick up and play.

Controller of the future?

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