In a season of price cuts and with the Wii U only a year away, people are naturally wondering what the next big thing is in the world of video games. And since controllers have been such an important element of the current generation, how are we going to be controlling our games in the future? Here’s my thoughts on the technologies out there:
Hey, this is easy. Turns out that some elements of the present of video game hardware will probably be around in the future (no, really!). The DS brought us touchscreen gaming over half a decade ago now, but that technology looks especially primitive compared to the offerings from the current wave of smartphones (though the simplicity of smartphone games still leave something to be desired). What’s the future of this technology? Essentially, going bigger and better. Invest in a tablet pc and you’ll immediately see the difference that having a screen nearly three times the size of smartphone can make: precise control over the field of play, as well as far more superior visuals. With a large screen area, you also have more space to integrate input areas, allow for more complex games.
Nintendo’s Wii-U is the immediate future of this tech: a handheld display for a TV-based console providing full touch-screen interaction with the game onscreen (or alternatively, interaction with other information relevant to the player). For me, this is exciting because there are plenty of stagnant game genres that have been consigned to the PC because neither joypads nor motion control have been adequate replacements for the mouse and keyboard. The strategy game springs to mind instantly: games in the vein of Starcraft and Command & Conquer could be revamped for home console play (and touchscreen monitors may ensure that PC versions remain relevant).
Motion control has sold millions of consoles (Wii), and shifted many peripherals (PS3 Move and Xbox 360 Kinect), so is there any doubting that it’s here to stay? Well, flying in the face of overwhelming evidence, I still completely believe that this has been a very successful gimmick. Wiis collect dust, and nobody seems to have the enthusiasm sufficient for developing games for the competitor’s systems. And it all seems like a bunch of daft flapping to me: gesture based control, rather than literal ‘motion’ control.
But in the long term, motion control has the potential to be a cornerstone of interactivity. Microsoft’s Kinect technology is most interesting, as it potentially solves the problem of interactivity solely being about our hands, bringing our entire body into play. But even this kind of motion will always be a source of detachment: objects we pretend to hold will have no weight, we’ll have to ‘pretend run’ to move anywhere. Visions of full-body robotic motion suits arrive in my head with B-movie gusto.
We are, however, getting into the dangerous realm of controllers that would be incredibly immersive, but would be incredibly difficult to sell to people. For all of its motion control innovation, the Wii controller’s most intelligent feature was the fact that it was shaped like a television remote control. It gave consumers something familiar to latch onto when seeking a new experience. Even 3D cinema glasses have found success only by adopting the familiar Wayfarer design.
Full-body motion suits? Scary science fiction nonsense. And another classic idea we’re always going to have trouble accepting is the VR helmet. After decades of uncomfortable, daft looking products and bad science fiction featuring them, we just can’t take them seriously. Perhaps someday someone will develop something sufficiently lightweight and ordinary looking that becomes a mass market favourite. Sony’s new HMZ-T1 3D Virtual Reality Headset is part of the evolution, but don’t expect it to be a huge success. But how are we supposed to interact with games if we can’t see our hands whilst using these things? Motion control probably isn’t the answer, at least if you like not smashing expensive VR visors.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Video game controllers have reached a sort of equilibrium in the last decade, and though the number of triggers and the position of the two joysticks will vary, there’s a definite formula. Any future console could take a cue from the Vita and feature a rear-mounted touch pad, and motion control seems a likely candidate for inclusion too. But the simple tactile feedback, durability and ease of use of a button has been grossly underestimated in the last few years.
Steph Wood is a copywriter and gaming blogger working on projects for Comet, a UK based retailer who stock cheap iPad 2s and other gadgets.