Let’s Talk about Motion Controls and their Future in Gaming

Today, I think it is about time to look at motion controls and their future in the gaming world. Every console out there right now has motion controls integrated into them in someway, whether it is the Playstation Move, Kinect, or the Wii in its entirety. The Wii is what sparked off this trend, selling extremely well and capturing a large, new, casual market. Well, the Wii is dead now with very few pieces of software coming out on it, and only one worth looking at (Last Story), so there isn’t going to be any more surprise games that change anyone’s opinion on the Wii’s motion controls, and their relative success and failures. So, now is as good a time as any to look at what future the gaming industry has in store for motion controls. Was the integration of motion controls into games a success, a failure, or qualified in someway? Which system pulled out the best motion controls? And, is it a smart idea for console developers to continue pushing the technology? These are the questions we will be looking at today.

A wizard’s wand, his awkward-shaped dad, and HAL from 2001 A Space Odyssey

Let us begin by looking at the Wii; after all, it was the Wii that started this trend. Nintendo attempted to make up for the Wii’s lack of power with innovation, chiefly amongst these innovations was the integration of motion controls. Launching with Wii Sports, everyone and their grandmother was able to gape in awe at the concept of flinging your arms in tennis or bowling. Nintendo’s gambit was a success and the Wii sold like crazy, making both the 360 and the newly launched PS3 look ridiculous. This was the heyday for the Wii’s motion controls. Sure many games didn’t use them in any effective way, but that was launch. Surely developers will learn to use the platform better and deliver titles like the free Wii Sports, which could engage the entire family. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Despite the Wii’s incredible sales, developers were not keen on the hardware and very few even attempted to make proper use out of the motion controls. Even Nintendo marginalized them in their blockbusters. Eventually, the Wii’s motion controls were deemed to be too weak, and Nintendo released the Wii Motion Plus. It was bundled with Wii Sports Resort and later integrated into every new Wii-mote. Unfortunately, once again, very few developers were interested in pushing the technology in any meaningful way.

Developers: So… can we just use it like a regular controller?
Nintendo:…Well I guess so, but it has motion controls built into it!
Developers:…Yeah, we think we’re going to pass on that.

The story of motion controls on the Wii is a tremendous story of failure and missed opportunity. Most games the implemented motion controls did so in such an ancillary way, that many gamers questioned the need for them. Shaking the controller to reload, open doors, or jump, seemed like a bad idea when traditionally input buttons had been achieving these feats with a much greater level of ease and accuracy.  Many gamers were enticed by the idea of swordplay using motion controls, but without Wii Motion Plus, the Wii-mote was far too inaccurate to pull off anything near decent, and with Wii Motion Plus, the player runs into problems with feedback. Gunplay was handled much better as aiming at the screen is relatively intuitive. Unfortunately, these controls were never developed and you would see the same ideas recycled from early Wii games to later Wii games. Do I know what they should have done? No, of course not, but, when brand new technology is so under-utilized that its use simply doesn’t evolve, there is a problem. It isn’t necessarily the developers fault. There are enough dark problems related to the Wii’s business model that I could write a whole article on (And I will at some point), and there are very good reasons that developers jumped ship early on. This doesn’t change the fact that there was very little innovation, but it doesn’t point the finger of blame on anyone in particular (Maybe Nintendo).

Hundreds of Wii games recycled the mechanics from this terrible, terrible game.

Was there ever a Wii game that used motion controls in an effective way? Sure there was. As awful as they are regarded, minigame compilations have never been better handled than with motion controls. This is because they are meant for frantic, quick bursts of gameplay, and that fits perfectly with motion controls. So games such as Wii Sports Resort and WarioWare pushed the technology in interesting ways. Unfortunately, the way they were pushing the technology was in a direction that many gamers saw as backwards, especially since most minigame compilations did little to differentiate themselves from Wii Sports, a free tech demo, which should have been out-preformed at launch. Aside from minigame compilations, the Wii controls worked good with some shooters. I personally find the Wii controls for Resident Evil 4 excellent, and they make it my favourite version of the game. However, if there was one game that I could site that got motion controls as right as they could be on the Wii, it would be Zelda: Skyward Sword. It wasn’t perfect, but you could see some good ideas coming together with controls that were far more accurate than anyone would expect on the Wii. Unfortunately, the game came at the end of the cycle instead of at the beginning. At the beginning of the cycle we received Zelda: Twilight Princess, whose motion controls were an inaccurate mess.

Five years too late

Of course the fact that motion controls weren’t being properly utilized didn’t change the fact that the Wii was a resounding success in terms of sales. Accordingly, both Microsoft and Sony started working on their own motion controls. Sony had actually half-heartedly implemented motion controls in its Sixaxis controller after hearing the buzz for the Wii. The Sixaxis has never been used in any meaningful way, and its inclusion has actively hurt games. Lair was an early game for the PS3 that relied entirely on the Sixaxis for movement (It was a flight game). The controls were so inaccurate and wonky, that Lair is still mocked to this day. A patch was released later that allowed the use of the analogue sticks, which actually made the game pretty good. Unfortunately, the damage was done. Nowadays the Sixaxis has all but been forgotten about. It is jarring when you play a game now and it wants you the thrust the controller out, and that is a testament of Sony’s half-assed approach.

How many of you still remember when Sony couldn’t release the Dual Shock 3?

Now there is Sony’s latest entry into the motion control arena: Playstation Move. Basically, Sony delivered a stronger version of the Wii’s motion controls, and attached a rather striking glowing ball at the end of it. So, internet, do you think Sony attempted to use this technology to the fullest? No. Remember the Sixaxis last paragraph? That is essentially what has happened with the Move. Sony delivered a half-hearted product because they were afraid that if both Nintendo and Microsoft were able to get motion controls out on the market and they weren’t, they would be left behind. Of course, I would assume, somewhere in their development, they realized that the Wii was starting to falter heavily. As such, Sony has not only not attempted to push the boundaries of motion technology, they have barely attempted to support their expensive add-on at all. Very few games support it, and that number is dwindling, which isn’t a good sign for the Move.

But they’re so pretty!

Finally we get to Microsoft’s Kinect. Developed and released concurrently with the Playstation Move, Kinect offered something that was to be drastically different from the Wii, and it was to push the boundaries of motion gaming. Unfortunately the Kinect we actually received was a far-cry from what had been originally demoed. The machine is unique in the fact that it requires no controllers, but it is weak and inaccurate. Both the Playstation Move and the Wii Motion Plus are more accurate than the Kinect. Its most successful feature has been voice integration to allow the player to speak commands in games and utilize the system. At this point, Microsoft is pushing this feature in many games including Mass Effect 3, and, recently announced, Skyrim.

Because nobody would ever get bored with yelling Fus Ro Dah 500 times.

Kinect does indeed do something very different from the Wii and the PS3, but what it does is useless for gaming. No full Kinect game has an effective way to move, relegating most of them to minigames and on-rails games. While controller-less gameplay seems like a novel idea, it is also a bad one. A game’s control scheme needs to be one thing above all others: accurate. If your moves can be misread or come out too late then that is a major problem and gamers won’t stand for that these days. This relegates Kinect to the background being used in the same way that the Wii and the Sixaxis are used: as an ancillary way of doing an action that would normally have a button assigned to it such as opening a door, or ordering team-mates. This isn’t inherently bad, but, to date, I have yet to see motion controls in an ancillary role that weren’t simply ham-fisted into a game. Of course, like Nintendo, Microsoft has managed to make Kinect work with several, limited, genres. In particular, dance games were made for Kinect, which explains why the only games at all on Kinect that are even worth considering buying are dance games. Of course, this is too limited for technology such as Kinect, technology, which Microsoft seems intent on not letting die like Sony is with the Move.

Kinect also did this, so it’s dead to me

So to the questions. Was the integration of motion controls a success, a failure, or qualified in someway. While it is tempting to take the middle ground, the evidence points squarely at motion controls being an unqualified failure. Sony isn’t worth talking about, Nintendo lost its developers and it never did anything worth mentioning with its gimmick, and Microsoft seems unaware that its machine doesn’t actually improve gaming in the slightest and lacks games of even the most bare standard of quality. Who has the best motion controls? The Wii has the most games that use motion controls in any meaningful way, by a significant margin; however, Microsoft’s Kinect has the best chance of being developed in any substantial way at this point. In the end, games are king and Nintendo wins out here. Finally, is it a smart idea for console developers to be pushing motion controls? The only party which has a chance is Microsoft, and that is simply because they have been funnelling the most money into it. Kinect will almost definitely be a standard feature in the next Xbox, so that may give developers time to figure out a decent way of using it. I personally don’t think anymore that motion controls can improve gaming in any way, but Kinect integration is the least intrusive method. Both Nintendo and Sony would be wise to bow out at this point. Nintendo has shown us that it is unwise to base an entire system around motion controls.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk about Motion Controls and their Future in Gaming

  1. First, I think there needs to be a distinction between levels of “motion'' controls: – IR pointing only — this pretty much “just works'' as evidenced in Resident Evil 4 (as you mentioned) and lots of other First Person Shooters, incl. _Link's Crossbow Training_ which introduced the Wii Zapper — Metroid Prime Trilogy in particular makes very effective use of IR pointing (not the Zapper). – Motions keyed to actions — Marvel Ultimate Alliance tried very hard w/ that and for a launch title was quite well done. – Motions using the IR as well — Dragonquest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors. For a game on rails, it was fun, but using the sword for any attack not centered on the center of the screen was incredibly awkward as was switching to the shield – Motion using Wii Motion Plus — a whole 'nother world. This vindicated the Wii and Wii Sports Resort, Red Steel 2 and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are the games which need to be emulated.

  2. Agreed. There are different levels and each one has been met with a different level of success. The only problem I with all of them is that I don't think any of them push the medium, which is a shame as they should be able to. Touch controls with the DS, 3DS, Vita, and mobile gaming (Begrudgingly adding this one) have been able to push gaming to new levels. Some games come close such as the ones you mention, but these are far too rare.

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