The thin end of the wedge…

Microsoft_controllerSorry for the ramble but there’s been a development in the console wars this generation. Something that hasn’t existed in the last few generations to this great of a degree. Something that is going to fracture the market and make cross platform development next to impossible. Motion control coming to all three platforms could have coalesced the market more but instead it’s going to have the opposite effect because the main players, in a bid to differentiate themselves, have all chosen vastly different ways to control games on their  respective platforms. We have Nintendo’s solely controller based option, Sony’s hybrid controller / camera system and Microsoft’s purely camera based system. In previously hardware generations we saw the evolution of the analogue stick controller to the point where funtionally  they became virtually indistinguishable from each other. In the last gen (PS2, Xbox & Gamecube) they all had dual stick controllers with triggers and a similar number/array of buttons on the face. You knew that if you made a game for one controller it would work on the other two controllers with very little rejigging / button re-mapping required. OK, the Xbox had a couple more buttons (and the gamecube one less) than the Sony dual shock but it wasn’t a big deal for 95% of the games out there to work across all three controllers.

Nintendo_controllerTimes have changed. We had a “standard” in the dual analogue that wasn’t perfect but dev’s knew how to control almost any game type/genre using it only requiring minor button re-mapping in some cses. But then along came Nintendo with their waggle stick. The jokes ensued and dev’s were slow to adapt but they finally managed to shoe horn most genres into this new controller with varying degrees of success. It has been adapted to control everything from Sports games, to Shooters and platformers but largely this was due to the fact that it had it’s roots in the old dual analogue, just re-imagined with a little waggle thrown into the mix. With the addition of the “nun-chuck” you still had an array of buttons and triggers and most importantly, in combo with the IR pointing, you could closely approximate dual analogue control.

Sony_controllerThat was the thin edge of the wedge, it started the trend, it got the ball rolling. Nintendo’s motion control caused a slight rift but not a great divide. If anything the lack of HD graphics causes more issues with cross platform dev. As a result you often had games released for PS360 and then wii games. Now what will happen? Three vastly different control schemes? If Sony release a standard set of “glow sticks” with a standard button configuration on them they might approximate the way the wii works but then you still have the HD/SD divide. Microsoft haven’t announced any such standard controller as although their system doesn’t preclude holding something in your hand while gaming it’s main marketing bullet point is “controller free” control so you will have that divide between what you can do on the 360 and what you can do on the PS3.

Sure the dual analogue reference point still exists (roughly) across all three platforms but to differentiate their platforms the big three  are going to want devs to exploit their respective control systems strengths and thus make their games less likely to work on more than one system? Will they end up developing to the lowest common denominator and not take full advantage of each system and will motion controls standardise over time like the dual analogue did? Who knows, time will tell but things are gonna get worse before they get better.


4 Responses to “The thin end of the wedge…”

  1. I think the addition of motion controls is already too late for Sony or Microsoft to change positions in the console race, Nintendo has already won that war. However it will be an interesting trial run for what happens in the next gen where the controls will be sold with all the consoles from day one. If one of the currently proposed solutions proves to be markedly superior to the others it will probably set up future dominance (provided the best solution is not simply copied by the others) so the stakes are high.

    I’ve heard that Project Natal can be used in conjunction with a standard Xbox gamepad so you can be controlling a game normally (buttons and sticks) but at the same time have Natal tracking your head movements so where you look is where the camera points. You can also give commands to your squad members with actual arm/hand movements (like a SWAT team in the movies). So the combination might open up some interesting possibilities for hardcore games?

    The three different standards will definitely be a nightmare for developers! They had better not go for the lowest common denominator!

  2. According to Microsoft Natal IS the next Xbox iteration to take them through the next 5 or so years. Much like Nintendo did with repackaging the Gamecube (albeit slightly upgraded) and packed in a motion controller (which was developed for the Gamecube initially) Microsoft are re-launching the Xbox 360 next year (possible cosmetic redesign also) with a packed in Natal camera. They have said they are spending as much on the marketing of the new Natal enabled Xbox as they did initially for the 360 launch?! Of course it’s on that day that Nintendo announce the Wii HD which has surely been feature complete since the first rumblings of the competition adopting motion controls. Actually they have stated a 2011 launch (for Wii HD) but it will no doubt be announced next year in some form. Possibly at next years E3.

    • Hmm…. Interesting times! I love the console wars! ….Can’t wait to see how things develop.

      • Yeah, it’s great for the gamers as long as the best motion solution gets nutted out and freely adopted for the next generation of hardware so that we end up with a useful standard again. I want innovative hardware and innovative software to take advantage of it but it needs to work on all systems to become a useful standard. Features like rumble, analogue sticks, accessory port and shoulder buttons were all innovated by Nintendo controllers. Analogue triggers and the VMU were brought to us by the Sega Dreamcast. Most of these innovative features and more have been adopted across the board and now we couldn’t think of games that don’t utilise them. The danger now with these very different forms of motion control is that if whatever version proves to be the best solution can’t be or isn’t adopted across the board as all the others in the past have been then developers are less likely to be able to take full advantage of them as it would make cross platform development very difficult. What would have happened if only Nintendo controllers had rumble feedback, analogue sticks or even a way to plug in extra accessories? Or Sega patented their analogue triggers and then went bust and took them to their grave? Where would we be today? This generation is about testing the waters and finding out what works best in the realms of motion control and the next generation needs to be free to adopt whatever solution turns out to be the best. At least that’s what has happened in the past. Only time will tell, companies are pretty patent happy these days and these companies are spending more and more on R&D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: