Despite the best efforts of scientists and fiction authors, the future never seems to live up to expectations. Whether it was the promises of private space travel and flying cars in the 60’s and 70’s, or the forbidden allure of virtual worlds and sentient machines as explored in teh 80’s and 90’s, technology in the present seems to perpetually leave us wanting.
Sure, it’s a blanket with sleaves, but can I shit in it? Can I cook and eat it in a minute and a half? Will someone deliver new ones to my home on a regular basis? Though, some would argue that wanting more out of what we have is only human nature.
I’ll leave arguing such a belief to the anthropologists, though. The all-you-can-eat flying blanket apparel that always left me wishing and wanting as a kid was virtual reality. Combining buzz words doesn’t usually give me wood, but this duo is an acception.
Despite the best efforts of the Bubblicious ad campaign that’s still branded on my brain, virtual reality technology’s progress in the mainstream is still negligable. Nintendo’s Wiimote may recognize basic motions, but WiiSports Bowling probably isn’t going to fool your brain in to smelling alley wax and hearing the crashing of pins from the lanes at your sides. Even the most advanced virtual reality systems are still enormous contraptions with man-sized hamster balls or rooms with blank walls that still can’t approximate a person’s willfull movement.
That’s just it, though; just like the modern car turns out to be an ugly Japanese sedan filled with laptop batteries, the "ease" of "virtual" control has been found in simplistic minimalist control schemes. The genius of a video game is the freedom to assign any imaginable action to input as simple as a button press. While the Wiimote’s motion sensing amounts to little more than a new set of buttons, waving a stick around is a much easier concept to grasp than anything offered by competing game pads.
This is where the confusion seems to stem from. What I saw at this year’s E3 was Sony and Microsoft utterly missing the point of motion control. Then again, I’d argue that Nintendo missed the point in implementing it, too.
It’s an issue of numbers. Not demographic numbers or any similar such marketing nonsense, but numbers of buttons. The modern game pad must be a sheer clusterfuck to the modern "casual" gamer. For those of us who have been with the hobby for decades, the progression of controllers seems fine, hell, it’s perfectly logical. Games got more complex and required more varied inputs, so manufacturers put more buttons on the controllers.
This doesn’t mean a lapsed gamer or someone completely new to the pastime would be won over by Call of Duty, if only they could mime being a soldier in front of their TV. It means the last time they looked at a game pad, it had 4 directional buttons and two to four other face buttons. Similarly, the hardware the games were designed for was far less robust. Without 3D graphics, issues of motion sickness and analog control didn’t require consideration.
Unfortunately, Nintendo struck gold. Whether or not it was by accident while shootin’ at some food is beside the point. They hit the jackpot with motion control, so, obvoiusly that’s the solution to all of life’s problems. It isn’t a drastic dumbing down of control complexity and mindful attempts at wooing untapped markets; Nintendo is successful because people love flailing their arms around like assholes in their living rooms. Fact.
That’s not to say there isn’t any merit to Natal or Sony’s wand devices. Well, maybe it is. Natal could, theoretically, offer some amazing interactions. The hypothetical "Minority Report" menu control could be quite neat and, like most people, I was intrigued by Peter Molyneaux’s ‘Milo’ demonstration. There is definite potential in Natal, but I’m fearful of whether or not it will be mined before the hardware stagnates. I see less potential in Sony’s wand, however.
"One to one" motion translation is something the "hardcore" alone have been begging for, and that’s the thing Sony delivered. Finally, George Michael can re-enact the "Star Wars Kid" video without taking the risk of borrowing the family camcorder. As I said earlier, the genius of gaming is making complex things simple by consolidating many things in to few button presses. This allows nimble thumbed fatties and lazy jerks like myself to emulate ninja mastery, without actually having to get off our asses and truly master the art of the sword. So, this is the solution Sony has offered. I may be physically inept, but at least now I can watch a virtual representation of myself display that ineptitude on my TV. My mom will love it.