Harnessing the power of motion control in video games
October 30, 2013 Page 5 of 6
Matt Boch, Harmonix
Harmonix's past and present output has been very much music-orientated, but the studio has also been a key participant in the motion control movement, thanks to its popular Dance Central series, and the uploading Fantasia: Music Evolved.
To those developers considering motion controls in their games, the company's Matt Boch says: "Ask yourself if motion control is truly bringing something new to your game."
"Controllers have a huge number of advantages over motion control," he continues. "They offer tactile and haptic feedback that isn't easily afforded with camera-based systems. Controllers take advantage of the highly developed fine motor skills that gamers have spent years, even decades, honing."
Notes Boch, "These skills are so over developed that many gamers forget they ever took effort and have since subsumed them into their corporeality: wearing an Oculus while playing with a controller is 'immersive'. Players' overdeveloped fine motor skills are a far more reliable than their underdeveloped sense of proprioception. Beyond that, if you look at a sensory homunculus or a motor homunculus you can clearly see how much 'bandwidth' the brain has dedicated to controlling hands & sensing hand and finger position.
And Boch is keen to reiterate what other devs said shouted loudly from the rooftops: "Gestures are not button presses, and they shouldn't stand in for button presses."
"They are complex, nuanced movements and you should consider what aspects of a unique gesture performance can or should be communicated back to the player and what aspects factor into the game system," he says. "There's a huge amount of information in even relatively simple gestures. The challenge is determining what information is relevant and how best to use it."
For those studios investigating motion controls, Boch's suggestion is similar to that of the Double Fine team -- prototype quickly from an early stage.
"Motion is more nascent than pretty much everything else you're probably considering adding to your game," he notes. "If you're trying to find new mechanics, you really shouldn't prototype with a standard controller."
Fiddling around is necessary, since there are so many strange cases to account for that you will constantly come across during your prototyping -- as with any game development.
"So often I hear the story of Miyamoto spending a huge amount of time just walking, jumping, etc. with Mario during the development of Mario 64," says Boch. "Months and months until it felt right. This type of unwavering commitment to game feel is probably necessary for a majority of motion games."
And when asking yourself whether motion control is suitable for your game, consider this: "Did it occur to your team to incorporate this feature because you were excited about it? Does your team utilize the feature without being coerced or prompted? Is the game more fun as a result? If the answer to any of those is no, it’s probably not a valuable addition to your game."
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