Interview: Finding The Fun With Each Type Of Motion Controller
The team at newly formed
Magic Pixel Games is probably best known for its work on EALA’s critically acclaimed Boom Blox
series for the Wii. But as “one of the few teams that have dug deep on all three [motion control] platforms,” Magic Pixel Games president Mark Tsai says developers have to take the limitations and capabilities of the specific controller into account when designing motion controlled games.
“People think about these motion control games and sort of design by hypothesis -- ‘It would be great if we could do X’ -- and there are just some limitations around some of the edges of what motion control can do for you,” Tsai pointed out in a recent interview with Gamasutra.
He went on to decry the kinds of motion control games that are "meant for other platforms or control devices, [but] retrofitted to a motion controller." At Magic Pixel, Tsai said, the team prefers to "build it from the controller end and finding out what it’s best at and building a game around it.”
The PlayStation Move, for example, provides enough accurate enough motion tracking to provide for relatively realistic sword-wielding in a game, Tsai said. But the experience of actually using the device as a sword in a game breaks down somewhat because of the lack of what Tsai calls motion impact.
“You’d expect if you swing a sword around and hit something, you get a strong jolt and you can’t move it any further,” he said. "Obviously we can’t do that in a motion controller. So you do thought experiments on how you’d expect these things to work and they kind of fall apart when you actually try to bring them into the studio.”
Tsai said he and the Magic Pixel team do heavy prototyping to figure out which kinds of games work and which don't for each motion control device. While prototyping ideas for an eventually cancelled Kinect game at EALA, for instance, Tsai said the team drifted away from fast-paced, twitch-reflex games that didn't suit the platform.
“If you try to do rapid fire and rapid response games, it’s actually really hard to do on [Kinect], because there is some latency that’s introduced from the recognition and the technology,” he said. “Once you start moving too quickly, the technology has a little bit of trouble keeping up. Once you start flailing around certainly there’s other issues too.”
That doesn’t mean good games can’t be made for Kinect, Tsai stressed, just that they have to be the right fit for the technology.
“If you make the right game for that platform, it has a lot of possibilities," he said. "The games we were looking at doing were a little more slower paced, a little more contemplative.
"The games that really work well are the Dance Central
s where it’s kind of more gross movement and there’s more of a pose attribute to it, things like [Child of] Eden
where you get to gesture around the screen a bit more is a pretty good match for that technology. But the games where you make really quick gestures to fire or something... if you watch the data that it generates, it was a little bit computery, so things could easily be misinterpreted.”
Sometimes, though, the worry isn’t fitting the game to the technology but fitting the technology to its potential audience. Tsai recalls working on an optional Motion Plus-enhanced mode for 2009's Boom Blox Bash Party
, which allowed for the addition of gameplay features like sidearm throws and ball spin. The feature was eventually pulled from the final release, though, owing to unresolved nature of the hardware and its initial adoption rate.
“Ultimately, when we were shipping that game, Wii MotionPlus was still kind of early days, and the TRCs (technical requirement checklists) weren’t fully resolved yet, so it added a lot of potential risk in to the approval process on a really short project, so we elected not to do it. At that point there just weren’t enough [Motion Plus accessories] out there, and there wasn’t a clear enough route to getting something through TRC that we felt comfortable.”
Tsai said Motion Plus would certainly have been included if the game were released today, but despite Nintendo's efforts to get Motion Plus controllers out there through hardware bundles and the integrated Wii RemotePlus, he'd said he'd still be wary of releasing a game that absolutely required Motion Plus.
“I don’t know what the numbers are, but just as an off the cuff shot you would still want to be able to support both, just because there are a lot of units out there that don’t have it and owners that haven’t ponied up the extra $20 to upgrade their remotes with the MotionPlus add-on," he said.
Looking forward, Tsai said he's encouraged by Microsoft's increasing focus on supporting voice controls through the Kinect, and would love to see new motion controllers being used "to repaint or re-texture your living room with different textures on the screen, so it’s a different augmented reality almost, so you can actually have different characters and yourself in an environment that’s completely fantastic to draw you into the experience."