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Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes
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Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes

December 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 12 Next

11. Button Pounding

Representative game: Track & Field (Konami, arcade)

Control description:

Track and Field's control scheme consists buttons, and only buttons. All six of the events in the game consist of building up a power meter with repeated alternating button presses. Some events have a little more to them than that, but in all of them, if you can't hit the buttons fast enough, you're doomed before you start.


Pretty good. The NES port of the game featured new events, but they all stuck with button-operated play, although one, Skeet Shooting, treated the control pad as a button.

The scheme in use:

Track & Field, more than any other game, measures the player's raw muscle-twitch capacity. It is another game where the player's physical limitations also limit his game persona.

Given the straight-forward nature of the play, it's not too surprising that there's very little strategy. What few decisions there are to make have obvious answers. Player technique doesn't involve how to dodge missiles or shoot bullets effectively, but how to arrange one's hands on the controls in order to press them at the highest rate possible.

The difficulty of the game revolves around the qualifying scores needed to make it to the next level, and many players won't ever be able to hit the buttons fast enough to pass later loops of the game, let along unseat one of the "World Record" scores. This makes Track & Field a rather elitist game when one thinks about it; even with extensive practice, it contains barriers that some players just won't be able to surmount.

Design lesson:

Track & Field's joint-destroying play would be tiresome today. Later sequels and ports tended to de-emphasize events that required raw, button-smashing speed, yet it should be noted that many minigame collections have events that take inspiration from T&F's simple sports.

12. Motion Wand

Representative game: Wii Sports (Nintendo)

Control description:

Five different games are included in Wii Sports, simulating major actions from their respective sports using a motion-sensing wand. Each game duplicates the original motion with varying degrees of fidelity, ranging from surprisingly accurate (Bowling and Tennis) to only vaguely relevant (Boxing). The individual schemes are discussed below.


It's already a console game, but the game would be very difficult to port to other machines due to how tightly it's tied to the idiosyncrasies of the Wii Remote. If the Wii's successor offers backwards compatibility, and if it improves the quality of the motion sensors at all, the developers will have to take care that they provide a compatibility mode, or perform lots of testing, for games like Wii Sports to remain playable.

The scheme in use:

Wii Sports' five modules all play in tremendously varied ways, and that's not even including the training games included, some of which are even more entertaining than the "full" sports. They are all similar in that timing tends to be a bit more important than the technique in the gestures, and that none of them use the pointer functionality of the remote. Here is a quick description of each:

Bowling: The best-realized sport on the disk. Moving the controller like a bowling ball may not be exactly like real bowling, but it's close enough for most people, and it's not too much easier to bowl a perfect game. The game even infuriates sometimes with the degree that unintentional wrist twists can put spin on the ball -- and that is like real bowling.

Tennis: An interesting demonstration of how to use the motion control to "cheat" at making a sport seem realistic. In the Tennis module, the player runs automatically, taking out a big part of the difficulty in real tennis. The direction the ball is hit is almost entirely determined by the timing with which the ball is hit, but the height and speed of the ball are actually determined by how the controller is moved, which is interesting. And while the game may cheat on its end (as it does, to a degree, with all the sports on the disk), the speed of the game makes it difficult for the player to cheat much himself.

Golf: The most interesting thing here is that, while the game does utilize motion control to make the shots, it also relates the strength of the shot to a power bar, and the player must be careful not to exceed maximum power of the shot hooks or slices. Overall it works fairly well in all areas except putting. While the remote's motion sensing is actually capable of being quite precise (as the Wii Monkey Ball game illustrates), the way it's implemented here makes putting a frustrating experience.

Baseball: The magic formula required for getting pitches to work perfectly every time is elusive, and hitting the ball with the bat seems, again, to rely on timing. Most of the strategy of the game, player movement, etc. has been stripped out, making this the simplest sport on the disk.

Boxing: Perhaps the developers were over-reaching a bit with this one, since the remote seems to only really detect forward motion of the remote when it's pointed at the screen. Punches are detected by the rotation of the remote, and are less tiring to perform that way, a significant difference considering how much punching must be done.

Common between all the sports is a mixed emphasis on timing and technique, the moment at which the controller is swung playing as much a role as how it is moved. To control where the ball goes in Tennis, for instance, swinging a split-second early will send the ball "in", towards the swing's direction, and swinging late will send the ball the other way. However, the speed of the swing and how far it "dips" seem to determine the strength of the shot, as does the ball's height on the court.

Design lesson:

In the individual sports, Bowling and Golf, the controller is basically a more-obfuscated version of the trackball from Golden Tee, its movements looked at just hard enough to make the perfect shot challenging to pull off more than once in a while. Even expert players of those two games have difficulty bowling many strikes consecutively, or getting Hole-In-Ones. The other sports make the concept of a "perfect" swing of the remote less relevant due to the situation and actions of the competitor, and thus rely much more on timing in their play, which is easier for the player to get exactly right. These games thus can afford to turn into battles between the players, with the best, most consistent timing winning out.


Article Start Previous Page 7 of 12 Next

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