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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 8 of 12 Next
 

13. Exercise Bike

Representative game: Propcycle (Namco, System 22 arcade hardware)

Control description:

The game's hardware includes nothing less than an exercise bike as its control method. When the player pedals, it provides thrust for an in-game, winged bike, soaring through a 3D world. Steering left and right with the handlebars, Paperboy-like, steers the bike similarly, but the player can also pull back on the bars to climb, or push forward to dive.

Adaptability:

Extremely poor. Propcycle is pointless without the bike, and no one has ever successfully marketed an exercise cycle controller for a home game system.

The scheme in use:

This game is our representative from the large-scale "ride" game trend of arcades of the

'90s. For a while games like Namco's Alpine Racer and Sega's Top Skater were common fixtures in arcades, huge machines with projection screens and large, seated (or standing) control devices that translated player arm or leg motion into game equivalents. Many of those games would fit in on this list.

This game made it while Paperboy did not because there's already plenty of other Atari Games productions on this list. They were constantly throwing down innovative control schemes. Yet, there's also a sense of Paperboy's handlebars being something of a gimmick, while Propcycle's full exercise cycle is... well, it's a really big gimmick.

But there's a bit more to it than that, in fact, a big part of Propcycle's coolness is that it's actually physically taxing to play. Almost all games translate the player's agility, dexterity, coordination and intelligence into game-world equivalents. But few games translate player physical endurance into the game. An Advanced game of Propcycle goes through four levels of increasing difficulty, and since pedaling directly translates into in-game thrust and the game is timed, players are encouraged to pedal very rapidly. If a player fails a level he can continue to try it again with more time, but unfortunately no cash sacrifice or collectable health pack will restore his physical legs to their former state.

The bike adds more to the game than just this, however. In presenting the sensation of flight to the player it is unusually pure; there are no enemies and few moving obstacles. The flight physics are pretty good, to the extent that pedaling too slowly will cause the player's vehicle to lose power and plummet, a trick that's necessary to take advantage of in a few places. The bike on the cabinet could even move around a bit, dipping forward and back in response to how the player pushed the handlebars, and used a fan to blow air in his face when his in-game bike moved quickly.

Design lesson:

Many games talk about immersion, but really few games are that capable of achieving it. Propcycle's simulation approach, the nifty gizmos on the cabinet dedicated to providing subtle environment cues simulating flight, and of course that bike itself, all speak of designers who wanted to go as far towards presenting the sensation of flight as hardware, and the facts of arcade game design, would allow. And really, if you could tool around the skies in a winged bicycle contraption, after a few minutes wouldn't you get damn tired too?

Interesting Mechanics Exposed Through Unique Hardware

These games all use special input peripherals. Some do so directly, in that the player interacts with a physical object. Others do so indirectly, by sensing the player's motion. They all do their thing in ways that may seem a bit obtuse if their only purpose was to simulate the action in the game. These are games that would not work in a Matrix-style virtual world. The controls matter more than the action on-screen, and mastering them is the same as mastering the game.

14. Button Platforming

Representative game: Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (Nintendo, Gamecube)

Control description:

They're called "bongos," but ultimately they're just oversized, easy-to-press buttons with rubber overlays. The "clap" sensor detects loudness. The way whole thing works here is that the left and right drums are mapped to the left and right directions. The faster one drum is tapped -- and it's easy to tap them fast, easier than Track & Field -- the faster the player runs in that direction, though the speed ceiling is fairly low. Hitting both drums together causes the player to jump. There are a few special cases involving object collection, attacks and wall jumps, but the game is ready to remind the player of what they are early on.

Adaptability:

It's already a console game, but requires a special controller to really play it. The only reason the drums couldn't be mapped to shoulder buttons is that most people just can't hit a shoulder button as fast as they hit a drum.

The scheme in use:

Someone went and took Track & Field and, somehow, made it into a platform game. The player doesn't usually hit the buttons as fast here, but then there's a special event or a boss fight that requires righteous button whaling, and the similarities become all too apparent once more.

The real strategy to Jungle Beat lies in earning absurdly huge combo scores, and the way to earn combos is very interesting from a design standpoint. You see, a combo in this game is any move performed in mid-air before touching the ground. If the player performs five moves before the jump ends, then all scores collected from that point to the end of the jump are worth 5x. The thing is, how the heck is the player supposed to perform special moves when he only has two relevant "controls" to choose from, and both of them boil down to button presses? How can the player signify to the game he wants to do them?

The answer is that they're all context sensitive. Some of the contexts the player can put himself into at will, like running and jumping, while others require a wall or other environmental aid to accomplish. There's a special move available when running, there's one available when in the air, there's two that can be done sliding against a wall, there's two that can occur when sliding up the top of a wall, and there's a couple that are performed in proximity to another move.

The result is that high combo scoring, the ultimate focus of the game, depends upon the player understanding which moves get him from one state to another, what moves can be performed from each state, and how to take advantage of the terrain to facilitate moving between them. The designers did their job in creating the moves, and the levels, so well that some levels can be made into one huge combo.

And it's all made possible with just two buttons, neither of which can be held down. The only word for that is genius.

Design lesson:

Not a lot of games are produced with the idea that the player's control should be limited. Probably, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is able to work so well with such restricted controls because it's a 2D platformer. Once a third dimension is added movement and combat becomes much more complicated, and that's not even to speak of the need to add camera controls. But while the game's execution may at first seem to be irrelevant to the facts of 3D game design, the way each level is tightly constructed for scoring opportunities is extremely instructive.

 


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