On the Wednesday morning of E3, a panel discussion was held with some of the most dynamic game developers in the industry, concerning the future of game design on the next-gen consoles.
Panelists included Todd Howard, Executive Producer at Bethesda Game Studios, Ken Levine, President and co-founder of Irrational Games, Suda51, CEO, game designer, director and scenario writer at Grasshopper Manufacture and Tim Willits, lead designer of Doom 3 from Id Software. Moderating was David Perry, executive video game industry consultant of GameConsultants.com.
David Perry began by bringing up the issue of the new controllers for the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii: "When I played arcade games, the designer would make the game then would talk to a hardware guy to make a trackball or whatever. Buttons are now standardized, and so controls have become a little same-y... Guitar Hero, though, appeals to a whole new audience because of the unique interface [device]."
Tim Willits from Id started with: "There's a distinction [to be made with] the Wii, which is that it is a multi-purpose controller. Guitar Hero was an enabler for something very specific." He mentioned how many in the audience probably remembered doing air guitar as a young child or teen with day dreams of rockstardom. He continued with: "I could be completely wrong about this, but people are talking about the Wii just as something to talk about. It's not a wish fulfillment device in the same way as Guitar Hero's controller is."
Todd Howard followed that up with "My favorite controller was the Super Action Controller for the Colecovision... and the guy who designed it now works for us!", continuing: "Controllers are getting too complicated. Guitar Hero works because it's custom and specific for the game. I think there's kind of a feature checkbox at companies to see how many things they can add. And it becomes a barrier to Joe Public."
David Perry pointed out that Suda 51 has actual hands on experience with designing for the Wii, which Perry said comes from 51's recently announced Wii project titled Heroes. Perry also said that he believed that the game was on the show floor, but that unfortunately has turned out not to be the case. Perry asked Suda 51 how accurate a control device the Wii actual has. Through a translator, Suda replied that "I don't feel I can go into all the details right here. I do think that playing a game like a FPS where you have to do something like a headshot, it may not be the easiest thing to do."
Concerning the news of Sony's introduction of a movement-sensible controller, and how at Sony's keynote he heard whispers of "the death of Nintendo" Todd Howard responded that: "I'm incredibly lazy actually, so I don't want to move my legs or arms or my head. I can't finish Virtua Cop on the Saturn because my arm gets too tired." Mr. Willits added to this by saying: "The goal of any control should be transparency, except for something like Guitar Hero where it's the whole point - but for most games you shouldn't notice it."
Perry asked the panel then about controller complexity: "You need a lot buttons for some games, because they are complicated by nature. Should we force people to design with less buttons in mind?" Willits took the question first again by saying: "If someone from 1954 time traveled to today and saw a film like The Matrix they'd probably have a heart attack! They need those decades of gradual change in film language to get to the point where they can watch and understand something like The Matrix. So you shouldn't jump right to anything."
David Perry then told a brief anecdote about an experience he had with his father and a FIFA game. His father watched him play and was impressed with the visual and aural fidelity to its source material and was eager to give it a try. But when Mr. Perry tried to explain how to control the game, his father lost his interest right away. Mr. Perry concluded that: "I found the controller can be the biggest turn off to non-gamers."
Todd Howard mentioned that: "One of the issues is backwards compatibility. Why do they still need the start and select buttons on controllers? Why both? But because you want to be backwards compatible, you need to keep those old buttons." Ken Levine then noted that: "It's indicative of the bigger problem that we are making games more and more complex. You design games for the hardcore and you ignore the other 100 million people who want simplicity. I feel sometimes we're excluding our common gamers."
Running along with the same theme, Suda 51 said that: "In Japan the DS is very popular, and here as well from what I understand, and it's drawn in a whole new group of game players that we didn't have before - old women, secretaries and such. I'm a big supporter of the Wii because I believe the DS brought in these new gamers, and they can move onto the Wii. I feel there are some difficulties with the Wii, but the possibilities are exciting. In Japan we consider our core gaming audience to be a very specific 500,000 to 600,000 players, and because of that I actually fear for the continued existence of the Japanese game industry." Later, Suda 51 added that: "I think we're moving away from game design and turning into a game service. It's a paradigm shift."
Towards the end Perry commented that: "People love to say there is no innovation left in the industry." Todd Howard concluded that: "I think there is innovation all over. Nintendo's Wii for one thing. People keep saying 'Oh Nintendo you're crazy!', and yet at the same time they ask for innovation."