The new promise of motion control, while very exciting, makes designers' lives a "living hell," says Jason VandenBerghe, creative director at Ubisoft and director of Red Steel 2 during his GDC Europe lecture on Monday.
"It's profoundly different! It messed up the whole industry!" he said, adding, "Damn you Nintendo and your innovations!" he declared -- joking that after such an outburst his life was likely forfeit.
Still, developers have a responsibility to train the player: "We're game developers, we've done this before, we know how to do this," he says. "Tutorials! But we have to be clever and hide our tutorials inside the levels, see, because we're talented game developers!"
Red Steel 2 had two types of slashes the player could execute: horizontal and vertical. "We figured you could handle that. We were wrong," he said. The result was absolute chaos: "'The Wii Motion Plus doesn't work.' That's what people would tell us."
"We said, 'okay, we're game developers, we fucked up! Two kinds of slashes, that's too much. We need more detail.'" So the team made a tutorial that told players that to slash by swinging the Wiimote, and then added in the vertical and the horizontal elements later.
It was a two step tutorial, and the result was even more chaotic: "Because now, instead of people saying I don't understand, people said 'yeah, I get it, it just doesn't work!'" said VandenBerghe.
The conclusion the team drew was that they had focused again on too much detail. The problem was the word "swing." What does "swing" mean? Everyone has a different interpretation of the word, and the action.
Players already have a belief in how these things work, but they aren't really aware, because they're accessing muscle memory, he says. People need more time to learn new physical movement. So how do you solve this? By becoming teachers, rather than tutorial designers. "I made a creed for my designers," he said. "We're not interested in tutorials for motion control -- we make lessons."
"This is a large shift, not a small one. It took us a really long time, and we never really achieved it," he said. They put a live model teaching players, and the result was mostly success -- after that, says VandenBerghe, he never saw someone go through the tutorial and not be able to succeed at the combos. "Which was astonishing, because previously nobody knew that the combos existed," he added.
They took the characters out of stress, and required the player to repeat each step 3-5 times. "The reviewers loved us for that." But repetition is important. "When you're learning a physical skill, boredom means you've learned it. It's the goal!" said VandenBerghe, adding "My career's going to go down in flames now."
Then he discussed sales for a moment, citing VGChartz's sales of 270,000 units, which VandenBerghe neither confirmed nor denied, but seemed to indicate was in the ballpark. Reviews were almost exclusively positive, so what happened? The conclusion is that not everybody likes to move when they play games.
Ultimately, Red Steel 2 was released on a single console, with only a certain demographic that were interested in it, and then only a certain number that owned the Wii Motion Plus controller, and then only a certain number that wanted to move around while playing a game.
How many popular games are there that force you to move? Not many, he notes. There's Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Rock Band drumming, Donkey Konga, and then Red Steel 2. "The market seems to be telling us something," he says. "This is not a point of excitement for many. I don't know how many people there are, but it's probably not higher than 20 percent."
So what does this mean for motion control gameplay? "We're fucked!" he says. The market is tiny for people that will play games that they have to stand up to play. "In general, this is a risky game."
That said, VandenBerghe thinks that "today we can improve this model. My recommendation to you is if you're shipping a motion game, you can ship on multiple platforms. No console maker will want you to, but the market will want you to."
Then if the console makers would put the peripheral in the box, another issue is removed. "The future is bright, if the following two things happen – motion control standard in the box, and games ship multiplatform."
Designers will have to learn to teach, he says, and we can make all manner of new experiences if we can learn to be good teachers. Many players won't want to change, and won't be interested in exertion. But most importantly, "If the hardware is an add-on, motion control will remain niche."