E3 09: Why the amazing new demos prove motion control can't work in hardcore gaming

The better the tech, the clearer the real problem

That’s why so many third-person action franchises have taken the on-rails approach on the Wii. That’s whyall of our suggestionsfor Project Natal yesterday involved on-rails spin-offs or activities not set in expansive environments. Try to imagine howyouwouldplay Uncharted 2 with the PS3motes. Pointer control to direct Nathan, RTS style, while using a second pointer to shoot? And using two upright ‘motes to substitute for analogue sticks would surely negate the very point of motion control, as would using an actual, on-controller stick. How wouldyou play full-fat Gears of War with Natal? Jogging on the spot to move forward? Turning left and right, away from the TV, to steer Marcus and Dom? Side-stepping all the way across the room to strafe, falling over your sofa in the process?

Above: Controlling a game like Gears with full body motion. Not happening

The few games that have pulled off motion control in an expansive game world have used it sparingly. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition still required traditional control for Leon’s navigation and used the Wiimote only as a lightgun. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess used the same model, and merely added a basic swing of the Wiimote as a replacement for a digital button press when swinging a sword. As nice as the idea of 1:1 melee control in third person action is, will it really add anything apart from an unnecessary – and ironic - level of fiddly combat complexity?

So what are the realistic options for this amazing new tech, outside of focused micro-environments? Project Natal is a resolutely controller-free system, and following that philosophy will only be good for RTS, on-rails experiences, arm-swinging sports games and driving games (which are essentially a sub-division of on-rails anyway).

Above: Watching this, does it not seem that the mouse is already the perfect motion controller?

The PS3motes arebasically WiiMotion Plus on steroids. They may well come packed with augmenting buttons and sticks, but as I said earlier that would be a concession to the limitations of pure motion control. As such, we’re talking more on-rails games, more sports games (with limited character movement), and some admittedly badass first-person sword fighting applications (with limited character movement). And if those extra controls do come along with the hardware, then throw Metroid Prime 3-style FPS into the mix. Though we'll need a second controller for that. Whether on 360 or PS3, the freedom will come with big losses unless extra, more traditional controls come along for the ride.

It’s now clear that pure motion control is limited by the very thing that it expands. Intricate control means small-scale scenarios. Of course, I’m totally open to Microsoft and Sony proving me wrong with some game-changing concept revolutions over the next 12 month, but personally I think we’re just going to hit a divisive brick wall of game design mechanics here. And after all, we’ve been promised a Revolution before, remember?

E3 09: Microsoft Press Conference
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E3 09:Sony Press Conference
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.
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