I am currently thinking about “force-feedback” and how that affects the gameplay experience. I have a sense that there is much left to do with this simple controller mechanism. I mean, there are things you can do that causes tactile feedback without rumble so, come on! And what in God’s name is that, you ask?
A couple of weeks ago I played through half of “God of War”. It was a great experience and a true pleasure (although I don’t see the point in the more sexually lurid stuff in the game.) The gameplay is absolutely marvellous and everything is polished as hell.
One feature that really got to me was the use of interactive action cutscenes. I use the term “action cutscene” to describe short sequences that you have little or no control over the character in. In “Riddick”, we used the term to describe the third person sequences when Riddick climbs a ladder or uses a health-station. In “God of War”, there are tons of similar things, just so much cooler and also heavily interactive.
Let me take an example:
In the game, when you encounter a gate, chances are that you can open it and that it’s a vertically sliding iron gate. In most other games, the player would have to push the activation-button and just see the main character grab hold of the gate and pull it upwards until the gate was open and passage was safe. But in “God of War”, the player is doing the actual lifting – sort of.
What happens is that Kreitos, the main “hero”, grabs the gate. Then the player has to hammer away on the controller like crazy to lift the gate. If you slow down, Kreitos will bulge under the heaviness of the steel gate. The effect is that it takes physical effort from the player to open those gates – talk about tactile communication between game and gamer!
There are many similar things in the game. Timed battle-puzzles and enemy finish-offs that requires you to hammer away (I love how you kill the centaurs, for instance). You will have to try the game to get the feel for what it’s like. Some of you might remember sports games on the C64 (“Daley Thompson’s Super Test”, “Decathlon” etc) and think that “God of War” is just a fancier version of the same thing. Well, actually it is. Running 10.000 meters in “Daley Thompson’s” dried you up real good so some of the effect was there. Only, “God of War” doesn’t limit the experience to exhaustion. I really feel strong and agile when I make Kreitos do his stuff, and that’s a winner for that game.
So, back to force feedback and rumble… The inclusion of the rumble mechanism in game controller has allowed games to add a tactile channel to the feedback loop with the player. Now we have visuals, audio and physical feedback (through rumble). If you count peripherals such as the “Eye-toy”, there’s lots and lots more: dance mats, special controllers for “Donkey Konga”, “Steel Batallion” and God knows what else. But every single controller today has rumble and I am absolutely positively sure that those are underused. If the developers of “God of War” could use controller-hammering so extremely efficient, I bet a game could allow the player to communicate with the game through the rumble facility.
I have not yet seen a really good example of rumble-use. Sure, rumble adds to the racing game experience – and I believe it adds a lot. But that killer-game-design-rumble-thing is yet to be seen. The closest I have gotten is in “Wind Waker” when you sneak into the castle and the guards spot you. “PADAM!” and the tension goes to 100% in an instant, with music and a rumble-shake. I definitely jumpstarted when I played that game. A similar design is in “Metal Gear Solid 2” where you can feel heartbeats through the controller (this has been done in other games as well).
So, If you got any thoughts, or a good example of innovating use of rumble – please write.