In an earlier article, I spoke a bit about tactile communication between game and player. Now after E3 the gaming world is buzzing with the sound of Wii, Nintendo’s upcoming innovative console. I can bet my hat (if I had one) that right now there are hordes of people thinking about what can be accomplished with the nunchuck and remote controller for the Wii (“Wow, how about an Errol Flynn fencing game?”). I also bet some of the people dreaming have thoughts along the line: “How I wish the controller also had the X functionality, ‘cause then I would be able to make the coolest game ever, where the player would be able to do Y.” Chances are also that the ideas you are having are fairly obvious and that there will be 10 games based on “your idea” out within short.
Now, there is nothing wrong with these kinds of thoughts. I tend to think like that now and then. For example, when I read about the Gizmondo (RIP!) and its GPS, camera and other functionality, I immediately started thinking about games that could be made specifically targeted for that platform. I had lots of interesting conversations around these things with friends and soon I realised that there were many ideas floating around that were kind of similar to the stuff I was thinking about.
Now, as my earlier article suggested, there is probably a lot of untapped potential in the current generation controller. I also believe that it is a good design exercise trying to design something that utilizes existing hardware (and in this specific case, the controller) in a new and interesting way.
To illustrate my point, I therefore wish to share a little idea that I have had lurking in the back of my head for some time.
Imagine a game that is about training a creature. The game starts by handing over to you a monster-like creature and then you are instructed to go out on an adventure with this creature. The adventure is a series of problems that need to be solved. One typical problem is a tunnel that needs to be passed in order to progress. However, the tunnel is on fire and your creature is very reluctant to walk through, it being afraid of fire and all.
The controller is handled a little like the horse-back riding in Shadow of the Colossus with “indirect” control over the creature. So instead of moving the stick left to go left, you hit a button to direct the creature and hope that it will obey, a bit like plunging your heels into the side of a horse to get it to turn. Note that you use the buttons for these actions. In this game it is important that you do spend a little energy pushing your creature in this or that direction – it should be felt in your fingers like guiding a horse when on the horse-back is felt in the legs and body.
Since this is a game about creature training, the creature you own has its perks. The creature is also quite wild when the game begins so it is up to you to work some manners into it. To do so, you have two basic tools: reward and punishment.
- Reward is given by petting the creature (this creature really likes to be scratched and petted). To pet the creature, you just “pet” the controller. Gently stroke your palm over the four buttons in any direction. The game will interpret the light press on these buttons (they are all analog, remember) and detect the direction you move your hand based on in what order the buttons are pressed.
- Punishment is given to the creature in the form of blows. As you might guess, this is done by smacking the controller buttons with the palm of your hand. Again, the analog buttons are able to detect how hard you strike.
To clarify, just let me give an example on how this might play out:
- The creature is standing outside the burning tunnel. You try to push it forward, but the creature won’t go there. It sulks and refuses to move.
- You pet the creature, hoping that it will be more comfortable. It stops sulking and slowly moves towards the tunnel.
- But when it is getting closer to the entrance, it stops again.
- You push forward and pets the creature. It won’t move an inch.
- The creature is trembling and you can hear it getting irritated. You hear it growling and feel it in the controller.
- You push forward again. Growling increases.
- Suddenly the creature ROARS and turns against you (the camera). It attacks with fangs and claws ready.
- BAM! You hit the controller buttons hard with your hand and thus slap the creature and it tumbles over, whimpering. (If you don’t, the creature will “eat” you and you die)
- The creature sits on the ground, tail between its legs. You push towards the entrance, genly petting the creature as it slowly gets closer (by gently stroking the controller).
- It manages to sneak through the tunnel. On the other side, you pet it and directs it to the goodie that waits. Creature is happy and is now a bit more controllable around fire.
This way of controlling a game has (to my knowledge) never been tried and it might be hurdles that cannot be overcome. Also, getting the right controller “feel” in a game is difficult and with a game like this – it could be a design nightmare. But still, I think it is an interesting thought and, again, I am perfectly sure that the current controllers have a lot more to give. And if you find a way of dealing with current technology in a new way – chances are that you can take those ideas even further with some additional new tech, and still be unique.