Friday, 14 January 2011

Move over DualShock? Killzone 3’s motion control integration

Motion control gaming’s recent rise to prominence raises questions about the future of gaming interface and the lifespan of the traditional controller. Whenever a new technology is developed advocates rush to pronounce it as the way forward for…whatever, and denounce that which came before it as obsolete, or at best, past its heyday. But should we be so quick to turn away from our trusty traditional interface with the video games’ world?

At a Eurogamer Expo developer session in October, Guerrilla Games’ Steven Ter Heide demonstrated the upcoming FPS Killzone 3’s optional Move integrated control system. “Move, for us, is an option, obviously there’ll be DualShock lovers and there will certainly be people out there who want to play this with the Move controller.” He began demonstrating the Move controlled play-through by tracing his controller across the screen, showing how weapon targeting follows the point of the controller. When pointing at the extremities of the screen the camera began to follow, slowly. Ter Heide was quick to point out that the speed of camera movement, along with a lot of Move controller related options, are entirely customisable to the players preferences.

The motion controlled play-through of the game underwent heavy play testing to find out exactly what it was that players were looking for with this interface. “The book hasn’t been written yet on Move controls and what they need to do…there’s a lot of stuff we have to figure out.” As Move has all of the buttons that DualShock has, they can still be used to complement the motion controlled experience, but Guerrilla are attempting to enhance that with the integration of gestures, “This icon on the screen now indicates that I need to reload, and I can do this by just a quick twist of the wrist. We find this has an advantage in the fluidity of the gameplay.” demonstrated Ter Hide. Other functions such as gesturing the controller toward the player serve to pick up usable weapons. Having listened to fan feedback, Guerrilla have included the ability to carry more than one primary weapon in Killzone 3, using the D-Pad switches between them.

The feel of the demonstration was such that the developers seemed to be trying to find reasons to use motion control, and running into more than just a few problems doing so. Ter Heide highlighted this with an example of how grenades are thrown in Killzone 3, “You’d expect everybody to throw a grenades like this [demonstrates throwing motion] because it’s a natural motion, but as you can see what happens on the screen is that the camera starts rotating and I don’t see where the grenade lands.” Guerrilla’s solution here is to have the grenade throwing function relegated to a button push.

The test of motion control versus regular controller systems may come in their integration; can players compete in multiplayer with the different control methods on a level footing? In a modern, fast paced FPS, one that holds the draw of multiplayer at its heart, a multiple control system, player vs. player needs vigorous play testing, so says Ter Heide, “Move is available for multiplayer too, and right now we are doing a lot of play testing to find out whether we can have Move players in the same game as DualShock players.” Although he admitted that the new system is lagging behind, “Our core QA guys have grown up with DualShock and they’re very well versed in that and run circles around the Move players.” He added that choice of control method may become a basis of rivalry: “At some point I think it’s going to turn into your snow boarders versus your skiers, whether you’re a DualShock player or a Move player.”

A balancing act may be required if multi-control method multiplayer is to become a reality. Notwithstanding the camera control issues discussed earlier, certain functions of the game mechanics are unique to Move, Ter Heide explained “Because we now have auto-lock [with Move] we need to find out if we can rebalance that and see how that works.” Guerrilla aim to test a public beta of the multiplayer game, and to decide from that whether or not to separate DualShock from Move players.

From the demo at the developer session, Guerrilla Games has shown that big name developers are actively working to integrate peripheral devices into traditional game genres and top titles. Time will tell whether the experiment will work, but based on what I saw at the session - and my own preferences for game controllers - the Move integration appears to me to be a gimmick, more of a Wii Party toy than a serious gaming tool. It looks to have created problems in the developing process rather than having solved any great flaw in the current and well proven method of controlling an FPS game. Perhaps Guerrilla will prove me wrong.

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This article was written for Game Kudos and this is the third draft. The finalised piece in its edited format can be seen here.