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    Friday, March 11, 2011
     Simulated Skill Part 2 - Dan - 2:33:54 AM EST

Our second installment focuses on hardware limitations - mostly interface devices - and their effect on the Simulated vs. Player skill spectrum. Again, these comments are culled from TTLG's General Gaming Forum. You can read the original discussion here.

Manwe
Console games are easier (or rather simpler) because you can't have the same control complexity and precision with a gamepad as with a keyboard and mouse. Gamepads were fine for platformers and action/adventure games but now they're trying to fit complex games like Deus EX, Thief or even fucking Oblivion on them. It's like trying to navigate the operating system of your PC with the remote control of your TV. It's just impossible. So they have to simplify everything for it to work. It's as simple as that. They don't purposefully dumb down their games just to annoy players, they are simply restricted by the controllers. Look at Deus Ex and the number of keys required to play it. Now look at the number of buttons on a gamepad. Without streamlining, you can't have the same depth on a console (unless you want to end up with an unplayable mess of a game, ie, any of the early PC FPS ports). Imagine trying to type keypad numbers with your gamepad in DX1. It would be a fucking nightmare. They have to make it automatic because there's no other way to do it.

The problem would be to have a leaning system like in Deus Ex, with one button assigned to leaning left and another one assigned to leaning right, and having to approach enemies stealthily, stand up, equip the right weapon and aim at their heads to knock them out. That would be totally unplayable on a gamepad. Whether it's a problem when played with a keyboard and mouse doesn't factor in their reasoning. It's an afterthought. It doesn't matter. Just think about those early PC FPS ports on consoles like Rainbow Six on ps1 or whatever. Nobody gave a shit whether they were playable on a gamepad cause nobody played them. They were just quick shitty ports to grab some money. Nowadays the trend is simply reversed, the main platform is the console and the PC gets the shitty ports. It's like those old FPSs on dreamcast (Quake 3 arena, Soldier of fortune, etc...). They were straight ports from the PC that were almost unplayable with a gamepad. You had to use the mouse and keyboard to enjoy them fully. Well, again nowadays the trend is reversed; if you want to enjoy a game on PC you have to use a gamepad.

Games in general are becoming easier, but I wouldn't necessarily correlate that with consolisation or whatever. Hard games weren't exclusive to the PC. Console games used to be challenging too. But now it's become this huge industry and I guess it's more profitable to make easier games. Just like books that are easy to read or movies that are easy to understand will sell more.

Sulphur
a) The input mechanisms (pads) may be lacking in simulating relatively granular levels of physical movement and interaction because there simply aren't enough buttons (imagine playing ArmA 2 or Stalker: SoC on a console), hence you have wonderful issues like the run and use actions being mapped to the same button/key in ME2 b) Intellectual concessions like waypoint arrows, bread-crumb trails, and glowing frobbables/mission items/markers c) Heavy focus on QTEs that translate directly into 'doing cool stuff you'd otherwise only see in a non-interactive cinematic' by mashing buttons because the interface doesn't allow for fine manual control to pull off those actions by yourself or, as you call it, the 'I win' button.

But I think this is all besides the point. You have the three biggest competitors in the console space all throwing down for motion controls and making wads of money out of them. If it turns out that people will buy this stuff because of the 'cool' factor and sales are a) sustainable and b) profitable, they're going to run with motion controls into the next generation. Maybe not as a replacement for a standard controller, but definitely as part of the package in the box when you buy one of their next-gen consoles.

Koki
The real problem with consoles is the analog stick, the TV and a different gaming culture. Analog stick sucks balls for precise movement forcing developers to use shitty menus and the TV's pitiful resolution forces them to make everything huge.

Renzatic
I have to agree with [Koki] on one point. The analog sticks do suck for precise 3D movement. People can make a billion and one compromises to try and make it work, but no matter what they do, it'll never be as smooth and natural aiming with the right thumb stick as it is the mouse.

Chade
One aspect of this debate that has always puzzled me is the supposed desirability of a precise control scheme. I doubt that the ability to master dumb strategies like "aim better" makes the game more intelligent.

Wormrat
No, but it allows for greater complexity, because you can expect the player to react to more things more quickly. It may seem like a "dumb" twitch skill, but complex tactics can arise from the intelligent application of that skill in tricky situations.

Besides, if an FPS doesn't seem intelligent enough for you, just think about a strategy game. You can reasonably throw more menus, options, and commands at the player when the controls are fast and precise.

fett So what about motion controls, like the Wiimote, Move, or Kinnect? Do these new interface concepts move us toward one end of the Skill spectrum or the other?

Renz
The Wiimote was horribly underutilized by companies just wanting to make a quick buck. But then you have the games that were designed to take advantage of the Wiimote. Like Metroid Prime 3. After playing it, I came to think of the thing as a great analogue to the keyboard and mouse for 3D movement. Then you have Zack and Wiki, which showed me gesture based controls could actually make a game more fun, provided they're done properly. Resident Evil 4? Night and day difference with the Wiimote. I no longer had to do that "move left, move up, move left a little more, slightly adjust just a tad...almost...almost...there we go, head shot" thing I do with analog sticks. All it took was a flick of the wrist, and PERFECTLY AIMED KILL SHOT. Just like playing with a mouse.

So just because most companies half-assed the Wiimote, doesn't mean the potential isn't there. I was actually glad when I saw Sony ape the design almost down to the fine details, because it means consoles are moving away from the dual analog scheme. All it needs is a little more fidelity, and a nice, ergonomical design, and I'd just about be willing to forget the keyboard and mouse.

Inselaffe
The fact that the Wii has been shunned as a traditional games console by it's audience and most importantly, third party developers does not help matters in pushing for improved control across consoles for fps style games. Nintendo hasn't really helped with that either, but they did put out some traditional games that utilized it well. It's just sad how it went, but even on the N64, 3rd party support wasn't so good, and then on the Gamecube it was even worse - really awful, and not due to hardware reasons either - the console was far better than PS2 yet a load of games were only PS2 and Xbox released. Why is this?

Zylon Bane
Because the arm-flailing body-tracking input method works best for primarily casual games. There's certainly a market for that, but it simply doesn't work for everything. It's inherently imprecise, physically tiring, logistically demanding (gotta clear out that space in front of the couch!), and severely limits the number of "verbs" that can be expressed to the game.

Sulphur
But I think this is all besides the point. You have the three biggest competitors in the console space all throwing down for motion controls and making wads of money out of them. If it turns out that people will buy this stuff because of the 'cool' factor and sales are a) sustainable and b) profitable, they're going to run with motion controls into the next generation. Maybe not as a replacement for a standard controller, but definitely as part of the package in the box when you buy one of their next-gen consoles.

fett
So how important, really, is precise input in terms of closing the gap between Simulated & Player skill?

Wormrat
More precise input doesn't necessarily make for a more intelligent game. A pure reflex test isn't going become "smarter" no matter what controller you're using. But since most games, even supposedly "braindead" shooters, involve a mix of action and strategy, I don't see why the idea is controversial. Useful strategies are shaped by the actions available; changing one affects the other.

And really, if I want to nitpick the terminology, the opposite of "precision" is randomness, from the player's perspective. And random success is certainly the opposite of intelligent victory.

Chade
Yes, you can cram more options into a shorter amount of time. But are these options likely to make the game more intelligent if I am expected to spend less time considering each one? If I am playing a game which requires thought, the bottleneck for actions per minute is generally my brain, not my hand.

Usually, if I require a precise control scheme to do something smart in a fast paced part of a game, the genesis of the idea will have occurred during an earlier lull when I had time to sit back and brainstorm new ways of interacting with the world.

As a general rule of thumb, if a game gives me a continuous range of options, these options will generally only vary over a few dimensions. The enormous number of options just means that some skill will be required to get the exact force/distance/angle/whatever that I want. But if I am off a bit, it will not mean that I have chosen some completely different option in a bewildering sea of complexity. It will just mean that I do 5% less damage, or miss instead of hit. Or maybe I will summon an Orc instead of the Ogre.

If my options vary from flying away into the sunset vs dancing the conga, I will likely be presented with a smaller set to choose from. I will probably not be presented with 500 options all as different as that! It would take me too long to consider each one. If I am presented with 500 options, there will be some regularity to them, so that if option X is too expensive, then Y and Z are automatically excluded too.

Sulphur
Player/Simulated skill is a nice thought, but consolitis isn't around just because of control/controller limitations relegating complex actions to a single button press. That doesn't allow for the stuff staring you in the face, like the fact that console/PC devs make things simpler for their demographics by lowering the overall intelligence curve of the game and make everything hugely obvious to players.

Subjective Effect
I absolutely think that defining skills as Player and Simulated is important, and it is a spectrum even though there are no games that use pure Player Skill, though there are some that pure Simulated Skill (those that present no challenge). Until now the nature of controllers has meant that the mapping of actions across different platforms has been quite varied. The keyboard and mouse combination offered so much that the early D-pad controllers, like the NES ones, just couldn't.

For this reason console games never even tried to be like PC games, for the most part anyway. The gaming ethos was quite different. But with the current console controllers (all the way up to Move) being so close to being K&M equivalents we shouldn't see such a difference anymore.

The ability to action Simulated Skills was much rougher, more raw, before this generation of controllers and, I believe, led to the "I win" buttons. And this is why I think dumbing down was/is the fault of consoles - hence "consolitis". This isn't a platform "war" this is a discussion about the fine differences in gaming that are generated by platform differences.

While this conversation inevitably headed for familiar "console vs. PC" territory, there's two important discussions I'd like to pull from this conversation as that argument relates to skill sets: Gaming Culture, and Design (a.k.a. "broken" vs. Popular design choices).






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