The biggest problem with the Wii Remote? It makes porting from another platform a pain. I’m dealing with this right now on a project that is all about digital inputs. Precision and snappy response times are what matters, as it’s a very oldschool game at heart. It uses most of the buttons on the PS2 controller, which means it overruns the available buttons on the Wii Remote very quickly.
At first I wrestled with this by trying to come up with some inventive control scheme to take advantage of the motion sensing functions of the remote. I found a couple of workable solutions, but nothing that came close to the efficiency of the PS2 pad.
At the end of the day all I had done was mask digital inputs with more complicated analog actions.
This is unsatisfying at every level, for the player and the designer. It’s also not a new problem. Plenty of games in the past have tried “gestural command” systems, and by and large they suck if they mask what, at the core, is a button press. I enjoy Zelda: Twilight Princess, but it drives me nuts that I have to shake my remote to slash my sword. It’s clearly masking the input on the GameCube controller. There is no relation between the motion I make and the type of attack Link performs. When I’m hacking at a bunch of grass to find rupees I end up spazzing my wrist to chop it all down. Has this added to the gameplay? Has it increased my immersion in the experience?
Only in the sense that Link’s arm is sore like mine from swinging about.
The games that are designed from the ground up to make use of the Wii remote, and get the best response from players, are those which match the motion of the controller to motion on screen. A 1:1 relationship between the motion of the player and the motion of their avatar provides huge advantages.
One of the most prominent is that players self-correct for an imperfect system. The Wii remote isn’t perfect, its measurements can be finicky at the best of times. But if the action on screen directly matches what is happening in the player’s hand a wonderful thing happens: Their brain acts as a filter and they adapt their motion to what is happening on screen. Although it applies to the accelerometers this is easiest to observe with the pointer in any menu. Because the remote must be able to “see” the Sensor Bar players will always take a moment to recalibrate themselves to use the pointer. A second of flailing quickly gives way to smooth navigation.
Another area which 1:1 response drives is involving players in the action. Watch anyone playing Wii Sports, after a few rounds to get used to the gestures of the game they stop thinking about the interface and are executing the game actions seamlessly. The learning curve is extraordinarily low. Granted, the Wii Sports games are very simple, but even among the various games included in the bundle some use 1:1 motion better than others.
Wii Baseball, particularly the batting portion, has some of the best 1:1 response and it shows in how well it translates player intent. Everyone is clear as to when they swing the bat, there is no surprise swing (usually) or sense of disconnection between the player and their avatar. By comparison Tennis players are often left wondering why their character did, or did not, swing the racket. The rackets held by the limbless Miis don’t move in direct relation to the player’s swing, and setting yourself up for a forehand or backhand can often trigger an unintended swing.
Tennis is still a lot of fun, and players acting as an intermediary buffer between the device and the screen helps. As more players advance they learn how to move the remote gently from one side to the other to set up the correct swing without and accidental one being triggered. Still, the confusion which results from a Mii acting counter to player intent comes up more often than in baseball.
The Wii titles which blow our socks off, and disprove the “gimmick” argument, will need to make a clear connection between the actions of the player and the activity on screen.