Friday, 6 July 2012

Theories on the Future of Console Gaming Controls

Once upon a time, gaming controls were limited to either Mouse and Keyboard, or if you were playing on console...a controller with your standard D-pad and 4 buttons.

Very little variation regarding these two configurations were available at the time and everyone was happy using these peripherals to control their in-game characters.

That was back when gaming was simple, and the only real attempts at innovation regarding control systems were few and far between, like the Nintendo Power Glove and a few others. A massive disapointment, the Power Glove was cumbersome, over-complicated and uncomfortable and failed to find its place amongst the already established methods of control.

The only real additions to these original control systems were extra buttons, triggers, vibration and the analog control stick. Mouse sensitivity was greatly increased and keyboards started coming out with additional buttons for more specialised games.

Where we are now?

Until the Playstation 2 Eye-toy and the Nintendo Wii surfaced, the focus seemed to be on the refinement of existing console control systems, and while there were a few attempts at creating new methods to control your game...none were succesful until these.

The Nintendo Wii  changed the focus of manufacturers significantly with it's success, and over the last few years motion-controlled games can be found on all platforms (either in their peripherals or with camera technology)

The focus has changed once again to something a bit different.

Last year all eyes were on the Nintendo Wii-U at E3 (with regards to technology) and while Sony and Microsoft mentioned the use of other devices to control your game experience, their focus remained on motion-controlled gaming.

This year all three manufacturers showcased some interesting technology utilizing a second screen to add functionality to the games we play. None more so than with the Wii-U which will use the new "Gamepad" tablet controller quite extensively, while at the same time providing backwards compatability with the Wii controller and Nunchuck.

While no developer is backing away from motion-controls in games, there is a greater focus on adding functionality and controls to the increasing collection of devices we use to control our games and game characters.

Currently, the majority of gamers seem to agree that the Mouse and Keyboard are still the most accurate and most beneficial method of controlling games. This is of course dependant on the game that you're playing, and many genres benefit more from the use of analog control sticks (or even the D-pad) on a controller. (Third person games, racing games, platform games etc.)

While motion controls are by no means perfect, the concepts behind them are sound and perhaps need the opportunity to be refined as the previous control systems were before them. People have a tendency to forget that the mouse started off as a device that wasn't intended for games in the first place. With only one button and a ball under it to control movement of the mouse was certainly a far cry from the mouse of today.

Touch screen technology has been around for a while now, and the increase in its uses regarding handheld gaming consoles, phones and tablets has given gamers another unique way to control their in-game actions.
Even some of the games we play show these technologies being used in similar ways (although on the arm)

The use of voice recognition, facial recognition and three-dimensional imaging have also found their place in the games of today.

So...what comes next?

There are few technologies at this point that haven't been tapped into in at least one way or another, so the answer may lie in the further refinement and combination of two or more of these methods.....perhaps even all of them.

Many of the current and upcoming devices themselves show the benefits of using several of these technologies together, with good examples being voice recognition and facial recognition with Kinect (which seems to be much of Microsoft's current focus) and the combination of Analog controls and touch screen technology. (The Nintendo 3DS, Wii-U gamepad, and Razor's Project Fiona)

What happens when ALL these technologies combine is uncertain...but the results may give us something that potentially rivals any control system before it.

Once all these technologies have been refined to give us greater accuracy and freedom of movement, there may be a time when something like my concept art below becomes a reality. Please keep in mind that this is all theory and not necessarily factual by any means.

While my design may seem a bit over the top and the a little rough around the edges, the possibilities behind it may provide some interesting applications.

It incorporates all of these technologies (even  the Nintendo Power Glove) and would be a prime opportunity for different variations of control sets, depending on the players preference.

While the majority of these technologies should remain optional (with the possible exception of the touch-screen tablet for use), the continued use of the analog stick is incredibly important, and integral to the continuation of core gaming in general. Of course, this may be something that Microsoft themselves may have disagreed with until now, but considering their focus on Kinects voice-controlled features (on its own) for core games lately (with the continued use of the Xbox controller)...they may have realised this already.

Other hardware alternatives for future controllers may be along the lines of the Nintendo Wii Nunchucks (one in each hand) which would keep the players existing control system (dual analog sticks - wireless)  and also providing for motion controls. Obviously, touch-screen technology would not apply to this, as both hands would be used and having to release one of the controllers to use the touch screen may ruin the experience.

The possibility also exists of console manufacturers integrating camera functionality of motion controls into the console itself...which would eliminate the need for a seperate device like the Kinect, Move camera or Wii Sensor Bar.

These are just some of the ideas regarding console controls that may come to pass.

...Of course, I may be completely wrong and Virtual Reality is just around the corner. Only time will tell.

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