A question… how important do you think the kinetic feedback loop is to how much you will ultimately like any type of game?
I’ve been wondering about this lately, as it’s something I’ve always been fairly conscious about, yet it’s rarely echoed in the way most people express their own opinions about games. Another curiosity for me is that rating how a game “controls” used to be right up there with “how good are TEH GRAFIX”, or at least it seemed like it. And while the immediate answer may simply be that most games do indeed control well enough anymore, and so it’s only the ones that control very badly that warrant comment… I believe it’s still a little more complex.
In the ancient caveman days of videogaming, there used to be this notion of “playability”. And it was quite essential, as well as easy to grasp, at that time when a game’s worth could commonly be measured in how much FUN you get from 10-30 minutes of play and/or how many quarters it takes out of your pocket. And while this magic of colors dancing to your whim on a TV screen was always the primary seduction, that a game might be trying to succeed as eye candy alone was at once more obvious and criminal, and more alienated from the mainstream sensibility.
But now, in our brave new era when things like story and production and content are the unforgiving yardsticks by which a game’s nominal value is judged, do all the extra layers of paint then truly obscure the inner workings so much that they are less relevant? Or perhaps, is it only that with extra stimulus and more levels of engagement being fulfilled, the more primal levels of gratification are only being appreciated less consciously?
I’m as much a graphics whore as anyone, I really appreciate pretty games and indeed need to be visually pleased on some basic level to enjoy them. But I can recognize two criteria that seem to put an experience over the top for me, consistent in every game that I hold in the most rarefied air of gloriousness, and so are ultimately more important than any static visual prowess. One is the aural attachment, typically meaning music, though how the incidental sounds are composed qualifies as a kind of music as well. But the other criteria is less defined, and what I’m here terming the kinetic feedback, and the only way I can really communicate it as an encompassing concept is with a few examples:
As I’ve mentioned before, my taste for the FPS genre is particularly selective, and some part of that is because FPS controls are so homogeneous as a rule. The WAD setup for PC just works, with a very flat linear response being obviously preferable, and mouse-look responds based on the device itself; essentially the same as your desktop according to how you set the sensitivity. So there was basically no reason (or even option) to mess with the expected ‘feel’ much. But that’s arguably one of the main reasons the genre has had such a rocky road on consoles, because with any kind of control pad, the kinetic feedback actually does require a lot of tweaking for the controls to not feel like a barrier between the player and the game.
For myself Halo is a perfect example of that tweaking, and I’ve termed it as having “character”, but in general the game is paced and polished to work as a console experience. An even better example is Call of Duty 4, and it’s phenomenal popularity on consoles attests to that. The game has certain gimmicks and innovations which are talked about much more, but every once in a while the perfect controls are mentioned, it seems often almost as though “that goes without saying”. And that’s what really makes me wonder, should it go without saying? All else being equal would CoD4 have been nearly so popular on XBL without also bringing the new paradigm for how an FPS can control on console? It’s clearly not coincidental, but that factor doesn’t seem like it gets full acknowledgment either.
So that’s one kind of example which is easy to understand by the label “control”, but what I’m conceptually wrestling with here is the notion that control is a somewhat limiting designation, or really only one facet of what’s now a much more nuanced realm of concern. I’m going to draw a somewhat specious and arbitrary parallel here, for purely illustrative purposes: In the olden days of simple 2D sprite animation, the mandate for the artists was to make the most of a few frames to enhance the communication of kinetic intent, in the case of humanoid characters it’s basically body language. And if it looks cool it counts as sweet graphics, but if it also matches the timing and pace of the sprite movement especially well it even enhances the control. But the thing is it registers as mostly one of those factors or the other, very rarely was the quality of “animation” brought up, as such.
But now animation is mentioned all the time, because with 3D models the kinetic action cues which you respond to - which used to simply be movement - are (largely) inextricable from the discrete movements of the model itself. So in a sense animation has almost usurped the place control once had? What I’m really trying to get across is the idea that perhaps, in many types of games, animation may be the most common factor in detaching the player from the experience, much as bad controls used to be the primary culprit. And in defining that, maybe also suggest a clearer refinement of what the criteria of ‘good animation’ should really be, in videogame terms?
A couple final personal examples, relating directly to that aspect of kinetics… JetSetRadioFuture is my best example of the paradox (if hopefully not merely discrepancy) in this view, the dichotomy that proves the relationship, maybe. Aside from the very obvious eye candy and ear candy, and the engaging environments, what again seals the deal with that game for me is the kinetics, and in this case the kinetics are all about the animation. Indeed the control in that game is downright uninviting for many people, even myself for a while, yet the control has integrity. The game perhaps needs the player to buy into it’s overall kinetics as a requirement of full appreciation, which not every player will. But for myself JSRF’s kinetic feedback is much more ‘tactile’ than in most games, meaning the action cues are positive and detailed, and so are being processed unconsciously, which is a baseline I seem to require to enjoy a game.
I’ve recently tried out Shadow of the Colossus, and while I haven’t played too far yet (and it will grab me I know, but my PS3 doesn’t like my TV, something I need to figure out still) it has reminded me of what’s certainly the biggest reason ICO didn’t quite click with me as impressively as so with many others… the animation simply isn’t in that top echelon for kinetic feedback. Which is not to say that it isn’t good, but it doesn’t reinforce the illusion of mass and impact on the subliminal level as well as other games that do reach that highest threshold for myself. Which leads to what may be the issue of most import even, if more subtle:
Even aside from how important kinetics may be in general, I believe another wrinkle in the issue of how gamer priorities have changed, is that unlike the good old days when a game having bad controls could be relatively universally agreed upon; with overall kinetics it’s rather less ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ and more like ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s more subtle and nuanced, an issue of taste intersecting hardly at all with objective truth.
OK, well… how insane am I then? Does this ‘hypothesis’ resonate with anyone else at all?