Peripherals On a Pig

After watching Nintendo reveal their new Wii U controller with hardly a nod toward the actual console that plugs into the TV, it’s become clear that how we control our games is a good deal more important than what displays them. Think back to when the 360 and PS3 were announced. Remember the spec wars? How many gigaflops the PS3 could churn compared to the 360 was a big deal. Now companies like Apple don't bother disclosing how much RAM the iPad 2 has, because it doesn't matter. Whenever a new product is announced with more technical specs than user features, you know it's time to back away slowly.

Technology only matters so far as it can do the job and get out of the way.

We’re rapidly approaching parity once again in terms of graphics, sound and online interaction between all the big console makers. What’s left is how we interface with the same games. Exclusivity to a single platform has been replaced with exclusive control features and DLC, because it’s one of the few significant differentiators left if you don't own Mario or Zelda.

Nintendo understands this better than most. They completely rocked the industry with the Wii. And with the new Wii U controller, Nintendo will offer a new interface to the very same HD games you’ve been looking forward to on your 360, PS3 or PC.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has also gone their own way with the concept, and this is the first time we’ve caught a glimpse of what the payoff will be a year into the Kinect’s lifecycle. Microsoft trotted out a bunch of new ways to graft a Kinect experience onto hardcore games. Doing my best Cyrano de Bergerac impression while whispering lines of dialog to Shepard in Mass Effect 3 is a novel idea, but the game is clearly not built from the ground up for it. Better if the main character didn’t speak at all after I was done speaking my lines, and Mass Effect just wouldn’t be what it is without Shepard. If you want me to speak for the character I’m controlling, then get him/her out of the way. The day will come when speaking to your games will be tied to some new and cool. That won’t be today, though, because right now all we’re getting is vocal buttons.

Forza 4 comes closer to worthwhile immersion with tried and true features like head tracking, but considering how far away you need to be sitting for Kinect to work, I wonder if they can find that sweet spot between intentional movement and incidental movement. When I turn my head to shoo the cat away, I don’t really want my driver staring at the trees whizzing by.

Sony continues to push 3D and Move as their own interface tweaks, but neither interface is unique to the platform. The fidelity is there, but Move clearly isn’t enticing developers to throw their DualShock controllers out the window. Ken Levine did a great job expressing his doubt on stage and affirming that yes, Bioshock: Infinite will have Move support, but I’ll eat my hat if there weren’t sacks of money thrown at 2K Games to make that happen. I'll eat two hats if you think it's better with Move.

Nintendo had the most befuddling, odd presentation of the bunch. Half-hearted nods to popular franchises and some vague demos and promises were presented, but there are still plenty of questions to answer in the months ahead. As near as I can tell, they’re keeping all their Wii peripherals (and games, presumably) compatible with the new platform. The Wii U controller will be wirelessly tethered to the new console unit itself, meaning it’s not really going to be something you can take on the road with you. Instead, the controller with its built-in six inch touch screen will play all of the major, AAA releases with the added screen interface. Nintendo knew they needed something to graft onto these HD, non-exclusive games, and this one is definitely unique. Unlike Kinect and Move, a screen can be informational. The Dreamcast controller on steroids is the obvious comparison, but the old Gameboy Advance connection cable to the Gamecube is clearly the forefather of the concept. Did you ever call Tingle on your GBA when you played Zelda: The Wind Waker? I did. It was alright, but not optimal. Something wireless with a touch screen? That’s better. I can imagine the gameplay implications of having that second screen act a sort of ad-hoc, Nintendo DS kind of addition to living room gaming.

But for all their efforts, the big console makers are mostly trying to strap jetpacks and monocles onto the same old pigs. A big part of extending the life of this technological console generation is trying to add wrinkles to long established gameplay concepts. Nintendo has been doing it since the move to 3D with the Nintendo 64 and they’re still tossing out old Super Nintendo franchises with different interfaces and tweaks every year. Sony and Microsoft have wised up and offered the same because for the most part, it’s working. But how long can it last? When every platform has Modern Warfare 6, Uncharted 4 and Gears of War 5, will some new waggle and some 3D really keep the same old gameplay fresh enough?

This push into peripherals that break paradigms and shake up the competition is starting to look like the last stand of an industry that doesn’t quite know how to deal with what’s coming. Free to play, social and mobile games are coming into their primacy, and they’re doing fine with touch screens, mice and gamepads. Their gameplay designs are rapidly catching up with AAA, $60 games. How much are console makers willing to contort themselves to stay on top of the heap and still charge their premiums? Why am I suddenly envisioning Power Gloves and Super Scopes?

When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games. We're going to hit a wall eventually where fatigue for the current game design standards will outweigh any novelties console makers can throw into the mix. The first device that changes $60 games for the better and pushes new thinking in design will be the real champ of the coming years. Given what we've seen at E3 this year, I don't think anyone has the answer yet.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

I was hoping the article ended with "Nintendo understands this better than most."

I think the perfect console would be hardware by Sony, software by Microsoft.

Well put. It's been very meh from my view, but then I'm not chiefly a console guy. You touch on this in the article, but I really think changing price-point expectations are the greatest fear these companies have.

When gamers are happy spending ten bucks sinking 100+ hours a month in some random Minecraft build, or .99 cents for a game that gives them 20 hours of fun, somebody in an expensive suit is sweating.

Nevin73 wrote:

I think the perfect console would be hardware by Sony, software by Nintendo, online functionality by Microsoft.

FTFY

"Modern Warfare 6, Uncharted 4 and Gears of War 5"

One of these is not like the other (and is welcome)

Certis wrote:

This push into peripherals that break paradigms and shake up the competition is starting to look like the last stand of an industry that doesn’t quite know how to deal with what’s coming.

Interesting perspective. My take is that the push for peripherals is not a last stand as much as a placeholder, particularly for Sony and Microsoft. I'm not convinced even these companies believe these devices truly represent a paradigm shift. In Microsoft's case, I'm confident it's never been about games, but about further tethering consumers to their platform, a la Apple. They want the Xbox to be the center of the living room, the one-stop entertainment machine. Kinect, in my view, is largely a hook they're dangling to entice consumers to invest in Xbox Live, Zune, etc.; if the games are fun, great, but the important thing is getting people online and into the marketplace.

The fact that Move and Kinect features seem transparently "bolted on" to most of the new releases being shown at E3—the figurative "vocal buttons"—smacks of an effort to justify ROI for the motion control devices. In other words, somewhere down the line, execs can defend their investment in Kinect by pointing to Mass Effect 3's huge sales and claiming causality. I can only imagine the sales pitches Microsoft must be hammering into developers' ears. Whether there's Microsoft financial or marketing support at stake for developers is anyone's guess, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were.

Developer buy-in is a tricky thing. If a game with 3D or motion control capability tanks, Sony or Microsoft can easily distance itself and let the developer/publisher take the fall. But if it succeeds, the console manufacturer can trumpet the "magic" of their hardware.

Certis wrote:

We're going to hit a wall eventually where fatigue for the current game design standards will outweigh any novelties console makers can throw into the mix.

Do you think we might already have hit that wall? Or if we haven't, are we rapidly approaching it?

Certis wrote:

The first device that changes $60 games for the better and pushes new thinking in design will be the real champ of the coming years.

I couldn't agree more. Whether that device ends up being a financial success, however, is a different question.

drew327 wrote:

"Modern Warfare 6, Uncharted 4 and Gears of War 5"

One of these is not like the other (and is welcome)

I honestly can't tell which one you mean.

That picture is FREAKING AWESOME!!! When pigs fly you know there is a problem. Even if it is a rocket propelled pig!

kincher skolfax wrote:

Do you think we might already have hit that wall? Or if we haven't, are we rapidly approaching it?

I think edge cases like grizzled podcasters and lifetime gamers are starting to on some level. But whether the mainstream where most of the money pours in from follows suit is hard to say. Sometimes it feels like the gaming industry is going through its big hair, spandex phase right now. Things may settle down and evolve in a few years.

kincher skolfax wrote:

]I couldn't agree more. Whether that device ends up being a financial success, however, is a different question.

I think there's a strong argument to be made for the Wii having already done it for the more casual-friendly space. So there's a road-map of sorts there, but the prize for big, full price games is still very much up for grabs.

I cant say I totally agree. I mean move has allowed me to play console shooters for the first time. Admittedly I still prefer a mouse, but I dont see it as a gimmick for gimmicks sake.

And the Wii U controller I could see as genuinely usefull for certain kinds of games. For instance for games like mmos I'd much prefer a set of virtual buttons on the wiiu than a horrible wheel of death on a standard controller.

As for specs, certainly for me specs matter. To some degree at least. Admittedly system memory matters more than most things (as device makers continue to cripple their devices with not enough ram).

Regarding parity I wonder how long that will last. How long before Sony and MS make the jump closer to the PC and nintendo falls into the ghetto again. Of course I'd argue we dont have sound parity in part because the 360s disc capacity is too low.

Awesome article.

The spec wars turned out to be a poor arguing point now that we see that multi-platform games don't vary all that much in terms of look and feel. One would be hard pressed to see a PS3 and 360 game side-by-side and harness a discerning eye to declare which is which. The onus of design, gameplay and graphical bling is now properly placed with the developers.

Of the lot, Sony is doing the least with their efforts in terms of increasing appeal. They should turn to their, now largely disgruntled, user base and ask what features they perceive to add value to the platform. I've a feeling that the majority of answers would be to make PSN more like XBL. We screamed at the top of our lungs for "PARTY CHAT" and they handed us an amalgamation of Wii and Kinect. Peripherals on a Pig, indeed.

Nevin73 wrote:

I think the perfect console would be hardware by Sony, software by Microsoft.

With characters and game design from Nintendo.

Also, I jumped for joy when you said Super Scopes, not because I know what that is, but I think the right Move peripheral could allow someone to make a super bad ass sniper game.

Whenever the next generation consoles from MS and Sony come out, I think it will be a tech spec war all over again. No one has ever paid as close attention to Nintendo's specs because they have never marketed their product to the kind of people who care about those things, but alpha console gamers who want bragging rights their PC gamer counterparts will certainly be looking for bleeding edge tech specs in their consoles.

Nintendo's second screen is innovative, but the controller looks like it will be very uncomfortable to use for extended periods of time. The analog sticks seem to be just nubs and don't seem well positioned, and the controller isn't contoured to fit your hands. Also I wonder how the weight is and whether it might get tiresome to hold rather quickly. Also, Sony has said it might be able to do the same thing with the NGP and a PS3, and the iPad2 has similar dual-screen functionality, so Nintendo's not exactly unique here.

I'd rather see a new console that just launches with a mouse and keyboard.

I think we might be seeing more options to 'wear' enhancing items for our peripherals.

I agree, it will be tough for the Kinect to pick up the head tracking in Forza4, but what if there was a very tiny refective sticker you could apply to you XBL headset that made reading your movements that little bit easier to pick up, or a two fingered glove to help kinect track your finger gestures a little more precisely?

A simple 'low tech' solution might have some big payoffs in the long term.

EDIT:
The Chairman just gave me another thought.

What if Microsoft and Apple finally converge on the home games market? iPad 2, tethered to the next gen Console. Tilt controls through the iPad, it has a touch screen, and Kinect for the big stuff. Controllers for the more traditional input, or, the option for mouse/keyboard.

Now that would be ideal.

Whenever the next generation consoles from MS and Sony come out, I think it will be a tech spec war all over again. No one has ever paid as close attention to Nintendo's specs because they have never marketed their product to the kind of people who care about those things, but alpha console gamers who want bragging rights their PC gamer counterparts will certainly be looking for bleeding edge tech specs in their consoles.

The problem is that even these companies are starting to realize how meaningless as well as difficult tech specs are to the consumer. Consumers could grasp 16-bit and 32-bit. It was a single data point. In today's modern console of custom multiple-core processors and custom designed GPU's with pixel fill rates and vertex shaders it's all mumbo jumbo nonsense.

When Sony tried to convince the populous that the PS3 was vastly superior to the Xbox 360 they fell solidly on their ass and even after about a year of trying most hardcore Sony fanbois gave up. It's just so much more complicated these days to win a spec war that it's hardly worth the effort when you can't neatly wrap it up into a single data point

BishopRS wrote:

Of the lot, Sony is doing the least with their efforts in terms of increasing appeal. They should turn to their, now largely disgruntled, user base and ask what features they perceive to add value to the platform. I've a feeling that the majority of answers would be to make PSN more like XBL. We screamed at the top of our lungs for "PARTY CHAT" and they handed us an amalgamation of Wii and Kinect. Peripherals on a Pig, indeed.

Agreed. Sony seems to be the odd man out these days, in terms of the living room console anyway. Nintendo will continue to dominate the "casual" market that isn't interested in online multiplayer, while Microsoft will continue to dominate the "core" market with its superior online experience and added features.

That said, the PS Vita does look like it will be a strong contender against the 3DS in the handheld market, especially with a launch price of $250. If I were Sony, I'd be spending most of my marketing money promoting that for the rest of this year.

When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games.

Maybe this is a result of my being a life-long gamer, and now fairly distanced from the target demographic for Gears of Modern Mario Party Whatever, but I don't give a damn about custom interfaces. I play games because I like, and want, good stories and interesting experiences; the pinnacle of gameplay for me is when the boundaries of a fictional world are as-yet undefined, and I'm exploring and wondering just how far I can push before I hit a wall.

Oblivion's first 5-10 hours, for example, were amazing; I did not yet know about the flaws in Radiant AI, or the level scaling, or the other issues that dragged down the experience. Instead, I was in another world, living another life. Technology servicing that "live another life" goal is doing well; waving a pretend plastic gun around my living room is a gimmick.

TheHipGamer wrote:
When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games.

Maybe this is a result of my being a life-long gamer, and now fairly distanced from the target demographic for Gears of Modern Mario Party Whatever, but I don't give a damn about custom interfaces. I play games because I like, and want, good stories and interesting experiences; the pinnacle of gameplay for me is when the boundaries of a fictional world are as-yet undefined, and I'm exploring and wondering just how far I can push before I hit a wall.

So, you're a PC gamer?

Why am I suddenly envisioning Power Gloves and Super Scopes?

In a way, we have come full circle to those old gadgets.

Why is Simon Cowell shooting a pig-bazooka?

Aaron D. wrote:

Why is Simon Cowell shooting a pig-bazooka?

I love that picture and have been emailing it to industry contacts all day.

wordsmythe wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games.

Maybe this is a result of my being a life-long gamer, and now fairly distanced from the target demographic for Gears of Modern Mario Party Whatever, but I don't give a damn about custom interfaces. I play games because I like, and want, good stories and interesting experiences; the pinnacle of gameplay for me is when the boundaries of a fictional world are as-yet undefined, and I'm exploring and wondering just how far I can push before I hit a wall.

So, you're a PC gamer?

I own a gaming PC as well as a handful of consoles (PS3, 360, and original XBox). I'm just a gamer.

When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games. We're going to hit a wall eventually where fatigue for the current game design standards will outweigh any novelties console makers can throw into the mix. The first device that changes $60 games for the better and pushes new thinking in design will be the real champ of the coming years. Given what we've seen at E3 this year, I don't think anyone has the answer yet.

I think this idea encapsulates the point of the article well, as far as I can understand and I think it largely only seems this way from a limited view of the gaming world and history.

Nintendo pushing the Wii wasn't all that unusual for them. They've always marketed their products as devices aimed at being fun and functional, from the first time they sold Ball, the first Game and Watch game. When they sold Ball, it wasn't about specs. It was about fun. It was obviously underpowered, basic hardware, but it was a fun product, which is why it sold well. I think too many gamers forget that. Certainly, MS and Sony seemed to, this generation.

Nintendo pushing new products, "toys," as some gamers dismissively call them, is just them doing what they do best. Sony and MS are not gaming companies, so they try to sell games based on things that are not necessarily central to fun - specs, features, online architecture and such.

There are many gamers (Mr. Andrich included, perhaps) who just don't venture that far away from what could be called "hardcore" designs. The self-defeating, self-consuming cycle of gamers only buying games of limited design features, and companies only putting money into those kinds of games is what Nintendo perceived and is trying to break.

Of course, there is another aspect at play here. Many older, jaded gamers like to think of themselves as the be-all end-all of gaming, but that's really not true. You won't need diapers when you're 20, but diaper companies still keep makin' 'em, because there are still babies and mothers who will buy them.

Nintendo just remaking the same Mario and Zelda over and over, and the FPS companies essentially doing the same thing, is just them recreating the games we loved growing up into forms compatible with current technology, for all those new young gamers who will discover and love them when growing up.

Aaron D. wrote:

Why is Simon Cowell shooting a pig-bazooka?

Because it's awesome!

TheHipGamer wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games.

Maybe this is a result of my being a life-long gamer, and now fairly distanced from the target demographic for Gears of Modern Mario Party Whatever, but I don't give a damn about custom interfaces. I play games because I like, and want, good stories and interesting experiences; the pinnacle of gameplay for me is when the boundaries of a fictional world are as-yet undefined, and I'm exploring and wondering just how far I can push before I hit a wall.

So, you're a PC gamer?

I own a gaming PC as well as a handful of consoles (PS3, 360, and original XBox). I'm just a gamer.

[i]I ask because I find that exploration of story-spaces is much more an aspect of PC games.

You seem to be more hipster than hip.
I couldn't figure out why until I reread this part.

TheHipGamer wrote:

waving a pretend plastic gun around my living room is a gimmick.

It wasn't when you were eight.

RolandofGilead wrote:

You seem to be more hipster than hip.
I couldn't figure out why until I reread this part.

TheHipGamer wrote:

waving a pretend plastic gun around my living room is a gimmick.

It wasn't when you were eight.

I guess? I played Duck Hunt. It was fun, but it wasn't as fun as the games I really liked on the NES: things like River City Ransom, Zelda, and Metal Gear. If finding that the same mechanic I discarded back when the Super Scope came out and I thought it was kinda lame makes me a hipster, hey, whatever.

wordsmythe wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
When the dust settles, what's really going to separate the wheat from the chaff is whoever can successfully marry their exclusive, custom interfaces with hardcore, AAA games.

Maybe this is a result of my being a life-long gamer, and now fairly distanced from the target demographic for Gears of Modern Mario Party Whatever, but I don't give a damn about custom interfaces. I play games because I like, and want, good stories and interesting experiences; the pinnacle of gameplay for me is when the boundaries of a fictional world are as-yet undefined, and I'm exploring and wondering just how far I can push before I hit a wall.

So, you're a PC gamer?

I own a gaming PC as well as a handful of consoles (PS3, 360, and original XBox). I'm just a gamer.

[i]I ask because I find that exploration of story-spaces is much more an aspect of PC games.

That's an interesting perspective. I guess I've never thought of myself as being any "kind" of gamer; I was a Nintendo kind and made fun of my friends who had Genesises (Genesisii?), but that was 20+ years ago. Now I just look for games that are fun, and generally think that means either doing something really well or having a very open, deliberate space in which to be surprised by exploration.

It's strange that as our consoles have become more computer-like, we draw stricter lines between the types of games that each are "supposed" to have.

TheHipGamer wrote:
RolandofGilead wrote:

You seem to be more hipster than hip.
I couldn't figure out why until I reread this part.

TheHipGamer wrote:

waving a pretend plastic gun around my living room is a gimmick.

It wasn't when you were eight.

I guess? I played Duck Hunt. It was fun, but it wasn't as fun as the games I really liked on the NES: things like River City Ransom, Zelda, and Metal Gear. If finding that the same mechanic I discarded back when the Super Scope came out and I thought it was kinda lame makes me a hipster, hey, whatever.

I have got to look up this Super Scope everybody keeps talking about.

Anyway, I wasn't talking about Duck Hunt. When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was a black plastic bat.
When you held it by the grip, it became a sword.
When you held it in the middle, it became a magic staff.
When you held it like a rifle, it became a rifle.
When you held it like a missile launcher, it became a missile launcher.

You know what this reminds me of?
It's like the fall of the arcades (in the US) all over again.
Arcade Game Maker: "Try our new experience, you can't get that on your home console!"
Console Game Maker: "Try our new experience, you can't get that on your mobile device!"