Editorial: Cooperative Communication

Author’s note: I heartily apologize for the bad formatting and dead links. The hotel that I stayed at charged an exorbitant rate for Internet access and would not accept a debit card as payment. As I only carry a debit card with me, this presented a somewhat novel problem. St. Lusipurr was kind enough to post this via email, and Gmail is wont to have its unholy way with formatting. Pictures will be forthcoming once I have had a chance to locate appropriate ones.

Typing is important in online cooperative gameplay.

I do not expect studios that develop almost exclusively for consoles to “get” this concept. Console cooperative multiplayer has the advantage of being limited to around four players, maximum. Ad hoc voice networks can easily handle that load without crippling performance, and modern consoles were designed with the use of headsets for just this purpose in mind.

But truly massive cooperative gameplay, such as in an MMO, requires one to type. Whether that is hanging out in that shit-infested warren that is World of Warcraft‘s trade chat or the lobby of a comparatively friendly-and-sane FPS game, large-scale voice chat simply does not work.

Thus, PC gamers are used to the ubiquitous “mouse + keyboard” style of gameplay. Every PC will contain at least these two human-interface devices. PC game studios design for this first, and allow other control schemes, such as game pads, to be added on top.

I admit that I play MMOs with a combination gaming mouse and game pad. I have not yet succumbed to the Lovecraftian madness that is the Razer Naga. 12 buttons on the mouse seems excessive, and possibly a good way to injure my thumb.

On the other hand, my Logitech G13 is an absolute godsend, because it is better designed for WASD-type movement than a standard keyboard,which offsets the WASD keys into a goofy, slanty sort of pattern.

Some games, however, are understandably more pleasant to play with a PC game controller than a keyboard and mouse. Darksiders, for instance, or even Assassin’s Creed, feel way more natural on a controller than on a mouse and keyboard… and yet, the default setting for each of these games is the mouse and keyboard.

The producer of the justly-maligned Final Fantasy XIV admitted to at least one of his game’s major snafus, which was to design the game from a “gamepad” experience first. The problem herein is that Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO, a social game, and
that (should) require lots of typing to interact with fellow characters. It is mildly inconvenient to have to move one’s hands from the mouse to the keyboard to type. It is wholly unthinkable to ask a player to put down a physical, two-handed controller just to
access the keyboard.

And as annoying as the poor control scheme was, Tanaka, I do not think that was the only reason that Squareenix has had to offer a second free month to keep from hemmoraging subscribers.

But it is a major one; human interface is important. A month ago I would have laughed at Kinect and said that only NAMBLA members would buy it… NAMBLA members and that one fat guy that says he will finally get in shape because he has a dance game or something.

But it is selling very well, because people find the idea of not having to interface with a dumb computer through such a clunky and artificial means as a small, ergonomic keyboard with arcane and particolored symbols on it. It is the same story as with the Wii, which is a terrible, horrible failure of a console, in terms of games and gameplay, but a rousing success because it offers a better way to play the shovelware.

It is tempting of old salts to dismiss this as a gimmick, though they would be wrong to do so. It only appears gimmicky at this point because none of the old salts have dared to dream that the controller idol might some day be replaced, that the menus and menus of text might be done away with for something more intuitive, or that the experience of playing a game could be more like play and less like typing a video game column.

The adoption of intuitive interface designs is hampered at current by two things: one is our innate resistance to change. The second is the technology’s inability to be sufficiently precise for “hardcore” games where twitchy movements and rapid combinations are necessary.

That is what I like about technologies like the Peregrine glove, which bridge the gap between motion-sensing intuitive technology and traditional, button-y interfaces. There is nothing necessarily intuitive about touching my palm to activate an in-game action, but it at least removes the “prop” from the ritual, the unnecessary controller. If, simply by wearing a set of sensors or gloves on my hand, I could remove the necessity of the mouse and gamepad from my gaming experience, that would be a major step forward. To type, that is, to interface socially with my peers, all I would need to do is lower my hands to the keyboard, rather than disengage them from their erstwhile duties of moving pointers and
characters around the screen.

4 comments

  1. Kinect won’t be successfully used for core gaming during the current hardware generation, because not enough core gamers will buy it to justify a developer’s intelligent implementation of the tech.

    If Kinect is included as standard in the next Microsoft console, then I think we will find it used as a useful adjunct to to the gamepad. The majority of the game will still be handled in the conventional fashion, yet the gamepad layout won’t have to be so convoluted.

    Until such a time however, we will continue to see made for gamepad core games, and made for Kinect shovelware, with little crossover betwixt the two.

  2. And that’s the sad part. Developers too afraid to ditch the button interface.

    Seriously, if the Peregrine lives up to its hype, and is comfortable, durable and responsive, it will replace a gamepad for MMO gaming. If they made a right-handed version that tracked cursor movements better than a mouse, with context-sensitive pads for right, left, and scroll functions, I would be sold.

  3. I don’t know if it’s sad. Developers making core games want to design games that everyone can play, which is fine by me because I don’t plan on paying money for Kinect.

    I think the technology will eventually offer something valuable when it comes as standard with a console, but until that day it is irrelevant to me and the games that I play.

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