Inventive Control Schemes Before Motion Controls

As posted on Videogame Jungle

Before the dawn of motion controls. Before we were swiping the air for imaginary balls with Kinect or Eye Toy. Before swinging a Wiimote or PlayStation Move to emulate a bowling swing. Before tilting a SixAxis to control the pitch and yaw of a pretty yellow petal. Before dragging a finger across an iPhone screen to catapult birds at fortified green pigs. Before all of this, we simply had the controller. And we thought it was all we’d ever need.

With the restraints of buttons, triggers, and analog sticks, developers came up with some super interesting new ways of player input. Ways that didn’t involve expensive (or cheap) technologies or any hi-tech wizardry. Just a little brain power to create new forms of interaction.

My first example is one of my favourite 3D platformers; Ape Escape for the original PlayStation. It came out specifically for the Dual Analog Controller (later becoming the DualShock). Which is why I got them bundled together as a birthday present from my parents. I also got a bike that same birthday. I must’ve been a good little boy that year.

You see, Spike the spiky-haired kid with a star on his forehead, had mapped all the gadgets and weapons to the right stick. Spinning the stick 360 degrees corresponds to a net used to catch the apes, or a stun club (basically a Lightsaber) used to attack enemies. You can fly yourself into the air with a tiny propeller, spin your hula hoop, or even use both sticks to control each paddle in an inflatable yellow dinghy.

It became a more physical experience, and with 1:1 movement that isn’t lost with less accurate motion controls.
In most 3D platformers today the right stick is still mapped to controlling the in-game camera. How boring!

ATV Offroad Fury 2 on the PlayStation 2 features a rather neat function also found in a host of other quad bike games. The pre-load. Gearing up for that next jump you pull the left stick back at the base of the jump and jolt it forward at the top of the jump as you leave the ground, giving your jump a nice increase in height and distance. This leave you ample time to pull off that Superman or Heel Clicker.

I’m not an ATV racer in real life so I don’t know if this move closely relates to the actual sport. Perhaps leaning back and forward helps that little bit with racer’s jumps. Either way it’s a rather neat thing you can focus on, giving the actual racing more complexity, just like choosing to snake around corners in Mario Kart.

Micro Machines V3 (on the PlayStation again) supports up to eight players. What? The PlayStation only supports up to four controllers with a multitap you protest? Well did you ever think of “sharing” a controller? Because that’s exactly what the developers of Micro Machines did. Two players per controller, both with one side of the controller each. One player uses the directional buttons, whilst the other uses the four face buttons (triangle, cross, square, & circle).

Now I don’t know exactly how playable this is. I’ve yet to have an eight-person Micro Machines party. But it’s never too late to try!

Fahrenheit, or Indigo Prophecy in America, (from Quantic Dream who put out Heavy Rain last year) was on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. Apart from the Simon-controlled action sequences, Fahrenheit wanted you to become one with the character through ordinary interactions. Opening a door or turning a tap was done by emulating the same action with the analog stick. It wasn’t a trigger either. If you only completed the animation halfway you could rewind it, taking your hand away from the door handle, or pause it on the handle as if you were hesitating about whether you wanted to enter. In the end it all blended into the background, but it was a nice touch of puppet mastery.

Skate for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is an obvious contender for an interesting control scheme. Relying on the analog stick to pull off tricks, Skate did something not even the Tony Hawk games had done before. Instead of holding multiple buttons down, you follow an arrow indicating which movement to jolt the right stick in. It now closely resembles the actual skating moves. EA called this revolution “Flickit”, and now a similar scheme is used in various EA Sports games including Fight Night Round 4.

Before the world is entirely consumed by motion controls and touch screens, let’s remember the good times of the classic controller. The games in which developers took these controls to a new level, or at least tried something a little different.

So enjoy your Move-enabled Killzone 3, and your Wiimote-controlled We Dare parties. I’m off to play some more Ape Escape.

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