Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Feature: This Generation - Part II

 For the purposes of these features, "This Generation" refers to software found on the following hardware: Wii, DS/3DS, PSP, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Trends found on the PC platform will be addressed but because the demarcations between PC hardware iterations can be foggy, establishing what is of this generation is much more difficult to finalize. 
"This Generation" includes major trends or evolutionary notes that will, in this writer's opinion, be identified strongly with this generation of games and hardware for years to come. 
Second item to hallmark this period of gaming: Motion Controls.
One could make a valid argument that the popular acceptance of motion controls began with Nintendo's DS handheld system released November 2004. While touchscreen was not a new technology, Nintendo brought it to the gaming world in a big way. Many of the titles required direct player control with the use of the touchscreen and stylus. It wasn't just button presses, the player had to move the stylus in order to perform some actions, like drawing rainbows with Kirby: Canvas Curse (2005) or controlling Samus in Metroid Prime Hunters (2006).

The method of input wasn't always exact and it lead to countless scratched screens, but the number of units sold (and that still sell) probably gave Nintendo some confidence that their next project would strike gold: The Nintendo Wii, which was fully unveiled at E3 2006.

The response that greeted the announcement ranged from tepid to outright speculation that Nintendo had blundered so astoundingly that the company would bow out of the hardware market altogether. With the Wii Remote and Nunchuck attachment, Nintendo seemed to bank on appealing to a crowd well-beyond the hardcore. With the simple input devices, Nintendo reduced the barrier of entry to a line in the sand. As the console sold like gangbusters to everyone, the mainstream media was reporting that retirement homes were using the console to get seniors moving and that add-ons like the Wii Fit Balance Board were also being brought into the mix. It was uncharted territory. And there was an influx of busted TVs to prove it.

Have a spacious, well-lit apartment (surrounded
by deaf neighbours)? Kinect!
The success of the Wii was something that very few in the press predicted. The fact it did as well as it did, likely spurred on the development of motion control devices for Wii's console competition. Microsoft announced the Kinect -- "You are the controller!" -- for Xbox 360 (November 2010), and Sony brought the PlayStation Move (September 2010) to market, which was essentially a refinement of their EyeTop peripheral released in the glory days of the Playstation 2.

PS Move... keep your
eye on the ball...
It couldn't have hurt the trend toward motion controls that in 2007, Apple released it's first iPhone, then 3 years later introduced the iPad. Parallel to this, Apple introduced and developed it's App Store which featured cheap, simple games, which appealed to everyone, like Rovio Entertainment's Angry Birds. Without any of the traditional "joystick" methods of interacting with games, users had to use motion controls whether they wanted to or not.

We can argue about how successful each take on motion controls was in the long run. Some swear by Microsoft's Kinect; others will choose the PlayStation Move as the one that got it right; and still others will not have heard about either one of those because they became so entrenched with Nintendo's Wii.

The lasting impact of Motion Controls can't be overstated. In 2012 (late 2011 in Japan), Sony released it's portable PlayStation Vita which features not only traditional button and sticks, but also touch surfaces on the front and back of the unit along with gyroscopes inside the unit to register motion. Motion is important, and it's something that Nintendo carried over with their recently released Wii U console and before that the 3DS.

This is the generation that we'll point to with certainty when future generations ask, "When did motion controls take root?" Even if PC enthusiasts point to 2001 and the availability of the Track IR.

- Aaron Simmer