Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Would-Be Real

We're heading towards it at the speed of at least 300 km/h bent forward with no helmets on. We can't really see it, we're too busy looking at the scenery, imagining the possibilities, and of course it's right there under our noses. Why would we look?

You know the worst thing for a kid in a toy store? He can't have it all. He can't buy it all and his parents won't let him have it so all he can ever do is walk around and look at all those things he could be playing with and never will. He's restricted. It's not that he doesn't have the means to play with them, even. He's got arms, hands, fingers and a brain, but there's something in the way.

Sooner or later that's how games will feel to us, and I'm starting to feel it already. If you haven't quite caught up with me (I don't blame you) I'm talking about input methods, or more specifically the traditional gamepad.

Games are coming to a point where physics and interactivity is so sophisticated that there's more you can do in a game than you can.. actually DO. Playing Half Life 2, I'm walking through a room with boxes on the floor, and I feel like a total elephant because I just can't seem to avoid kicking the boxes around when all I'm trying to do is walk around them. If I walk into a room with a set of chairs and a little table, I have to circle past them, I can't carefully place my foot between the chair and the table and get around it that way like I would in real life. I love the way developers are paying attention to details like that when the game is trying to convince me that I am in fact moving around in a real environment, but how am I supposed to keep believing in it when my interaction with it isn't more precise than Mario hopping on turtles? In fact, even less so. Oh and don't even get me started on mouse and keyboard, they're even more utterly incompetent in offering any kind of half-human interaction.

A normal gamepad today has about eight buttons and two sticks of which four are analogue to a point where they're USEFUL FOR ANALOGUE INPUT. Analogue face buttons are just stupid. With these I'm expected to have an experience that's close to or reminicent of reality (if that's what the game strives for) but to even begin to provide the precision I'm talking about, the controller would have to be completely devoted to just emulating human behavior.

I've never been a huge fan of the obsession with realism and I've sort of always failed to see the point of just trying to mimic something when the possibilities for creating something unique and brand new are so enormous. Even so, it didn't strike me until I realised that this is the only new generation in ages where gamepads are exactly the same. Games themselves won't just stop evolving and stop providing more believable surroundings, so soon the only thing making us doubt that we're actually participating in what plays out before us will be the inability to interact with it on that same level of sophistication.

Whenever I think about games I break them down to very simple pieces. I think the best way to create a game is through focus and through an idea that fuels itself, that rewards itself instead of neccessarily offering synthetic rewards. I'm old school and traditional like that I suppose. I think that those types of ideas will always work using today's input methods because they rely on something simple and doesn't try the cumbersome task of emulating and recreating the player in the environment. I think, however, that in order to let that kind of idea evolve and actually change, we can't just sit here with gamepads in hand and watch as environments in games take off without us. It's a worrying fact that the 360 pad is almost identical to the Xbox pad (even though it's purely sexual to hold and play with) when the current trend IS immersion and believability. That said, I'm not looking for lawnmower man type brain-jack stuff either.

In fact, I'm quite frankly not too bothered with the whole realism thing. I'll gladly keep rolling my Katamaris, because I don't really need to scratch my nose in game for that concept to work.

Thinking is good though, and I'll keep doing it. I hope you do, too.