Friday, 24 May 2013

Elements of game technology, part three: interaction design

Interaction within video games is a very important and diverse topic. I remember as a kid playing the Super Nintendo and its box like square controller as well as the Sega Megadrive which I had a very large controller for (almost size of the console). Then came the Nintendo 64 with its central joystick and trigger design. I also remember going on Time Splitters in the cinema arcade, picking up those guns and having a great time. However, controllers back then very difficult to use and not very ergonomic which seems to have evolved a whole lot since then. This ofcourse also applies to handhelds, interestingly though variations of things like tamagochis and mini games have come and gone, the game boy design from Nintendo has not changed a whole lot, still very square with a D pad, start and select. I also remember buying a steering wheel for my PS2, though it was not great in terms of articulation and sensitivity, it dramatically enhanced the driving experience in games like Gran Turismo 3 and GTA San Andreas. So what has changed and how? And is it for the better?

One thing I have seen a large increase in is touch screen. This is not solely based on gaming either, mobile devices, pc monitors and other technology seem to have embraced this attribute. Users can guide cursors in consoles like the Nintendo DS and PS Vita using pens/hands, this allows for far greater interaction and when done correctly the player can have more control in the game or application. I think this evolution in technology is a big step because we can see larger screen sizes as buttons are no longer required (Samsung Galaxy series and iPads for example). Voice recognition is another key element, though I have not personally used this, I recently noticed that Xbox One’s presentation had a few hiccups whilst it was demonstrating the Kinect system, it actually affected users whilst watching and this resulted in their live streams shutting off. Hah OOPS! A technology called ‘Dragon’ or ‘Dragon Speech Recognition has also been developed, though I’m not sure it if it’s on the market, here is a video of a gamer utilising it. Personally I am not sure if it will improve reaction times but it is definitely impressive.
(children with iPads)

(xbox one)

Now, ofcourse we have consoles like the Wii. A very smart evolution in technology that lets the player interact with games directly, the controller becomes a sword, golf club, tennis racket as well as many other things; Sony and Microsoft have ofcourse made their own variations, Kinect and Playstaiton Move. Whilst Nintendo have gone for a motion sensitive controller, Microsoft has chosen camera censoring with voice recognition. Sony has developed something that is a mix of both. These technologies enhance gaming in many ways; for example, players can now feel like they are a part of the game itself and are no longer sitting on the couch. It also can be a fun alternative when using the multiplayer functions, similar to arcade dancing machines but in the house. However, if I am playing something like Assasin’s Creed I would rather be sitting in one place and using a controller for obvious reasons. On a serious note, this technology does have a gimmicky aspect to it, kind of like 3D is for films, its great and CAN enhance the experience, but there is nothing wrong with with 2D cinema, as the controller is gerat already. Sony did come up with something similar on their previous console (PS2) called the Eyetoy which would sense players using a camera, though it was not much of a success.
(motion sensitive tech on console’s)   
(eyetoy reviews)

Ergonomics in design have developed very nicely, the PS3 and 360 controller’s are very nice to handle and seem to be specifically built for long term use. Removing wires is also a great touch so users can wonder with the controller in hand and not have to worry about tripping every 30 seconds. Gaming mice are also something that can enhance the experience, with custom sensitivity and macro keys; they can help you do things in game far quicker than with a regular mouse. Simulator’s are also can be a great experience, racing wheels with clutch and manual gear compatibility, gaming chairs, and multiple monitor set ups such as Eyefinity (3 or more monitor setup) can all be purchased today. So what is my conclusion? I think it is still about the game itself, the technology should not be relied upon to make great video games. If the art direction is great, the gameplay is brilliant and the narrative is solid, it will not matter how many screens I have or if I am sitting or standing. Although I would love to get my hands on one of those racing wheels!    

(Racing simulator using G27 wheel)

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