The Conduit 2 and Pointy Shooters

May 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

As is the case with many of the other games I think about nowadays, the Conduit 2 interests me not because of how it works, but because of how it doesn’t. Apart from its stale and unambitious design decisions – which I’ll admit, wouldn’t make for a good article at all – it suffers from much the same problem as many other shooters on the Wii; it simply doesn’t feel right.

This in itself isn’t much of a surprise. The problem of how to get as established a genre as the first-person (or indeed third-person) shooter working with the WiiMote and Move isn’t one that any developer has yet been able to solve, and High Voltage don’t seem to have brought any new thinking to the table in this regard. Infinitely customisable control schemes are all very well, but I hardly think throwing the problem into consumers hands is a valid solution.

Perhaps though I’m getting too ahead of myself. What exactly is the problem with the pointer-controller (henceforth used to refer to both the WiiMote and the Move)? First comes a problem of resting position. If you’re using a traditional dual-analogue control scheme and have no need to aim at any point in time, simply take your thumb off the right analogue stick. Through the magic of modern manufacturing you’ll find the stick returns to its resting position, and you no longer need to worry about your current view until you need to change it of course. With a pointer-controller you need to make a conscious effort to keep your view centralised, which over anything other than the shortest of periods is a complete pain. Lose concentration for even a small amount of time and you’ll find your view drifting as the cursor reaches the edge of the screen.

The second main problem involves the way you usually target enemies in a shooter. In using analogue sticks you’re controlling both camera and aiming at exactly the same time (since the reticule is always in the centre of the screen) and as such you never need to worry about one or the other too much. Simply get an enemy in the centre of the screen and fire away. However, when using a pointer, you’re having to first frame the enemy within the boarders of the screen, before then aiming at them manually. This is why shooters on the Wii can often feel so inaccurate and sluggish.

The only game to my mind that manages to solve this problem is Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. It’s odd that this should be the case, given that RE4 wasn’t originally designed with the Wii’s control scheme in mind, but at any rate the game’s existing design happened to fit in exactly with how the controller works best.

RE4 works for two reasons. Firstly, it only uses the pointer for aiming, never for camera movement. This gets around the problem of resting position, since when you’re not aiming the cursor essentially does nothing, and won’t change the camera’s orientation at all.

Secondly, because it separates camera movement from aiming, it allows the player to use the analogue stick to frame enemies and then the pointer to aim at them. This separation of function works brilliantly, since you don’t ever have to worry about having to do everything with the WiiMote. Here it’s very much the case that many hands make light work.

It is however, only half true that other developers could use Resident Evil 4’s control scheme for their own games. Capcom’s seminal survival horror title is a unique beast, one that controls unlike most other games out there. It is the very antithesis of a run-and-gun shooter, and as such its solution for the inherent problems with the WiiMote would never transfer into another faster paced experience where the Nunchuk’s analogue stick could never be used for camera in addition to character movement.

What we can take from it though, is a lesson that in order to get a new controller to work we need to change the game itself, in addition to just the usual mix of deadzone’s and other sensitivity settings. Halo – the game many feel was the first first-person shooter to work with a controller – didn’t succeed simply because of the refinement of its controls, but because it was a game whose design diverged significantly from that of most mouse-and-keyboard shooters. It was a much slower game, and one that relied much more on tactical play as opposed to sharp reflexes.

It’s not yet clear how, or even if, a traditional shooter can ever feel completely at home with a pointer-controller. What is clear is that the Conduit series is not the way forward. Rather than wrapping existing shooters in increasingly complex control options, developers should instead think about how they can change the makeup of the shooter itself, and in doing so maybe even move the genre into some much needed uncharted territory.

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