At Vector we talk to Kieran Nolan about Control and controllers, we swing a wand around in a magical girl simulator, and talk about how to dodge lasers and beat the AI.
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Game controllers are often a player's lifeline. A player's familiarity with a control scheme or a controller can determine the difference between success and defeat. Over time we've seen controllers become more standardized, from a simple joystick and a button to the four face buttons, four triggers, and two analogue sticks. We've had good controllers (Xbox 360), bad controllers (Nintendo 64), and plain ugly ones (Atari Jaguar), but eventually they all settled on the same thing. The Wii U's gamepad has screen in the middle, but it's fundamentally the same layout as the PlayStation 2, and its simplified controller makes that clear. These controllers then form a connected language, where a player can move between all modern consoles and not dramatically change the way the games control.
Yet, once controls become standardised they start to lose their nuance. Vibration adds potential, as does the Wii U's screen (not so much the PS4's touch nub) but they're just abstractions made for a select few games, usually focused on action. How do four face buttons and four triggers help you in a game where you're exploring or trying to solve puzzles? Most likely, half the buttons will go unused. Meanwhile there's not enough buttons for a flight simulator or many strategy games.
Sometimes they also lack the precision and exact feel necessary for a game. We used to accelerate cars with the bottom most face button, but the back right trigger feels better. Players have a granularity of control available a trigger that isn't on a buttons and pushing down slowly on a trigger feels closer to pushing down the accelerator. In an arcade you'll often see games attempt to go beyond this, with controllers that include a miniature version of a race car, including a wheel, pedals and a gear stick.
All of this is learned behaviour, however. We know how these controllers work from experience. They are the current agreed upon language for video games. But as today's episode explores, every language has a learning curve and our current language is hardly the only one.
With the necessary philosophical rambling out of the way, on today's episode you'll hear the following designers:
We've talked to Sagan Yee and Nadine Lessio a couple times now. The first time we talked to them together was for a game where you physically threw knives at a screen to make decisions. Nadine also worked on another game available at the Vector Festival called Sext Adventure, with Kara Stone.Meanwhile, Sagan's been teaching people about game literacy at Toronto's Reference Library.
Sorry, if we didn't get your call. We were fighting evil. pic.twitter.com/cL3pigmWhB
— Built to Play (@BuilttoPlay) February 21, 2015
By the way, the Vector Festival's _To Utility and Beyond _exhibit is running at the InterAccessgallery until March 21. It's at Ossington and Queen in Toronto, so if you live in Canada, it's basically down the street.