Monday, March 29, 2010

How Does I Play Game? Part 2

Moving on from where we last left off(Part 1).  So what were we talking about again?  Oh yeah, Human-Computer Interaction(HCI) and video games.  Well, we're kinda getting away from the HCI part of it.  I'm mainly focusing on the controllers throughout the years.  
This picture was actually used in class
In the first part, I briefly went over some concepts of HCI.  But what is HCI?  By definition(According to Professor Ikehara and the text book),
"HCI is the study of and applications of concepts and methodologies of human factors, psychology and software factors engineering to address ergonomic, cognitive, and social factors in the design and evaluation of human-computer systems." - What Holy Remembers from ICS464
But to put it in simpler terms, it's how we(people) do stuff with the thingy(computer).  And they study that.  Pretty kewl right?  HCI is a pretty large part of computer science.  Good HCI often goes un-noticed.  Why?  Because if the design is done right, you'll be too busy using the software/computer to notice.  And I respect that.  Here's to the hidden heroes.  Do work.
I'm typing as fast as I can!
I was looking to keep it to two parts.  But I found so much fun crap, I'm going to make it 3 parts.  So in part 1, we took a look at some of the tried and true video game controllers.  In part 2, I'll be going over the smorgasbord of random "OTHER" controllers.  What do I mean by "OTHER" controllers?  You'll see.  In our last part, I wanted to take a look at the future of game interaction.  That's got all the cool sci-fi-come-reality devices that are in development.  And I must say, looking at these will make you scream "BRILLIANT!"  But alas, that is the next issue.  For now, enjoy these...  "OTHER" controllers.

Light Guns
The original Light Gun was BAD ASS
If you were born sometime around or before 1986, you will remember these.  Lightgun controllers have actually been around since the dawn of the home gaming console.  Not the NES!  Before that.  No, I don't mean the Atari 2600.  I'm talking older than that.  Back to the prototype that would eventually spawn home gaming consoles, the BROWN BOX.  That's right.  Ralph Baer designed a light gun addon peripheral for the Brown Box.  And also created the first light gun game called "Shooting Gallery."
I hated that damn dog
Yes, light guns gained most of it's popularity with the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Two words for ya, "Duck Hunt."  Ahh, I remember as a young fat kid, shooting ducks from point blank next to the TV.  Yes that completely defeats the purpose of a gun game.  Hey, dem shooting games were hard.  Anyway, the light gun was a standard peripheral with all NESs.
One of these was used to rob a store.
Pictured are the two different versions of the Nintendo Zapper.  The original Nintendo Zapper was colored grey and looked SEMI-similar to a gun.  And it looked pretty cool.  That is, until federal law in 1989 required all toy guns to look like toy guns.  After that, all NESs came with the bright orange gun controller.  However, this still hasn't stopped people from using it to rob stores.
All of this for $60!  That's like $1,000 adjusted for inflation... Or something.
Post-NES Nintendo decided to continue the light gun controller with the Super Scope.  Personally, never owned one.  It was a hard sell for my parents.  But it looked really badass.  It was basically a goddamn Bazooka.  Unfortunately, the super scope had a few flaws.  It was not bundled with the Super Nintendo Console, meaning it was an optional peripherial.  So it required much more begging from children to get their parents to buy one.  I was unsuccessful.  This deterred developers, they had no way of knowing how successful the peripherial was going to be.  The trigger buttons for the Super Scope were positioned where they should be for a bazooka, on the shoulder area.  But...  You only shoot one round with a bazooka.  Most games require you to constantly fire. So you have your arms in an awkward position to try and keep firing while also keeping your aim.  In retrospect, I'm kinda glad I didn't get a Super Scope.  Though I wish I could've gotten to play Battle Clash.
I've actually played this in both Japan and the US
Light Guns have stuck around throughout the years.  However, the popularity of having a light gun peripheral for a home gaming system has dwindled.  Most light gun games are rail shooters found in arcades.  Though the US arcade has pretty much packed it up(With exception of Dave and Busters), it is still popular in Asia.  There are still a large number of interesting light gun shooters in arcades.  They are trying different things with these arcade light guns.  The Silent Scope series changed light guns from hand gun type light guns to a sniper rifle version.  I thought that was bad ass.  Companies have also incorporated motion sensing to make rail shooters a little more interactive(Police 911 aka Keisatsukan: Shinjuku Cop 24 Hours).
I wonder what's on... Oh wait. not that kind of remote.
In many aspects the Wii remote is much like a light gun.  The concept of pointing and shooting accurately over a distance is present.  But... It's a remote.  Yes, they have gun like attachments to make it more light gun like.  Ehhhh.  Nope.  It's still a remote.  I do believe that light guns have their place in video games.  It is a great tool for immersion in a game.  Holding the light gun and pulling the trigger is the closest most will have to actually firing a gun.  However, I don't foresee them ever making a huge comeback in the home gaming market. 

Racing Wheels
I feel the need... The need... For speed.
Vroom vroom!  Gentlemen, start your engines.  I'm sure most of us have seen racing wheel controllers somewhere.  Racing Wheels are a lot like flight sticks, but for cars.  These are more predominantly seen in Arcades.  These units are bigger than normal.  Mainly designed for immersion into the whole racing game.  Some of the units even give force feedback to the seats.  Hit a bump?  Ka tunk!  Gone off course? Feel the rumble from your butt. 
Now you too can experience traffic virtually
Racing wheels do provide a good analogue for real world driving.  So much so that most driving schools now have driving simulators.  You get the behind the wheel training without wasting gas!  HURRAH! And hey, if you hit a pedestrian that's 100 points!  Wooh hoo!  But nawwww... That's not safe driving. 
Now if it only had a leather interior
You'd think that racing wheels have very little variation.  And to some extent that's true.  It's a wheel.  With pedals.  You press the pedal you go forward.  You press other pedal you break.  Turn wheel to turn car.  Yup...  Yeah that isn't the case.  These wheels actually have quite a bit of variation.  You can't have a racing wheel without some way of shifting gears.  Why?  Because real cool superstar gaming racers use manual shifting.  Even though they can't do it IRL, they're so cool they can do it in a vidya game.  Some wheels opt for paddle shifting that is found in most high performance racing cars.  While others have a stick shift to simulate your real life Toyota Supra...  Cuz you totally have one of those...  *snicker*
No, I am not counting this.
The wheels themselves also have some variation.  Early iterations of these racing wheels only supported 180 degrees of revolution.  So only half turns in either direction.  Yeah, it was an eye opener for me when I drove a car for the first time.  WAT!? The wheel turns more than that?!  Newer wheels do go more than the "traditional" 180 degrees.  This provides an even better analogue for real world driving.  And leads to less confused teenagers that have only driven in the arcades... 
Close.... But something's missing.
I guess the actual racing wheel itself is only half of the actual controller.  The actual driving seat has become part of the controller.  I mean, it's cool with having a badass driving wheel and life-like petals.  But if you're sitting in grandma's rocking chair while playing. Ehhh.. I dunno.  I guess something is missing there.  Can't really lean into those turns when you hear the creaking of a chair about to collapse under your own immense weight.  So, the hardcore racing enthusiasts rigged their badass driving wheels to a badass racing seat and plopped it in their living room(at much disapproval from their wives).
And thus the complete racing experience was born.  And boy has it grown.  First it was just a chair.  Then someone took it a step further and said, "Well it feels kinda real.  But you just don't experience the same kind of violent jostling as a real car."  Bam!  Force feedback racing chairs.  And they will continue to evolve.  Racing wheels will probably stick around as a novelty.  Only really put to good use by racing enthusiasts that aren't able to actually race.  Hardcore racers are a different breed of gamers.  Living life in the fast lane.  Works for some.  Not for most.

Track Balls
 The balls are going to collide!
Look at these balls.  Har har har.  But nawwwww, track balls are a niche controller.  Track balls are rarely seen in any type of gaming console.  Actually, I think the only place I've seen a track ball used as a controller was in the arcades.   I've seen some golf games that use the track ball to help deal with shot angles and speed.  There are also a couple of old 80's arcade games that used a track ball instead of a joystick for control. 
Golden Tee 3D '97 - It had balls.  Well.. A ball.
Unfortunately, track balls are weird to use.  Though it does seem like it's more intuitive to scroll in the direction you need to move using a track ball compared to a joystick(This could be very easily argued.  But I'm just sayin for some it is.)  Most arcade track balls required your entire hand to roll across the ball.  And if you had to make many small quick movements, your hand would be flying everywhere because there is nothing to resist excess movement.  I would have to compare this with a joystick that has very limited movement.  You know when a joystick is at it's farthest position.  The damn thing doesn't move!  Track balls can keep on rolling... And rolling... And rolling. 
That's a lotta balls
Today's track balls are basically limited to mice interfaces.  For people that use the mouse a lot, it can be easier on the wrist to use.  It also provides a surprisingly high level of control.  But it still suffers the problem of low resistance.  A quick flick can send your mouse to the other side of the planet.  As with previous entries, I don't see this technology making a comeback in gaming.  Sorry, keep the balls in the pants.

Virtual Reality Devices

I am kinda curious to see what those hand gestures are for.
Virtual Reality(VR) devices are kind of a broad category.  If you were born sometime before 1990, you might remember these making a small stint in the arcade scene.  The VR devices I'm referring to were the kind that you put on this headset and were placed on this weird platform thing.  You were kinda locked into position and could only turn around.  You were given this pointer gun type of thing which actually corresponded your actual hand movement to movement in the game.  Head movements of course related to movement in the game.  You didn't actually walk to move around, the handgun controller had a button that allowed you to move forward.  The biggest issue was the usability was terrible.  Cords got tangled, people felt sick from wearing the headset over extended periods of time.  Response was slow.  The list goes on and on. 
Not pictured - HOW LAME IT IS
Lets throw in those rides at lame theme parks that don't actually move you, but make you watch a movie that looks like you're on a roller coaster.  The entire "theatre" would tilt and move in relation to what was shown on the screen.  This gives you the "SENSATION" that you are actually riding a roller coaster.  Yeah...  I'll count that as virtual reality.  Maybe the first time it was cool.  The movie does a pretty good job at tricking your brain into thinking that you are somewhere else when in fact you're staying pretty stationary.  However, the second you realize it's all smoke and mirrors it becomes LAME.
We can hang this one over Nintendo's head for eternity
Probably the all time low for VR would be Nintendo's Virtual Boy.  Man.  If you owned one, I pity you.  And at the same time, envy you for owning a piece of one of the biggest failures of all time.  No really, it's historical.  It was arguably the worst video game system ever made.  And that's saying something, lemme tell you.  The "graphics" for the Virtual Boy were all black with red outlines.  The unit ergonomically sucked, requiring you to hunch over and stare into the goggles.  You could lie down and place the goggles over your eyes and play, but you'd have to stop about every 30 minutes or so.  People fell ill trying to play games on the Virtual Boy.  And the games?  They were terrible.  They had absolutely nothing to do with "Virtual" other than the dumbass goggles you had to look into.  They looked and played exactly like regular console games.  There were no 3D elements to them.  No, don't feed me that 3D Tetris crap.  You can still do that on a regular TV.  And on a TV, you don't feel like throwing up after half an hour of play.
You're doing it wrong!
I'm going to say that was about it for VR.  Ok, TECHNICALLY it didn't end there.  The idea of having a 3D virtual space to navigate and do stuff continues.  The focus shifted from one platform to another.  Gone are the stupid ass wired headsets and motion sensing gun thingy.  Replaced by a much simpler and easily accessible monitor, mouse, and keyboard.  However, the complete immersion using a headset and complex equipment have pretty much been benched.  VR will evolve though.  The idea of complete immersion into a virtual space is what video games strive for.  The method of immersion will have to change though.  

Dance Pads
You're totally out of beat damnit!
Now these made a huge comeback a few years ago.  Dance pads require the player to place weight on buttons laid out on a platform in order to register input.  Compared to most video game controllers, dance pads are probably require the most effort.  Think about it.  To properly play, you must use your full body weight and smash it into buttons on the ground.  I don't know about the rest of the world, but that's a lot of work.  Simple physics says that the average fat person(me) needs to effectively reduce earth's gravity by a factor of 10 in order to play on dance pads.  It's true...  I read that somewhere.... Yeah...
Aww yeahhhhhh.  That's what I'm talkin 'bout.
Dance pads first appeared on the Atari 2600 as the "Exus Foot Craz."  If you're saying WTF is that?  I'm one of them.  Sorry, that's before my time.  The dance pad I remember is the Nintendo "Power Pad."  Back then all of the games were athletics based.  Probably one of the most memorable Power Pad games was the "World Class Track Meet" by Bandai.  Oh the many hours of a fat kid running in real life to make virtual people move faster.  Then when you're too tired to run(Or ran out of skittles to keep your sugar high going) you'd sit down and pound fists on the pad to keep playing.  Such fond memories. 
What started it all...
Post Power Pad Period(most consecutive P's ever), was pretty empty.  Nobody stepped up to use the dance pad in any shape or form until 1998(About 10 years after the Power Pad).  That's when this little game called "Dance Dance Revolution"(DDR) came on the scene.  DDR became a cultural phenomenon in early 2000s.  By having players jump on the buttons at certain intervals determined by the music played, it "simulated" dancing.  DDR effectively revived video games in bowling alleys/pool halls/arcades/hotel game rooms around the US.  People couldn't wait to line up and show off their "M4D DDR SK1LLZ."  The craze has since died down a bit.  DDR still remains a very popular arcade game, with many different updated versions of it being released.
An internet classic
The DDR dance pads were significantly different than the Power Pad.  The Power Pad was like a mat that you could roll up and store like a blanket.  These DDR pads were built to take serious punishment.  Constructed of rigid plastics and metals This was to the pad's advantage, because the players weren't any 80lb. 6 year olds.  You got teenagers and adults trying to play, and they got some weight to them.  These pads had to take the abuse as well as register meaningful input.  Quite a feat, but it was executed very well.  Aside from dumbasses intentionally trying to break the pads, they handled wear and tear from most people.  Even fatties like me didn't break them from regular use. 
Gotta give them points for trying
DDR has moved on to try and invade the home console front.  Konami has released a series of DDR games for multiple systems.  Majority of them on the Playstation 2 platform.  These came with standard pads that were softer and looked like the Power Pads of old.  Since the release of the home versions of DDR, Hardcore fans have purchased or constructed their own version of the arcade dance pads.  Home DDR seemed like a good idea, but the main draw a lot of DDR players looked for was the exhibition.  I don't think dance pads will make a comeback exactly.  It did however lead to the birth of our next set of controllers.

Donkey Konga - Pan Pan your way to victory
DDR was a revolution in rhythm games.  Gone were those lame hand held controllers.  You needed something better.  Something more immersive.  It made players move to the beat and the music of the game.  Through the popularity of DDR, music centric games became more popular.  First it was dancing, but then it lead to playing music.  And thus, the instrument controller was created.
This machine shattered my dreams of ever being a DJ
The earliest controllers were made for the Beatmania series of games by Konami(who also made DDR.  Clever.).  Beatmania had players use a DJ's turntable to mix music that was displayed on screen.  Much like DDR, Beatmania required a good rhythm and a little understanding of music.  The controller was pretty intense.  Players had to keep track of keys while at the same time be read to scratch a record.  It was pretty intense for new players, while veterans prided themselves on extreme performances. 
Companies began to expand on these rhythm games even further.  Using different types of controllers.  Wildly popular in Japan, the Namco's Taiko no Tatsujin series had players drum on a Taiko Drum controller.  The music selected was an array of modern and pop songs that were popular, but integrated into the songs were the sounds made by the Taiko Drum.  Taiko no Tatsujin was very popular in Japan, overseas in the US it made only a tiny splash in the pan.  Most cite cultural differences in the popularity.  Most in the US do not know what a Taiko drum is, nor how it's significant.  But hey, cultural differences are always present in games.  Some work a little better than others.
Guitar Hero makes you THIS cool
Instrumental controllers in the US were pretty scarce.  That is, until RedOctane came along and blew our minds with Guitar Hero.  It should be noted that the concept of Guitar Hero was around before, in Japan of course.  Konami(Those guys that made DDR) had another popular game they released known as Guitar Freaks.  It featured a guitar like controller and operated almost exactly like Guitar Hero.  Guitar Freaks was successful in Japan(Still is actually), but the US wasn't so keen on picking it up.  Can't blame them, the built in songs weren't exactly what the US market was looking for.  That's when RedOctane picked up the idea and developed it further.  Two things needed to be changed.  Number 1, US arcades suck.  They had to bring this game to the home gaming market.  Which meant they had to design a controller that could be used on home systems.  Number 2, the music doesn't work for the US.  Nobody is going to play a rhythm game that has a bunch of songs they have no knowledge of nor cultural significance.  Boom, license a bunch of music and use songs US players recognise.  What happened after that was A ROCK REVOLUTION YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SO YOU WANNA BE A GUITAR HERO!?
Guitar Hero Metallica
After Guitar Hero took off, things happened.  A lot of things that are complicated and dealt with people who own companies blah blah.  Eventually there's a company named Harmonix.  Harmonix takes the Guitar Hero concept and developes it even further.  Why stop a guitar?  Add in Drums, vocals, and backup guitar, BAM!  Rock Band.  Add in the fact that Rock Band is constantly updated with new songs and albums available for download from Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, the game seems to never be old.  Of course, Guitar Hero didn't take this lying down.  They too made a backup guitar, vocals and drum set of their own.  And thus the Rock Band vs Guitar Hero wars began. 
Rock the world man
Over the past couple of years, Rockband and Guitar Hero have been pretty active.  Although it seems to have slowed down a little, I guess everyone has a copy of both already.  Both games are immensely popular with all ages.  Old timers can enjoy some of the great hits from the Eagles and what not.  Young kids can enjoy playing Hana Montana or whatever the hell kids these days listen too.  I have seen a few places that hold Rock Band or Guitar Hero tournaments.  Imagine that?  Getting paid to play and make it look like you're actually performing.  It's like "Brown Bags to Stardom" but with less talent.  And with new DLC albums or singles almost weekly, I think these games will be around for a while. 

Other controllers
Where's the goddamn manual for this thing?
I've reserved this section to show off a couple novelty controllers that don't really fit in with my other sections.  Not going to say a whole bunch about them.  They're just for fun.

Onimusha Katana: The Soul Controller
This controller was designed for Onimusha 3 by the Hori company of Japan.  It was badass.  It had motion sensing control, but this was released about two years before the Wii.  The controller was novel, but expensive.  It retailed for around $160 and use was limited to only Onimusha 3.  That's a lot to drop for one game.  One game that you could play with a regular controller.  But, you won't look as badass.

Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller

Much like the Katana controller, Nuby Tech(awesome company name) released a special collectors Chainsaw Controller for Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube.  However, it was just for looks.  The controller did not have motion sensing or anything like that.  It was just a heavily modified Gamecube Controller.  It also was a little cumbersome to use.  Not exactly ergonomic.

Dragon Quest Slime Controller
Released for Dragon Quest VIII, this is much like the Chainsaw Controller.  It is another piece of work from the Hori company(they're really good with 3rd party controllers and accessories).  It's meant as eye-candy, but can also function as a controller if you ABSOLUTELY need to.  I'm proud to say, I managed to snag a used one of these for about $10 off a friend.  And it does add a nice cute element to the controller collection.

Tiny Bee Gun Controller

Yet another Hori company controller here!  This time, it's for Final Fantasy X-2.  You remember that one right?  The girly one that has the characters playing dress up?  Yeah, they made a special controller for it.  I think it looks badass.  The two guns are basically a fully functional PS2 controller.  Only special function is pulling the trigger causes Yuna to fire her guns in game. Other than that.  It's just more eye-candy.  I gotta say, I am impressed at the Hori company for all of their well made collectors controllers.(They also made the flight stick that was bundled with Ace Combat 5 and Ace Combat 6).

Steel Battalion Controller

This is THE MOTHER OF ALL CONTROLLERS.  The game is unplayable without this controller.  Hell, the game itself was more expensive than the system.  Steel Battalion retailed at $250, the Xbox at the time was only $200.  I was lucky enough to snag one of these at a "reasonable" $150.  Lemme say, LORD WAS IT WORTH IT! This controller.  Ohhh my god.... Soo much awesome.  If you are looking for immersion with a big robot game, look no further.  Two full sized joysticks, gear shift stick, knobs, switches, toggles, dials, three pedals, A GODDAMN EJECT BUTTON THAT HAS A PLASTIC COVER.  Gonna say it.  Best controller EVAR... EVAR...  The game was badass, and the controller made it all worth it.

Nintendo Power Glove

No controller article is ever complete without the inclusion of THE POWER GLOVE.  Made popular by the movie "The Wizard," this was Nintendo's first go at motion sensor gaming.  The marketing campaign for the Power Glove made it seem like it's the best friggen thing since sliced bread.  The movie made it look even more awesome than that.  Only Badasses may use the glove.  Buuuuut....  For anyone who has actually tried using the Power Glove, you start to realize it's kinda crap.  Your arm starts to hurt because you gotta hold it out parallel to the ground.  You realize there is an actual controller on the goddamn thing.  Why the hell should I use this crappy finger moving thing when I can use the actual game pad!?  In the end.  It failed...  Or did it?  More on this later.

Well now...  That was a massive friggen wall of text.  I hope you enjoyed our little romp through these controllers of yore.  Many of these are still around today.  Though they might not be the BEST controllers, they all have a place in video game history.  Next time you complain about a controller, give it some thought to these.Next up, Part 3.  Future game controllers and interfaces.  Lord knows how long that one's gonna take.


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