Rhythm and Motion

As the Nintendo Wii came out of the shadow of the Nintendo Revolution rumor, movement based gaming suddenly received a jolt of life on the home console. Games that were traditionally thought of as arcade titles and not feasible for the home environment were now entirely possible and encouraged.

However, the gaming community began to see this as a dilution of their hallowed pastime. Now that everyone was encouraged to play since the controller became as complicated as their bodily movement, gamers felt that their hobby was no longer unique and the hardcore games were fading away for more family friendly titles.
Those rabbids are…ravin’.

The first wave were games like “Red Steel” or the surprisingly popular “Rayman: Raving Rabbids.” Simply enough, the tech focused on moving the controller in time with directions or beats to get the correct sequence. I mention these before the shameful peripheral that was the PlayStation EyeToy or even the home version of “Dance Dance Revolution” because the Wii games were actually considered triple-a titles.

“Red Steel” was shamed and hailed as a glitchy and bugged-out game that should never have been a launch title. Sad, but true for the game that was actually somewhat fun if it wasn’t for the awful use of motion control. “Rabbids,” however, was socially looked down on, but reviewers and consumers ate it up. The gaming community couldn’t really see any interest in it, and yet copies sold.

It took time, but eventually Nintendo figured out a somewhat workable use for the Wiimote and it became commonplace and accepted to a degree to those who were fans of the company. Soon, Sony and Microsoft were announcing their own movement based peripherals that were eerily similar to Nintendo’s design, except for the Kinect using everything but a physical item in your hand.

Now, motion-based gameplay is still a gimmick, but one that gaming companies use cautiously. “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” used in in their weapon customization system, which was probably the best use for the Xbox Kinect in recent years. The Nintendo Wii’s motion controls have been streamlined so much so that even a novice to video gaming can use the system to workout with. Oprah gave her entire audience Wii systems and copies of “Wii Fit” during a taping of her daytime talk show. Sony still remains an the back of the race, unable to truly garner the attention of their customers to the PlayStation Move, awarding it a mediocre place in history just like the EyeToy.

What with “Dance Central” and “Just Dance” on Xbox and the Wii, motion controls are becoming more sophisticated than ever, completely removing the need for the “Dance Dance Revolution” floor pads.

The fever pitch of dancing games and music-based gameplay would not have reached the fever pitch that it did without the success of Harmonix’s “Guitar Hero” franchise, which has been taken over by Neversoft, or their other music-based hit series, “Rock Band.” Gamers could now feel a connection to something other than cyclops evisceration and collecting coins by working to make the chords and notes of their favorite songs happen. They felt a sense of accomplishment, and there was even a feeling of skill as people began to master certain songs.

Of course, gaming companies felt that this meant they could make comebacks for lightguns and props. Who could forget the completely awkward and unusable attachments to Wiimotes for “Wii Sports” made by Nerf? Or the ineffective and cumbersome Wii Zapper? Let’s not forget the serious piece of hardware that Sony made recently that looks almost exactly like the Wii Zapper for their Move controllers and shooter games.

As musical gaming became more sophisticated and mainstream, drum sets were added along with keyboards and microphones that detected correct pitch. An entire band could be formed in a living room instead of a garage. The logical evolution? “Rocksmith.”

The Vault tested out the effectiveness of “Rocksmith” and proved that it is indeed a working learning tool for those players looking to strum a six string. Now the gauntlet has been thrown down, and gamer speculation rises as to what the next instrument or game will be to teach the masses rather than just entertain them.

Success in both movement and music simulators, a term used hesitantly now as “Rocksmith” actually teaches the player, is an excellent lesson in game development and market manipulation.

Nintendo took a chance with the Wii. One could argue that motion-based gameplay was the evolution of the industry, but nonetheless it was a gamble to be the first in the running with that. Again, we must acknowledge Sony’s attempt with the EyeToy, but it’s utter failure cannot be ignored. It was no competition for a system built around motion control.

Even the marketing focused on physical movement.

The idea of the player actually moving meant that they were invested in the action and the game more than if they were merely sitting in a chair and watching their character do all the action. It’s the sense of accomplishment that one gets from actually killing the dragon instead of watching someone else do it as you press four buttons. Of course, games are not there just yet, but they are moving towards it.

To that same idea, however, a gamer getting a high score when playing “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band” feels that they’ve actually done something because they’ve made the music. Yes, they are still pressing buttons, but “Rocksmith” and the pro peripherals for “Rock Band” change the playing field because at that point a gamer is using an actual instrument.

How do game makers achieve a sense of accomplishment and investment in their games? If a developer can get the player more involved in a game, surely they’ll want to keep coming back for more That’s half the reason conversation options exist in RPGs, so that the player feels that they are responsible for the choices and events that occur. If that could be translated into actions, then perhaps something big would happen.

Looking at the musical game evolution, the argument could be made for the idea that if the player is engaged in learning something, then they will be more invested and more motivated to play. The “Dance Central” games may teach someone nothing but line dancing techniques, but they do teach you something. There have been no recorded instances of people actually dancing like that in clubs, but it’s really only a matter of time now.

From a handheld device, to a person.

Buttons no longer do the job of getting the player into the game. As gaming has become more social, mental and physical through multiplayer, engaging storylines and technological advancements, more is expected from a game. People are now used to epic storylines spanning several games like “Mass Effect.” A multiplayer element that pits gamers against other gamers where stories and experiences can be shared is almost standard in any game that features a gun. If the game uses motion controls, the way to garner success seems to be teaching something actually relevant that can be used with others or to give a desired outcome like learning an instrument or getting fit.

The bar has been raised, expectations have been changed and just sitting on the couch doesn’t cut it anymore. The industry has changed and it’s time for games to reflect that.