Out Of Control
I've just read an editorial on mobileindustry.biz about the unsuitability of mobile phone buttons for controlling games. Mark Clapham concludes that everything that's wrong with mobile games could be fixed if the handset manufacturers would think more like Nintendo when designing their devices.
It's not a new idea. We've all been saying it since 1999. It's not going to happen. Mobile phones don't get sold based on their similarity to joypads or consoles. They get sold based on how much they look like an iPod, how smooth and shiny they are, how easy it is communicate with them (yes! Shock, horror). The manufacturers don't make money out of games, and they know as well we (developers, publishers) do that an almost insignificant slice of their market will ever download one. So why should they bother compromising the aesthetics of their latest fashion accessory for the sake of a few geeks, too embarrassed to carry a DS around with them?
But the real reason for this post is something different entirely. The opening analogy used by Mr Clapham is that it's no good having oodles of power and refinement at the heart of your technology if the interface limits the ability to properly enjoy it. I'd argue that this has been true with most video game platforms since 8 bit computers. Twenty odd years of technological advancement has taken us from Mario to Gears Of War and how do we control the jaw dropping extravaganzas that we play on our next gen consoles? With a bit a plastic housing a couple of joysticks and some buttons.
If the same effort that has been poured into making our games look better had been spread amongst all the other aspects of video game technology games would be a million times more engaging. I'd be able to talk to the characters in Zelda, smell the rotting flesh in Resident Evil, open every door in an adventure game (not just those that lead somewhere). Who knows how we'd be interacting with our entertainment? Virtual Reality might actually have led somewhere. William Gibson's notions of direct neural implants could even have started to come to fruition.
And yet today I bought an XBOX 360; mainly to play Tiger Woods 07 against my friends. I really shouldn't have though. I always get utterly dejected with the lack of substance in the games on offer. Within a few weeks I will have returned to something which better suits the control method, like Lumines, Mr Do!, or Thrust maybe (where's that BBC emulator?).