Nintendo’s New Controller

I am floored. Leave it to Nintendo to do something different. They brought us the analogue stick, shoulder buttons, the rumble pack, the touch screen — now we have motion sensing in 3D space. Motion sensing is not a new concept. The EyeToy tried to do this, yes? But this is a bit more of a change, since the EyeToy was never meant to be used with the majority of games on a console.

Remember all those science fiction movies and shows set in the future? The ones where you see video games that were unlike what we are playing with now? The ones where the player is immersed in the game? The ones where there is little or no machine interface, and where control is intuitive and responsive?

Nintendo is making a bold step towards that future. Rather than continue with the status quo, with the way things have been in the past, they have issued a challenge to the industry. It’s a challenge to create new possibilities for play. It’s also a challege to gamers to think and play in new ways.

The similarity to a TV remote control was no accident. It’s a friendly, familiar interface that non-gamers can relate to. Most people have seen their inexperienced non-gamer friends animatedly waving around their controllers in an effort to get the on-screen characters to jump. Now with the Revolution controller, their movements can actually control the characters! It’s much easier to get to grips with than a two-handed controller studded with buttons.

Revolution Controller
Metal Gear Solid forces you to use every single one of those buttons, and for a non-gamer, a game like that is daunting. Complicated controls is one of the reasons, perhaps, that the pastime of gaming isn’t growing as fast as it could be. As Iwata said, the primary form of contact with the game is through the control system. It can be a turn off for the casual or non-gamer.

And for the hardcore gamer, the controller opens up brand new challenges. We should be welcoming this direction, rather than fearing it.

Last night, I was chatting to an aquaintence about the controller. He had immediately written it off, saying that Nintendo have gone and “shot themselves in the foot again”. He was sceptical that he would get the same enjoyment at playing his fighting games of yore on this new controller. He feared that Nintendo would “dumb down” game controls, that we will be subjected to ridiculously simple ways to control our games. He equated the number of buttons on a two-handed controller with flexibility and more control. That is another topic for discussion, however. We shall see whether the Revolution’s controller offers more control or not.

I believe he has no plans to get a Revolution. He chose the comfort zone of the old way of interacting with a game, instead of seeing the potential of the Revolution’s controller.

Most people agree that a regular console controller is not so good for FPSs. The mouse and keyboard offer much precision and flexibility. I think the Revolution controller would be very good for an FPS, judging by the way they used it to control Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. It seems that it could be a very precise way to manoeuvre in the game world. Imagine flicking your wrist to select weapons. Flick the wrist, and your missiles are enabled. Another flick makes it the normal Power Beam. Another one, and you equip the Light Beam. No more auto-targeting in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes because you can aim with the controller! It will definitely make an FPS a more immersive experience.

But let’s remember that Nintendo has designed the controller with the past in mind, as well. We will still be able to play all our old games with the new controller, perhaps with an opion to use an adaptor. I still have my SNES controllers. It would be so sweet to download all those old SNES games, plug my SNES controller into the Revolution controller, and play that way. I wonder if we will be able to do this.

I wonder how many gamers will sit on my friend’s side of the fence, rather than embracing change. Will people catch on to the fact that the industry cannot grow simply on the basis of ever more realistic graphics? We are speeding towards a wall, and once we hit that wall, the industry will be forced to innovate. Nintendo is facing this challenge head on.

I thought that gamers are supposed to be forward-facing, not afraid of or against new technology. At first, I ws shocked and a little sceptical. However, I am warming to this new concept controller. It has so much potential, so much possibility, and I hope third parties take advantage of this and think creatively. As others have said, the controller will change the way we play old games, and revolutionise the way we play new games.

I hope that people approach this with an open mind. People questioned shoulder buttons on the SNES controller, and they have become standard. People questioned the analogue stick on the N64 controller, and analogue sticks have become as standard. People questioned the rumble function on the N64 controller, and that has become a standard feature. Will people embrace Nintendo’s latest innovations? I hope so.

I will be watching the development of the Revolution (still code named!) with even more interest. I’m definitely getting one of these, though since I am not an early adopter (FYI, I only got a PS2 at the beginning of this year!), it will be a little while.

News and Commentary:

Kieron Gillen’s Workblog — Which side will gamers choose? Will they face the future of gaming possibilities with open arms, or will they be “cowardly, tedious luddites”?

Wonderland — Satoru Iwata’s speech conveniently summarised.

EdgeEdge‘s impression of the controller.

GameSpot News — Coverage of the unveiling.

GameStop — Hardware preview.

IGN — Some good examples of how games could be played with the controlller.

Kotaku — Revolution controller impressions news roundup.

  4 comments for “Nintendo’s New Controller

  1. 16 September 2005 at 12:18

    I’m already in love with it.

    There are implications for this beyond gaming. Remember the UI from Minority Report? Terrible movie, but great idea. This is the first step.

  2. Anonymous
    17 September 2005 at 11:25

    I wonder how comfortable it will be to use the motion-detection for long periods. Remember the gorilla arm!

    Leo Comerford – [email protected]

  3. 19 September 2005 at 06:07

    Damn wish I posted a conversation I had with a friend way back when. Because I was saying that Nintendo is desperate to create “Synegry” with modern households and redisgn itself as adult AND family product.
    As such its a beautiful part of the living room and not a childish throwback thing that secretly you want to hide. (I mean fuck I am an adult by now)

    This lovely new joypad sure does that and may make me jump from the good ship Sega (OK its a non-existent sub by now but I always hated Ninty and am only slowly granting them some semblance of respect)

  4. 19 September 2005 at 08:12

    Yeah, I also have a silent concern about RSI and the like with this kind of control, but I imagine Nintendo is aware of that, considering the ergonomics they’ve dealt with in the past. If it’s light and comfy, probably not to big a deal.

    The Revolution is now the only console I’m likely to buy right out of the gate.

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