Why The Wii Will Never Feel Realistic
I had the chance to play a little bit of Red Steel 2 the other day (and watch some more) and I must say I was not impressed. I always thought that motion controls would make for great sword-fighting games, and I still believe so. The motion controls of the Wii, however, are simply not suited for it because they work mostly based on motion recognition instead of motion tracking.
[This post was written in advance because I am on holiday. Please excuse the lack of actuality, I won’t be able to respond to current events that happen while I’m away.]
There’s a great article explaining the difference of recognition and tracking over at Gamasutra, but here is the gist of it: With motion recognition you attempt to classify the motion that the player performed. For example you might recognize a movement as a stab or a left-to-right swing. With motion tracking you instead look for the details of the movement and try to replicate those in game. In the first case the motion on the screen might look like what you did or it might not because it will simply be a canned animation that fits the type of movement that you made. If you’ve ever seen somebody play Wii games lying down on the couch and simply waggling his hand a little which then translates into huge movements on the screen, you will know what I mean.
Motion recognition is not really much different from pressing buttons on a controller – you perform a certain predefined action to make your avatar on the screen do something specific. Whether you press A or waggle your controller doesn’t really make a whole lot of a difference in the greater scheme of things. Red Steel 2 does motion recognition, meaning that the sword on the screen does not actually do what you just did.
Motion tracking feels completely different because it works on a much lower level. With perfect motion tracking, your sword will perform exactly the movement that you just did in front of your screen allowing for all kinds of variations in the fights instead of just the canned moves. This brings us back to Thursday’s post on emergence: Motion recognition is the implementation of high level abilities such as stab, block, and swing with discrete modifications such as hard or soft swings and vertical or horizontal blocks. Motion tracking on the other hand requires a set of low-level rules that evaluate what happens when you swing your sword the way you do. While harder to program, this can lead to emergent behaviour and much more interesting fights. You can attack at angles and with varying speed, you can feint a stab and transform it into a block on the last few milliseconds, and you can try types of attacks that no-one ever thought about before.
Interestingly enough, the classical PC controls of mouse and keyboard are far better at motion tracking than the Wii-mote. Sure, controlling a sword with your mouse isn’t as immersive as swinging a Wii-mote as if it was a real sword, but the mouse actually allows for direct one-to-one control which the Wii’s motion recognition doesn’t.
It isn’t only sword-fighting games that this applies to – pretty much every motion controlled game should get better with motion tracking instead of recognition. Imagine a game in which your controller is a magic wand and you can use that to cast spells. With motion recognition there would be a fixed set of spells that can be activated by performing the right motions. If motion was directly tracked instead one could not only vary the results based on the quality of the movements but one could also create an underlying system of rules that gives actual meaning to motion. Once again, drawing a certain icon into the air to cast a specific spell is no different from pressing a button (or button combination) to achieve the same effect. If the way you drew the icon actually had an impact, things would be much more interesting.
Both Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move are upcoming systems that at least have the theoretical ability to perform motion tracking which the Wii-mote does not. As of now, the Wii controls are no more than a funky gimmick, but who knows, maybe the near future will give us actual motion control. Wouldn’t that be nice?