Tech Talk: Customizable Game Controls

I know I talk about this a lot, but I love when I find that companies are focusing their efforts in developing customizable controls/controllers. Giving folks the option to customize their hand layouts/button inputs and other aspects are what so many console players have been asking for and what so many PC gamers have been accustomed to for quite some time.

I’ve discussed a couple of customizable controllers in the past: Adroit Switchblade, custom controllers via Evil Controllers, etc.; well now I’ve found another wonderful company searching to make customizable controllers. I have a slight sadness that, for some reason, customizing controllers are mostly for 360 at the moment, but there are some for PS3. This week I’m presenting to you guys a new company to come out and bring forth a new game controller for customizing controls: The HJC Design FPS Game Controller!

The HJC FPS controller is a fully customizable controller that’s available for XBox and PC and, while it may not be the best for all players [ I personally still feel the Switchblade is about the most accessible custom game controller I’ve found ] it’s still fantastic to see more companies caring about the accessibility of games. This game was designed for FPS comfort and simplicity, but does that mean it can’t make other games simple for players?

I’m not sure, because I haven’t had hands-on experience with it – but it’s got a large amount  of customization options available, a ergonomic design, and it just looks amazing [ so jealous – please bring out a PS3 version! ] You can find out more about this lovely controller at their website:

HJC Design – XBox/PC FPS Controller

– and for those of you who haven’t seen the Adroit Switchblade that I keep harping on I recommend you take a look at this video:

Currently I don’t have a lot of price points for some of these prototype control schemes, but if they ever drop via a retail market I’ll keep my ears and eyes open for when they’re here and available. Enjoy folks and happy gaming! I’m so pleased to see more and more people/companies working towards providing further accessibility to video games. Everyone who’s been following me and everyone who’s been sharing my opinions/reviews –  thank you.

Thank you so much. It means the world to me to spread the love and admiration I have for accessible and meaningful gameplay and games as an industry!

Tech Talk: Molyneux on Motion = Controller Chaos

Usually, I would wait till Thursday to post a Tech Talk discussion, but since this is pertinent information and a recent development, I figured that before it gets swept under the rug by other media updates. Here’s the issue at hand: controller chaos.

What do I mean by controller chaos?

Well, recently, Mr. Peter Molyneux had some choice words to say about today’s industry and current market controllers in his interview with an online game publication Beefjack. His statement was as follows, and thus where my frustrations begin:

“I am just sick to death of having my hand clamped to this controller – of having to be forced to use my thumb in a certain way, and having my other hand clamped to the other side of the controller, and having games say ‘No, you will do it this way, and if you don’t do it this way then we will punish you’.”

Now while I don’t necessarily agree with him, I don’t want to be reduced to using motion control in any way either. Mr. Molyneux there was a time in my gaming life when I used to look up to you as a designer. I loved [ and still love ] the original Fable, but quite honestly there comes a point in time when I just have to ask:

Why would you want to alienate your consumers by telling them that Kinect is the way to go? You are only doing yourself a disservice by expressing that you hate having games tell you how to play them right? Well then why would you express your verbose opinions of Kinect and next-gen gaming on us as if your opinion is the wave of the future? I’m not try to rant, because I truly look up to you as a designer – but come on man – doesn’t that sound a little bit hypocritical?

If you came out and said something like – I don’t know – this:

” I feel like the current game trend and controllers that are sweeping the market don’t provide nearly the amount of accessibility that we could achieve with games today. That’s why I’m so adamant about making sure the game controller trend changes.”

I would have totally backed that! – but instead you stuck your foot in your mouth and stated an opinion that most core gamers are going to be exceptionally disappointed with. Here’s my whole take on controllers, just so everyone is aware – because I think I’ve talked about this before on my blog already. We’ve discussed the possibility of button remapping, but motion control is a different animal. Motion control is different, because it was originally designed for the casual gaming industry. Nintendo came out with the Nintendo Wii to allow for families to get involved with gaming together instead of separately with visceral experiences.

Here’s the problem: Everyone saw the idea and ran with it. Now there’s too much.

Look I’m an advocate for the controller, but I’m also an advocate for accessibility. This industry is filled with pressure to conform to motion control and controllers that require us to use both hands in order for them to function properly, but what if we can’t move much? – it makes motion control absolutely pointless. Kinect is meant for people to get up and get moving, and sure, I’ve seen videos of players in wheelchairs trying to use Kinect, but that’s not what gamers want either. We want accessibility not conformity.

The controller, in and of itself, hasn’t changed very much. Why break what formula seems to have worked for years right? Well, here’s a video I’d like to share with you from the AbleGamer’s Foundation. Mark Barlet and Steve Spohn have made some amazing strides in getting the word of accessibility in games out there.They express why game accessibility is so important, and they show off a wonderful prototype piece of equipment I talked about in an earlier post, the Arodite Switchblade controller. The controller allows for disabled individuals to remap their button schemes accordingly throughout a game to provide an easier and more accessible play experience.

Instead of focusing on how can we get players more active in games, we should start focusing on how we can get more players to experience our games in the first place. You know what I’m sick to death of folks? – companies cramming this ‘new age’ of gaming down my throat and claiming that ‘motion control‘ is the way to go. It’s not from my perspective [ and many others ] we want great games – not great tech. The tech we have works, we just have to utilize it properly to make games more accessible. Now, hold on, there may be a shining light at the end of the tunnel in this rant and that’s with Nintendo.

Nintendo has been promoting their new Wii U system pretty well at conventions, and I have to say I’m excited to see what this thing can do. If it does what I think it can, it may very well provide a brand new form of gameplay and accessibility to gamers who couldn’t play with traditional control schemes in the past.

Does that mean that I think disabled gamers should be reduced to touch screen gaming?

No. Absolutely not.

There’s something meaningful about button inputs and having the feeling of full control in the palm of your hands, but some folks don’t have the luxury to experience that sensation. This is why I think providing cutting edge technology like the Wii U touchscreen, the voice activation in Kinect, and the Arodite Switchblade are great signs for the gaming industry. We’re learning methods of game design that promote accessibility. The controllers are alright as they are for most gamers. We don’t want to ruffle the feathers of a mass fan-base by any means. I mean look at Sony – their control scheme hasn’t changed in years and they still make bank off sales.

This is point proven in a rant by IGN’s Luke Riley who shared his thoughts on the whole Molyneux/Kinect bit:

My point here is that Molyneux, you may be a ranting gentleman, but some of your points stand. The gaming industry does need to look at how games are played. We need to be more cognizant of the audiences we provide for, but at the same time we should open up venues for the most accessibility possible. If that means new controllers, if that means changes in gameplay, etc. I’m excited for either, but I will say that I want to see a change. There needs to be one, and it’s either going to come in the form of hardware or software. I’d prefer the software first, but that’s just me.

Development News: Quantic Dream’s “Kara” Short Film

Today in Development News, I want to discuss one of my favorite development teams out there, Quantic Dream. Now, sure, I may get a lot of flack from time to time from my gamer buddies about my lustful enthralled enjoyment over Quantic Dream’s original title: Heavy Rain, but let’s face it – even if some hardcore gamers decide that Heavy Rain is a little too much narrative for their liking there is no denying one simple fact. The game is visually stunning and it really set the bar, in my personal opinion, for what the capabilities of the PS3 were at the time.

It’s been two years since Heavy Rain’s release in 2010 and since then we haven’t seen much out of the quiet studio with Quantic Dream, but today IGN.com released an interview with David Cage, the founder and lead developer over at Quantic Dream. He released statements about possibly having the studio be exclusive to working with Sony and he also unveiled a wonderful little short film that supposedly was produced by a new graphics engine that the studio had been working on. Now I know that doesn’t sound like amazing news, but in actuality it is and here’s why. The trailer I’m about to drop in here is a trailer for a short film called “Kara”

The trailer was done entirely in real-time on a PS3 using a new technology graphics engine that Quantic Dream has been working on for the past two hermitic years of solitude they’ve taken. Now apparently in the interview Cage mentioned that the trailer you’re about to see is taken from “Version 1” of this new engine and that the short film was completed on this engine “almost one year ago.” – so keep that in mind when you take a gander at this HD short film: Kara. I’ll discuss my opinions of the capabilities below afterwards.

So what does this mean for the future of gaming?

Well, clearly, we’ve seen in the past couple of years that gaming graphics engines are becoming far more advanced that the old 8-bit processors and even 64 bit consoles.  What makes the past couple of years even more amazing to me, as a designer, is that we’ve begun the design of engines that allow us to tell stories. No longer are we limited by pixel counts or motor limitations of character models, but our model development process has exceeded expectations leaps and bounds past what I assumed could be possible at this point.

If we take a look at the long list of games which I’m finding to have visually stunning performances: LA Noire, GTA 4, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, etc.

The list goes on, and while certainly some of those games stand out visually more than others [ personally I found some pixelation and movement issues in all of these games at one point or another, but minor flaws are trivial in the scheme of storytelling.] I think that is actually the point I’m getting at, storytelling.

Storytelling has become an art form in the gaming media. We’ve gone from an industry that focused so hard to provide games that could be enjoyed strictly based off of the technology we had, to now focusing our efforts to tell emotional and meaningful story lines just like movies and television. When I watch this film I’m captivated, because I honestly didn’t believe that game technology was on a visual peak such as this.

If you had said to me years ago that one day we would get to the graphic capacity to where a model’s eyes would gloss over and cry, her mouth would move with every syllable, her emotions would be able to be captivating and engaging within a video game screen I very well may have scoffed at the idea. Most video game art has a sort of pseudo-realism.

Even the most prolific of designers and artists in the industry [ Square Enix, Bioware, etc. ] Often times I find that their models come out somehow reminding me that I am watching a video game, whether it’s through the coloring of the characters, the stylistic choices, etc. Something always reminds me that I’m witnessing a video game, thus, no matter how hard they try video games lose a sense of realism for me.

Now is that a good thing?

Absolutely. I think if games were so realistic and enthralling players very well may have an issue determining what reality from fiction is, but what I love about this technology and why I wanted to talk about it is simply because this is our next step in gaming evolution. Our whole industry revolves around design and graphics engines with the prolific capabilities that Quantic Dream has displayed. If we can create worlds, people, interactive environments with this amount of detail, then imagine what we can accomplish just within a small window of time in this industry?

No longer will stories have to be left to novelists and movie goers. The experiences and emotions which we gain from these mediums will be able to be attained through an interactive vision. I just want to ask my fellow viewers this: After watching the video how did you feel? Were you captivated by the tale and would you like to see a game made from this short film? How did just seeing these graphic capabilities affect you? – and would you like to see games developed with this sort of caliber? If we have the capabilities then why aren’t we pushing the boundaries of our next-gen systems before we start thinking about building new ones?

I would love to see a world where stories are told through interactivity. Where we can captivate children and parents of all ages with stories that reach them on a more interpersonal level. Games allow that to occur in our human lives. They allow us to interconnect with each other via online play, interconnect via story lines and emotions, and interconnect via the stories that we develop from listening to other people’s stories. We all learn in this world, and games are just going to be another way we can reach the masses through this. Given advanced graphics capabilities, I personally, say that the sky is the limit – and I can’t wait to make games for this upcoming generation, if the gaming society I’m going into will produce beauty like this.

Thank you Quantic Dream! Keep up the good work and I’m eager for your next project to reach shelves, whenever you decide to do so!

Tech Talk: Gastronomical Opinion: The Used Game Controversy

Well, here we are, in a world populated by games of all shapes and sizes from apps to PC mods – all of them are relevant and fun, but there’s an eerie foreboding option rearing it’s ugly head lately. This option comes in the form of two aspects: Online passes and the inability to play used games. Now, why in the world does this matter to us gamers? Well, I see this as a Gastronomical Opinion moment, and thus, I begin:

I’m all for gaming companies having to make money, honestly, I understand the inner workings of finance when it comes to the game industry. You have developers, publishers, licensers, console companies, manufacturers, and retail sellers all looking to be in on a piece of the gaming action. 60 dollars doesn’t seem like a ton, when we look at how the finances are divvied up. Here’s my problem though, I’m not opposed to game prices [ Alright, maybe a little, if Steam can make it happen you can too. ] but I’m opposed to the loss of a vital gaming staple: The used game market.

IGN.com released a personal debate via their podcast on the issue, that was posed via a rumor that the rumored upcoming  “XBox 720” would eliminate the ability to play used games upon it’s console, also Kotaku.com released an article on the subject:

http://games.ign.com/articles/121/1217464p1.html

http://kotaku.com/5879439/why-an-xbox-with-anti+used-games-tech-makes-perfect-sense

This, to me, makes absolutely no sense at all, same as how I felt when PS3 decided that the PS3 “Slims” and upgraded versions would take out backwards compatibility. Why, oh why, would you proceed to alienate your core players, your supporters, by altering your hardware to be inefficient to what your consumers desire? It makes no sense, and I hope to the sweet Lord that Nintendo has mercy on us with the upcoming Wii U and takes note that gamers like two things: Convenience and Compatibility. They don’t want to have to keep 5 consoles in their home, nor can they afford it in this economy [ unless they’re collectors and have money to burn.]

Logically, it doesn’t seem that Microsoft would do this. The retail companies carrying their games would ultimately drop their ties with the massive platform of Microsoft. This would be a horrendous notion and it would kill their profit completely because, if retailers refused to carry games due to this, then they’d have an even deeper loss of revenue. The games market is a huge profit business, and unfortunately in our industry, the market is expensive to create. This is a sad killing blow to most consumers, due to the fact that this economy has sucked a lot of expendable revenue that typical gamers use throughout the year to purchase new games out of their unfortunate pockets.

I have tons of used games that I have purchased over the years, and granted, I’m primarily a Playstation user, but I still don’t think this will float – nor do I want it. I’m vehemently opposed to this. I’m a huge indie supporter and I’m sorry if it seems like I’m ranting, but it’s just confusingly offensive to think that a massive corporation would screw their fans over with a massive used-game overhaul. Microsoft, please be nice to your fellow gamer. We’ve been nice to you with all of the success of Halo and Gears of War – why in the world would you do this?! Here’s a list of functions I suggest that ALL consoles take into consideration as this used game debate concludes:

1. Backwards Compatibility:

Seriously? Playstation destroyed this lovely convenience to many gamers, when they developed the new PS3 Slims. This is ridiculous and, sure I have my original PS2 and PS, but why should I have to toss my old games because it’s a revenue savvy for you? I’m an avid gamer, and hopefully designer, and so I understand the need for funds – but do you consider that players own old games from past consoles? Backwards Compatibility is a must have, and it helps so much for players like myself, who have a plethora of games on different consoles. I, and I’m sure others, don’t want to have to pay ___ amount of dollars for a game I already own to be digitally downloaded.

2. Streaming Games:

I was thinking about this today, that with all of the success with Netflix, why in the world hasn’t the gaming industry caught on with streaming media? Sure. We have some free-to-play downloadable games out there: Lord of the Rings: War In The North, DC Universe Online – but there are days where I go onto the console services and witness that I have to pay ___ dollars to play a great vintage game. Now I’m not asking for game developers, publishers, and console families to stream new and modern games, but I’m sure that the vintage games: Mega Man, Mario, Capcom’s Street Fighter, etc. These vintage staples that I love could probably be easily streamed via a service. The ball is in your court though console families, take it into consideration please.

3. Touch-based gaming

Now this is something that I’m fond of, because at Gastrogamer, I’m concerned with accessibility of games. Nintendo seems to have gotten a jump on you Playstation and Microsoft – as usual. They’ve dropped the gauntlet of the Wii U. A touchscreen peripheral which will, hopefully, expand the accessibility of their games beyond what it used to. I would love to see this technology implemented into the future of games. Microsoft you’re already discussing the capabilities of a Kinect 2, why not see what sort of other accessibility applications you can grab from it?

I’ve clearly witnessed that Mass Effect 3’s audio command program is a possible game changer. Awesome. You did it, now go further. You’ve given deaf gamers an ability to play the game, but remember that you’ll probably want to include subtitles into games if this is going to happen. I’m by no means a troll looking to call out my fellow companies and rant about what I hate. I love a lot of the decisions that are being made, but what needs to be focused on is accessibility. Accessibility and technology both physically and financially. If you conquer all of these portions:

You’ll have a happy gamer! These are my two cents – use them as you will.

Tech Talk: Rock Vibe – A Beat for the Blind

Hello there folks! Now today I was debating on what to post first. I’ve found some really wonderful, and often times nostalgic, games around the webs and via console formats. I’ve also been spending a lot of time working on finding innovative technical improvements in the world of games as well though, and today, that won out as the topic of the day today. A game [ or games if I feel so inclined. ] will come later I promise. Now – onto the good stuff! So it’s not often I’m surprised by technical inventions in the world of games. Let’s face it the Wii didn’t even scare me or shock me that much.

I had this overwhelming feeling that motion control was the way the game industry was headed, but I just hoped they’d keep some semblance of an old control scheme – so much for that. What if the motions on the screen don’t matter though? What if you can’t see at all, and thus, can’t play many games with your friends?

The fact of the matter is though that a young lady from Mountain View, CA may very well have started something that I am totally supportive of. Now I’m not blind, though sometimes with my bad eyesight it feels like it, but I’ve had some blind friends before and I can’t imagine someone who used to be a gamer no longer being able to enjoy experiences of their youth due to loss of sight. This is something that I feel needs to be drastically fixed, and Rupinder Dhillon is taking a step towards making that gaming reality come true.

Today we’re talking about blind gamers and Dhillon has taken a wonderful stride forward with her product called Rock Vibe. She developed the concept during her time in college at UC Santa Cruz. Now Rock Vibe is an extremely cool concept. It works on the idea of sensor vibration in a fitted glove to play their game. A sensor in the glove will let you know when a color is coming up, and when you get it wrong it will make a small sound, as well as if you get it right. Now what does this mean? “Certainly I don’t want yet another music game to clutter my household I’ve already got 20” – you say. Well, sure, you’ve got 20 games that can be shared with your sighted friend while your blind friend has to sit off to the side and imagine that he, or she, is at the world’s worst karaoke concert – but do you have one they can participate with? Probably not.

My point is that games should be accessible to all people, and to exclude someone from activity just because they’ve lost their sense of sight isn’t a cause to say that gaming is dead for them. Gaming can still be achieved, but you just have to know where to look. The Rock Vibe glove looks like an amazing stride forward in the gaming industry, and if the game itself isn’t made, I hope that Dhillon at least gets credit where credit is due and someone picks her prototype up. The vibration glove she uses for this project could impact the way blind individuals can play in the future of games.

Blind people may have the inability to see, but their audio acuity is impeccable. As designers, we need to take this knowledge of the blind anatomy and put it to good use rather than squander it and exclude the visually impaired from the mainstream market. Dhillon is making strides to get kids involved in the music market, but what about other games? I look ahead towards the future and I see a gaming universe that uses her technology for the better. A game based where it can be played via controller for the sighted, and audio cues for the blind. We need to cross technological boundaries we haven’t crossed before. We need to attempt games that can be accessible to all people, and our consoles and PCs need to accommodate them all.

Below is her Kickstarter link. The project will be available for PC, if produced at it’s current level, but I’m hoping for future endeavors. Please folks she has 3 DAYS left on her Kickstarter campaign and she’s about 2,500 shy of her goal. If you have a blind family member or friend, I urge you to check this out. This may very well be the next set of hardware coming out for gaming consoles and making life a little better for blind and sighted gamers. It’s amazing to me that such technology goes falling by the wayside, but that’s why I’m here I suppose. I’ll let her explain the whole process, but I do pray you guys check this lady out. She’s an amazing inventor and she has a wonderful concept that could help not only music games become more accessible, but possibly other games designed for audio cues as well.

Much love gaming nation. Take care and let’s see this world becoming gaming accessible for all!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rupa211/rock-vibe-accessible-gaming?ref=category

Tech Talk: The Game Industry and Button Remapping

You are a player and you’re sitting at home with your friends about to play your favorite game. The game you’re going to be playing is on a console, and that console you own has a controller with about 16 different button inputs attached to it. Everything from the start button the trigger bumpers, which almost come standard now in new controllers, are all present for your available hand’s desires. Now imagine though that you’re a gamer, who has no use of their hands, or no use of one hand – how does this now limit your enjoyment of your favorite game? You can no longer do actions you’re used to – do you preserver and try to overcome? – or do you RAGEQUIT and storm out of the room, ashamed that you no longer can do an activity you enjoyed to your fullest potential?

On today’s Tech Talk we dive head first into the deep underbelly of the game industry and we come up with a rather interesting image. Disabled gamers aren’t able to enjoy console games like most players’ can, and this is a sad, unfortunate truth. In a video provided by AbleGamers.com’s Youtube channel, they give a visual perspective on just how large a scope disabled gamers must deal with in the console market. These individuals are precious and important, because their lives matter, and because they matter we should aim to making their lives as enjoyable as possible. Button remapping could change the game on the way disabled gamers are able to interact with video games, as well as possible one-touch input controllers for one handed gamers, and that will all be discussed here.

 

 

Button remapping, for those who are not aware, is a function where a player is allowed to assign an input value to a given button on a controller. PC games are notorious for using them, and are commonly referred to as Macro keys, or hot keys, on most MMO’s or online games.  The problem is, the PC market is only one market. You are then excluding all players who wish to play console games, but can’t due to a physical impairment that they have no control over. The opposition would claim that most console games do eventually come out to PC. True, but not all PC games have Macro settings either, and lots of them require multiple keys, and inputs to perform one task.

I have trolled Youtube forums, and been to many game discussion boards about button remapping and it sickens me when I see comments from people who say that if given button remapping that may “give any player an edge, if it’s presented openly.” So the opinion is, that if designers gave players the open free will to map their own unique layouts to their controllers that somehow – there’d be an uprising of hackers who would learn to dominate the games systems?

Are you kidding me? Disabled gamers are already impaired and all they want is a fair and balanced shot at playing any game just like you. Does that mean the skill of competition may rise up in a Call of Duty game if you give a man with one hand the option to customize his outputs? Possibly – but what does that say about you as a player if you’re the man who gets owned by said player? It doesn’t mean he, or she, cheated the system, it means that given a fair playing field, disabled gamers can be just as good, if not better than able gamers. Now I’m not trying to turn this into a rant, and we’re here to talk tech – not controversy – so I’ll move on. Button remapping is important, and should be thought of as a viable addition to new games.

Most games now come with a pre-determined output setting, or give you an option of a few multiple presets, assuming that these outputs are the norm for folks. I personally have function of both of my hands just fine, but can you imagine the percentage of gamers in America that deal with loss of limbs, malfunctioning digits, muscle movements, and other physical aliments that don’t allow them the luxury to use these presets?  That’s why button remapping is important, because despite the naysayers and the apparent expense behind it to add the functionality, the ends would justify the means. Developers would be helping to serve their fellow man, or woman, gamer in ways we never assumed possible.

Here’s another video on a product that was designed by Evil Controllers [ link in the sidebar.] called the Adroite Switchblade. Granted the one presented here is a prototype and the number he announces in the video would make any morphine strapped gamer vomit in his bedpan at the estimate – but that’s the thing. It’s a prototype. It’s there for an example of what could be a great option in the development of games and hardware. I hope that it makes it to a mainstream market, because it’s very much needed for disabled gamers to feel a part of something very special. Developers have focused so much on the need for motion control that I often wonder if they’ve even considered how many gamers lack that very key principle to the products they devote games to? Easily optimizable controls, HUD display changes for the vision impaired, and well – basically giving a gamer customizable outputs changes the accessibility of a game tremendously overall.

 

 

So what are your thoughts? I want to hear from others; if possible, do you feel that button remapping is an unfair advantage to the already disadvantaged? – And if you agree that button remapping should be implemented into consoles – how do you think companies should go about doing something like that to provide an equal playing field for their games? Feel free to watch the videos, comment, and visit the corresponding sites for more info on their causes, projects, and efforts in fixing the industry to help disabled gamers become just as immersed as the rest of us. Next time we’ll discuss money in the market and how much developers lose when we don’t recognize these concerns for the gaming market. Thanks guys for reading and enjoying and I look forward to your opinions!

– Chad K.