Thursday, 24 April 2014

Elements of Game Technology: Interaction Design

Game technology has come a long way from the early days however one thing that managed to stay relitivly the same for the past 20 or so years is the controller. Early on the arcade machines had very few varients of gameplay to consider and therefore the controllers could be fairly well adapted to the game being played. However with the modern games consoles this has completely changed, controllers are meant to be so versatile that they can be used for any form of game from fast and competitive shooters to simple puzzle
games. As with much design this requirement has lead to incredibly similar design between competitors.

The two major players in the market at the moment are clearly trying there hardest to show that they have some design interest about their controller. All in all they are the same and the move to the now current generation of consoles shows this incredibly well. when explaining their new controller design neither Sony nor Microsoft want to admit that in fact they've slightly refined the aesthetics and just updated the controllers to the technology available now. It is even more clear from Valve's journey creating the Steam controller that this design is really difficult to change and in fact it seems we have perhaps found the best way to interact with a console. Here is an article on Valves design process. After designing a controller which introduced some slightly altered, yet still accessible, button layouts they found that the response was that the controller was missing the d-pad and XYAB buttons and the new layout of these buttons didnt work as efficiently. This means that the controller is straying dangerously close to the current designs They have however made some very interesting choices with input methods which I will go into further later on.

Not sure you can get rid of this...

This similarity wasn't always so and there were different designs early on which were all slightly different to the current design of controllers; all the designs involved are, however, very similar. You can see below the similarities between the early designs and the current designs. The modern joysticks used are clearly a good move as controllers moved further and further into analogue control.

Image found here.

New developments in interaction design are interesting and often bring in new audiences. The Nintendo Wii-mote has shown that what was considered initially a gimmick has actually created a new and fruitful market and audience for games. This new audience who would otherwise not be interested in games have become so because of the sheer accessibility and understanding of the Wii. We have seen this again with the mobile market where accessibility and understanding of the device has lead to a boom in what was initially thought of as a gimmick to show off the touchscreen abilities of new phones. One major point of this new interaction is the tactility of the control. Motion-based controllers like the Wii-mote or accelerometers used inside a mobile phone have had a huge impact on the way that people interact with computers, the potential for this technology has not yet been completely found Sony with the PS4 have introduced the concept of sculpting in 3D space with their version of the Wii-mote, Oculus have used the accelerometers from the motion based controllers to create a Virtual Reality headset... that works. Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus are really exciting ways to allow the player to experience and interact with a computer. Both allow the person to control a camera with their head as if they were the camera itself. Not only is this visual immersion but its also interaction and sensory immersion.

If we look back at the Steam controller we have something very interesting, Valve have essentially tried to make the PC gaming market far more accessible and as with mobile and wii this has the potential of creating another development in the industry, where PC games are a lot more accessible.

This accessibility comes from the controller design being such that anyone who has played on a console knows how to use it. Along with this the trackpad "joysticks" are relatable for PC gamers this means that in respect to the interaction the controller offers a great deal of potential. Where this venture falls down is the actual Steamboxes themselves, they were advertised as a console which if you were so inclined you could build yourself. Unfortunately they have been produced by 3rd party hardware manufacturers and rather than making PCs more accessible Steambox seems to be basically a different PC. The way the consoles have been marketed so far doesn't bring hope that they will be more accessbile for people who aren't already PC gamers and this sows the seed for SteamBox not being successful.

Ex-Valve employee and technical genius Jeri Ellsworth has developed, during and after her time at Valve, an augmented reality system to change things a great deal. Its insanely exciting!

Jeri said it... HOLODECK!


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