With light in my recent gaming experience, a topic brought up in discussion is regarding simple control scheme's, and how they can influence gameplay. In the past, this discussion was about how we can make controls more intuitive, how we can remove the controller from the player's hands entirely. It was seen as a barrier to hinder players, and we had to do what we could to make controlling the character in game, as natural and intuitive as possible, however some recent titles have been breaking that trend. In this article, I wish to discuss the topic quite broadly, how gameplay can be helped and hindered by their controls.
I will be talking about a wide variety of games, among them: Tekken, Friday the 13th, the Legend of Zelda, and Brother's: A tale of two sons. There is a lot to discuss in these cases, they are all interesting for very different reasons, with them being experiences that are rather fresh in my mind.
Starting from the beginning, I'm a little late to the party on Tekken 7. Whilst I do have fighting game experience, for the longest time I played Super Smash Bro's, Brawlhalla, arena fighters rather than the more traditional Mortal Kombat's and Tekken's and Street Fighters of the world. I'm no stranger to the series, but I'm as good as one, I haven't played it since I was young, and the control's are vastly different to what I'm accustomed to as a result. The combo's felt unintuitive and alien to me, sidestepping was unnatural and weird, I was still expecting a button to block with, and none of that was present. And as a result it taken a little while for me to really start enjoying the game and get that feeling that what I was doing was of my own volition. This was a bit of both a positive and negative experience for me, negative because it's frustrating not feeling in full control of your actions in a game, but also positive because it was a breath of fresh air, a new experience that I am more than happy to embrace and experience.
Another game I've been enjoying recently with friends is Friday 13th, the PvP Survival Horror game by Gun Media. This game is especially interesting, because it limits the players control, for a good reason. The setting pits a team of players against one Freddy, one monster. This sounds like it would be a walking nightmare to balance, either the survivors would be too strong and it would be impossible for Freddy to take them in large numbers, or Freddy would be too strong and it would be too easy for him to do his job against an isolated survivor. They have made animations long and commited, they have made you move fairly slowly, they have limited the tool's and information at your disposal, ensuring you have less options, and there is less of a difference between a good player and a great one. Reducing agency in this way has made the game much more balancable and enjoyable. One anecdote I have from my time with the game, was one player who was rather young, he was playing Freddy, and had his mic on by default. When he was chasing down other players, when he had them in his grasp, he was so ecstatic, giggling and laughing through the mic, talking to the players "I'm gonna get you," "you can't escape." genuinely having a the time of his life, having a power trip almost. This wouldn't have been able to happen if the players had more agency, because skill would trump the game mechanics too much. This kid would constantly be on the losing end of the stick, because there's always someone better than you, and he would miss out on this experience. Limiting control and agency allowed this experience to happen, and that's a great thing.
the Legend of Zelda franchise, has always been celebrated for it's ability to utilise every tool available to them on their console. Games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword making full use of the Wii's motion control's (whether for better or worse,) or games like Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks finding uses for the second touch screen and microphone, one puzzle actually really stuck with me in Phantom Hourglass, where you had to close the Nintendo DS to transfer a mark from the top screen to the bottom screen. The heavy focus on innovation and new experiences are great for making every Zelda game unique and interesting to play, even despite them following the same formula throughout the series.
My final case, is on Brother's: a tale of two sons, by Starbreeze Studio's. This is a game that was exceptionally well received for the way they used their control's as a metaphor. I won't go into spoilers here, however the way they laid out their control's was integral to the message they wanted to purvey. It would not hit the players anywhere near as hard as it did if not for their unique control scheme, they wanted the player's to really feel the impact of the ending, and were building up to it from the word go, even utilising the control scheme to make the player feel rapport between the protagonist and his brother.
Funky control's can certainly be an interesting tool in the game developers arsenal, one that is largely under utilised. I am excited for games in the future that may use such techniques to make some interesting games. I welcome this trend of using control's for artistry and expression. Whilst some games certainly should strive for the older approach of removing the controller from the equation, games like Call of Duty and Forza Motorsport, it is a powerful tool, and not one that should be taken lightly.