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June 17, 2004


M to the Vizza

Modern controllers have too many inputs as it is. Ditch the d-pad and the second set of shoulder buttons and we're talking. Maybe move the shoulder buttons to the under-side like the N64 Z button.

Orthogonal to controller complexity, I would love to see a study about whether casual gamers find complex control schemes like SM2's intimidating. It seems immensely complicated to me (normal swing to wallsprint, for instance), and our focus testing somewhat concluded that (thus easy swinging), but I'd like to see more info about it.

And I have info on the next Xbox controller from Xfest. Ask me on Monday.



I'd love to see a six-faced controller with four triggers. Personally I prefer the Genesis' six-button face layout, and I despised the S-Type controller. The buttons were the only arguement from me on the original XBox controllers. I like my controller buttons concave, or at least not that convex. And not different sizes/shapes. This is why I despize the layout of the GameCube's controller. Sure if I owned one I could get it right given the proper time, but as someone who just plays it occassionally, grrr. I can't count the number of times I've been beaten down by friends in Soul Calibur II, and I blame the controller! ;)

But love or hate the XBox controllers, I haven't found anyone who didn't like their analog sticks in comparison to the PS2's. I guess it's the height of them (like the N64) or the tension calibration, but I really get more of a feel of range and control with them. And darn it, I like wide controllers. Sure the original XBox was a little thick, but it was the good for me, and so was the Dreamcast controller.

Mike Hommel

I say NO WAY to the more buttons concept! Definitely the X-Box controller has WAY too many buttons. I, a very seasoned gamer (who will beat you down in UT!), found Tiger Woods Golf for the X-Box a little overwhelming. GOLF! My wife made us quit playing because of it.

My wife is a great tester for that. If a game has more than 2 buttons, she's iffy, if it's more than 3, she can't play unless it's turn based or something, because she has to look at the buttons and actively think about which one to push to accomplish what she wants. I tried to teach her to play Metal Gear Solid and she started out having fun, then once it got into more than a few buttons (I think at the point that I introduced the items menu...), she got flustered and quit.

I've also tried playing some other x-box game (I don't own one, so I'm a little vague), I think Desert Storm related. It was an FPS where you have a small squad. The tutorial on that got overwhelming. TOO MANY BUTTONS.

I'm not saying weird combo things would be better. I think simpler gameplay would. But along the lines of weird combos, my wife can play fighting games just fine. Because the multitude of buttons is perfectly logical - weak, medium, strong punch, all in a row. You could have 10 buttons for that, and it would be playable (ooh, what about a slider that you push in? Slide it to the strength you want and push down to punch! That'd be unique), because it's intuitive. She really only needs to know two 'buttons' - the top row is punch, the bottom is kick. There's nothing intuitive about "triangle means block", and you need to have as few unintuitive elements as possible, or the entire thing becomes a pure memory exercise. Oh, and of course she button mashes. And beats me.

But really, button mashing is part of it - you can't button mash in a game where each button has a specific orthogonal function. In Soul Calibur, one of the buttons is block. You have to realize that, even if button mashing, or your mashing goes way downhill. So a button-mashable game in a sense boils down all of its buttons (at least the mashable ones) to one button: Attack.

Now the GBA, that's a case of not enough buttons. I like the saturn controller - 6 face buttons in a nice arcade style, and triggers if they're really needed.

Personally, modern games have gotten overcomplicated to me, and I think it's really alienating the less intense gamers (I sell some really tough action games, and grandmas buy them, because they only use two buttons, they make sense - they'd NEVER get your typical current game). Part of the art of design is coming up with a good interface, and a good interface is intuitive and simple, lets you forget it's there and concentrate on the action of the game itself. Just because the buttons are there doesn't mean you should use them! If you do, maybe you should ship it with one of those old-fashioned Atari overlays to denote what the buttons do. I wonder when those will come back into fashion...


Eh, the XBox controller has the same number as the PS2. The only difference is that the XBox has the tiny black/white instead of the two extra triggers on top.

But I agree that just because they're there doesn't mean they must be used, that's a game design question. But it's hardware manufacturer's job is to offer a controller that provides the best overall use for the broadest variety of game designers.

Do hardware manufacturers ask designers their opinions at all? It would make sense.

Stuart Roch

I have to agree that next gen controllers need more buttons. I've sat in on design discussions where designers were trying to assign multiple commands to the same button with tap, tap hold - and god help us - even pressure sensitive functions. Games are more complex then they were a couple years ago and we need controllers which cater to the new complexities.

As far as Xbox versus PS2 contollers go, I think Microsoft simply needs to spend more effort on their controller/button layout. How is it that the PS2 controller feels perfectly balanced in my hand with all the buttons placed in intuitive to reach places while the Xbox controller feels like I'm holding an oversized piece of fruit with buttons I constantly have to look down to find because I can't reach them easily.

Don't get me started on the Gamecube controller, the designer's enemy since it has less buttons and functionality than PS2 and Xbox controllers. Sucks to have design meetings where we're cutting functionality out of the game because the Gamecube controller can't support all the functions the PS2 and Xbox controllers can provide.

Jamie Fristrom

What Jeffool and Stuart said. Those of you who don't play Splinter Cell or MGS or Zelda don't need the extra buttons, but millions of gamers do, so the hardware needs the buttons, although most games should not.

And although SM2 does have a complex control scheme, none of the tricky moves (impact web, web-zip, wall sprint) are needed to win the story missions - in fact, most of the focus testers didn't even know those moves were there. They're for those who want to take their playing further and do the extra challenges. Still, we should streamline things better next time around. (And you have to wonder why we spent development time on stuff 90% of our audience isn't going to see.)

I have yet to reach the point where I'd consider a game that rewards/encourages button-mashing to be good design. I personally hate button mashers, but I suppose there are plenty of people out there who think they're the bomb. There's a spectrum of complexity, and different people like different zones of the spectrum. I fall somewhere in the middle, bored with games where you just attack everything that moves, engaged by games where there's some indirection, and turned off by games with too many orthonormal functions. For example, I have yet to play *Ninja Gaiden*, despite its stellar reviews, because playing the demo I discovered there were a handful of weapons and a zillion moves all of which...attack. It's like those extra buttons blenders used to have: frappe, liquefy, etc. You know what frappe does? It blends. You know what liquefy does? It blends. Some comedian said that but I forget who. Anyhow, some people love that shit. (And I'm sure that the *Ninja Gaiden* fans out there will tell me that each and every move has a specific and useful purpose in the game, once you get to know it.)

Nathan McKenzie

Would this work?

What if controller manufacturers put a small, colored light in each button. Then, if a particular game were making use of that button, the light would glow. It'd let a new player know, just from glancing, that even though there were 12 buttons on the controller, only 3 of them were in use. Additionally, you can blink a light on and off to draw the player's attention to a specific button - "Press the A button to attack" shows up on the screen, and then down in your hands the A button blinks.

It seems a little funny, since obviously you're supposed to be looking the screen rather than the controller, but maybe it would be helpful...


To tackle a completely different part of this post...

In the past I've agreed that tutorials are better in-game, but I'm revising my stance on that. Note that I've not yet played Full Spectrum Warrior, so I don't know how it plays in that instance. I'm going to say that it's more a thing that depends on how it's done in-game, and the breadth of controls used in the early portions of the game.

Funny you should mention Molyneux; talking about this to a pal, he told me to reinstall Black & White and play it. Man. Even though I'm one of the people that dug B&W, going through that first island in particular was torturous. I think some times, in games where you need the full breadth of your moves up front, which it seems FSW does, and Splinter Cell did, it makes good sense to have a training grounds. And Splinter Cell did this rather well, actually. (My only minor complaint was that you couldn't use the hall-split until way later in the game.)

Though like you said, they could've tweaked the story so that you start off with one or two low-ranking and tacticly unknowledgable soldiers (Or civilians maybe? Like I said, I haven't played the game yet.) who learn more as they go and pick up more soldiers... But it seems to me that the training course method is really made for these kinds of situations. And it's easy to fit into the world. Just give'em boot camp.

Though if it's too much info like you said, maybe they should've split the boot camp up into smaller segments and interspersed them throughout the game and just 'recommend' you take them? (I don't know if the entire game is one large campaign or many smaller campaigns.)

Y'know, it may come down to me being a lazy gamer. Maybe we should be able to turn the tutorial on and off in the pause menu during a game. Just let another soldier in the game tell you what you should do to get through any given situation. This would only take voice-tracked book-ends of major situations in the game, and a list of audio cues like "Now give your advancing soldiers covering fire."

We're using DVDs now. I'm sure we can spare the room. (Dumb question for anyone, what popular formats are used in games for audio and video?)

Nat Loh

Lights in the buttons? Is Simon built into the controller as well? Sounds interesting though!

I agree with the SM2 example of simple controls that get casual gamers through the game but also having an advanced control set for serious and hardcore gamers to have fun with. I haven't played FSW yet but I'm assuming tapping and holding do completely different things? I'm not opposed to similar actions mapped to the same buttons. For example, in Ace Combat 4, the pressure of the square button controlled the level of zoom on your radar map. Strong and light punches in DOA2...

IMO, PS2 has the best buttons, Xbox has the best analog stick, and GC has the best shoulder buttons, although I like PS2s double shoulder buttons very much. SSX games just wouldn't work without them (unless you are strictly racing and doing no tricks which sotra goes back to the advanced control set thing).

Tutorials should be divided into individual segments. Let the player decide what he needs to learn. In a war game, it could be a separate barrack for each combat lesson where the player walks into which ever clearly marked barrack he feels he needs to learn about. If I like to play a game in a stealth and sniping manner, I'm not gonna care how to operate the tanks and heavy artillery and end up skipping those barrack/lessons altogether.

Perhaps you could radio for help? Sorta like in MGS?

Some Guy

Way back in, what, '99 (eons ago in gamer years) we were asked by Microsoft what we'd like to see in a controller for the upcoming xbox (which was known at the time by its code name...err, xbox). Anyway, we told them essentially "make it like the PS2 controller with an lcd screen". Too bad they didn't listen ;-). Seriously, the original xbox controller was a total failure, as evidenced by their lightning-speed switch to the s type controller. Unfortunately, that's only slightly less a failure. I blame this spectacularly bad design on Microsoft ego. They waste a breathtaking amount of space to put that big xbox logo in the middle, instead of the start and back buttons. Those two buttons are almost impossible to press without having a double jointed thumb. And the black and white buttons are even FURTHER DOWN on the right side. Why not keep them above the X and Y like the original?

As for differently shaped buttons, I will say this: all of the manufacturers need to make controllers that allow you to distinguish between buttons by tactile sensation. This will be HUGE for casual gamers...the biggest problem my wife has is that she has to keep looking at the controller to see what buttons to press. If she could FEEL that she was pressing the A button I think it would be a world of difference. I'm not convinced they should have wildly different shapes like the GCN, but at least different textures or bumps/divots would be good.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game