The Wiimote was a revolutionary controller. It broke gaming free from dual analogue control, provided a gateway for “non-gamers” to enjoy the pastime, and managed to advance the gameplay of many genres. With the introduction of the Wii U, the lack of a pack-in Wiimote means potential support is diminished, but could the gamepad possibly fill some of that void?
I’m not going to beat around the bush here; I truly believe that the Wiimote is a flat-out better way to play FPS games than any other console control scheme. It has accuracy AND speed, doesn’t require any form of aim-assist, and starting from scratch quite probably has a more gentle learning curve. When the Wii U launched, and dropped the controller in favour of the gamepad, I was saddened that there was so much potential left untapped. But then I booted up Nintendo Land…
Looking around the plaza using gyroscopic/geomagnetic aiming, moving my character independently of the view, suddenly there was a new way to play FPS, something even better than a Wiimote in every regard!
In 2007 the original Wii Zapper was released. This was a plastic shell into which you placed a Wiimote and Nunchuk. This didn’t affect the gameplay in any significant way, and much like the plastic tennis racket “peripherals” it was quickly disregarded as a waste of money. However at E3 in 2011, a new gun shell was briefly shown, one which attached to the Wii U Gamepad. Despite its simplicity, this was a far more significant piece of hardware. To quote EAD’s Katsuya Eguchi from the July 2011 issue of Edge:
“A very key part of the new controller is the screen. You saw the video at E3 of the Zapper with the controller perched on top of it. When we were testing that, and playing around with it, we realised that in terms of an FPS, it had changed the way we were interacting with it and how much closer it felt. That was one of the moments that made us very happy and excited.”
To ram home just how big of a deal this is, let me give you a rundown of a potential controller and how it would be used (you can play along at home by booting up Nintendoland or Panorama View!):
Imagine you’re standing in your living room. You’re holding a plastic gun, one with a stock and a fore-grip. Your front hand has access to a thumb stick and a button or two; this is your movement and modifiers (much like the Nunchuk). It could be rotated for either left or right-handed use. Your rear index finger rests on the trigger, your thumb hovers over a d-pad or a four-button array. The stock that’s against your shoulder is slightly sprung, it’s a button which changes you from hip-fire to ADS mode when held against you.
The gamepad screen is attached where the scope would normally sit on a gun. It won’t be falling off any time soon; the reinforced screw hole present on the back of the gamepad is an integral part of the catch mechanism.
Looking through the screen, instead of seeing the tip of your plastic gun, you see your virtual gun barrel. You turn your body left, the game world responds accordingly, just as it did in Nintendo Land’s plaza or the Panorama View tours. Now the only limit of your turn speed is your physical ability, and at no sacrifice to your accuracy unless you trip over the cat mid-manoeuvre. Shooting enemies above or below you is trivial; you have full freedom of movement.
You hold up behind a wall, and twist your gun slightly. The view stays perfectly upright regardless of the roll angle of the gun (as in Panorama View), now you can peer out from behind cover with analogue freedom and control in a truly intuitive way.
The gamepad has one last trick up its sleeve, a front-facing camera. The DSi demonstrated the use of face-tracking to create a powerful 3D effect with the game “Looksley’s Line-up”. The limitation of that game was in the terrible quality of the camera, but the Wii U is equipped with a better sensor and more processing power. Now as you are playing, the slight shifting of your face position in relation to the gamepad reinforces the illusion of 3D. It doesn’t have to require large movement, and it doesn’t have to be constant, your brain will do most of the work.
This simple piece of hardware takes off-TV play to the next level, and it brings motion control to the point where you have near-VR gaming, affordably, in your own home. But what about that other 3D VR solution, the Oculus Rift?
Currently there are a few ways to utilise this amazing piece of hardware in FPS gaming. The most common method involves the user sitting at their desk, using a keyboard and mouse, and wearing the headset as a replacement for the screen. It is possible to use it “traditionally”, but to detach aiming from looking (ie, to permit you to look around naturally), bounding boxes, as the Wiimote and traditional head-tracking devices employ, are required. This is somewhat enforced by the human’s inability to turn their head the entire way around… unless they happen to have a young priest and an old priest on hand. The result is, when you turn you head to a certain point the view will start turning, and this introduces the same learning curve and drawbacks associated with the Wiimote.
An alternative would be to use the headset while standing in an open space with it operating like the gamepad, and utilise a motion control setup like the Wiimote, Kinect, or Razer Hydra to allow you to have completely separate looking and aiming, and have a logical sense of your orientation. The only downsides here are your inability to see the physical world while wearing the headset (damned cat!), and the fact that it is currently a wired device, and therefore slightly prone to accidents. The optimum result could be an amazing, “Lawnmower Man-esque” VR experience though, where you could see your own hands move freely in front of you.
I do think both of these devices are in the future of gaming, but the Wii U Zapper is much closer to widespread commercial success. It’s a twenty dollar piece of plastic which will actually introduce a totally new way of gaming, and if it could be offered alongside the Wiimote and traditional controls in something like the next Call of Duty, it will make the Wii U version truly definitive. Screw waggle, this is motion gaming!