Please keep Jay Raymond away from controller design

So, not outselling films isn’t mainstream enough to this person subbed Jay Raymond. That’s like saying you’re not selling enough fast food after you’ve bankrupted MacDonalds.Let’s see a quote that set me off, and why I’ve been really hesitant to talk about this piece of news;

“You have to master face buttons, triggers and they all do different things,” she went on. “So obviously we’re never going to get to that really mass-market place where we’re touching a really broad audience with our messages with controllers, so Kinect and other more natural ways to interact with games are incredibly important. I think we can go further.”

May I punch this person? What this person is saying [is] that traditional controls are far too complex for a newcomer. Jay calls herself a “hardcore gamer” and that was the final stroke.

Video games, especially console and arcade games, are meant to be easyget into and hard to master by their core nature. Just because your company designs a complex controller doesn’t mean that you should make complex use of it.

Let’s take a look at the controller family tree, which is missing the most basic arcade controller and the SpaceWar arcade cabinet. Here we see how the shape has changed throughout the years and evolved bit by bit both in size, shape and in number of buttons. I disagree that the Mr. Game&Watch evolved from an Atari joystick, as it’s a combination of many things, like the directional buttons on computer and arcade joystick rather than Atari stick.

At what point did we go over the threshold of being easy to get into? Does less buttons mean easier access? No, it does not. We never went over the threshold. If you check my Double Dragon review I went over how console controller centric the controls were.

It is the developer who decides how complex the controls are, not the controller.

Controllers, as they are, should be as unobtrusive as possible in design. Every button should be within reach and accessible. Both D-Pad and sticks should be responsive and in a place where one can lay their thumb easily on them. Xbox’s controller is horrible mess in this regard with its Black and White buttons. Microsoft managed to improve their design in the 360 by taking everything that worked in the Dreamcast controller and the rest from other controllers. The NES had just two buttons and you could do aninsane amount of stuff with just those two buttons. Anyone who has played Turtles III can tell that those two buttons were more than enough. Mega Drive has three buttons, and those buttons saw a lot of use. Later it had six, but even then not all games used those because they did not need them.

Jay thinks that modern controllers are complex because they are made complex on purpose. Why? Because developers try to port more and more computer controls to consoles and vice versa. It’s insanely stupid. Dual Stick controls are the worst design choice one can make for a console game. If possible, let me use a keyboard and a mouse for those games. Console controllers are not for that, same just like you are not meant to play Doom with a damn arcade stick.

However, do try playing Ys games with an arcade controller. It works surprisingly well because it has roots in console gaming despite being on a computer.

So no, Jay. You’re wrong in this case.From a design standpoint a lot of controllers are nigh perfect in design. SNES has one of the most revered design overall, and pretty much everybody agrees that if you need to use a pad for fighting games you go  for a Sega Saturn pad. You do not need to use all buttons on the controller to make good controls. On the contrary, if you manage to make aconsole game that uses as fewbuttons as possible you have far more coherent and tight controls. That’s a good thing, unlike what developers seem to think.

If you want complex controls that need to use large amount of buttons, then go for computer games. You have a keyboardful of buttons to use in your game. Controllers themselves are not complex, and if they are then something is seriously wrong.

Like with Kinect. Kinect is a perfect example of controller that on paper seems simple and straightforward, but how it works now is more complex than any controller. Console controllers by their nature are accurate. Kinect isn’t. Mouse is accurate as well, but that’s a completely different control method than a D-Pad or a stick. If a controller isn’t accurate from the get go, the only way to make it work is to work around it. Kinect games do not even try, and honestly the technology, while impressive, isn’t up there yet to be used with console games.

Putting more emphasize on controller free games would be a mistake. Kinect never really sold well, as most of them were sold with the new 360 packs. Nobody bought them separate, and people who did bought them mostly to use them in their tech projects. Then we also have the question why the hell would Jay want to push Kinect if she herself doesn’t play the games it offers.

Throughout the article it comes clear that she’s a computer gamer and has very little grasp on what does work with consoles and what doesnot. If controllers are far too complex and if they scare away the customers, then make ityour job to simplify the controls. Take away the triggers, lessen the amount of buttons, or make completely unique controllers for different games. NES was an awesome console because it allowed the user to play with whatever controller he wanted. The amount of NES controllers is large and filled with awesome controllers like the NES Advantage and the NES MAX. Wii followed the same line of thinking, but never really took it far enough.

Video games in general, especially arcade games, are about skill and execution. Saying that they’re too complex for people to get into is not having enough faith inyour customers; you’re underestimating your customers. There is an image of complex games, and that’s just an image. Reality can be anything else from game to game. Double Dragon NEON has far too many buttons in use for its own good for sure, but then we have games like Deathsmiles that work completely well with two or three buttons. And yes, I’ve seen shooting games that use six buttons for some God forsaken reason. R-Type needed exactly two and that was enough.

What I’d like you, my dear reader, to do is to think up a game with the most convoluted controls you’ve had displeasure to play, and then simplify them.

Sometimes the game developers should develop a game from ground up with its own controller. Physical creation is important as well, and with the loss of arcade we’ve lost physical craftsmanship almost altogether. Making the physical instrument a part of how the game works, be it a traditional game or electronic, is a gateway to understand the game itself better. Developing a game for a ready controller and not understanding how controls actually work only yields loose, inaccurate and bad controls no matter what controller is in question.