Friday, December 14, 2012

Mysterious Ways... of 2012 pt.2 - Control

Control is important. Whether you talk about the irresistible urge to pinch the invitingly plump rump of a co-worker, the equally irresistible urge to push random buttons when stranded inside a futuristic laboratory in the noble spirit of "I wonder what this one does...", or the control of virtual avatars in a virtual world that we so often wish would be so much more real.
Control is important. Controls are important. And none more so, than the one that directs the aim of our virtual actions. Camera or Cursor, the focus-point  of action is the most vital aspect of modern action-oriented video gaming - you point, you shoot.

So it was quite surprising to me, when two of the games I was most excited for in 2012 so deliberately failed to understand the importance of control in the player's hands. Maybe it is simply a product of the sad trend of lacking options in modern video games, of designers and developers forcing us to play their games the way they think we should play them. Maybe it was a product of pressure, when time at the end of development runs out and there are just too many things left to do. Whatever the reasons, the decisions marred two great games to the point of people simply unwilling or unable to play them.

The Walking Dead - Video Game

I will not talk about Zombies. It's a topic that has been talked, told and filmed to death. And that's not even funny anymore. If you like Zombies, you know The Walking Dead, period. So you know. If you don`t know, well, even unnaturally intense or necrophiliac attraction to the mobile mortified meat-sacks has no bearing on the issue at hand.

With the advent of flight simulators, with "simulation" being the operative word here, a curious development and conditioning entered the world of video games: the inversion of the y-axis. You pull down, you go up. Just like planes do. Why they do that has something to do with hydraulics and flaps and maybe ailerons, but it is a very fundamental truth of aircraftery. Plane-flyery. Aviating.

Anyways. Flight Simulators were really the very first First-Person Shooters - without the shooting, but still. The first First Person "Games", then, and for many, many gamers old and young, their influence still holds sway. You pull down on the stick, you look up. It's more than a preference, it's a trained reflex. It's the reason, why every video game out there has that option. Every video game? No. In a very strange move for a contemporary company, Telltale Games did not include such an option in their episodic take on The Walking Dead, that by all accounts is one of the best and most riveting zombie experiences, ever. Some say it might even surpass the brilliance of the comic book and the much lauded TV-Show. Now, The Walking Dead is more of a point-and-click adventure than an action title, so some might say it's not really an issue. But The Walking Dead actually features action-scenes, scenes where you must react quickly - and aim. I could argue and explain for all eternity, but what it boils down to are three simple points:

One, for people used to an inverted y-axis, up is down and down is up, which might be something you could overcome with enough practice or thought, but the action scenes are all about reflexes - and by definition, reflex circumvents (well, actually short-circuits) conscious thought.

Two, there is no downside to this. It cannot in any way adversely affect the game. It's an option that those that don't need it will never see, hear, smell or feel. But it would drastically improve the experience for those people that, for lack of a better term, were raised "inverted".

Three, it's not a complicated, onerous or lengthy addition. It's a switch that in essence puts a "-" (minus) sign in front of the input coming from the "camera"-stick. It's a few lines of code, plus a small GUI addition.

And yet, despite a small but dedicated campaign on their official forums - that began only hours after the game hit Xbox-Live, is still going strong, and was signed and supported by a few hundred people (which is quite a lot in forum-terms) - Telltale Games stated repeatedly they have no intention of implementing such an option.
And I do admit, that I find their decision to not invest about 30 minutes of work and net themselves potentially a few thousand more units sold... well, I find that mysterious indeed.