Do Hardware Gimmicks Matter?

Tom Mc Shea explains why developers shouldn't force themselves to take advantage of every hardware-specific feature.

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The Wii U is nothing if not flexible. Its compatibility with a wide assortment of controllers gives developers the freedom to create almost any game they have rattling around in their imaginations. With a touch screen nestled comfortably between an array of buttons and sticks, the included GamePad seamlessly melds traditional inputs with the ever-popular tablets. And if the game you want to create doesn't mesh with Nintendo's latest innovation, you're free to use the last-generation motion-and-pointing Wii Remote or the bells-and-whistles-free Pro Controller. And yet, Borderlands 2 is still not coming to the Wii U, and it's because of the fancy controller that's the core of the system.

In a recent interview with GameMasters, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford explained why the popular role-playing shooter won't arrive on Nintendo's console. "We get asked if there is going to be a Wii U version of Borderlands, and the reason why there's not is because we couldn't think of a natural, obvious, 'OMG, I want that for what the Wii U brings to the table' feature."

Now, there are a number of good reasons why Gearbox would be reluctant to bring the latest Borderlands to another system. Maybe the Wii U's comparably small user base limits the potential audience too much to be financially viable. Or Gearbox has finite resources and is already devoting much of its time and money to creating downloadable content on the other platforms. Plus, if you consider Nintendo's rocky online history, it would be understandable if Gearbox just didn't think it would be able to forge a connected experience worthy of the franchise's high standards. All of these problems are legitimate, and Gearbox would be wise to stay away if it felt strongly about any of them. But the reason Pitchford gave doesn't jibe with reality.

Developers waste time implementing questionable control methods and extraneous features to check every box.

Consider an upcoming Gearbox game that is coming to the Wii U. In the same interview, Pitchford talks about how natural a fit Aliens: Colonial Marines is for the GamePad. "But with Aliens, the first thing we thought was, 'Holy s***, I can have a motion controller in my hands!' When it's there in my lap it feels like I'm part of the movie." To summarize, using a map for Borderlands 2 wouldn't be "natural," but if you have a radar in your hands in Aliens, it's a "Holy s***" experience.

Let's just assume for a moment that Pitchford truly does believe that games must take full advantage of the myriad options available for each system. This is a troubling mindset that goes against the reason such flexibility exists in the first place. Instead of allowing developers to craft the best experience possible, it forces them to waste time implementing questionable control methods and extraneous features to check every box.

Diddy Kong Racing DS is a great example of a development team shoehorning control tweaks into a game that didn't need them, undermining the core racing in the process. To get a speed boost in the portable version, you need to blow into a microphone or scratch the touch screen, depending on what vehicle you're using, and that nonsense disrupts the responsive controls that defined the untainted original. Uncharted: Golden Abyss launched alongside the Vita, and it attempted to introduce you to the various features in Sony's latest handheld in a recognizable franchise. Unfortunately, moving the system back and forth to swing on a rope isn't remotely fun, so cramming in a different control scheme just to take advantage of a system's many abilities can be detrimental to the finished product.

This mindset is pervasive in the industry, and even though not every game is handicapped to the same extent as Diddy Kong Racing DS, it's still a problem that developers bring on themselves. Yelling "Grenade!" to throw an explosive frag in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary delighted watchers intent on griefing the player, but it had no practical application because there was a noticeable delay between the command and the onscreen action. And who thought it would be a good idea to make you blow into the GamePad's microphone for Donkey Kong Crash Course in Nintendo Land to make the elevator rise?

Then there are times when developers try to mix elements that actively contradict each other. As everyone is no doubt aware, the 3DS has a notoriously small viewing angle. If you shift your eyes or the system slightly, you mess up the 3D effect. And yet, you can steer Super Monkey Ball 3D by tilting the system. When logic is overwhelmed by feature creep, you have a hodgepodge of nonsense more concerned with back-of-the-box bullet points than entertainment.

As we move into the next generation of gaming, it's important for developers to heed the warnings of past failures. Game design is more than just throwing ideas at a wall and hoping something sticks. Instead of devoting time and resources to ensuring every feature of a system is used, focus on the core elements that make the game engaging and build around those ideas. There's no reason to bury the game under a pile of lousy concepts. Great games are more than a combination of gimmicks and novelty, so focus on making the experience as compelling as possible instead of dabbling in pointless distractions. As for Borderlands 2, if what Pitchford says is true, it's a shame that Wii U owners must miss out on a great experience simply because Gearbox felt that they couldn't let their game speak for itself.

Discussion

1 comments
jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

Im sorry but Randy pitchford must have had a brainfart, because his ramblings have no basis for anyone"s reality. This is why CEO's should never be allowed to talk in front of the press. They may know how to lead a company financially but almost never know the real workings of one, and that is why the press knows their victim will say the dumbest thing on cue. 

I agree with everything the editor said above but I think he left out a couple of important reasons why to bring games to certain platforms. Developers have to think about the future- while profit is prime (it is what keeps the lights on) good will and name will help you sale games later on. 

Take bringing uncharted to the vita - porting your brand and IP your proud of to a new audience with potential profits is important and future new fans important to your bottom line. ALSO you are trying to bring good will to business partner (sony console maker) by supporting the new features of their console even though they wouldn't be a good match. The game is not broken or even hurt that much by adding in the features, but the good will and hopefully financial returns of supporting that new console and fans will come. 

Same for Diddy Kong racing. Yes you could just port it over, but if the platform you play on does not expand its player base, then that is fewer customers for you game. 

The biggest thing all developers should remember is never design your game around a feature first. It has to be good on its own, the added control schemes, motion, what have you- should be there to enhance it. But gamers should also take some blame, there is just to many people who buy a game because it uses a certain peripheral and not because it is good. 

But sometimes a good peripheal works, Take harmonix, they had a vision, made a game, then argued for months on what the controller should be. But more importantly they had a game first. 

megakick
megakick

The Wii - U controller should be optional it would have taken as much as $75 off the console price. I don't want it and I am not paying for it.... I wouldn't have bought a XBOX 360 if I had to buy a Kinect with it.

teknic1200
teknic1200

the funny thing is that the backpack in borderlands is actually kind of a pain and the idea of using the game pad to compare weapons and add skill points sounds good to me.

 

subtle use is always best.

 

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

Considering the use of the word 'gimmick' in your title, it's pretty clear how you feel on the subject.

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

you can start an indie game yourself and charge $10-20 consistantly and it required a handful of people or you can make a blockbuster smash with an army of developers that costs you millions that will be in the $5 bin 6 months later.

 

people i know also enjoy the smaller indie games pound for pound much more, and they generally dont take months to patch to get thier games to work right in the first place. 

 

Big business needs to die and in agony.

 

 

da_chub
da_chub

As with input device, they have there perks and downfalls. It only makes sense to use the faesture available, as long as it enhances the expierence. Zelda ss with m+ was a great way to play an adventure game. I wish dark souls had those controls. Keyboard and mouse is way better for fps. Game pads for button mashers. Wii U game pad will have plenty of great uses that are and aren't gimmicks.

ButtonBasherBW
ButtonBasherBW

I'm a proud owner of a Wii U, but can't help think that the Pro Controller should have been included with the console, at least the premium console, like it was with the Zombiu pack in Europe.Having this as a standard might suggest to developers that they have options that more people would have already.

CalamityKate
CalamityKate

The obvious solution to feature creep is to use those cool new features, but make them optional, providing a traditional control scheme alongside it.  Kinect voice commands in Mass Effect 3, for example - completely optional for those of us who prefer the feel of the gamepad and find speaking dialog options awkward - Shepard should sound like Mark Meer or Jennifer Hale, not like me.  Selecting the paraphrase has a different feel to it than saying it aloud and then hearing the character say the same basic thing in a more appropriate voice.  It's actually less immersive for me.

 

Borderlands 2 has several joke weapons - an SMG that screeches when you fire it, a sniper rifle that nags you, a fire SMG that vibrates slow all the time, and on high any time you aim with it.  The features described in this article would be like having one of those deliberately annoying joke guns that you were required to use in order to play the game.

 

As is, the vibrating fire gun (Moxxi's Good Touch) is the best fire SMG I've found in the game, and the vibration quickly became annoying enough that I have to turn the rumble feature off in the dashboard before starting the game if I want to use it.

 

Control schemes should, wherever possible, be the software equivalent of "backwards compatible" for those customers who prefer a game pad.  Using a feature because it exists is bad design; using a feature because it's the best way to implement a game element is the way such things should be used.

SaurabhAV
SaurabhAV

360: Paid online multiplayer & Kinect ( Oldest & largest online community)

PS3: Free online multiplayer & Blueray (Online community is starting to catch up with microsoft)

Wii U: Free onine multiplayer & Miiverse & New Controller (After 6 years has finally implemented a user friendly online community)

 

I feel like Nintendo's WII U is like a new MMO that is trying to steal player's away from WoW. 

SaurabhAV
SaurabhAV

A very interesting notion. Game developers do not have to use "check off" every single feature of a console to produce a game. It is such a simple idea that it melts my mind that game developers haven't realized this yet

maxneopayne
maxneopayne

Maybe it's because the WII U is a weak console, it's what the WII should have been the hardware specs are pathetic. It is not a true next gen console.

 

Sgthombre
Sgthombre

"To summarize, using a map for Borderlands 2 wouldn't be "natural," but if you have a radar in your hands in Aliens, it's a "Holy s***" experience."

I'm glad I'm not the only who was confused by those two statements. 

LinkLuigi
LinkLuigi

Ouch. Gearbox just got burned.

Granpire
Granpire

Totally agree. I'm glad Jet Set Radio didn't shoehorn in tons of Vita features for the port, and just stuck with what worked.

 

On the other hand, Uncharted Golden Abyss was just crammed full of Vita functionalities. I was glad when, around the game's second half, those awful machete sequences started to disappear almost entirely.

DrEw1190
DrEw1190

"They call him a T-rex with smaller arms..." in Tom's bio. I laughed. A lot. 

Oh, and this is completely irrelevant to the article.

CheapScotch
CheapScotch

 

Nintendo is using the innovation excuse to try and reinvent the wheel.  The configuration of keys on a typewriter has been around for a hundred years.  Similarly, so should the dual analog 8 button controller.  We all have phones, and consoles; its EITHER complete touch or complete button input.  Blending the 2 hasn't worked yet, maybe someone will figure it out, or maybe the mouse and keyboard is as far as effective touch and input blending can go.

 

Gearbox is clearly trying to dabble in the dual screen/nintendo innovation/touch control scheme, as are many other VG companies.  But to fault them--for any reason --on not releasing a *quickly become signature series* on a system requiring a level of reinvention to the core game is preposterous.  

 

There are no really memorable ALIENS games... Sure, throw one on the wii U, and test out FPS dual screen possibilities. Experiment where no one gets hurt, and it doesn't matter.  But Borderlands?  Why gamble with its integrity?  We gamers are a picky, bitchy lot.  Imagine if Borderlands WiiU came out and even one tiny little thing became an inconvenience as it required the touch screen...  We would collectively scream BLASPHEMY!!!!   

 

I can list 1000 games right now that are not on the Wii U, that would sell well.  Are you going to single out the Fine folks at New Grounds for not releasing a Wii version of Castle Crashers?  What about SKYRIM? Is Dragon's Dogma on the Wii U? Dark Souls? Mass Effect? 

 

Have you asked the creators of those games why no Wii U release?  Do you think any of them in their right minds would say in writing/publicly, "We're not releasing on the Wii U because that system's audience won't buy enough of our game."  Think of the article you would write if one of those companies said something that unprofessional...

 

 

Icepick_Trotter
Icepick_Trotter

I like how the article is instantly biased by calling them "gimmicks".

 

Nevermind leaving it open to discussion.

 

Remember, the touchscreen and even the analog stick were called "gimmicks" at the time, by some. Like everything new.

VampireLord123
VampireLord123

I see many people did not understand the article at all. What the writer is trying to say, is that the core elements of the game should go from the inside-out. This means, if they are going to implement alternative ways to play using motion control or other kind of devices, they should add it in parts where the game truly needs them or optimizes the experience, making them part of the core elements of tha game. Adding motion controls just to make a jump or make a sound, dance, or just for the sake of solving puzzles, it is superficial. One example, of making use of the motion controls part of the core elements of the game, is Zelda Skyward Sword, it was a different experience, some bosses require skill and the good use of motion controlling to be defeated. More examples could be Trauma center on the DS or the Wii, Mario Galaxy series and many more that use them the way it should be.

SAFEone09
SAFEone09

Being able to play the game away from the tv would on occasion be a good enough use of the screen you dont always need to reinvent the wheel just let people play on the toilet when they want to.

CheapScotch
CheapScotch

So, Gearbox is wrong not releasing Borderlands 2 on WiiU, but exclusives are OK?  I had to buy a PS3 to play  Metal Gear 4; so Konami is wrong for not releasing it on XBOX?  Want Gears? buy an XBOX.  Want resistance? Buy a PS3.  Want borderlands, buy a real system...  Seems straightforward enough to me.  Borderlands does speak for itself by the way; it's too badass for the WiiU.

 

How about Pitchford is professional enough to not to say the WiiU stinx and will fail, we're not wasting our time putting the map in the controller?  Pitchford is a great salesman, and makes it a point never to put anything down, or say negative things in general.  If he were to say, "We really don't think anyone wants to play Borderlands on the WiiU, so we're not going to bother,"  there would be another Gamespot editor calling him a jerk.

 

I guess Gearbox couldn't win either way at Gamespot with this one. Terrible article.

mgassassin117
mgassassin117

I know it's sad, but the quip about the ds tilt/vision/steering issue made me laugh.

jayd02
jayd02

Nice read, and nice article.

tz233
tz233

Well, I guess I agree, the more the merrier, but not sure if I'll ever buy a straight port to the wiiu.  Would be nice to have a map or an inventory or something on the dual screen.

thepayne78
thepayne78

In terms of the Wii U personally do not care if companies use they tablet controller. If I was going to buy a WiiU I would always be using the hardcore controller. Now if they wanted to  use the table controller just to view a map or something like that, that is fine and dandy but please do not make it to where I am required to use the tablet controller.

MasterBrief
MasterBrief

I think touch screen and voice stuff needs to stay out of console games I mean fine if you can disable them but dont make them a staple. I know most games allow you to turn them off but I heard in the COD on Vita and Uncharted you had to use them. I have nothing against motion controls but when they are in some games as only one use kinda like MGS 4 where you can shake off camo just seems unnecessary. For the Wii U yeah it looks cool and I can see some great applications for the handheld in certain games like Aliens. I think they really took the idea of the VMU on Dreamcast to a new level but I would have to agree with developers not thinking they have to include all this touch/motion/voice stuff into there game.

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

So says the gaming site that slammed early Wii games because motion controls and use of 'Mii's were not included...

 

Stay classy Gamespot.

hitechgraphs
hitechgraphs

What I hate most is spammers and fanboys saying:Oh the wii u is such an experience and so on.But the truth is no it isn't not,Nintendo just turned all in gimmicky,the control is just stupid and thei console power is lame.

jgrizzly32
jgrizzly32

 @SaurabhAV WiiU is going to be League of Legends and have more active people participating in its online community weekly than actually use the XBOX Live online service the way it is supposed to be used...

SaberStrike
SaberStrike

 @Sgthombre I think they are saying that in Borderlands, your character doesn't walk around with a map in his/her hands the whole time, whereas in Aliens, the Marines are almost always holding the radar (motion sensor).  The radar's beeps alone are a sound effect known by everyone who has ever seen an alien movie (or played an Alien game), and instantly recognizable... to have that (and see that) on your controller would be pretty sweet.

drgribb
drgribb

 @CheapScotch  You do know people have tried to redesign keyboard/typewriter layouts before...?  When you think about the current qwerty layout in common use, it actually doesn't make much logical sense, and it's creation and acceptance is more coincidental than practical.  Something like 70+% of words in the english language can be typed using only the left handed side of the keyboard (limiting typing efficiency since you can't use both hands to type these words.)  Alternative layouts are usually designed around efficient typing with reduced lateral movement to be more comfortable to hands/wrists.Just because something hasn't been changed for a long time due to people blindly accepting the dominance of a standard doesn't mean that that dominance shouldn't be challenged or that a better alternative can't exist.

Chaos_Dante_456
Chaos_Dante_456

 @CheapScotch What about that Aliens vs Predator game on the genesis which eventually gave birth to the movie.

 

CheapScotch: AVP doesn't count! I mean a REAL Aliens game!

 

Chaos_Dante: oh i was just trying to help :(

 

CheapScotch: get out of here unless you have scotch!

 

Chaos_Dante: I have scotch

 

LET"S DRINK!

GreenReuben
GreenReuben

 @Icepick_Trotter Did you read the article? It talks about developers using features as gimmicks. Any feature can be used as a gimmick or it could be innovative. The title makes sense.

 

96augment
96augment

 @CheapScotch If he though the Wii U was going to fail, why would he make a Wii U version of  Alien: Colonial Marines?

Tremblay343
Tremblay343

 @CheapScotch All he said was the reasoning for not putting Borderlands 2 could be used to not put colonial marines on the wiiu.  Tom doesn't see the difference and it's just a single point in his article.  He's not calling out Gearbox or anything.  It's an article about hardware gimmicks, not Randy Pitchford.

GreenReuben
GreenReuben

 @CheapScotch Pitchford has been incredibly positive about the Wii U, unfortunately he feels the Wii U versions need to have gimmicks, I never really expected Borderlands to show up on the Wii U anyway

Nightrunner0007
Nightrunner0007

 @MasterBrief I would agree with you here.  Games don't NEED motion controls to be fun and they are often better without them.  However, if you get a developer that knows how to take control of these "innovative" features that these new consoles have...I certainly won't object to learning how to play my favorite game a different way.  The problem is that the idea is often there, but the idea lacks the development necessary to make the reality worth while.  I for one, feel like the WIIU controller is one of the best controllers I have ever played with and I think it is a PERFECT fit for a game like ZombieU, which is way better imo than what Gamespot has it as...

Nightrunner0007
Nightrunner0007

 @hitechgraphs Do you actually own a Wii U?  If not, have you at least given one an honest try?  You might be surprised....

xOhDamnItsJrx
xOhDamnItsJrx

@blastmaster2k2 i have a pc xbox ps3 and wii u all of them just for exclusives but lay mostly on my xbox and ps3 because that's what the friends have.. if nintendo didn't have smash bros or Zelda then i wouldn't have my wii u but i know i can't get those games anywhere else lol same goes for games like halo gears uncharted infamous the witcher diablo and guild wars

Soldier235689
Soldier235689

 @GreenReuben  @Icepick_Trotter i agree hardware features like the vitas back and front touch pad or 3ds graphics or motion sensors have infinate possobilitys but in big-name-games its quite anoying when you have to use something your not use to

Icepick_Trotter
Icepick_Trotter

 @GreenReuben 

That is true. I stand corrected.

 

Still there's no reason to NOT release a game because you can't make proper use of a feature.

The Wii U controller can perfectly work as a gamepad and nothing more.

CheapScotch
CheapScotch

@Tremblay343@CheapScotch

mcshea: "As for Borderlands 2, if what Pitchford says is true, it's a shame that Wii U owners must miss out on a great experience simply because Gearbox felt that they couldn't let their game speak for itself."

 

Sounds to me like the writer is saying Gearbox should've released Borderlands on the Wii U either ignoring the controller screen altogether, or released it on the Wii U using some gimmick that would add nothing to the game.  Either way, "Gearbox felt that they couldn't let their game speak for itself," is a call out/slap in the face.

 

MasterBrief
MasterBrief

 @Nightrunner0007 yeah I think its good for innovation if they do it right and know how to. The example of the Aliens radar is perfect for it and in ZombieU I havent played the wii u but it looks like it has good features for the tablet with that kinda game. Also its been years but I remember someone maybe in an EGM mag talking about the VMU on Dreamcast and how it has little video and stuff on it all pixelated like that Egg pet thing from the 90's but still he said how it never reached it's potential and he gave the example of making football plays on your own on it. That is one of the coolest things I've heard of and I hate sports games but imagine playing Madden with like 3 friends and each of you pick your play on the tablet so none of the others get to see it. I could also see an mmo type game working on it where you would have your hotbar on the touchscreen and stuff like that. I think it's a great tool and Im not against it at all but I am against games that have you tap the screen for attacks or throwing grenades like in the COD Vita games ones that just throw it in instead of building it in. I do however think that the tablet controller is on the wrong system I love Nintendo but they need to shake the kid friendly games thing and get more adult titles. Hopefully the Zombie U is a sign of change in that department.

Omnichrono
Omnichrono

 @Nightrunner0007  You might as well not even bother trying to respond to trolls, man.  Though, what you have said is sound advice at any time.