Game developers need to make an effort to optimize for accessories

I decided to split this post out of the Joystickers Classics review as I feel it deserves some attention beyond a footnote in a review. With accessories such as the Classics and the Fling we see a lot of improvement over just touching virtual buttons on a touchscreen. It therefore annoys me a lot when game developers seem completely ignorant to the existence of such accessories and make no effort to add a settings option for them. Even worse is it that they don’t seem to pay any attention to how console games handle motion controls, which renders the gyroscopic controls of a lot of games practically useless.

The Classics provide more or less perfect “buttonizations” of virtual push buttons. Unfortunately, that’s only half the problem, as you still have to deal with on-screen touch sticks for movement and camera control. The Fling goes a long way towards helping to solve that problem, but is limited in that the developers don’t include settings for it. Or even bother implementing logical systems that more expensive game systems use.

Take Modern Combat 3, a touch screen shooter, compared to SOCOM 4, a PS3 game which uses the Playstation Move motion control system, which is similar to gyroscopic control. There are three major differences in how these two games handle input, and the three issues are somewhat related. The first issue is how touch screen games handle both gyroscopic and stick controlled panning. With Playstation Move and SOCOM 4 (not to mention other games that use it, the Wii, etc) any motion will move the sight internally in the view you currently have, without panning the view itself until you try to move the sight outside the confines of your current view. E.g. you move your controller left, and the sight moves left within the same field of vision that you had without panning that view. Once the sight hits the left edge of the screen, you character starts spinning. You you move your controller a bit right again, you move the sight out of the edge of the screen, and your character stop spinning. This way, you can turn 360 degrees simply by moving the sight to the edge of the screen and wait until it has spun 360 degrees. There’s a dedicated button to increase the sensitivity drastically, so that you can quickly spin around. I’ve played through both SOCOM 4 and Killzone 3 using the PS3 Sharpshooter controller and you get used to it very quickly.

Modern Combat 3 and many other touch screen shooter games however always have your sight centered and pan the view when you move the device. This makes sense in a way, since you move the entire device which is also the screen, so in a way you’re moving your window of the world. The problem with that approach is that you either have to spin 360 degrees in real life to spin 360 degrees in the game, or increase the sensitivity so much that accurate control for aiming is impossible. This makes it impossible to control the camera using only the gyroscope unless you’re on a pivoting chair or standing. Since you need your thumb on the trigger button and there are no buttons on the back or top of the device where you other fingers are, you really don’t have any fingers to spare for touching the screen for camera movement as well as actual movement. I think the best way to handle this would be to have a button that when pressed increased the sensitivity to max to allow easily switching between “aim mode” and “pan mode”. With Classics attached you can easily handle another push button with your thumb as you can press multiple buttons at once.

The second issue with the static sight control system is that every tiny movement translates to camera movement in the game. Moving the controller a bit in SOCOM didn’t matter because it only moved the sight a bit and left the camera view perfectly stable. However just breathing in a static sight game makes the camera view go all over the place, so that getting sea sick is an actual danger with those games – I kid you not. Again something that the aim/pan button could fix, as long as the aim mode had a very low sensitivity – lower than the minimum that’s in Modern Combat 3 today.

The third and final major issue has to do with how movement sticks revert to their neutral position. For actual game controllers, if you move the stick to the left and then let go, then whatever it controls would have gone left and stayed there. In many touch screen games however, they don’t have neutral positions, but instead treat any directional movement as controller input in that direction. If you move the virtual analog stick (oxymoron, I know) left and then back to the neutral position, then whatever it controls will move left…and then back. That’s fine for finger controls, in fact it makes sense for finger controls, but it will render accessories like the Fling useless as it will cancel out its own actions by reverting to the base position. Now, before anyone starts calling me idiot, I know that many games – including Modern Combat 3 – have options to turn the finger friendly sticks into true virtual analog sticks. That is, sticks that don’t have this issue with cancelling out there own actions, sticks that work better with the Fling. The problem is that first off, all games need to have this option, and second, there needs to be a ton of settings to tweak them. For instance, Modern Combat 3 has a single slider for adjusting sensitivity. It’s shared between both touch sticks and gyroscope. Yet the gyroscope will still be oversensitive for me at the lowest setting, and the analog sticks are so slow at the highest setting that it takes 5 seconds to spin around 360 degrees. In most shooters, you’re pretty dead if someone comes up behind you and it takes you 2.5 seconds to turn around.

I’m naturally not saying they should abandon the current systems, but add as many settings as possible to tweak controls! The Fling has been out there for long enough that there really is no excuse for a major company like Gameloft not to have an own “Fling mode” in their games. It would benefit them to not only recognize the existence of such accessories and add settings for them, but also advertise them heavily. The better the controls are, the more games they will sell.

Naturally, the best thing would be if someone made a Bluetooth controller that worked well with all OSes out there, and got developers to add a mode for it. It’s not that hard, just make it connect as a normal Bluetooth keyboard and use button pressed like A, B, C etc to transmit commands. It would instantly work on any OS that can use Bluetooth keyboards, and it would be easy to implement in games as apps have access to Bluetooth keyboard input.  Until that happens, I would settle for enough control over input methods to optimize it for the accessories I’ve bought.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.