For whatever reason, I decided to fire up Half-Life 2 and play through it again this past weekend. I’m not sure why I did, since it’s been a long time since I’ve played an FPS on a PC. Sure enough, all of the things that make Valve a premiere game studio were there exactly as how I remembered them in HL2; smooth graphics, captivating story, top-notch gameplay, and so on. Yet something felt odd and out of place. For the first hour or so, it felt like I was playing with oven mitts on. The keyboard+mouse combo was foreign to me; I was spoiled by the Wii.
The fact that I own a Wii probably contributes to my lack of enthusiasm for PC gaming. Say what you will about its modest hardware specs when compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3, the Wii’s control scheme stands alone. No where else is this more evident than in FPS games. The goal behind FPSs is to make the gamer feel like they are the protagonist – not by viewing the action from above, the side, or over-the-shoulder – by viewing the game from the character’s perspective. An enemy’s attacking you? Shoot him by aiming your Wii remote at the enemy, much like a weapon in the real world, and pull the trigger. It’s natural (not the homicide part), intuitive and exhibits the behavior of our three-dimensional existence.
Let’s contrast this with the keyboard and mouse. While this control scheme – employed by countless FPSs on the PC – provides plenty of accuracy, it still feels like a game. You have to map three-dimensional ideas to a two-dimensional implementation. On a flat surface, you first move your hand along the x-axis to the position of the enemy and then along y-axis to the desired height (or in the reverse order). That seems more like Battleship to me. I shouldn’t knock the keyboard+mouse combo too much, it’s still better than using two analog sticks for aiming like the Xbox 360 and PS3 employ; they’re similar to those stuffed toy crane games that used to be found in arcades.
Jeff Atwood, who I regularly read on his Coding Horror blog and anticipate the launch of his StackOverflow project with Joel Spolsky, is a developer and writer that I respect. But I had to disagree with him couple of months ago when he said, via Twitter, that the Wii couldn’t be a serious gaming console. I replied to him and mentioned that Metroid Prime 3 was the best FPS experience I ever had, thanks to the control scheme and I was able to enjoy it from the comfort of my living room couch. Here’s the conversation: 1, 2, 3, and 4).
The only thing that irks me is that the Wii’s excellent control is not exploited in the way that it should be. There’s far too much shovelware and awful software available for the Wii at the moment, with the odd gem or two. But I think that will change with some promising new disc releases like The Conduit, Fatal Frame 4, Dead Rising : Chop Till You Drop and Mad World.
Fatal Frame 4
Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop
Even though some upcoming WiiWare games like Alien Crush Returns and Mega Man 9 won’t highlight the Wii’s innovative control scheme, I’m still looking forward to them too 🙂