The Art of James Teeple

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Leicester, United Kingdom
I'm 21 / DMU Art Student / British-American.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Interaction and design

As a kid I never really had much exposure to games consoles or PC growing up. So whenever I compare my experience to others, there usually a sizable gap in my gaming history.
Funnily enough talking about interaction and design within games technology is bringing back some old memories of the few gaming experiences I had growing up in America during the mid to late 1990's. What I remember most were the controllers.  I remember my friends dad was into pc gaming, he had a joystick and a couple of games, one of them was mech warrior 2.

 I did a little bit of research to see if I could find what joystick it was, and I believe it was the 'Quickshot sky commander QS202 joystick PC' At the time this seemed super advanced looking. And actually, Its virtually the only time I've ever used a joystick on a game outside an arcade.

Mech Warrior 2 was a solid game for starters, at least to me with no gaming experience, and I had never used a joystick before so needless to say, I found it pretty tough, not very intuitive to just pick up and play.The only other games controller I remember using was the NES pistol for "Duck Hunt".

One of the neighbors kids had a NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and I got to play on it one day. I remember thinking that gun controller was pretty awesome, and for a kid like me who never used technology but was used to playing with water pistols nearly 24-7, it was very intuitive if just a little clunky. But with really only one function, point and shoot, how can you get it wrong?

Obviously I cant really compare "Duck Hunt" to "Mech Warrior 2" but whats clear to me is that as a 7 year old kid, I couldn't really get my head around the joystick, but the simpler more intuitive design of the gun made it effortless. So finding some balance between complexity of controls and designing a shape that was user friendly was clearly the way forward. Since then, it seems that joysticks haven't really come back into fashion like they were in the mid 90's. They are usually more of a specialist input device, commonly used in flight simulator games, in arcades, and among the diehard joystick fans. Although there is technically nothing wrong with how they function, it must just be down to how user friendly they are, as to whether they would be adopted by the public. If there was a demand for them, I'm sure joysticks would come back into fashion because there are more applications now than ever before where they could be used, its just a question of do we need then? with games controllers becoming ever more complex and intelligent.

Instead, the games industry saw the rise of the game pad controllers. For the most part, they started out as small boxy things; a reflection on the amount of inputs needed to play the games at the time with little thought put into the aesthetics of design. Gradually as games became more complex, controllers got bigger and grew more buttons. To the point where some were some grew so big, they look ugly AND impractical to use.
The best example of this would probably be Sega's controllers, they may have got the job done, but they didn't half look ugly!

The nicest looking one was probably the sega Saturn 2nd generation controller, but take a look at the Dreamcast! I remember playing one of those, and one thing I remember above all else, was the shape of it. It was just super alien and looked more like you were holding a spaceship that a hand held controller. It had tones of functionality for its time, but most of that went overlooked I believe, overshadowed by Sony's simpler, more classic and easy to understand design for the Playstation controller.
In my opinion it has a much more sleek and attractive design. Even though its a technological downgrade from what the Dreamcast controller had to offer, what the PS1 controller did, it did well. The design was so good in fact, that Sony have pretty much left it untouched through the generations of new consoles and hardware. New features have been added and its changed a lot for sure, but if you ignore the innovations going on inside the controller, its overall shape remains the same; including with the new PS4 version recently announced. Though, I do admit by the looks of it this is the largest aesthetic modification that Sony has made yet.

It may be part of the reason Playstation was so popular over the slightly older Dreamcast and ultimately kicked Sega's machine out of the console war. Good design and simple interaction won out.

Since I've mention Sony's Playstation I think its fitting to also talk about its competitors Microsoft and Nintendo in the gaming market and what innovations they have brought to the field.

For the majority of the time I was a console gamer (since moved on to PC) Xbox was always my favourite. I remember getting my first Xbox console and for me it was the first gaming console i'd actually owned. The design was really cool at the time, but I always remember begging my mum to buy me the green translucent version instead of the default black, but that slight cosmetic difference came at a cost and she was having none of it.

Even now I look at it and still think its probably one of the coolest looking games consoles ever. I know the look wasn't for everyone, but it sure looked mean. It was clearly designed to be bold and as make a statement being the new kid on the block. I still have my Xbox though they weren't without faults and very accustomed to developing failures in the hardware, mainly the disk drives, as was the case with mine.
Funny thing was, Microsoft seemed to have taken some design inspiration from Sega's Dreamcast when they designed the Xbox's controller. Bundled with the original package shipped in 2000, it was Code named "Duke", and it was a beast.

I remember thinking it was huge. Heaven help and small kids that wanted got a first gen Xbox for christmas! lol
Microsoft had had also released another version called "controller S" which was the standard controller in Japan. Perhaps the average person in japan had smaller hands so needed a smaller controller? Who knows. Anyway It wasn't long before Microsoft replaced "duke" and began shipping xbox in other territories with the "S" version.

With the unveil of the xbox 360 in 2005 there were no real major innovations to speak of as far as design goes for both controller and console. They added a home button and turned the xbox on its side, and added two new front bumpers to the controller. However, even though the changes to the controller were subtle, they did make a big difference. IMO the Xbox 360 has one of the best feeling controllers out there. Its design is near perfection in many ways, with a few big shortcomings. like the D pad which I found was still quite slugging and untrustworthy in fighting games. I forgot to mention the option for wireless gaming via batteries or rechargeable battery pack. That was a pretty big innovation and one that has now become standard with games consoles. It let you as a gamer interact with your environment in a totally different way when your finally free of those clumsy cables, liable to be tripped over and ripped out.
Skip 5 years down the line and Xbox 360 is now on its way out as goes the lifetime of most consoles. However Microsoft reveals a new motion capture and control technology called Kinect.

This could be considered a big forward thinking innovation for the way gamers interact with their games. But the idea never really caught me and I found myself with zero interest to invest in this new technology. Partly because the games that came with it were gimmicky and light to say the least, but also because It was quite pricey, not a accessory I wanted to fork out the price of a new Xbox for.

Naturally Nintendo comes next, but before then, this image kinda sums the design strategy for all three up nicely.

That's right Nintendo are risk takers and sometimes its payed off, others not so much, like recently with the Wii U launch. However Nintendo holds pride of place in my mind for best controller ever.  Gamecube launched in 2001 and brought to the field a new compact, attractive design for consoles. It may have been technologically lagging behind the more powerful Xbox and PS2, but that little cube still packed a punch and had some crazy fun titles that came with it. Like Super Smash Bro's Melee and Soul Caliber 2. But best of all was its controller; It just seemed to get it right, that's all I can say.
Of course I have to mention the Nintendo's Wii. The Wii was released in 2006 and really pioneered motion control with its duel stick controls. It opened the field for games consoles to not only be about gaming, but also be about fitness, involving elderly, and creating a more "family friendly" console that the whole household could theoretically enjoy and use. It changed how people perceived interaction with games consoles and since then its been a massive hit world wide. Sony adopted motion control with Playstation Move in 2009, but it hit it off nearly as successfully as the Wii had. It was strange to see the older generations buying into games consoles again and it was clearly a smart design move by Nintendo.

Aside from just talking about what the big names out the in the industry have designed themselves, why not look at some community concepts for future games consoles before there actual design was revealed. Some of the are quite well done, and just shows that maybe big companies like, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are just playing it safe, making boring looking machines.

Most of those were ridiculous and not focusing on how the consumer would actually interact with the devices, but some of them were kinda cool. like the round Xbox that is last ps4 concept. Just goes to show that the community can serve as a vast reservoir for ideas and they are very creative. Just look at Microsoft's new next gen console "Xbox One" release. What a dumb name! I cant get over how underwhelming that press reveal was. And its gone down a storm with the gaming community, but not in a good way. This is for many reasons, not only limited to its "pay to share" policy with used games, but because of Microsoft's dishearteningly minimal focus on the actual gaming side of the console. Seriously, I couldn't care less about TV, and essentially that's all the new Xbox one is aimed at IMO. 
This angry gamer rant sums it up pretty good I think. (If you have sensitive ears I suggests you don't listen)

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