RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Sep 19th 2012 at 04:20:32 PM by (slackur)
Posted under Controllers, 3DS, 3DS XL, PSP, Vita, Southpaw, forget this wheres our VR we were promised in 95

Many a gamer grumbled the world over when the 3DS was first revealed as having only a single, left analog 'circle pad.'  Gaming futurists claimed the new system was already dead in the water because of a refusal to get with the times.  Even the PSP has been routinely criticized for only having as many control inputs as a Dreamcast, compounded by the Vita's announcement of twice as many touch pads and analog sticks.  By the time the 3DS XL came around with the gall to not split its own player base, forums were alight with proclamations of "no 2nd pad, no buy." 

As a southpaw gamer, some of my concerns about this are admittedly doomed to a minority.  For example, many Vita games are completely inaccessible to me because of a lack of input options, even for a portable with more input methods than ever before.  It was extremely frustrating to find that Resistance, Uncharted, Unit 13, and most disappointingly Gravity Rush have no option to use the left stick for the 3D camera.  I should know; I suffered terrible nausea trying to play the latter for ten minutes.

While this indelible oversight occurs often on consoles, where some systems have controller-modding options, on a handheld I'm pretty much out of luck.  Sadly, it is a curse I've just had to accept about my own limitations meeting a publisher/developer's inconsideration for handicapped gamers (even for an easily correctable solution, such as the ability to swap the stupid analogs).  But this element actually plays very little into the fact that I'm much happier that most portables, including the new 3DS models, only have a single analog.  That's right; if given the choice, I'd rather every portable only have one analog thumb device, be it a 'nub,' 'stick,' or 'pad.' 

Why?  It actually has less to do with controls per se, and more to do with game design.  What game types do developers make for systems with two analog sticks?  As any modern gamer knows (and many an 'old school-er' laments) the genre du jour is first and third person shooters.  It is generally agreed that for consoles, the now standard two-stick setup is the most ideal control method for these games, and I wouldn't argue.  (Sticking to consoles, as this isn't a mouse-and-keyboard debate.)

But what do developers, who make so much money off of these F/TPS games, do about the portable market?  Often, the system design is largely ignored for the sake of shoe-horning a console shooter onto it.  And in my opinion, not having another stick is not the biggest problem with this; blocky graphic engines, bad framerates, limited enemy intelligence, scaled down maps, stripped down features, the list goes on.  Its not that these game-types are doomed to fail on a portable; there does exist a few examples of excellent portable F/TPS games.  But by and large most handheld iterations of anything resembling a Call of Duty or Halo derivative are considered subpar experiences.  At best they are used as third tier backups for the 'true' experience, at worst they are practically unplayable experiments in ignoring the benefits of redesigning a game to meet the system where it is.

We naturally expect ports of popular series on our portables, and there is nothing wrong with that.  The problem lies in assuming that we are capable of, or even want to, experience the same game on a system that will almost always have lower resolution and horsepower, different programming architecture, and more limited control elements than a home console.  Hardware developers can see this as a challenge, trying to produce cutting edge devices (with expenses to match) to solve this 'problem.'

Except it is not a problem, any more than the idea that a Super Nintendo cannot be as entertaining as a PS3 because of inferior hardware.  We have different expectations for different hardware, and of course that plays into our preconceived notions of what we will experience.  But as many of us here at RFGen can attest, sometimes our modern consoles do not get nearly the playtime as our older systems.  And not just because of nostalgia; our blogs here are rife with those who discovered a fifteen year-old game they never played suddenly becoming a new favorite. 

If Doom were ever truly ported to the Atari 2600, it would be amusing for inventive programming, not because it was truly competing to rival the actual experience of the original.  Unless... it wasn't designed to play like the original but was instead a new creation inspired by it.  This leads us to brilliant redesigns like Doom RPG for cell phones.  While Doom can be hacked onto a cell phone, playability and other issues would always be a concern, but by taking the original as inspiration and the limitations of the system in mind, a game perfect for the format was developed.

And here is found the solution to the 'problem' of a lack of a second stick on portables; for developers to make games with the system in mind from the beginning of development. The real problem is not one of technical limitations; it is one of design.  My favorite, and I would argue the best, games on portable systems are the ones specifically designed with the system in mind.  For the DS, classics like Kirby Canvas Curse, the Etrian Odyssey series, Knights in the Nightmare, and of course Scribblenauts were designed with the unique DS hardware in mind, and it shows in awesome game design.  Instead of being limited by the technology, the technology was utilized in fun and inventive ways. 

As port-heavy as the PSP library is, it is no surprise that my favorites are also ones that ignored the system's console siblings and were developed just for it; Killzone: Liberation, Metal Gear Acid 1 and 2, and R-Type Command are great examples of trying something better suited to the system's unique hardware.  The Loco Roco and Patapon series are perhaps the best showpieces of original design catered to both the PSP hardware and its portable nature.

Having another analog should not have the opposite of the intended effect and limit game design, of course.  We can also certainly have great F/TPS games on portables, and now with the Vita, no doubt there will be more to come.  But where developers look at the Vita and may assume quick ports of modern shooters will make money on the system, I'm thrilled that the relatively underpowered 3DS will, if history serves correct, be host to inventive, creative, unique experiences catering to the portable.  Of course, we'll be flooded with 'Party Babyz" style shovelware left and right, but that is the nature of the beast of modern gaming, and unrelated to how many silly inputs a game system has. Tongue

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Well said. The 3DS XL is a great handheld system, and a single stick is perfect for it. Nintendo understands what it takes to design a piece of hardware to be great at playing their games.

Notice that Sony listened to all of the two-stick complaints about the PSP, which led a system that is a weaker seller. Sony is a hardware company and loves to slap widgets and do-dads on things, but doesn't consider why they should or shouldn't be there. Let's hope that the Vita can die a death that teaches Sony what it takes to build a great handheld: just enough to deliver an amazing portable game.
There's some great points made here.

Whenever I feel like a portable gaming session, it's usually to experience something completely different than what I usually get on a console.  Wario Ware-ish games, puzzle games (which I've traditionally been terrible at and never played all that much) and other original-to-handheld genres is what I look for.

Don't get me wrong, though - on the technical side, seeing PS3-worthy graphics in the Uncharted Vita game is pretty incredible...  but I'd never buy a handheld system to experience console-quality graphics. I mean, I already have the console, so I certainly wouldn't shell out the extra $$$ to have the same experience, except I have to squint a bit to see every little detail.  Smiley

Props to Nintendo for not caving in to demands!
Amen.  I never understood why the gaming media were complaining so much about the lack of a second stick on the 3DS (and later the 3DS XL).  Now I understand why Sony went with the design of the Vita (to place it more in line with PS3 gaming), but the 3DS was never about that.  Heck, I was just stoked that the DS version of Super Mario 64 was finally playable with the analog slider...

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