This is a topic I’ve been stewing on for a while, and I finally feel like it’s time to throw it out there. A lot of people have seen the rise of motion controllers as a sign that strategy games will finally make their way to the consoles.
Of course, as we all know there have been a number of titles that have tried to recreate the gameplay found on the PC: Halo Wars and the new Red Alert titles being major examples. However, the gamepad has, so far, proven that it cannot effectively translate the gameplay of a mouse and keyboard.
This led many to believe that motion controllers would add a better avenue of possibilities because they can better mimic a mouse. Some have gone so far as to say that, because they’ve seen the tank RTS demo for the Sony Move or R.U.S.E. being played with Kinect, that they are somehow capable of playing a real strategy game.
As any strategy game player will tell you, the ability to move a cursor around a screen accurately and quickly isn’t nearly as important as the way the mouse and keyboard become extensions of the player’s hands.
In reality, a real Strategy game entails a combination of both the keyboard and mouse, with a lot of your actions being done by the keyboard. For an example of the extent that the keyboard plays while playing a real Strategy game, high end players who know what they’re doing will do somewhere between 150-200 actions per minute. A player who plays on the professional level will do closer to 300-500 actions per minute. This kind of speed and multitasking just wouldn’t be possible without both the mouse and keyboard.
What motion controllers have proven is that they are capable of successfully handling the macro management of a strategy game. They are, however, completely incapable of managing the micro. Without going into useless detail, let me point out two major elements that would not be solved by the use of motion controls. The first is group management; with a more limited number of buttons organizing groups would be nearly impossible. In some cases, the makeup of your groups can spell the doom or victory of your army.
Secondly, and more importantly, is the management of your units’ abilities. How would someone using motion controls be able to, say, teleport a group of units away from an oncoming force, switch to another group to have them pull those enemy forces into the air and then have a final group use a spell to destroy said units? With a mouse and keyboard, you’re capable of doing this in less than ten seconds, could you imagine trying to accomplish the same set of moves with just a controller? This is without adding in the fact that you would need to be able to jump back to your base to build more units, expand, or defend against a counter attack while also fighting another battle.
Let’s also evaluate the general gaming environment of PC and console gamers. PC gamers are closer to the screen; they see, and can easily manage, dozens of small units without being overtaxed or leaning right up to their screen. However, most people have around five feet between their couch/chair and the TV. This means that they would have to try and manage the multitude of units, buildings, and abilities from a much farther distance, making moving their controller and looking at details that much more difficult.
This is not to say that nontraditional strategy games could not be extremely successful with motion controllers, I still believe that Lionhead is working on the next Black and White title for Kinect. It is a series that was built for such a device, a giant hand used to grab, throw and make spell patterns as you play god? Yes, please.