April 16, 2013 by samjo14
Comparison of Control in Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain is a game about motion. It allows the player to simulate the realistic movements of four fictional characters, movements as trivial as leaning on a wall or as monumental as firing a gun. These take place through the precise, time-sensitive input of game the controller. Originally, the game was designed to receive input via the standard PlayStation Sixaxis or Dualshock 3 controllers. However, in September 2010, less than a year after the release of Heavy Rain, a new kind of controller entered the Sony marked: The PlayStation Move. This changed the way Heavy Rain was playe. Now, making your character lean on the wall was more than just a flick of the thumbs. It may have required a full thrusting motion of the entire arm. Resultant changes in player immersion were both positive and negative. Motion control technology was at that time, and even still now, a blessing and a curse.
I played Heavy Rain once almost a year ago, using a Dualshock 3 controller. Coming back to it last Monday I expected to just dominate the game with my foreknowledge. But the PlayStation Move prevented that. With an unfamiliar control scheme, it was like playing a completely new game. Despite knowing the events as they happened, I was frustrated to not have all the power to stop them.
How precisely different was the experience of PlayStation Move in comparison to Dualshock 3? Well, with Dualshock 3, many of the character actions that involved some directionality within the world of the game, such as steering a car or dodging a punch, made use of the control stick to act them out. But some of the more static or general actions, which varied from using a lighter to answering a ringing telephone, used instead the eight pressure sensitive buttons. The problem with this is these buttons never seemed to match to the action of the moment. Why does one have to press triangle to deliver a kick, but square to throw a basketball? Why in a later scene, does R2 have to be pressed to deliver a kick with the same foot? In contrast to other games with standardized controls, Heavy Rain has a ludonarrrative dissonance between the action on screen and the pressing of the button. While buttons of basic shapes do not really convey meaningful action in any game, by standardizing the controls, I as a player, am at least able to create a cognitive association between what I’m doing and what the character is doing. For example in most Mario games, the A button is always jump, and I can utilize that that for the optimization of my reflexes.
With the PlayStation Move, I am better able to previsualize the action required before I am prompted to do so onscreen. Drinking orange juice requires me to hold the motion controller vertically and move it upward. Tossing a bill on a table requires a rotating action of the wrist. The Sixaxis and Dualshock 3 controllers do have some similar uses for their own motion-sensing capabilities, but not to the extend that the Move controller does. Those controllers are limited by the requirement of holding with two hands and their insensitivity (relative to the Move) to orientation.
The PlayStation Move controller does however have its own drawbacks as well. The biggest flaw is that many actions often require the full range of your arms motion. A player must then always hold the controller in front of them awkwardly, anticipating the next required movement to be in any direction. After less than five minutes of gameplay, flailing instinctively in a full orbital range of motion, my arm had quite the workout. Admittedly, I lack upper-body strength, but that’s a ridiculous requirement to play videogames, which were once stereotyped as being antithetical to physical activity. The throbbing arm pain made me want to put down the motion controller and go play Mario, which points to another problem. If the gaming session is too exhaustive, players will have to drastically reduce their play time. Playing a full chapter, hence from one save point to another, becomes more of a chore than a recreation. The motion controller detracts from the cinematic quality that Heavy Rain offers through both its immersion and its capacity for long playing sessions. Moreover, the Move controller doesn’t fully fix the issue of trivial button presses. When Ethan’s wife makes him carry the groceries, each bag he takes is a different button, one including the Move exclusive trigger button. If you ask me, nothing about carrying groceries says, “squeeze the trigger.”
Understandably, motion capability in Heavy Rain was always meant to be flawed. It was a new technology for both PlayStation developers and players. Even those coming to the scene with Wii experience were surprised. Playstation Move has many differences from the Wii, which has more trivial directionality, and the Xbox Kinect, which requires full use of the players body. While it has great potential in player immersion, it does not fully fix the problem of triviality, and its just way too exhausting. Videogames were not always perfect translations between real action and fictional action, but with such a long history of using controllers, the Dualshock 3 in some ways just feels more natural then using all the arm muscles I was born with. The push among programmers for motion control technology is going to take some getting used to.