Motion Control in MMORPGs – Why It Just Won’t Work

Motion Control in MMORPGs – Why It Just Won’t Work
Neil Kewn (Murxidon), OnRPG Journalist


Whatever console you pledge your allegiance to, there’s no questioning that the new motion control gadgetry developed by Microsoft and Sony is pretty impressive. PlayStation Move tracks player movement with pinpoint accuracy, Xbox Kinect is a striking display of camera trickery and motion sensing technology. The hype machine has been put into overdrive as gamers prepare for a new wave of motion controlled games and gadgets spurred on by immense publicity and awe-inspiring tech demos. With the popularity of the Nintendo Wii seemingly floundering, it remains to be seen whether or not Sony’s wands and Microsoft’s cameras can rejuvenate the motion sensing scene and convince hardcore gamers that it isn’t all casual platforming and family-oriented sports games.


But what about PC gamers? There’s little sign of any motion control contraptions heading to PC anytime soon. Perhaps the humble desktop just doesn’t appeal to the average family as a group gaming activity. Whatever the case; the motion sensing bandwagon has garnered quite a number of followers over the past few years, and some have been questioning the possibility of having your hand waving and arm flapping recognized and mimicked in your favorite MMORPG.


Massively Multiplayer Motion Controlled Online Roleplaying Games

Nintendo Wii first brought motion controlled gaming into people’s homes what seems like an eternity ago. Hoping to replicate the success of Nintendo’s little white box, Microsoft and Sony are gearing up to unleash a new generation of motion control products that frankly eclipse the Wii in terms of game play possibilities and sheer technology. Coming off the back of this year’s E3, interest in the two devices has never been higher. Whilst the games on show look the part, and the previews, demos and trailers promise full interaction and feedback, they’re just not as complicated as your average MMORPG. Whilst swapping your keyboard and mouse for your whole body would certainly make an interesting change, I can’t help but shake the feeling that even translating the simplest of MMORPG dynamics into a form where your body controls the action is a mammoth task.  A task which if even possible, would strip away the depth and fluidity of MMO games.


Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 – Too complex for motion control?


On the face of things, MMORPGs are hugely complex video games. Everything inside a persistent online world spells “immense”. The world is huge and the game play is complex. There are hundreds upon hundreds of abilities, activities and actions that can be performed in any of today’s MMO games – each of which has an effect and a consequence. Cast a line and you catch some fish. Attack a grizzly and it mauls you. Taking things back to basics, and from a player’s point of view, your impact on the game is realized by hitting a key and watching as your character performs the appropriate action. It probably isn’t too much of a logistical nightmare to transfer a keystroke to a hand swipe, but that is just one ability. There are countless other skills and crafts that must have their own individual, unique gesture which needs to be at least somewhat comparable to what their level 67 necromancer is doing on screen.


Full motion control – 360 degrees of pure mayhem

Full motion control is the idea that whatever you do with your hands, arms or other parts of your anatomy, is replicated to the fullest extent in game. The gestures you make, whether it be swinging a sword, drinking a potion or looting a corpse, is not only mimicked with the utmost accuracy on screen with your own character, but to the other players in your vicinity. Xbox Kinect, and to some degree PlayStation Move, will encounter a huge problem if they take any of their games online. How does one translate full body movement from an actual human, to a virtual avatar that up until now, got by just fine with a set of predetermined animations? The server-side mechanisms that must be employed for this to be successful boggle the mind. In the already unpredictable world of MMORPGs, giving players this much freedom with their character can only lead to one thing. Disaster. One huge incoherent mess where players make up their own gestures, instead of replicating what developers should implement from the start. And we still haven’t figured out how to make our character walk.


Kinect – An impressive piece of kit, but not for MMOs


Partial motion control – Costly, and I don’t mean your monthly subscription

A more practical, and more sane, approach to massively multiplayer motion controlled online roleplaying games (MMMCORPG, I should probably trademark that) should entail the use of programmed animations for actions that are triggered by a players body movement. As shown in the PlayStation Move promotional trailer, firing an arrow involves grabbing behind and making the appropriate actions like you were in fact wielding a bow. The same premise would be applied to sword swinging, spell casting, weapons crafting (hammering a shield over an anvil, for example) and any other of the hundreds of abilities. Yet that’s where the problem lies. There are just too many actions to replicate in your modern MMO. There needs to be some element of button pressing for motion controlled MMORPGs to be feasible, and even then, the game must be stripped down dramatically in order to justify the absence of your average 101 key keyboard.


PS Move
How fast can you fire an arrow?


If it ain’t broken, don’t replace it with motion sensors

Unfortunately, there are still other potentially game-crippling problems that need to be addressed. Every player is different, so naturally, the time it takes for any player to perform a gesture can vary. This could conceivably give some players a huge disadvantage when playing an MMO. If it takes one person four seconds to unsheathe and swing a virtual sword, but it only takes another player two, someone is heading for another unjustifiable corpse run.


In all likelihood, MMORPGs controlled via motion sensors will make their way to market eventually. Whether it be on a console, or a PC, it’s clear that huge sacrifices will have to be made for it to be hypothetically possible. In my opinion, there is little chance of today’s mainstream MMOs ever getting the motion sensing treatment. There needs to be a new kind of MMO, one that is scaled back so much that hand gestures can replace the plethora of keystrokes we are accustomed to today. This means that there won’t be hundreds upon hundreds of abilities to perform, or a wide selection of professions to master. In essence, it would be a casual MMORPG, and isn’t “casual” what motion sensing technology is all about?

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