Hit detection and other screen-side fashion faux pas.

When I was a kid, video games were 8-bit, creative adventures that far stretched the limits of what developers and hardware were capable of at the time. Totaling only a handful of megabits, these games were a large part of not only my childhood but a large part of growing up during the late 80's to early 90's for most of the population.

I know I'm not the only one who played The Legend of Zelda NES game over and over again until my hands bled and I'd memorized every enemy position, item pick up and hidden entrance in the entire game. And died. There sure were a metric ton of deaths back in the day, when hit-detection was either 0 or 1.

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via www.fureur.org

The NES controller clearly wasn’t exactly the most well thought out controller of all time.

The Super Nintendo, Genesis and Sega CD were all just out of my reach financially as a kid. I’d begged my parents for one big gift: a Sega Game Gear. I only ever had the pack-in Sonic title for it. But I had always imagined that I’d one day be able to afford that killer TV-Tuner I’d seen in the in-box advertising for the Game Gear. The Game Gear was so well designed that I rarely ever needed to put it down.

School-day productivity slumped to an all time low, for as long as those 6 AA’s would hold out for.

From then until 1996, I hadn’t had much of any new consoles and had reduced myself to PC gaming. When I say ‘reduced’ I mean in the sense that all I could play was Virtua Cop by Sega. And this was on a slightly water damaged IBM NetVista I’d picked up for $94.00 from a crooked videogame outlet that was going out of business. Needless to say, the experience wasn’t exactly jaw-dropping. Although, WASD FTW.

I remember coming home from school one day to a brand new N64 sitting on the kitchen table with a pack-in copy of Super Mario 64. It was amazing to me how far things had advanced. Analog thumbstick, expandable system memory, bilinear filtering, z-(zed)-buffering: all of the things I'd been lusting after since I first read about the N64 in an issue of Nintendo Power.

To me, the controller was some kind of out-of-this-world ‘bonkers’ insanity that I’d imagined was concocted by a magic Keebler elf who’d resigned from the cookie factory and was now living comfortably working for Nintendo in the R&D special sauce department.

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via upload.wikimedia.org

This was a huge move forward for gaming as a whole. The Dreamcast, and it’s even more bonkers controller/VMU combo, would still be a secret for two more years. I hadn't heard more than a whisper of words such as "potato" and "katana" from Sega until late 1998.

As a kid, I figured the Nintendo 64 controller was as advanced as things could possibly get. They were first out of the gate with the control stick and they proved the rest of the industry wrong by sticking to their guns with features like it and the Rumble Pak.

And to think that at one point, Sony said Rumble was a ‘last generation feature’.

That year for Christmas, there wasn’t anything I had talked about more than the new Legend of Zelda game. I know I’m kind of dating myself here but at that point I’d been subscribed to just about every video game magazine that existed (yes, real paper tree-based publications.) And they’d all been talking about the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time for months before the release. I fondly remember squinting at tiny 1" x 1" beta screen shots of the game and praying that I’d be able to wait long enough to get a copy of the game.

Under the tree that year were a number of gifts but there was only one I can remember to this day:

The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.

It couldn’t get any better. Z targeting, pre-rendered PlayStation-style graphics heavily integrated with beautiful polygonal MIP mapped characters and textures. I had officially died and gone to heaven.

The control style of that game felt so natural to me, that nothing I’d played before then or since then has ever come as close to making me forget that I was even holding a controller. The experience was bang-on responsive and better yet: when you got hit, you took damage.

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via gamingprecision.com

And then there was Wii.

I was very weary about Wii when it first came out. I remember reading something about Nintendo working on a ‘buttonless controller’ at some point before the N64 even existed.

I was both excited and worried.

What was I worried about?

I was worried that motion controlled gaming would turn gaming into this soft, hit-detection-free experience that isn't really a challenge whatsoever. Developers typically anticipate a certain amount of fumbling when it comes to motion controls and that kind of anticipation turns gaming into an experience that feels glitchy but is actually responding in exactly the way the programmers have written it.

My case and point is made in the following video:

Here, the game is clearly letting the player attack the boss, but the boss isn’t able to damage the character even though he is standing directly in front of the boss.

This is due to the developers ‘softening’ the experience so that players who fumble around with the motion controls don’t end up dying too quickly.

The issue with this is that anyone who has ever played anything ever, is beyond capable of fighting the boss without dying or at least fighting him without dying enough to stop playing the game ever again.

Suddenly every motion controlled game is a 30-hour-long tutorial level that isn’t a challenge at all.

Does anyone even know what the Skyward Sword game over screen looks like?

Nintendo has always been about using older, proven, well-understood technology to make exciting games by stretching what is possible on hardware that is often anything but latest gen.

Now we’re at a point where they are using somewhat advanced and unique hardware, yet flailing around in your living room and automatically getting 100%, S-Rank, A+ scores is supposed to be a solid gaming experience.

Personally I think this is anything but.  Am I the only one?