When the average gamer goes out to buy a game, rarely do they think of how well the game controls. While it’s an important part of certain genres, for the most part gamers are more worried about things such as the story, game mechanics, or even graphics and music. However, how a game handles controls is a very important part of a game itself, and if done incorrectly, can ruin the experience.
What makes a game have bad controls? Well… there could be any number of reasons. However, as we look through the gaming ages, we can see that control issues sprout up more and more in later generations. This is mostly because of the evolution of controllers throughout the times.
Remember when the original Nintendo controller had only the D-pad and four buttons? With a controller like that, it’s hard to mess up the technical side of controls… though on the flip side, developers were forced to keep simple controls schemes. Sure, there were still issues with the developmental side of controls such as unresponsive or floaty controls, but that’s an issue I’ll get into in a bit.
Ah, the simple times of old… at least controllers don’t have sharp corners anymore.
Nowadays, controllers have way more than four buttons. The PS3 and 360 controllers each have a D-pad, two analog sticks, and thirteen buttons. With so many ways to input control, it can be easy for developers to get overwhelmed or over ambitious. However, the Wii is the worst; while having far fewer buttons, the Wiimote uses motion to control games, and that leads to a whole new can of worms involving programming (and messing up) controls. When the Wii first was released, many games were sited for sloppy, unresponsive, or just plain odd controls. When developers don’t know what to do with button happy controllers and motion gameplay, things can go awry quickly.
But, that’s not the only aspect of detrimental gaming controls–the game creators can easily make controls more convoluted than it needs to be. One of the most common cases is the developer using a gimmick in their controls; for example, a DS game using full touch controls when it’s unintuitive or a PS3 game that tries to fully utilize the Sixaxis controls. Usually it doesn’t work out, and makes a good or great game a mess to play. Just try Mad Maestro! and its pressure sensitive button tapping rhythm based controls and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
Oh, sorry! You pressed X slightly too hard. Try again!
That’s not the only time developers screw up the controls, though; sometimes it’s just a simple lack of thinking things through. Many game creators in this camp stand on one of two sides: Either the majority of the controls were an afterthought, or they thought too hard about them and made it over complicated. This sort of control issue is exasperated by the complicated controllers of the current generation… sometimes developers just don’t understand they don’t need to use EVERY button on the controller.
Finally, there’s the problem that controllers have nothing to do with… and that’s bad in-game controls. A game could have its controller perfectly mapped, but controls can still end up sloppy from programming decisions made within the game itself. This could be things like delays between pressing the button and the action happening, game characters having bad physics (so being ‘floaty’ or ‘heavy’), or certain moves or commands not working properly.
Out of all the problems mentioned above, this is the one that had been consistent throughout all of gaming’s history. It all boils down to the programmer’s skill and time constraints at that point… and often the factor that can make or break an otherwise great game.
Older games have control issues too… even if they are sometimes overlooked (or sometimes opinion based)
So, to answer the original question… when does it get in the way of the game itself? Well, bad controls can easily and quickly turn any game experience sour, giving any game a frustration level never intended by the creators. Many games could be be regarded on a more positive level if the controls simply worked better… and that doesn’t go for just racing or fighting games. All genres need to have good controls to be enjoyable, and controls are a bigger factor than you may think.