Awkward Control Styles

What’s wrong with “it’s scarier if you walk like you’re drunk” if the game’s built around it? It reminds me of when people call Castlevania’s jump unfair. Power IS agency, right? To be challenged, the player must have weakness. What defines “bad” control limits for a game to impose?

I think agency is the wrong word to use with regards to a video game, because unlike real life, there’s no relative scale between games as to how much “agency” they have. In real life, agency is your control over your environment. It’s very easy to compare types and measures of agency between homeless people, stock brokers, weight lifters, and programmers, but in a virtual environment none of that means anything. Do you have a high level of agency in a life simulator where you can buy a home? Do you have more agency in a city builder than a life simulator, assuming they’re of similar complexity? Do you have more Agency in Fallout New Vegas where you get all these narrative choices to do crazy things like disband factions, manipulate people, and shake up the balance of power or whatever, or do you have more agency in Devil May Cry, where you have this overwhelming fine-grain control over what the character can do? Do you have more agency in Chess or Go? What about Tetris?

Agency is a bad word to describe things in games, because the meaning of the word doesn’t translate to the manipulation of abstract systems very well.

Back to the topic at hand. Here’s the problem: a lot of games build bad animation or control systems to fit the mood of the game, and it feels like crap and doesn’t contribute anything to the game.

Resident Evil’s tank controls might or might not fall into this category. There was a functional advantage in building those controls the way they did, making it easier to walk through camera cuts without becoming disoriented. This meant the rest of the game had control issues, which may or may not have been a worthwhile tradeoff (Probably not).

Build the controls however you want, just have a functional purpose for why you’re building them that way. Many games choose weird control configurations, but it’s most often for a purpose. Castlevania built its level design around that jump with the fixed arc. By limiting the depth of the game in that specific way, they took a hit to the total state size of the game, but made many states that would otherwise be irrelevant, become relevant. It might not matter before how the enemy was threatening an area further in on the platform ahead, because you can just jump right on the lip of the platform. It might not be relevant that they’re tossing a projectile in such a place because you can move around it in the air, but if you don’t have those capabilities, or if that’s harder to perform, then suddenly you need to care a lot more about those situations, bringing more states into relevancy, increasing the effective complexity of the game in those areas.

Having controls be awkward on purpose to evoke feelings is dumb. It should always be for a reason.

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