Has it ever occurred to you that you can use you hands for an infinite number of activities? I mean, really think about it, anything you can imagine using your hands for, you most likely can. I know that may sound pretty silly but consider that a moment. For years we have been playing computer games with “a hand” that can only do one thing. Think I’m crazy? Well think about it. If you want to fire a weapon, there is usually only one way to do it…it may be the thumbstick, it may be a button, but that is all you can do with that tool. Every time you use it, you fire a weapon.
Well, now imagine having total flexibility, just as you do with your hand. Imagine a game that allows the same button or thumbstick to be used for thousands of different actions. How does that affect your game? How does that affect your ability as a gamer? Sound intriguing? Well, get ready for it. Get ready for free will in gaming. Right now, no one knows how having free-will will work out, or even if it will garner enough customers to be around for a while, but one thing is certain, come next month, the PS3 owners among you will have the option of trying out the concept.
If you have time, take a look at a French developer by the name of Quantic Dream. Its co-founder, David Cage, has come up with what he thinks is a better idea. His feeling, over all, is that the standard control system used in virtually all games is more like a straitjacket for the gamer, than a tool to assist in bringing the gamer closer to reality as well as closer to complete satisfaction with the game he/she is playing.
As you all know, most tools on the controller have a single purpose, but suppose you were to develop the programming that allowed each button to be used for say, 20 things, or 40 or even more? Suppose you completely freed the gamer from the restrictions placed on him or her by yesterday’s technology and capabilities? So far, it has been the same thing, you press a button, you shoot a gun, and you do that same thing through 20 levels of play. If you wanted to use a knife, or a bomb, you need another button for that action. The antagonist, your evil enemy in each game, may be different, but the way you play is not! You always press the same button to get the gun to fire and that is all you can do with that button…think about it, it is like a straight jacket? Cage believes that to really tell a story, an honestly realistic and diverse story, you need a hero capable of doing anything! He says, “One button needs to control an infinite number of different things in different contexts.”
To prove his point, he has developed Heavy Rain, due out in February. The fascinating thing about the game is as we’ve noted above, it throws out the entire concept behind one-button, one action kind of play. Cage believes his approach will make game playing more flexible, allowing for more actions and options; essentially, anything you could do, your hero could be made to do… assuming his exuberant promises prove to be the case. Just like in real life there will be constantly changing, shifting options the hero will be required to understand and act upon.
That said, though, a single button might let you talk to a clown, discipline a child, dodge a punch, and even more spectacular, each decision you make will lead to an entirely different outcome. How interesting and thought-provoking is that? No more foregone results for the actions you take. Killing the bad guy in most games will help you win, but in Heavy Rain it’s entirely possible that if you don’t kill him in the right way, the game could go in an different direction.
How is that possible, you ask? Well, one thing that certainly opens the door is a far broader storyline with multiple outcomes and options available to the player. The script, for example, exceeds 2000 pages. That allows for behaviors for your character that can vary from heroic to bizarre; from sensible to absolutely insane. The real question will become: How skilled are you at handling a multiplicity of tasks all at once, sometimes within seconds of one another? Just like real life you say? Yup, probably so, but can we gamers really get out of our current fantasy-land of game control and into the real world?
Cage is betting the farm that we can, but do beware. You will be playing a game that is, in itself, a different experience; but, you will be playing it in a manner that you are totally unaccustomed to playing. For example, consider the right thumbstick! How good would your play be if you could use the right thumbstick to pull out your wallet, knock on a door, offer someone a business card, or rummage through your pockets for something you had brought with you? And by the way, that might not be all you could use the right thumbstick for…remember the earlier use of the word infinite?
The square button might be used in interrogations and combat, for example, extracting clues, dodging thrusts by a knife, blocking punches, etc. etc. etc. The point is all the inputs will have a multiplicity of functions, even the Sixaxis motion sensor is called into action. The game uses it to allow the hero to kick in a door, or struggle to shake free of someone (or thing) that has tripped you or tackled you. The options are endless.
Now I know, I know, our very own Steerpike discussed Heavy Rain in some detail (and with a definite hint of dubiousness) here. Because while we might relish the multiplicity of control options, we hate Quick Time Events. And it remains to be seen whether Heavy Rain frees us, or shackles us to a despised mechanism.
The real question in my mind is, will it work? I don’t mean functionally, I mean will the approach to win the minds and hearts of gamers? Cage and Quantic Dream have failed before. Is this the next wave of gaming or will it die on the vine? As gaming got more complicated through the use of multiple controller functions, many people, some with slow brains like mine, tended to drop out of gaming itself and take up observation, review and criticism instead. Will that happen to Heavy Rain? Only time and you the gamer will tell, but I sure would like to hear your opinions on this potential game changer.