I walked into Gamestation today and, as a Wii owner, I thought I'd check to see if there were any games on offer that I might consider buying. Most other platforms have their big hitters powerfully arrayed on maximum display, with the odd little disappointment cowering away at the bottom of a bargain bin, but the Wii is different. I tried to find something worthwhile, I tried to strain my eyes to see past the dazzling screen of crap in front of me but, much like a magic eye picture, it was just a colourful mess that made absolutely no sense forcing me to squint really hard and give myself a migraine.
There is a reason for this: over 80% of the titles released for the Wii have been cynical cash-ins on trends that Nintendo have started themselves, exploited in a short amount of time for no money at all and rushed in and out of production faster than it takes Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee to have a w*nk. The advent of motion-control has guaranteed two things: a wider audience and developer laziness.
I alluded to this in my guest post for Cubed3 last month, noting that there are immense difficulties for third party developers for the Wii precisely because of the wider audience: how can you anticipate how well you're game is going to do if you have no real idea of who the hell you're aiming at? It's very easy to point out the must-own games on the Wii because (surprise, surprise!) they're pretty much all Nintendo titles, but then Nintendo's hallmark has always been creating games that might arguably be considered universal in their appeal. Unfortunately, the third party tactic seems to have been to chuck whatever they had lying around at the Wii and see which ones stuck, or simply attempt to copy Nintendo's painstaking R&D quality testing and lengthy game production with a quick, cheap rip-off.
With the Wii market saturated with so much shovelware, it's difficult for genuinely fine games to stand out. Swimming in a sea full of sh*t is difficult: it takes forever to get where your going, and in the end no-one wants to be around you anyway because you've emerged tainted, pungent and mucky and all of your hard work has been for nothing because now you're covered in the stuff and people can't tell the difference from your awesome self and pile of dung from whence you came.
Of course, the big question looming in the minds of all of those high-end console owners is will the same thing happen to the PS3 and Xbox 360 when the Playstation Motion Controller and Project Natal finally arrive? With full body motion-capture on the way will this simply pave the way for a whirlwind of limp and tasteless knock-offs or will developers take the time to actually stop and think about using the hardware to it's maximum potential?
The news this week saw Microsoft's longtime associate Valve wade into the debate with an unashamedly blunt view on the matter, with Valve writer Chet Faliszek talking exclusively to CVG and making no bones about the fact that the company behind such industry pillars as the Half-Life series, Left 4 Dead and Portal would not stand for shameless exploitation of the hardware:
"Hopefully we've gotten past the point of mini-games," he said. "I'm sick of that [makes arm movement]. That's not a game for me anymore. Let's get some real interaction going."
"We have these technologies now that let us interact in different, really exciting ways. It's developers' jobs to do something with it. Impress me. Don't just make sh*tty games I wouldn't want to play if I had to use a joystick."
Unfortunately, all we've really seen of Natal so far has come in the form of a ball-swatting mini-game and the ability to befriend a young child. Whilst Faliszek's statement is bold, and most welcome indeed, it's hard not to take it with a pinch of salt. With no examples to back him up it seems a lot like Valve are spouting a fair amount of hot air at the moment.
The gauntlet has been laid down and now it's up to game developers, Valve included, to rise to the challenge that this new hardware will present. Fanboys often get a lot of flak for presuming that the large corporations who run this industry owe them something, but the fact is that any entertainment industry is a two-way business. Capcom, at the start of the year, moaned about the fact that was really difficult to make any money on the Wii if your name wasn't Nintendo. But there's a level of trust there, on the part of the consumer, that if a game has the word 'Nintendo' on it, it'll generally have a certain level of quality to it. The Wii is suffering greatly due to a lack of quality control (oh how I wish Nintendo would reinstate their 'Seal of Approval'), and it is a disease that I fear will spread greatly to the other consoles when the time comes.
It would be a shame to write off Molyneux's brown trouser simulator and Sony's Magic Dildo this early on, but perhaps that is what they're for anyway. Are these motion controls really going to revolutionise the way we play games, or is this just a way to bring Nintendo back in line, and widen the appeal of the more 'hardcore' consoles? I would hope it is the former, I would dream so. Imagine the ease with which you could issue orders in a console RTS, think of swatting through menus Minority Report-style, ponder being able to support your warriors in Dragon Age by recreating an archer's movement and peppering your foes with arrows, marvel upon Force Choking two Stormtroopers, then bathing them with Lightning from your very own fingertips and hurling them into an abyss with the push of your palm. Imagine doing the Hadouken yourself!
Until I see some proof, though, and yes Valve you'd better bet that includes you, my cynicism towards Natal and the PMC remains most thoroughly intact.