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Old 07-01-2008, 11:58 AM   #1
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Default Muscle Memory and Video Games

A quick refresher:

I've been thinking about muscle memory lately, as I've been considering learning a musical instrument. Today, I connected it to video games.

When I, or any other hardcore gamer, pick up a game controller, I don't have to consciously think about what I'm doing. Most controllers follow the basic layout created by the DuelShock for the original PlayStation. We've been using this design for a long time, and it has become effortless (although, I still hit the X button on my Xbox 360 when prompted to hit B. It's in the same spot as the GameCube's B button, and they are both red). When my Mom picks it up on occasion, she struggles to find the buttons, and generally doesn't play very well.
I think a large part of the appeal of Casual Games is the controls. This has been stated before, but I don't mean because of how simple they are. Most people have keyboard and mouse inputs ingrained into muscle memory.
A common criticism of current-generation video game consoles is that their controllers and controls are too complex. A video game's instruction manual will commonly have 1-3 pages dedicated to the controls, and it is easy to see how they would become overwhelming. They can be pretty extensive, but what if I told you there was an entire genre of games that involve 95 different inputs and over 300 inputs per minute.
I'm sure we've all played a typing game at one time or another. When thought about as actual video games, typing games are the most hardcore games around, yet they are played largely by the light- or non-gaming public.
As games, typing games rely on reaction, with little higher thought process, much like rhythm games. (What a sneaky bridge to rhythm games!)
Rhythm games are having a bit of a resurgence, with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. DDR has been around for a while, and is a very good example of a game that interests both the casual and hardcore. One thing that I've seen DDR fans do, both hardcore and casual, that I've never seen with other games in the surprisingly common sight of a player stepping along despite not having a mat. DDR is a game that needs to be ingrained into muscle memory, but players accept this, and work at it.
Beatmania IIDX is a rythm game that never really took off, compared to other rhythm games. Once again this is because of it's 'complex' control scheme. Despite having a Piano-keyboard style input, it was intimidating. Compared to Guitar Hero, I think this is due to a lack of 'easing' the player into the game. Easy on GH is three notes, easy on BMIIDX is all eight notes. GH allows the player to learn the game similar to how a game designed to teach typing (which is a subset, not the entirety, of typing games), by introducing a few inputs at a time. I'm not going to end with a blanket statement about how all games should do this, but it is something to think about.
My other interest is in what muscle memory means to Wii games. I haven't spent much time with the Wii, so I don't know for sure, but I assume that many games use brand-new inputs, and that most of them are pretty diverse. As I said, I haven't used one much, but I wonder if simple arm movements are easier to ingrain into muscle memory, or if the Wii is actually relatively hard for most players, due to the lack or reliance on muscle memory.
The 6th way designers communicate? With their fists.
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Old 07-01-2008, 01:36 PM   #2
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I have a Wii. Sometimes I get confused on which controls do what despite the advertised intuitiveness.
What is easy about the Wii is that do can do the same motions you'd do if performing the real life action. For example in The Godfather Blackhand Edition, punching requires me to thrust the remote forward, and it's easier for me to remember and pick up. Kicking however, is harder to remember because it requires me to move the nunchuck down and is completely opposite to what I'd do in real life. Sometimes its even harder because I'll relax my arm unconsciously and end up doing the wrong action.

So basically some actions on the Wii are more intuitive than others. It depends if the designer assigned the right actions to the task.

I guess to test whether or not this is muscle memory or not would be to have a game where the player has to control an alien spaceship made for Wii and other console. The buttons featured on the ship would be similar to buttons found on the other console (A, B, etc). The Wii version would be controlled with arm movements, the other console with button presses. Since if one had to drive a real alien spaceship one would expect to press buttons, it might be more intuitive on the other console than the Wii, whereas an action/sword fighting game might be more intuitive on the Wii. *ponders*

For perspective's sake, the type of gamer I am: I do not play videogames at all during school(too addicting, lots of work to do). On holidays I will play maybe 5 hours a day depending on the game, and during the summer I will play around the same amount of time during the weekends and maybe an hour or two a day max during the week, depending on how busy I am. I usually play on my Wii, Gameboy Advance, GameCube or PC.
So I'm not quite hardcore, not quite casual.
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Old 07-01-2008, 02:42 PM   #3
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I also barely have time to play games myself and usually find myself going back to play games that are easy to start and stop. Games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy XII, I consider unplayable due to the amount of the time needed to get into a play session.

You will generally see me playing games such as Mario Galaxy, Ikaruga, Poker Smash or any arcade game mainly due to the fact I can figure out all the inputs within the first minute (or less) of playing the game and remember them.

For some reason, I can't do the same to a game like Halo 3 or similar 'next gen' games and end up being a clumsy in game loon for the first ten or so minutes while getting used to the controls (again).
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