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FPS on Wii: Breaking the Boundaries

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Way back when the Wii Remote was first debuted, one of its claims to fame was a supposed superiority in the first-person shooter genre. By relegating character motion to the analog stick on the Nunchuck, the Remote's movement in space could provide a new degree of control and immersion for weapon aiming. As if to back up this claim, the Wii already has quite a few FPS games in development.

The two prime (this is not a pun, I swear) examples of how FPS games have translated to the Wii so far are Red Steel and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Each uses a very similar setup; there's an invisible "bounding box" in the center of the screen in which you can freely aim without actually changing your view. Once you aim outside of this box in a particular direction, your character's perspective will start to rotate accordingly.

The advantage to this particular method of control is that, presumably, you can quickly and accurately aim at items within the box. In practice, that's largely true. If the action is squarely in front of you, you'll have an almost light-gun-esque degree of aiming fidelity.

The current state of FPS bounding boxes (roughly estimated)

This slight aiming advantage, however, seems to come at the expense of competent player movement. The sheer size of the bounding boxes being used heavily emphasizes aiming, but deemphasizes actual maneuverability. If you want to turn to the left or the right, you have to place the cursor outside of the bounding box. With such a large box, this basically means you have to choose between aiming at things or turning. If there's a foe on the left side of your screen, potentially straddling the bounding box border, you'll basically be shooting him out of your character's peripheral vision.

In a shooting-gallery style game such as Time Crisis, this kind of situation is commonplace. At that same time, however, you can get away with that kind of aiming and enemy placement due to a total lack of maneuverability. The game is on rails, so naturally the entire emphasis is on the aiming. The action is invariably right in front of you, and any moving around is merely a cosmetic way to keep things interesting.

It's clearly tempting to try and replicate this kind of action on the Wii, due to the tactile and exceedingly analog nature of the Remote. The problem is that first-person shooters simply aren't bound by the same logic as a rail shooter. You might be totally surrounded by enemies, and need to quickly move out of the way of their attacks and turn around to attack someone who snuck up behind you. While a large bounding box gives you superior aiming control for what is immediately in front of you, it drastically reduces your ability to react to the kind of situations that are standard in first-person shooters. A quick perusal of Red Steel video will show you a lot of people basically just standing still and eating bullets while they try to aim at their targets, instead of aiming and moving around at the same time.

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