Sunday, August 05, 2012

Free Fighter - Nyko Reads My Mind

One of life's more amusing (and humbling) truths is that no matter what ideas you conjure, no matter how original your ideas, somebody will beat you to the punch.  I've been sketching out ideas for a modular-based video game controller system for the past two months, a clever idea that I'm quite proud of.  And now I've discovered that Nyko has the exact same idea.  D'oh!

Nyko unveiled their Free Fighter arcade joystick at this year's E3 show, and it offers a modular design, where you can detach the joystick and connect it to either side of the button-box-thing (ahem).  This allows for left- and right-handed play, a very clever idea.  This joystick system also features rapid-fire, and programmable "macro" functions, which will prove highly controversial to the fighting game scene.  The buttons are high-end parts from Asia, everything is given a professional polish, and Nyko

So what does this mean for my own modular controller system?  I'm impressed to see that someone else had the same idea as me (I swear I completely missed Nyko's E3 showing).  My approach is from the retro game side, the Atari era where single-button joysticks were popular.  I completely agree with Nintendo that today's over-built and over-complicated joypads are scaring people away.  The Wii Remote was an attempt to return to a simpler, more iconic design, and believe that's the correct approach.  The rise of touch-display smartphones only reinforce this belief.

Appealing solely to hardcore gamers creates a negative feedback loop.  You build an expensive joystick with a bazillion buttons, and it will only sell to a select few.  Because it sells few copies, hardly any games will be created to take advantage of the controller.  Because of low software support, the controller sells fewer copies.  And on and on.

From my vantage point, the Free Fighter makes three critical errors: 1) a horrifying $189 retail price; 2) far too many (and never-to-be-used) buttons; and 3) (censored).  Sorry about that last one.  I can't give my secrets away.  I can tell you that my design has a couple amazingly cool ideas that set it apart from Nyko's design.  But, hey, it's nothing that you couldn't figure out and design on your own.  There's a great opportunity here, if only the game industry would break away from its "hardcore" obsession.