Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
Editorial: Forced Feedback: The Importance of Rumble [Written 2006-10-18]
Since the popularization of rumble in console games with Nintendo's N64 Rumble Pak and Sony's Dual shock controller, vibration feedback became expected in game controllers for nearly a decade. However, when Sony announced that its Playstation 3 controller - now known as the SIXAXIS - would eschew rumble in favor of motion sensing because rumble was "last generation," there was an almost instantaneous uproar from fans. The question has been posed again and again since - rumble, or motion sensing? Quite often, the answer was "rumble," immediately. However, the possibilities provided by a motion-sensing controller can't be denied. Even on a simplistic, non-Wiimote-exclusive level, using the SIXAXIS to merely steer a car brings players one step closer to fully emulate a real driving experience on a standard joypad (read: without having to buy a wheel).
I makes the shimmies, I makes the shakes, but I don't makes the shocks.
Rumble, however, remains an important innovation that will only become more important as motion-sensing makes its debut in the next wave of consoles from Sony and Nintendo. It's quite simple - rumble, like graphics and sound, is another form of feedback that relays some kind of gameplay-related data back to the user. As such, when used appropriately, rumble in games has a definite, perceivable value in letting the user know that he or she is performing an action properly. It also has value when appropriately conveying an in-game situation or stimulus to the user for gameplay-critical items that aren't readily seen or heard.
Like flashy graphics and sound or overly-gaudy cut scenes, rumble has been often implemented in a way that's "really nice to have" but doesn't necessarily serve a core gameplay function. One example is having the controller rumble in Street Fighter III when your character's body hits the ground. Another is having the controller jolt when Link's shield deflects a blow in Zelda. These frills help to immerse the player in the game, but one can argue that there aren't really any true gameplay "benefits" - per se - to having these in the game. Being able to see and hear that sword clang against Link's shield is more than enough feedback, as is watching Ryu's body hit the ground. This is the type of rumble implementation that some players and critics are quick to dismiss with "I'm not gonna miss it" or "I just turn off the rumble".
What these people might be missing, however, is that instant where rumble tells you something truly important and vital to the game. Project Gotham Racing 3 is one such instance where the Xbox 360's controller rumble really provides the player with the critical feedback of knowing when a drift is too wild and going out of control. This is something that's not entirely visually apparent. The sound of squealing tires and a chugging engine helps, sure. The rumble, however, gives the player tactile feedback and more information about just how severe the drift is; you "feel" how much you need to adjust your turn by in a way you can't get simply by receiving input through your ears.
Let's consider Shadow of the Colossus, a game in which the on-screen action gets severely hectic and frazzled at critical moments. There are several instances where rumble is used effectively, and not just as a tack-on, obvious effect. It's all well and nice that the controller rumbles when massive colossi stomp their feet into the ground. It's immersive and it's fun, but it doesn't really impact the gameplay a great deal unless we're talking about knowing when we're near the thing. What I'm talking about is the nerve-wracking vibration that possesses your Dual Shock when you're hanging for dear life onto the fur of one of these beasts. Since the game is mostly about your struggle in climbing to the top of these monstrosities, the rumble plays a subtle yet important role in making this slightly more challenging. As you're mentally trying to focus on creeping upwards, that constant rumbling - along with the visual stimulus of your hero swaying sideways as a flimsy tree branch in the wind - tries to disengage that focus and make you fall.
Yet, this very same rumble technology makes a 180 and helps you at your moment of attack. When attacking the weak points of the colossi, you will find yourself planting your off-hand for stability and bringing back your sword arm for the maximum momentum required for - wait for it - massive damage. Try it right now - ball your hand up into a fist and pull your arm behind your back, bending at the elbow, as if you were to thrust forward and stab something. You feel that tension in your arm that tells you that you can't pull it back any further (without ending in the hospital)? It's at that moment in the game where your controller rumbles to simulate that tension, or at least, signal it. It's that "feel" again - something that's not entirely, 100% noticeable through visual stimuli especially given how intensely the on-screen action is shaking and moving. It's at that moment of rumble when you know to release the button and plunge your hero's sword into the Colossus' weak spot.
As can be seen, the benefits of rumble go past immersion. They include tangible - if subtle and understated - gameplay benefits in terms of rumble acting both as a challenge and as a stimulus for gameplay mechanics. Like stereo or surround-sound that tells you where an assailant is firing from, or the obvious advancement of graphics from 2D to 3D to provide for a new method of traversing game worlds, rumble serves a function that's not just fancy. Sure, there exist frilly moments - akin to HD graphics, which are gorgeous but ultimately not yet more "beneficial" to gameplay mechanics - but pick up the SIXAXIS and try to race with the motion sensing.
In fact, let's take a look at that example. Take any rectangular object, or hell, take your Dual Shock controller. Turn it as if you were turning a steering wheel. You feel that? "Uh, feel what?" Precisely. That resistance you feel from your steering wheel when driving your car, or the resistance your thumb gets from an analog stick, is missing. This same thing happens with the Wiimote. Ubisoft wheel accessory or not, the Wiimote doesn't provide that resistance either. This isn't so much of a problem yet, but when you get to those instances where - in Project Gotham Racing 3, to recall our previous example - the rumble kicks in to tell you that your drift is too extreme, or that you're braking too hard, or whatever, you get nothing. Tactile pin drops, if you will. You'll get visual and audio feedback when your car gets knocked around, but if you're playing the game from the dashboard perspective this visual stimulus is not as readily apparent. Sure, I know that the Wiimote provides rumble where the SIXAXIS does not. Based on a Gamespot editor's hands-on experience with the game GT Pro Racing, however, the rumble is said to be "puny." This doesn't instill much confidence.
Let's move on to another Playstation 3 game - Lair. You steer your dragon much in the same way - turning your controller as if it were a wheel - yet this time, it's more about emulating the feel of holding reins. Pulling the left end of the SIXAXIS towards you is like pulling on that left rein, and your dragon's head should yank to the left accordingly. This is an awesome concept; however, wouldn't it be nice if there were some vibrations to signal when you've pulled your reins (or, your arm rather) completely taut? Let's take this out of Lair, then, and touch a bit on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a launch title for the PS3. Wouldn't it be fantastic to use this same control method? If you wanted to stop your horse, you yank up with the SIXAXIS. Except, had there been rumble, you would feel a jolt the instant your reins went taut so you know you did the motion correctly. Again, there is a visual stimulus - your horse rearing up - but your hands would react and learn much quicker with tactile feedback to let you know, "hey, this is the approximate distance and power you need to use when yanking your controller up to effectively stop your horse."
Finally, let's travel to Nintendo-land, where in Call of Duty 3 for Wii, you can apparently use the motion sensing when struggling for a weapon. The Wiimote does have rumble, as touched on before. The nunchuk attachment, however, does not. If you're trying to wrestle a horizontal bar away from someone else, an activity that is similar to trying to win the struggle for a rifle for instance, you're using both hands. Apparently, you can simulate this action with the nunchuk and Wiimote combination. What kind of tactile stimulus is the game sending to you, however, if you can only feel the "resistance" rumble in your right hand? Wouldn't your experience be more properly facilitated by having rumble in both units, such that you could feel when you need to pull more with your left hand than your right?
Oh I vibrate alright, but my analog friend here is, uh, shall we say... rumbly-challenged.
Simply put, as we move forward in this next generation of controller technology - motion sensing - we need rumble more than ever. We need something to help simulate the resistance or tension of an analog stick, that "click" of a face button. Trauma Center: Second Opinion for Wii is a prime example of why rumble is necessary. Because you're, say, pulling pieces of glass out of a wound with a pair of tweezers or making an incision with a scalpel, you will be better served with more than a simple visual cue. Unlike Trauma Center for the Nintendo DS, where there is an unmistakable "impact" when your stylus hits the touch screen during incisions, there is no "touch" with the Wiimote. That "touch" is replaced by the rumble sensation in the Wiimote. Without it, your hand would be searching for some kind of sensation that lets it know that it's dragging a scalpel across bare skin.
If we turn back to our "frivolous" rumble moments, such as Ryu getting hit in the face with a fist, hopefully the difference between the implementation of rumble are clear. Ryu getting hit gives a very quick, obvious stimulus - a large, colorful hit spark and Ryu's reaction. This visual jolt is so quick and obvious that you know for sure that he's been hit successfully. This is the rumble that people usually put off as unimportant, and with good reason. But beneath this, useful implementation of rumble lurks in many games from this generation and the last. Things that aren't as easily seen or heard, or that would be served better by "feel," are brought to light with rumble. As we move forward, let's not forget the importance that the original Dual Shock controller and the N64 rumble pak represent. Sony, please settle with Immersion and provide a rumble-capable controller either now or in the future; Nintendo, please make the rumble in your Wiimote stronger, and implement it in the nunchuk as well. Because as Gamespot.com's Editor-in-Chief Greg Kasavin said about rumble on the air once, "I think it's something people won't think they'll miss until they realize that it's gone."
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