The separation of Turning and Aiming
In the beginning there was Wolfenstein 3D. No. That wasn’t really the beginning, but let’s start there anyways. You could move forwards or backwards. You could turn left or right. You could shoot. The only way to aim was to physically turn your whole body until the gun sticking out of your chest was pointed at your enemy. This is how things were for a while.
Later, there was Goldeneye 64. You still turned your whole body to aim, but now you could also tilt your whole body forwards or backwards. What’s more, you could hold down the R button to make your character stop moving and dedicate the thumbstick instead to moving your crosshairs around on the screen, away from their normal place in the center.
Thus, the concepts of turning and aiming were separated in the world of first-person shooters, but only barely so. For you see, they still greatly hinder each other. The two are separate, but they are not truly parallel. For the longest time, their conflicting nature has been an understood product of hardware limitations. Sadly however, these hardware limitations have faded away, yet the gaming community proves hesitant to evolve beyond their established conventions.
The arrival of the Wii was heralded as a new age for first-person shooters, yet when compared to shooters on traditional consoles and the PC, Wii shooters have the worst controls. The reasons for this are partially discussed in a previous article. Everyone knew that the IR pointer would be used for aiming but then they went ahead and dedicated it to turning as well.
I can tell you right now that the Nintendo Wii’s “nunchuk” attachment alone can do all the basic movement that a modern shooter requires, those being walking forwards, walking backwards, turning left, turning right, strafing left, and strafing right (The origins of the word strafing are interesting. Look it up.). The nunchuk can take care of all of this by using the thumbstick for walking and turning and by using the accelerometer for strafing left and right. I excluded tilting up and tilting down because those concepts are part of aiming, not moving.
With all of that taken care of, the Wii’s pointer becomes freed up entirely to focus solely on aiming. In first person shooters, this could simply amount to moving the crosshairs around on the screen without hindering your movement. Other possibilities include also using it to tilt the camera up and down, not by a relation of position to angular velocity, but by keeping the camera level when the pointer is in the middle of the screen, looking straight up when the pointer is near the top edge of the screen, and variations thereupon. You could even shoot off screen to reload, if you were so inclined.
To me, however, the prospects are much more exciting when discussing third-person games. You see, now that you can see the way your character stands and orients himself, you can allow the lateral position of the pointer to twist his upper body so that pointing to the center would have his shoulder squared with his hips, pointing to the right edge of the screen would have his shoulders twisting to the right so that he would be aiming completely behind himself, and variations thereupon.
Of course this would also apply to aiming up and down also. Point at any point along the top edge of the screen would result in aiming straight up, while aiming along the bottom edge of the screen would create a circle around your character’s feet. I’m sure you can figure out everything in between.
The reason, I’m hesitant to apply the lateral twisting to first-person games is mainly because it affects the direction you’re looking without affecting the direction you’re running. So without being able to see your character’s feet this might result in a certain degree of confusion, due to the “numbness” I discussed in another article.
And that is how you separate two conjoined control elements. It’s understandable that turning and aiming spent so much time together at a young age, but it’s time they both grew up and moved on. They’re not the same thing… but they can still hang out and play together.