After months of speculation on a possible secret function in the GameCube's controller, it was revealed that the L and R buttons have click-action built into them. What might this be used for?
I remember when I first looked at GameCube's controller; it looked odd. I'm not talking about the appearance though. I thought it was odd because, aside from the button layout, it didn't really bring anything new to the table. Nintendo practically invented the L and R button with the SNES, and they pioneered the analog stick (and rumble pak) with the N64. I didn't see the familiar innovation in the GameCube controller that I've come to expect from Nintendo. One way or another, they managed to keep their secret well, because, as we now know, the GameCube controller has an interesting new feature: click-action.
Now, for those who haven't held the controller yet (99% of you), I'll explain the basic feel of these shoulder buttons. Obviously, they are analog sensitive, which means that the GameCube can detect how far in you push the button. The feel of the buttons is not unlike the Dreamcast controller's shoulder buttons, except they don't pivot on hinges; the buttons press straight into the controller. They have a concave curve to them so that your finger fits right into the button and there is a good range of motion. The buttons are in some decent springs and the "squishy factor" is just about perfect. As you press the button in, you meet with resistance at the bottom (weak resistance) and when you push it past this point, there is a "click"; it's something like the click in most arcade light guns. In some games, the click does nothing. In others, the analog part of the button does nothing while the click does something. In this way, it can be used as a touch sensitive gas pedal for a racing game, or an all-or-nothing gun trigger for a shooting game. What we're going to talk about are the games that use both parts, and we'll start with the games we played at E3.
Rogue Squadron 2 was the first game where I noticed the click-action in use. The R button was used as acceleration for the four playable ships, however, when you were in the X-wing or B-wing, the click-action would close the ships' wings making it fly much faster while preventing you from shooting your lasers. At this point, the L button (brakes) would slow you down but your wings wouldn't open again until you reached the click. This took me a few seconds to get the hang of since it's very different than the Rogue Squadron controls I was used to, but it worked very well. It basically saves Factor 5 a button and it provides the gamer with a very natural way of use the wings. It was also used in Luigi's Mansion and Wave Race, but only as extensions of the analog portion of the button. In Luigi's Mansion for example, the button activates your vacuum cleaner and the click-action fired it up to full speed, but it had the added risk of burning out even faster than normal. Similarly, in Wave Race, you could do sharp turns with the shoulder buttons, and the sharpest turns required the click, but at the risk of spinning out or slowing down too much. No doubt, many games will use the click for simple and natural purposes like this, but there are some more ambitious possibilities available as well. I talked to the PGC staff and we pooled our ideas to predict other ways that the new click-action might be used.
Mike Sklens came up with an excellent possibility for first person shooters. If you think about it, the click-action triggers are a lot like gun triggers. So, developers might measure how fast you pull the trigger. For example, you might be playing the sequel to Perfect Dark. You run around a corner and suddenly you see three or four guards. So you start slamming the trigger down to take them out. Unfortunately, you're firing so quickly that your shots aren't as accurate as possible; a few are going wide and it takes you more bullets than it should have to kill them. Remember the "MagSec" from Perfect Dark? Well, it was a laser gun found in Area 51 (among other places) and its secondary function fired three rounds in quick succession. Well, the shots from this gun were always programmed to be slightly off the mark, and it made the gun practically useless if you weren't up close. Now, a developer could have your gun be off the mark in a similar way, unless you fire your shots carefully. This would add an unprecedented element of realism to the shooter genre. Let's go back to our example scenario and change a few things. This time, when round the corner, you find a guard looking the other way. So you line the cross hairs up with his head and carefully squeeze off the killing shot. Now that we've printed this, it better be used or their will be hell to pay! In addition to the button affecting your shots, your accuracy might increase and decrease depending on if you're running, crouching or standing as well. These are all things that have been done before though.
So, with that behind us, let's move on to another example. Imagine a game where you have to fire a bow. Turok and Zelda are both good examples, but we'll go with Zelda. So, you're out in Hyrule and you have your trusty bow and arrow in hand and you're aiming a shot at some enemy. You start pressing the shoulder button in but you haven't clicked it yet. The arrow is drawn back and ready to fire, but before you let if fly, the enemy walks behind a rock or something. Now what are you going to do?! Simple, just let go of the button rather than clicking it and you keep the arrow. Now you can reposition yourself and do the shot again. In the original game, once you drew your arrow, that was pretty much it (update: as it turns out, you can cancel the arrow in Zelda by hitting "B", but this is so unintuitive that most people don't know about it. Thus, the digital click is still good for this!). Sometimes this actually caused problems for me as I was running low on arrows and I would have really liked to change my mind. If you've ever played Team Fortress Classic, or the multiplayer modes in Conker's Bad Fur Day, then you may have noticed that both games feature sniper rifles that work in similar ways. To use it, you hold down the firing button and let go to shoot. With GameCube, you could press the shoulder button in, and then either click to fire, or let go to change your mind; it's just like the bow in Zelda. With the click-action buttons, you now have two choices instead of one after you press the button in. Either click, or let go; this stuff is revolutionary!
There are plenty of ways classic franchises could have benefited from click-action buttons as well. In Star Fox 64, pressing L and R made the ship roll left or right. If you pressed the button twice fast, then you would do a barrel roll. With the GameCube controller, the click could activate the full on barrel roll, while the analog portion makes the ship do normal tilting. In Zelda the analog portion of the L button might pan the camera around until it is behind Link, while clicking it would immediately put the camera behind link and bring up the Z-targeting mode (note that the L button on GameCube is in the same relative position as the Z button on the N64 controller). In racing games, the click-action may activate a turbo boost while the analog part of the button is used for normal acceleration.
As you can see, these click action buttons are more than just a gimmick; they are an important new part of the GameCube controller. The click-action allows the buttons to have a normal digital feel to them for classic games and old ideas, and they have the new analog functionality that Sega innovated with the Dreamcast controller. In fact, all of these ideas would work on the DC controller in theory. In practice however, there would be many arrows lost without the clicking point in place. Many people tend to think the GameCube controller is weird, or even downright ugly, but hardcore gamers know that there is only one Nintendo, and they know how to make controllers.
Questions? Answers? Problems? Send 'em to me!