The simple importance of rumble


418kqdm39kl_sl500_aa280_As the battle over who’s going to corner the market on motion controls continues to heat up, and companies beat their chests again over how it’s going to be the more powerful setup that will win the day, I couldn’t help but think that it’s going to be something incredibly simple (and old) that’s really going to be the deciding factor.

Naturally, this simple thing was brought to you years ago by Nintendo.

The “thing” is rumble, or force feedback, and for all the chest bumping going on at Microsoft right now over their “revolutionary” tech demo Natal—that’d be chest bumbing with each other and with the enthusiast press, mind you—I’m inclined to agree with Nintendo and, yes, Sony, when they say a motion peripheral needs some degree of physicality to be accepted by gamers.

Miyamoto agrees, as we saw earlier this week in remarks made to Wired.

I don’t think I could create an experience that truly feels interactive if you don’t have something to hold in your hand, if you don’t have something like force feedback that you can feel from the controller.

I agree. It doesn’t end with just holding something in your hand(s). Silly as it sounds on paper, I think you need that vibration too. I say silly because it is becoming increasingly apparent with Wii and DS titles that you actually need to PLAY these games and move around a bit before rendering a verdict. This is amusingly ironic when you think about it, as the more powerful games on the other two systems are actually more suited for review/preview on the pages of an archaic magazine or a Gametrailers video—these are actually far simpler mediums for reviewing or previewing games from a player’s perspective. The market is effectively disrupted, because Nintendo could care less about screenshots. It cares more about the motion, the rumble, etc.

To a lesser degree, I’ve also become increasingly fond of the speaker in the Wiimote, especially while playing the new Tiger Woods 10 title. The distinctive PING! you hear in your ear after a drive is deceptively simple, much like rumble. Half the time I don’t actively notice it, but if I were to lower the speaker volume, I’d definitely notice its absence.

The whole package immerses you, and the price tag appeals to you, and I find it fascinating that a cheap speaker and an ages-old rumble pack are what will really show that Natal, and possibly Sony’s wands, are the video game versions of The Emperor’s New Clothes.


  1. Yea that does ring true, I think moving further away from y Natal positivity. In Re4 you can hear the gun reload and I’m used to that, a quick flick reloads it and a swipe stabs Ganados. In Tiger when you have a tight moment thecontroller vibrates as if its’ a pulse and really works. If you hadn’t of mentioned that it was the wiimotes speaker making the drive sound, I’d still be amazed at the Pro Logic support of the game. It never hit me that that was the wiimote.’s speaker.

  2. The unveiling of motion-control solutions by MS and Sony this year is like the set up for an inevitable punchline.

    These are two huge companies which employ hundreds of very intelligent people. And the fact that no one at either company has figured out what makes Wii so successful is simply laughable. Nintendo is practically telling them the secret of Wii’s success, and the answer is not motion controls.

    So MS and Sony toss their own motion control solutions into the ring, thinking that BETTER MOTION TECHNOLOGY will best the Wii. Better (more expensive) technology and more sophisticated (hardcore) games, now with motion controls. They have absolutely missed the point.

    Meanwhile, every keynote, every interview by a Nintendo executive reveals the strategy for Wii’s success. Nintendo is not hiding anything about their strategy. They have revealed exactly what they are doing and why it has worked so well. Instead of copying Wii’s motion controls, MS and Sony should be copying Nitendo’s business plan. Why aren’t they?

  3. Pride or stupidity. take your pick. Or, it’s already too late for them to corner this market and their motion control pitch was a desperate last stand.

  4. I don’t think Microsoft or Sony are suggesting that their new motion tracking/gesture tracking solutions are going to replace controllers completely. Sony’s device looks like a Wii motion plus rip-off. Not sure how anyone would say otherwise.

    Microsoft, like Nintendo, is offering a new way to interact with software and media. Microsoft’s technology is, I think, going to be a crappy way to play most traditional video games for the reasons you mentioned above – there’s no “feel” to it. But similar to stylus games and iPhone games, there are plenty of game types that will not miss rumble and force feedback. Developers will get a handle on the best game experiences for the technology, like some have with the Wii, DS, and iPhone.

    Microsoft is, however, introducing a degree of operational intelligence that I think is as ground-breaking as the DS was and as the iPhone was. By recognizing faces, voices, and 3D gestures, the user experience can be something completely new, incredibly useful, and it may cause other devices to follow suit.

    For example – look at the way multitouch has taken hold – it was created (I think) by Jeff Han, refined by Microsoft Surface, and nearly perfected by Apple. Now every phone maker needs a multitouch phone.Apple track pads are multitouch. Some touchscreens are multitouch – it’s just a great way to manipulate media on a computer.

    This is what facial, voice, and gesture recognition can do to media in the home and auto. Why do I need a key to my car? Why do I need to push a button on the answering machine? And why can’t I change the channels without finding the frigging remote? Human machine interfaces for media and entertainment are evolving rapidly – it’s not just about games.

    I’ll still take a wiimote for tennis, baseball, and golf games, any day.

  5. “To a lesser degree, I’ve also become increasingly fond of the speaker in the Wiimote… Half the time I don’t actively notice it, but if I were to lower the speaker volume, I’d definitely notice it’s absence.”

    As someone who’s been away from the Wii for a while (playing on other systems) and recently came back for a few games, I’m amazed at how much difference a small speaker in the Wii remote makes.

    I know the sound quality is low. I know that it’s only used sparingly. But in many of the cases when it is used, it’s a very effective way to help immerse you in the game. Wii Sports, Zack & Wiki, No More Heroes, Boom Blox, Tiger Woods… just a very small sample of popular games that got it right.

  6. The sound of your golf club hitting the ball in Tiger Woods 10 is very low-fi… and very effective. You don’t need a very loud or low base sound to get the feel that your virtual club hit something, but you really need it to give you that feeling of having connected the hit.

    There might be some applications to which Project Natal will feel very natural, such as flipping through your song or game collection or stats, and maybe the effect of a video game character following you with their gaze or a 3D environment turning with you… but there are some things that we don’t do naturally without an object to hold onto. I was already suspicious of the unattached wheel for Mario Kart Wii. Project Natal would be even more alienating!

  7. I predict Natal will be expensive. Look at how much 3D cameras cost …

    Just regular anaglyph 3d cameras are in the thousands. A camera using beams of invisible light to detect depth, paired with a regular cam, won’t be cheap either.

    And I didn’t think about the rumble until I saw this. Good point!

  8. @ rob

    “Human machine interfaces for media and entertainment are evolving rapidly – it’s not just about games.”

    when i read this it hit me instantly that you don’t get what nintendo is all about either. i understand microsoft is trying something new with human machine interface, but that’s what they do. they are a computer company that started with windows (a new way to interface on your computer without DOS). nintendo IS ALL ABOUT GAMES and they always have been. that’s why they don’t care about dvd players or hd graphics. for them it’s about the game, the feel, the controls, the characters and the fun. when microsoft and sony put more emphesis on these factors and less on cutting edge super processing power with hd graphics then their machines will take off and they might get a little piece of nintendo’s pie. when i see my wii i don’t see a computer i see a video game console. when i turn it on i know i’m going to have fun. i’m not going to pay my bills, send emails, worry about the content my children are seeing, download music, or watch streaming media, i’m going to play a video game. when i’m going to do all that other stuff i turn on my pc. to me there is a clear and distinct difference.