[Feature] Accessories Bringing You Closer to Games: A Reflection and View of What’s to come

Published on January 14th, 2014

Whether it was pieces of plastic representing musical instruments or robust steering wheels, gaming has had its fair share of accessories. These accessories were designed to take the player that step further towards actually performing what they are seeing on screen, in their living rooms. Although some accessories were fads that have all had their 15 minutes of fame, some have left their mark on the community and created some memorable games in the process. You can be sure that as long as games are being produced, there will be fascinating accessories to accompany unique games trying to bridge the gap between reality and virtual reality. With the way technology in gaming is advancing, it doesn’t seem like the whacky futuristic predictions from the 1970’s are far off.

Light Gun Games

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For many, ‘Duck Hunt’ on the original Nintendo was their first chance to play a light-gun game in the comfort of their own homes. The game has a legendary status among gamers as something which was almost lifelike, yet completely harmless. The iconic ‘quacking’ noise the ducks would make as they attempt to escape your bullet still lives on to this day, as does the sight of your four-legged friend retrieving your latest bird.

As arcade gaming became increasingly popular, games such as Time Crisis and House of the Dead began to receive the most of your 50p coins. Naturally, the light-gun genre was soon featuring regularly on the PlayStation One which is the third console I ever owned after the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. When I was 9 years old the gun was a great way of interacting with the game and didn’t feel as though I wasn’t sitting playing this in my bedroom. One of the main features of gaming is using firearms and being able to use a plastic gun and aiming down the sights felt exhilarating.

Sadly, once you had played a few of these games, you wouldn’t really have to play anymore as they never offered any variance. There would always be standard enemies, enemies that would hurt you if you weren’t quick enough and poor bosses such as the tank in Time Crisis 2.

Although the games improved graphically and offered different types of enemies, the original excitement soon departed and became an expensive repetition. Although Time Crisis eventually had a third and fourth installation of the game, it would never reach the heights of the earlier games. Like many other accessories, the Nintendo Wii was the last console to have a light-gun dedicated game with the release of two Nerf Gun games called N-Strike and Nerf N-Strike Elite in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Racing Wheels

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Just like most of the gaming accessories I will mention began in the arcades and the racing wheel phenomenon is no different. Games such as Ridge Racer, Daytona USA and Virtua Racing had already proven to be huge successes in the arcades and petrol-heads were eager to take that sensation of taking a corner at 90mph to another level.

I received a racing wheel one Christmas morning in the late 1990’s. It was a standard Logitech wheel with two pedals and I played it for days on end with the classic ‘Colin McRae Rally’. Unfortunately the steering wheel broke soon after Christmas Day where I received a replacement which had vibration feedback. As I was only around 8 years old, I thought this idea feeling the bumps on the road through the wheel was amazing and racing wheels soon became the ‘must-have’ accessory for games.

Although I had never handled a real car at that time, cornering with the steering wheel felt unresponsive. The steering felt light and it was difficult to change gears manually, although that was probably because I just wanted to press hard on the accelerator. From the basic racing wheel stage, more companies began to produce new and improved wheels which meant that prices for these wheels soared as car manufacturers such as Lamborghini and Ferrari had their badges emblazoned on these gaming accessories.

From humble beginnings the hardcore racing scene soon became expensive and isolated those who were looking for a thrill at a reasonable cost. With modern games such as Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and the Formula 1 games, gamers have built racing simulators in order to give them the best experience possible. Some of these simulators are very impressive as the show numerous TV screens and a robust seat to keep the player comfortable during those long races. While the racing wheel craze continues onto this day, it is very much a costly speciality in gaming.

Dance Mats

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Whether we like it or not, there has always been a time where you would be at the local arcade with your friends and suddenly think it would be a great idea to play Dance Dance Revolution. Stamping your foot around, sometimes forcefully as the moves wouldn’t register. Proud gamers sometimes believed that they could do better than young girls who seemed to perform the dance moves on the higher difficulties with ease. This was never the case and always ended up with someone covering themselves in nothing but sweat.

Released in 1998, Dance Dance Revolution became a success through the arcades and soon everyone wanted to show their moves on the bright dance-floor. Like many games which had preceded it, it was only a matter of time before dance mats were sold to try and get the public dancing in their homes. Although I never owned one, the dance mats I remember looked cheap and something which wouldn’t be out of place at a child’s birthday party.

Due to the game being targeted towards children, the game had an impact on some American schools. West Virginia introduced the game into their physical education classes in order to get people motivated and willing to exercise.

Although the dance mat craze has long since died, Dance Dance revolution is still producing arcade machines even as recent as October, 2013. While the cheap mats are used by the Seagulls at the dump to show off their moves, dance games still have a presence in console gaming today. The obsession with motion controls has meant that games such as Dance Central and Just Dance have their place. Although the target market for these games isn’t very large, the development cost which was put into Dance Central from Harmonix (who we’ll hear more about later) turned out to be expensive.

Musical Instruments

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Although PaRappa the Rapper has been credited with the first true rhythm game, it wasn’t until 1998 in Japan where Guitar Freaks was released in arcades. The game allowed players to play along with songs while playing on a plastic guitar. Looking back, the setup for the arcade game was remarkably similar to Dance Dance revolution. Although this proved to be popular in Japan, it was never promoted outside of the country. The western world had never seen a guitar-based game until 2005 when red Octane and Harmonix released Guitar Hero for the PS2.

The rest it seems is history as instrument based games became very popular after the release of the final Harmonix Guitar Hero game, Guitar Hero 2. The online functionality via Xbox Live allowed players to purchase songs online and play them in the game, giving them choice to what songs they wanted in the game. With some songs being originals and some being covers, it hindered the games slightly but the guitar playing aspect was phenomenal. I first experienced the Guitar Hero franchise with Guitar hero 3, the most popular game in the series to date. This brought a change to my entire life as I soon enjoyed songs which I wouldn’t give the chance before I played the game. Trying to beat your previous high score became an obsession and the social aspect of the game was excellent. In terms of providing the best musical experience however, Rock Band deserves to take the crown.

With Harmonix having created the original Guitar Hero and its sequel, they released Rock Band in 2007 to critical acclaim. The ability to have 4 players playing at the same time was crucial in creating a new social aspect in gaming. Gamers would now hold parties where their friends could sing along, hit the drums, slap the bass and play some incredible solo’s using a wonderful look Stratocaster. Rock Band also had a brilliant soundtrack. The equipment which Rock Band had was amazing: the guitar was wonderful to hold, the drums were robust and the microphone was adequate for hitting those high notes. The best equipment had to be The Beatles Rock Band instruments. A classic Rickenbacker and a Hofner bass were included in the release of The Beatles Rock Band.

With the success of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, many wondered when the bubble would burst. Rock Band released 2 games, followed by The Beatles Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, Green Day Rock Band and finally with Rock Band 3 where you could play keyboard. While at Activision, Guitar Hero could almost have released a game every week as they became so obsessed by getting their name out there. Aside from the popular third instalment, its sequel World Tour and possibly Metallica are the only real noteworthy additions to the series. With Aerosmith, Van Halen, Guitar Hero 5, 6, Greatest Hits, Band Hero, Encore and numerous portable and mobile games. These rare and unique games soon became a common sight in reduced bins and hardware being sold at a near-giveaway price.

This sadly signalled the end of the gaming instrument genre. The Guitar Hero series disbanded after Guitar hero 6 after flooding the industry with their brand name. It seems as though Rock Band 3 will be the last Rock Band released as well after they stopped releasing downloadable content after dedicated fan service. The rhythmic gaming genre does still exist however with Ubisoft’s Rocksmith games. These games make use of a real guitar which you can plug into your console or PC. Although the games became stagnated, the equipment which the games used was wonderful and reliable, unless subjected to post-song smashes of course.

What the Future Holds

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Through the ever-expanding influence of Kickstarter, the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) was funded. The intention from OR creator Palmer Luckey was to create an HMD device that was different to anything else available on the market, but also affordable for gamers as well. As popularity for this idea grew, the Kickstarter raised $2,437,429, vastly surpassing the original goal of $250,000.

With PC gaming now becoming increasingly popular among gamers once more due to Steam and console gaming still impressing, it is only right that this should be the next major accessory in gaming as both platforms can benefit. It is an exciting time in the games industry and the Oculus Rift is something which seems to take you into the game. Testing on the accessory has left many in the gaming community amazed, but not without its flaws. Some have mentioned that walking around in a game feels great although when you walk backwards, you can feel very ill.

With the Oculus Rift headset looking as though it will be available in the near future, what else can be done to improve it? Personally I would like to see Oculus Rift combining with Kinect and allowing the player to walk around the environment and interact with the game using Kinect. There have been photos of some Oculus testers walking on treadmills to get the experience of moving forward. It’s a great idea, but I think Kinect could do something similar and wouldn’t take up as much room.
In recent years we have experienced the motion control craze. As the Xbox One and PS4 are now on the market, it is hard to tell where both Microsoft and Sony will be going with their motion control accessories. The Xbox One has come under fire from the gaming community for their Kinect 2.0 which has frustrated gamers due to its lack of consistency for understanding when you’re talking to a friend and when you’re talking to the console. I believe that although motion controls were a huge success with the Wii, they are just another fad in gaming that will eventually die out. No-one wants to be playing Dead Rising 3 alone in their room while shouting “You’re crazy!” at the Kinect sensor. People will think you’ve had a mental breakdown.
The history of gaming is colourful and wonderful to reflect on. The experiences we have had throughout the past 40 years have been incredible. From two bats hitting a ball to each other to shooting at your TV, turning a corner with a steering wheel or rocking out with a plastic guitar, there is no other platform which could allow you to have such diverse experiences other than gaming. While some will live longer in the memory than others, it looks as though the accessories will continue to keep us entertained, whatever it has in store, and I cannot wait.

Written by Simon Marshall, Decepticon sympathiser and videogame critic. Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Follow on Twitter: @SimonMarshall6
Xbox Live Gamertag & PSN ID: SCIENCEakaSYCO

Nintendo 3DS Friend Code: 2466-2669-0117

Images used under creative commons, rights to respective publishers/ manufacturers.

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