Feature Article
Have Sports Gaming Controls Become Too Complicated for Their Own Good?

Just like Mike Gundy, I'm a man and I'm 40; and my fingers are not as nimble as they used to be.

This can be quite a problem when it comes to playing my favorite sports video games. As I have grown older and moved from the more simplistic gaming systems like the Atari to the much more intricate current generation consoles, it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to control the action on the cyber field.

Some of my troubles have to do with my advancing age -- the reflexes aren’t quite at the level of my 20-year-old self. Some, though, has to do with the more and more complicated control schemes for these games.

When you require the speed and dexterity of Lt. Cmdr. Data to call an audible or a hot route in Madden, or to simply call an offensive play in NBA 2K12, then there is a deeper issue.

Have sports video game controls became too complicated for their own good? Let’s take a look.

What happened to this kind of awesomeness?

Older Doesn’t Mean Easier

Those old enough to remember Tecmo Bowl (or those who gave Tecmo Bowl Throwback a whirl recently) can agree that the control scheme can be clunky and difficult, especially when it comes to completing a pass.

To target a receiver, you are required to cycle through the eligible targets from the top of the screen to the bottom before letting a pass fly. Even in my younger days, this could be a bit frustrating.

However, that was one of the best control schemes in these formative years of sports video games. Other football games opted for cursor passing, which was ridiculously cumbersome.

It wasn’t until Madden on the Sega Genesis arrived that we were blessed with passing windows and suddenly it was as easy to sling the cyber pigskin to any receiver we desired.

A Mixed Bag

Baseball games of yesteryear, though, were easier on the thumbs, especially when it came to pitching.

There were no meters. There were no exaggerated swirls of the stick to produce a curveball. All you had to do was point your cursor at a spot in the strike zone and press a button. No muss. No fuss. The pitcher’s ratings took over. If he was a bum, he got slapped around the yard like one. If he was a stud, he painted the corners like a pitching Picasso. It didn’t matter how smooth you were on the sticks or how quick you were on the button mash in the green zone of the meter. Roger Clemens pitched like a ‘roided-up Roger Clemens. Jose Lima pitched like a whacked out homer-serving scrub.

It hasn’t been all bad. The Wii and its Wiimote has given us unparalleled control over our cyber swing on the golf course in the Tiger Woods titles and the spin on our bowling ball in Wii Sports. Even the controls for NHL 12 are intuitive and sublime.

Still, sports video games are trending toward the elaborate, which is not necessarily a good thing.

You shouldn't need what seems like this to operate sports games today.

The KISS Principle

Game developers should start to listen to KISS, not the rock band, but the principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I am aggravated to no end at the NBA 2K series. Every year I am determined to call set plays, only to abandon that strategy as my cyber point guard dribbles in place as I fumble through the play-call menu.

I am also at a loss in Madden to call hot routes for my defense. I usually fumble more than JaMarcus Russell. In MLB: The Show, I ignore the guess pitch and power swing feature because I’m pretty sure Prince Fielder doesn’t wait for a tiny red dot to appear in the strike zone telling him where to power swing. The fewer finger gymnastics I need to complete, the better. 

I’m sure my views are not the norm and I come across like a bitter gaming curmudgeon. I happen to think, though, that we can get much more enjoyment out of games that didn’t try to map a maneuver to every single button and stick on our controller.

Have sports video game controls become too complicated for their own good? I think, save a few exceptions, that they have.

Are game controls too complicated?

Member Comments
# 1 Galarius @ 02/03/12 12:46 PM
I don't think so.Without somewhat complex controls you can't have as many moves, as in NBA 2k.....usually there rae ways to play games with simpler controls if th euser wants to do so, such as NBA 2k's 'MOVE' controls(which i ssort of like a cross between regular play an dcoach mode)...Madden has the 1 button mode as well
# 2 chinchilla @ 02/03/12 12:47 PM
I agree the controls are too complicated. Especially for casual players. Attempting to introduce people to new games becomes cumbersome because you have to explain the controls for hours on end.
# 3 Galarius @ 02/03/12 12:48 PM
"usually there'ARE' ways"...the dyslexia is kickin in today!!!ha ha...luckily i can still remember the difference between escape dribble pull-up and dribble pull up
# 4 SHAKYR @ 02/03/12 12:51 PM
Great write up. I hate that gamers want the controls to be too complicated. They think this makes the game more challenging. I find it ridiculous because the gameplay should dictate the realism or way a player play. You should be able to do or not do something with in game tools.

A player shouldn't have to use the controller like a combination lock to do a move.
# 5 eaterofworlds888 @ 02/03/12 12:56 PM
I think it just depends on what the consumer likes. Personally I HATE Analog with a passion. Analog shooting on 2k basketball games, analog punching in fight night, analog grapples on some wrestling games. I can't stand it. I also am not much on motion controls

Buttons, I love buttons, thank God we can still press square to shoot on 2k basketball games, and WWE '12 changed it's controls back to mostly face buttons.

My point is though is that while analog isn't really complicated I don't like it at all. But I do agree that controls DO become to complicated at times,

All in all though I think it mostly depends on who's playing
# 6 mmathaifighter @ 02/03/12 01:15 PM
Its funny because my GF always hears me complaining because I just cannot do most of the moves on NBA 2K12. Its a mix of there being way to many stick and button combos for one activity and my hands not being as "good" as they use to be. I started wrestling at 5, karate at 12, boxing at 15, weightlifting at 17, and Muay Thai and jiu jitsu at 20. Ive been training and/or competeing in some form of combat sports for 34 years. Now at 39 years old, even though I still train, my hands have been through the ringer. I just dont have the reflexes in my hands anymore to pull off some of the complicated movements. As it is, when I play 2K online I usually get beaten because it only takes whoever I'm playing a couple of quarters to figure out that I can only do the basics. I know what I have to do but just cant put them all together in the small window the game allows us.
# 7 SIMatic @ 02/03/12 01:54 PM
I got an idea for you. Go to 'Coach Settings' in 2K12 and set 'PlayVision' to 'All Plays' and the 'PlayVision Display' to 'Lite'. Next, go to 'Offensive' and 'Defensive' plays and set them to 'Auto'. What this does is the coach takes over in calling plays and all you have to do is execute them.

A couple things before you start playing this way:

-you're going to have to practice any play just a little just to familiarize yourself with the 'Lite' symbols on the court. (what's a pass, pick, dribble, etc.)

-the touches are realistic. (as long as you go where your supposed to with the ball, the distribution will be realistic as your superstar will see most of the touches)

-the reason for the 'PlayVision' set to 'All Plays' is so that you start learning the plays by their names and how they're supposed to work in an effort to one day call your own game or to anticipate what the cpu will do as you already know where the ball will end up.

*i was so happy with the way different teams called their plays I've stuck to this play style and just run the plays as it's very close to what you see in the real game.
# 8 C the Lyte @ 02/03/12 01:55 PM
Double edged sword. You either want less control whcich produces more random canned animations or you want more control to pick which canned animations will take place.

I could help but laugh when reading this, especially the 40 year old part. It's like an old QB who is savvy but just doesn't have that zip any more. Shoot, any 40 year old non-golfing athlete applies here!
# 9 AUChase @ 02/03/12 01:58 PM
I just think NBA 2K need a few different control methods. One for full control and maybe an easier method.
# 10 canes2008 @ 02/03/12 02:04 PM
I think so especially 4 the disabled
# 11 IlluminatusUIUC @ 02/03/12 02:10 PM
I have agree. I've been gaming for nearly two decades now and I still get throw by the crazy complicated controls in games like FIFA and NHL. On NCAA or Madden I can do ok on offense, but on defense I'm still a liability.
# 12 bigdaddykraven @ 02/03/12 02:26 PM
I don't think the number of controls are bad, I think the fluidity of the controls are. Using MLB The Show as an example: When someone is going to steal and you want to step off the mound and throw the ball, you have to press L1...THEN...use the analog control to throw the ball. If you made it more Fluid to where you can press L1 and flip your analog stick toward the base it needs to go in the same motion its easier, less thought and less gymnastics.

Sports is about repetition and flinch-type reactions. Not do this, then this, then this.
# 13 wat3 @ 02/03/12 02:46 PM
Then your heads going to explode when you play Wii U.
# 14 jyoung @ 02/03/12 02:51 PM
I prefer simple controls.

NFL Blitz, NBA Jam, Tecmo Bowl, NHL 94, et al.

Anyone can pick up those games and have fun.
# 15 DJ @ 02/03/12 03:28 PM
Yes. Yes. Yes.

It doesn't help that with Madden, the CPU snaps the ball so quickly that I have no time to do anything on defense because I'm fumbling with the controls.

I don't get all that I can out of NBA 2K because I can never master all of the post moves and Isomotion controls.

MLB The Show has Classic pitching, which is pretty easy to use, and also Timing hitting and Assisted fielding, so I feel like I can still hold my own with that game.

I think there should be different control options for all games.
# 16 juicey79 @ 02/03/12 03:33 PM
Originally Posted by Galarius
"usually there'ARE' ways"...the dyslexia is kickin in today!!!ha ha...luckily i can still remember the difference between escape dribble pull-up and dribble pull up
Good, brother I had no idea there was a difference. I know you have to hold L for escape, how do you do the pull up?
# 17 gigadkc @ 02/03/12 03:36 PM
I prefer the controls the way they are today. It's hard to learn them but once you've mastered them it's very satisfying. Less difficult controls also means more random animations etc. and having more control yourself is worth to have difficult controls imo. And let's be honest: you don't have to study 3 years at Harvard to learn them. Practice them for an hour and you know how to do it.
# 18 mmathaifighter @ 02/03/12 03:42 PM
Thanks for the tips SIMatic, I'll have to check those out.
# 19 truintellectplaya @ 02/03/12 04:41 PM
Looks like we have ran out of topics. Getting more and more redundant by the week. The answer is yes and no. Or there is no right and wrong answer. Depends on your preference.

My personal opinion on this is that we need more functions rather than changing the way they are performed. For instance rather you mash a button or move a analog stick it is still hitting a baseball, shooting a basketball, etc. How about adding actual functions? Nothing complicated about any of the games IMO, still the same functions you have always done.
# 20 TalenT @ 02/03/12 05:00 PM
I think it all depends on whether you grew up playing games or not. People like me who have been playing since we were 5 years old have evolved ALONG WITH the control schemes of sports games, therefore picking them up is far easier than someone who just recently rode the wave in.

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