Aquaria: Swimming

I just compared the way that you swim about freely in Aquaria to Ecco the Dolphin, but the way you control the swimming is quite different. Ecco was written for the Sega Genesis, which means a controller with a D-pad, not an analog joystick. The movements of the dolphin were famously smooth and fluid, but they were created through moments of acceleration parallel to the X and Y axes as the player made carefully timed nudges. Aquaria supports two different genuinely analog control schemes — joystick and mouse. It also lets you use digital controls (D-pad or WASD keys) to move, and I’ve used that on occasion — when I want controlled, slow movement, and the ability to keep the mouse cursor on the opposite side in case I suddenly need to sprint away.

So, yes, there is a cursor. Pressing and holding the left mouse button makes Naija swim towards it; clicking again puts on an additional burst of speed. Call it cursor-based directional movement, as opposed to clicking on a destination for the avatar to go to like in a typical point-and-click adventure game (which we might call cursor-based positional movement). This isn’t the only game with cursor-based directional movement I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t usually my favorite thing: if all I’m indicating is a direction, I might as well be using a joystick, and if I’m indicating a position as well, I want the game to understand the position I’m pointing to as a position. But somehow, it feels pretty good here, and I think it has to do with the dynamics of moving in water. Unless you’re moving very slowly, you never have really precise control over your position. You accelerate, you swerve around, and you glide to a stop. Even your direction of movement isn’t absolutely under your control, because it takes a moment to swerve; although it’s not compensating for digital controls like Ecco, it’s still smoothing out your motions, processing your inputs into something that Naija can actually swim. If you’re not in absolute control of your position or your velocity, giving the game a continuously-updated spot to aim for is just about the right way to describe the amount and kind of control you really have.

3 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 8 May 2011

    Does progress eventually require getting more precise with the mouse? I played up to about the point where you open a door with a song, but I only have a touchpad (and one button) and was a little worried that the less precise controls of the touchpad would get me killed a lot, especially because I’m kind of a klutz.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 8 May 2011

    I haven’t completed the game yet, but I have yet to see a place where I needed to be very precise. Movement is tolerant of error, and your fireballs home in on the enemy nearest to where you fire them. Throwing thorn seeds is a bit tricky, but that’s more because they’re subject to gravity and don’t go exactly where you aim them.

    There was one place where the game asked me to move the cursor in circles around Naija to make her roll, which I found very difficult with my trackball. I had to look up how to do that with the keyboard in order to get past it. But that part sounds a lot easier with a trackpad anyway.

    Frankly, your lack of a second mouse button seems like a bigger worry to me. This game is really set up for one hand on WASD and arrow keys, the other on a two-button mouse. Moving and firing at the same time seems like it would be awkward if you had to use the keyboard for firing.

  3. matt w on 10 May 2011

    Spinning on the touchpad would be bad enough, I think, judging by the game where I had to do it (“[together]” by OneMrBean/Michael Molinari) — hooray for the R key. I can right-button by hitting the control key, so maybe that works for me; though I’m not sure how I’d be able to pull the trick where I hit both buttons.

    Anyway, this seems like I should give it another shot, and though I’m still a bit confused about what I’m doing (I can remove creatures’ shells, but why do I want to?) I think I even know where I can go from my save point — I’m in the Song Cave.

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