Furious Flapping (or The Rise of Motion Controllers).

I remember when sensing motion was one of those things that you just couldn’t do without a lot of work and a decent amount of hardware. I dabbled in it a while ago managing to make a program that could control Winamp by waving your hands about in a certain area¹. However since Nintendo decided to foray into this world with the Wii console it seems everyone has been busy falling over themselves to somehow integrate motion detection technology into their console. Sony quickly slapped the sixaxis controller together but it seemed like Microsoft was keen to take a back seat on this one. That was until they announced Project Natal doing away with controllers completely, akin to the Playstation Eye range of products but much more advanced. Sony also announced another attempt at the motion control market recently, however the details on it are a little sparse.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love new approaches to existing problems (inputdev being a very interesting field in itself) however I’ve found the novelty value in these kinds of things wears off pretty quickly. We had a Wii in my sharehouse the day it came out and I can tell you for the next couple weeks we were hooked on the thing. Everything from Wii sports through to creating many Mii characters (if you ever see DiscoStalin running around on your Wii, that was one of my creations) was met with hours upon hours of game play. But then we got tired of it and I really haven’t played the Wii seriously since. Maybe I’ve just grown out of the niche that Nintendo is marketing to but I can’t help but feel that these types of games have a market that, whilst large, is transitive and will move on once the novelty of motion controlled gaming wears off.

There is however a happy little niche for these kinds of control mechanisms and thats firmly within the casual gaming market. If you’re a gamer and you try to get your non-gamer pals in on something you’ll often find yourself explaining the control system for about 5 to 10 minutes before you can get on and play. The motion based systems are a step towards removing that gap, although if the Wii is any indication the intuitive movement for an action might not be the one the console recognises, leaving you flailing madly to get it to work. The sport games do quite well in this regard, since they mimic the real thing.

For the current generation of loyal gamers who started off with the keyboard and mouse and slowly worked their way through the various controller options that the console makers threw at us I think the majority will prefer your stock standard method of interfacing. If we want to get up and jump around we’ll go and do that but for the most part when we play our games we’re either hunched over the computer or lazing on the couch with a controller, and that’s part of the appeal. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, like Light Sabers on the Wii, but overall I think the handheld controller is here to stay for a long time, just like the computer mouse.

¹Since I’m sure some people would love to see this thing in action I’ve uploaded the source and a compiled version of it here. The way it works is you start up the WebCam.exe first (located in the WebCam\Bin\Debug folder) and then hit the Generate Process List button. This will then populate the left most dropdown box with a list of all the windows it can target. Select the window that corresponds to Winamp (should be either Winamp or the name of the song currently playing). This will then populate the rightmost dropdown with a number, don’t change it as it won’t work otherwise.

Once you’ve done that hit the start button, now if everything’s working out (seems to work on Windows7 fine) you’ll get a picture from your webcam. You might want to move it back a bit from you so your hands don’t take up too much of the picture (the top of the picture is split into 5 parts). Once you’re ready to give it a go hit the Motion Detetion mode button, and you’ll notice a whole lot of funny boxes tracking your every move, neato isn’t it? 🙂

Now you see the boxes at the top of the application? Those are the keys that correspond to the 5 sections of the top of the image your webcame sees. These have been autoprogrammed for the Winamp default, but you can change them if you’re using say a different MP3 player or you want to control something else. Anyway, start waving your hand at the top of the screen. You’ll notice a bar filling up (probably several since it takes a little practice to use), once that reaches the top it will then send the key for that area to the program you choose. Voila you’ve controlled Winamp by flailing around in front of a webcam, amazing!

Just to give you an idea of what it looks like here’s me using it:

Told you I’d give you something interesting today.

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  1. I just looked up that article and he’s pretty confident that they won’t be dislodged, with good reason to. They’re already established in this market and if Sony and Microsoft wanted to compete they should’ve released something earlier. Wiinis envy is such an appropriate term 🙂

    My left hand is holding my phone which you can make out as the small bar on the right hand side of the program.

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