Playstation Move: Technologically Cool.

Call me old fashioned but I’m still not convinced about the whole motion controller thing. Sure there are some games where its highly appropriate (light saber battles anyone?) but overall motion control always feels like a tacked on extra rather than an integral part of the game play. There are some good examples of it being used to augment game play, Heavy Rain being one of them, but for the majority of the games they get by quite well without adding any motion at all. This hasn’t stopped Sony and Microsoft collectively soiling their pants when the Wii was announced and went on to smash their respective consoles in sales (and indeed they were making money on each console instead of losing like they were).

And so here we are over 3 years after the release of the Nintendo Wii and Sony has finally announced the Playstation Move, an odd looking device with a technological cornucopia under its shell:

The PlayStation Move motion controller offers a motion-based, High Definition gaming experience unlike anything on the market. At the same time, SCE will also release the PlayStation Move sub-controller to be used along with the motion controller for intuitive navigation of in-game characters and objects.

The PlayStation Move platform, including the motion controller, sub-controller and PlayStation Eye camera, together with a strong line-up of software titles, will deliver an innovative and highly immersive experience on the PS3 system.

The combination of the PS3 system and PlayStation Eye camera detects the precise movement, angle and absolute position in 3D space of the PlayStation Move motion controller, allowing users to intuitively play a game as if they themselves are within the game.

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this controller floating around the Internet. There’s been talk about this device since it was first unveiled in the middle of last year and prototypes were shown off at various games conferences towards the end of the year. Additionally the controller has been in the hands of developers for quite some time since there are already a few titles launching soon that are boasting Move capability, something which is not entirely easy to shoehorn into an existing project.

For an engineering geek though the real meat of this controller isn’t in what it provides to the gaming scene but the amazing amount of technology they’ve managed to cram into this little wand. Unlike the Wii before it there are 3 different types of motion detectors inside it and while that glowing orb on the top might look like an unnecessary decoration it actually serves quite an interesting purpose. To give you an idea of just how crammed with tech this thing is here’s a breakdown of what each bit does:

  • Accelerometer: Crack open a Wii controller and this is what you’ll find on the inside. In essence this senses acceleration in any direction of movement in a 3D world. Note that these things don’t tell you exactly where the controller is or how its oriented so whilst this is sufficient for most motion based games it’s starts to feel a bit lacking when you try to do motion control with more precision.
  • Angular Rate Sensor: In reality this is just a fancy name for a gyroscope which is capable of telling how the controller is tilted. This is something that the Wii controllers don’t have and when you’re playing something like say Mariokart it becomes obvious that the game is guessing on how far the controller is tilted. Having something like this in it lets you do precise motion control, rather than the motion interpretation that many of the Wii games do.
  • Magnetometer: This sensor gauges the controller’s orientation vs the Earth’s very own magnetic field. Primarily used to make sure that the other 2 motion sensors don’t get too far out of whack when you’re throwing yourself all over the living room it can still be used to track the controller’s motion through 3D space. There have been other motion controllers which used similar tech to achieve some pretty good results however I haven’t seen them hit the market yet.
  • That glowy orb thing: Astronomers and space buffs like myself will recognise this strange ornament on the top of the move controller as a Standard Candle. In essence when this orb is combined with the Playstation Eye camera  it acts as a sort of tape measure that tells you the distance between the controller and the camera itself. On the surface this wouldn’t seem to be too useful but there’s quite a lot of things you can do with this information and you have even more possibilities when say the orb disappears meaning the player has hidden it. So what initially looked like a rediculous way to tell who’s controller was who’s actually turned out to be yet another bit of their motion detection technology.

Of course since you have 2 hands they also have a sub controller that will be available for the Playstation Move. The first part I’m thankful for here is that it’s wireless as whilst the cord for the nun-chuck on the Wii wasn’t too bad it was a little bit of a pain, especially when it got caught on the edge of the coffee table. Additionally it contains all the motion detecting goodness (minus the ball) that the full controller contains, another thing that the Wii lacked. Unfortunately you won’t have a full party of 4 people using the Move + sub controller as it takes up a full controller “slot” on the Playstation 3, meaning you’ll either have 4 full remotes or 2 pairs of each. Annoying when the Wii lets all 4 have their own nun-chuck but I can see their point in doing so.

So is this thing going to be worth it? Looking at the list of the games that will get Move compatibility plus the upcoming releases I only see one game on there that I already own (LittleBigPlanet) and really it’s the only one I want to own that’s on that list. Sure you expect that the first generation of games using this are going to be fluff pieces that are somewhat rushed to demonstrate to everyone that yes, it does actually work but it’s still another US$100 that I’m going to have to fork over for yet another peripheral that’s not going to see a great amount of use. I’m sure my wife, who is unashamedly addicted to LittleBigPlanet and the cute sack-people within, will want one so her little avatars will be able to emulate her even more realistically but for the current generation of gamers I can’t see it taking off for at least another year.

Most of the big titles these days are cross platform and hence omit motion control simply because it can’t be guaranteed that a user has it. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that all 3 of the console giants are going about motion control in different ways and as such must have their control schemes written specifically for them (Xbox and PS3 are similar enough at least), something I know game developers aren’t keen to do. I can foresee a couple must have titles that will make use of the controller but that will probably only see 1 of them per serious gamer household. The Wii still reigns supreme as the multi player party console.

Still should this controller turn out to be as hackable as the Wiimote proved to be then I can see a healthy secondary market for these controllers. They apparently connect via Bluetooth but if they’re anything like the PS3 controllers (which again use Bluetooth) an interface driver will be a long way off for anyone interested in using them, as the controllers themselves took around 2 years before you could use them. To Sony’s credit though they did work right away if they were plugged in via USB.

So for the most part I’m excited about the Playstation Move not because it’s Sony’s motion controller answer to the Wii but because it’s actually something of a engineering marvel. Instead of just copying the Wiimote outright (which they did with the Sixaxis controllers) Sony made something that’s technologically superior in almost every way to the aging Wiimote. Time will tell if all this effort was worth it but in the mean time I’m content to sit back and just admire the innards of such a device in my own twisted engineering way.

Hey it’s not often I get good engineering porn in the world of games 😛

2 Comments

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  1. Adding more inputs into the localisation integration function will almost always improve the results, but nothing comes close to having a static reference point to calculate from. Accelerometers and noisy and gyros drift, adding the digital compass helps but doesn’t solve this.

    The real power in localisation systems come from fixed reference points. Something you didn’t mention is the sensor bar which gives the wiimote two fixed reference points to do trigonometry on to get very accurate localisation.

    Do you expect the PS Eye and the Standard Candle will give similarly accurate results?

    Of course by using more standalone sensors in the controller itself, you can get much more accurate readings when the fixed reference points are not within line of site or radio range (depending on the technology in use). This may mean that for uses outside of the target consoles and for games where the fixed reference points aren’t used, the PS Move will be a much better controller.

    If the price is right and it’s easy to interface with micro controllers, I can see hardware hackers taking a very close look at the PS Move.

  2. For the most part however the fixed reference points of the Wii sensor bar are used only for pointer based scenarios and not improving the actual motion control. Sure it works well with games like first person shooters and spawned a minor craze in head tracking technology amongst the hardware hackers (I even built one myself)  but beyond that, it’s just not possible to use.

    As for the PS Move orb it won’t be as accurate in those situations since it’s really only a single point of reference. It could be easily used as a pointer device but without additional points we’re stuck with either crude mapping of its location based on the camera’s viewpoint or using the acceleration to move the pointer. The latter would work and could potentially be used to augment the other motion detecting sensors in the Move but in comparison to the Wii it would be somewhat limited.

    From all the talk I’ve seen so far the bundle that includes the controller and Eye camera will be around US$100 (AUD$110). That’s a fair whack when the individual components can be had for a lot less but I’m sure there will be a lot of projects similar to that of when the Wii was first released (e.g. “OMG industrial robot controlled by Move controller!!”).

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