On a technical level I’m in love with motion controllers. They represent quite a few innovations that until just recently were out of the reach of the every day consumer. The release of the Wii put cheap, relatively accurate motion detection in the hands of hackers all over the world and saw the technology spread to many other sectors. Whilst I haven’t given any love to Microsoft’s Kinect the possibility of being able to do your own in home motion capture with the camera that powers it is a pretty cool prospect and I know it won’t be long before the hackers get their hands on similar tech and start wowing us with the applications. We already know my stance on the Playstation Move, with its oodles of technology packed into a hand sized magic wand.
Still if you walk into my living room that’s adorned with consoles, computers and all kinds of gadgets and gizmos the only evidence you’ll find of me having any interest in this area is a single Wiimote controller hidden away in a drawer with no console in sight. I only have the controller as my previous house mate was the one who bought the Wii and stubbornly refused to buy any more controllers for it. Wanting to actually play some games I forked out the $100 to get one but later ended up co-opting it for all sorts of nefarious purposes, using it to play World of Warcraft and a semi-successful attempt at using head tracking in EVE online. After we parted ways though I hadn’t had any compelling reasons to buy a Wii console save for maybe Trauma Center which I was only ever able to locate twice but never made the jump to purchase.
It’s not like I’m above buying an entire console for a single game either, I bought a Xbox 360 just for the chance to play Mass Effect the day it came out. More it’s that nearly every game on the Wii that I’ve wanted to play has either had a cross platform release or has been nothing more than a passing curiosity. I’d even told myself at one point that when they brought the black version of the Wii out I’d purchase one (it would match my PS3 and new Xbox 360 if I got one) but even after that happened I still couldn’t pony up the cash to get one, it just felt like a waste of money.
It could be that I really haven’t been giving my consoles a whole lot of love lately. The last two console games I played were Red Dead Redemption and Alan Wake, both engaging games but since then my attention has almost entirely been captured by Starcraft 2. I must admit I was intrigued by the prospect of replaying through Heavy Rain using the Move controller but other than that I don’t think there’s any other games out there that make use of motion controllers that I’d actually find appealing. In fact looking over the catalogue they all look to be aimed at a certain demographic: those who are traditionally non-gamers.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise as that’s the exact strategy Nintendo had when they first released the Wii, focusing more on the non-gamer crowd and heavily promoting the social aspect of it. As the Kinect and Move are both reactions to the Wii’s success it follows that their target demographic is identical as well. For the long time gamers like myself this hasn’t really endeared the motion controllers to us as the games really aren’t designed for us. Sure there are some notable exceptions but for the most part those who identify themselves as gamers probably won’t be investing too much in these new fangled exercise inducing devices. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful however.
There is the chance that these motion controllers will make their way into my living room by virtue of integration with other products. I’ve been eyeing off one of the newer Xbox 360 for a while now as it’s quite a looker and has the benefit of not sounding like a jet engine when it’s loading a game. My natural engineering curiosity will probably see a move controller work its way into my living sometime in the future as well but until someone demos some cool hack that I just have to try it will be a while before that comes to pass. The Wii will more than likely stay on the back burner for a long time to come but there’s always the chance of a Mass Effect event happening that overrides the more frugal parts of my brain.
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:
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 😛