— Any seasoned gamer who owns a Wii is probably familiar with this scenario. Family has come to visit and so you bust out the “Wii Sports” and start in with a round of boxing. You, with years of gaming under your belt, hold the motion controllers in your hands and punch the air with careful precision and thoughtful timing. Meanwhile, your 6-year-old niece grips the controllers with pint-sized zeal and flails her arms with all the thought and precision of a goose on fire … and thusly proceeds to beat you at this game time and time again.
Playing goofy games with friends and family is fun and watching people flail about is always amusing. But if you’re a gamer’s gamer, it’s not exactly the kind of experience that’s going to sell you on motion controls. As soon as your niece leaves, you may just shove the Wii into the closet to gather dust.
Nintendo’s motion controls have done the seemingly impossible: They’ve turned non-gamers into gamers in droves and they’ve made video gaming a social, family affair like never before. But meanwhile, seasoned, adult gamers — the hardcore gamers specifically — have abandoned the Wii in droves, aggravated by the lack of precision in the controls, not to mention the lack of games that cater to their interests.
But Sony executives insist they’ll soon be able to do something Nintendo hasn’t been able to do — make motion controls appealing to hardcore gamers. Sony says it will achieve this feat when it launches its own motion-control system — called PlayStation Move — sometime this fall.
“The motion controller for PlayStation 3 will be the solution for both casual and hardcore gamers alike,” Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida vowed at last month’s Game Developers Conference. “Tracking one-to-one to your body movement, nothing has ever been this precise, responsive and ultra-sensory.”
But many gamers remain skeptical — to put it kindly. Discussing the topic at gaming site Escapist.com, a player going by the name “Rainboq” responded to Sony’s assertion that Move will be embraced by hardcore players with this: “BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! *sniff* That's a good one.”
2010 is starting to feel a lot like the Year of Motion Control. Not only is Sony gearing up to launch Move, but Microsoft is gearing up to launch its own motion control system called Natal.
Both are following the path paved by Nintendo, but Sony’s motion controls seem to be having a harder time escaping the Wii shadow. That’s because while Microsoft’s Natal is going completely controller-free, Sony’s Move system is made up, in part, of two wand-like controllers — the Move motion controller and the Move navigation controller — which at first glance look a whole lot like the Wii’s Remote and Nunchuk controllers.
There are differences, though. Not only do the Move wands have more buttons, the Move controller has this squishy lighted ball on the end of it that can change colors. More importantly, that ball is used in conjunction with the third and probably the most interesting component in the Move system — the PlayStation Eye camera.
Having the PlayStation Eye camera involved not only allows for increased precision, it adds augmented reality into the mix. That is, you can see yourself right there on the screen, ensconced in the game world. While here in the real world, you may be holding a Move controller, what you see on the screen is yourself holding a sword, or perhaps a tennis racket, or maybe a paintbrush. Swing that controller in your living room and you swing a sword in the game.
I recently had a chance to take Move for a test drive, and the two controllers plus the camera combined with the PlayStation 3’s immense horsepower, do allow for an impressive level of motion-sensing accuracy.
While the Wii reads basic gestures (sometimes correctly, sometimes not so much), Move moves with you one-to-one. Wave the controller, spin it in the air, jab it at the television and you see those actions replicated precisely there on screen. And for those of us with HD TVs on our walls, it’s a delight to see the PS3 mix motion gaming with high-definition graphics — something the Wii just can’t do.
But how will all this flashy technology be implemented in games? And how will it be implemented in games in a way that convinces core players to give up what they know so well — the dual analog stick controller?
Move over to motion
“I think it’s not that hardcore gamers are against motion,” says Anton Mikhailov, a Sony R&D software engineer who’s been working on Move. “I think they don’t want easy games and they don’t want games where somebody who’s played for five minutes can beat somebody who’s played for a year.” (Hello “Wii Sports: Boxing.”)
Jeff Rubenstein, Sony’s social media manager, agrees. He believes the big issue core gamers have had with motion controls up to this point is that the lack of accuracy ruins what they love best — being able to get better at a game the more they play it.
“It removes your skill from the game,” he says. Move, on the other hand, with its high degree of accuracy, “is something you can not only pick up and play, it’s something you can get better at.”
“We've spent years gaming on twin analog controllers,” he recently wrote. “There's a comfort zone. There's in some cases a personal style that's built up. And there's an intuition about what the face buttons usually mean in certain types of games. That's completely out the window with motion control.”
Good also writes the sports gaming column
Stick Jockey. He says he has a hard time envisioning how motion controls will be implemented in serious team-based sports games in an authentic way.
He wonders: How will gamers command an entire digital football or soccer team by swinging wands around — and how is swinging wands around a more realistic way to simulate controlling a sports team than pushing buttons or analog sticks? Meanwhile, with Move’s accurate motion sensing, will gamers be asked to pantomime the highly skilled movements of elite athletes — and if so, how would that not be either too difficult for the average person to do or so simplified that it’s just plain gimmicky?
That’s the other thing. Many avid gamers believe motion controls encourage the development of gimmicky shovelware best suited to children and newbies, and they have difficulty envisioning how Move — as precise as its controls may be — will be any different.
Indeed, many of the Move games Sony has shown off so far haven’t been aimed at core gamers — “Move Party” (a wacky party game that puts players right into the picture) or “Slider” (a wacky racing game that finds players racing atop wheeled office furniture).
But there’s also “SOCOM 4,” the third-person shooter from Zipper Interactive. When it hits the PS3 sometime this fall it will give players a choice — play with the standard controllers, or play with Move motion controls.
“Move is one more step toward transporting you from your living room to the war zone,” says Travis Steiner, Zipper Interactive’s lead designer for “SOCOM 4,” while demonstrating how the Move controller can be pointed at the screen like a gun and fired like a gun to take out enemies with a high degree of accuracy. The controller can also be used to draw out customized tactical plays for your fellow soldiers and it can be quickly swung through the air to rifle-butt an enemy.
“I think to convince core players, they just have to try it,” Steiner says.
Of course, the question Sony will have to answer is: How do you get players who think they don’t like motion to even try it?
Good hasn’t had a chance to try Move yet. He says his interest has been somewhat piqued by previews of “Motion Fighter” — a brutal, high-precision fighting game that can only be taken as a counter-point to the waggly “Wii Sports: Boxing.” But he says most of what he’s seen from Sony’s advertisements and online demonstrations hasn’t warmed him to motion.
“I’m not hostile to the idea, I’m just skeptical about whether this is for me,” he explains. “My first reaction is, 'What is this going to cost?' because I know that a game is going to cost $60…but how much is this going to cost on top of that and then is there going to be a game that’s going to be special enough to warrant that purchase?”
Though Sony hasn’t announced the price, Move is expected to come in a variety of bundles around the $100 mark.
Skeptical as he may be, Good says there is one game that would definitely convince him to run out and buy PlayStation Move:
“If they had a ‘Star Wars’ light saber game that just absolutely kicked ass with light saber combat, I’d be all over that in a heartbeat.”
Did you hear that Sony?