Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sony chooses middle ground in motion wars

It's GDC time again, and while babies everywhere sleep easily knowing this doesn't stand for the Giant Dingo Convention, the rest of us are enjoying hearing the latest gaming news. The biggest reveal thus far has been Sony's motion controller, with a lot of footage and details released on the device itself as well as many games that will make use of it.

The peripheral is officially called Move after the trademark request on Arc was alledgedly denied, elements of the proposed name remain the form of suspisciously 'A' shaped logo which will no doubt receive a touch up to look more 'M like' before the final release. Visually Move has a very unique design, the obvious stand-out feature being the glowing orb that sits on top of the the device which changes colour based on the environment. Using a 3 LED array the orb will change to whichever colour stands at the best contrast to the background, like an inverse chameleon. Games are also able to adjust the colour of the orb, making it flash with the muzzle flare of an on-screen gun or match the colour of a spell being cast. Other elements are more in keeping with Nintendo's motion control set up, such as the second controller which features a control pad and thumbstick. Simplicity seems to be a key theme, the number of buttons is considerably less than those on the Wii remote and Nunchuck, and 1:1 motion detection is available out of the box without the need of any add-ons. A Playstation Eye camera is used to detect the movement of the device as are built in accelerometers, a nifty bonus over the Wii is the fact that these accelerometers are able to approximate the location of the controller in 3D space, the example being used by Sony is a player still being able to move the camera around in a shooter even if the orb is temporarily obscured. Since a camera is being used rather than an IR sensor the move will be able to track head movement and facial expressions, although we will have to wait until future games to see this implemented. How all of these features will work outside of a showroom environment is yet to be seen, the nerdier among you will no doubt recall that Sony don't have the best reputation when it comes to being truthful in their presentations, but if they can be trusted then the device looks like it has the potential to do everything the Wii does, but better.

Physical controllers may soon seem somewhat redundant if Microsoft's Natal hype is to be believed. Allegedly Natal will not need any physical controller at all, the device will be able to look at the person stood in front of it, recognise them as an individual, and react perfectly to every movement they make with exact precision, as well as being able to interpret their facial expressions as emotions, understand their vocal inputs and generally revolutionise everything we've come to expect from game as a whole. That said, the nerdier among you I mentioned earlier will once again be recalling that the grandest promises of the device have been made by Peter Molyneux, who has possibly the worst reputation in the entire gaming industry in the area of hype to delivery ratio. While the Move's technology may not be as bleeding edge as Natal's, Sony decision to be playing in the safes zone seems to be perfectly calculated, they've managed to beat the Wii at it's own game, but without breaking the mould from what people have come to expect their motion controllers to feature.

There are a couple of major stumbling blocks Sony still have to overcome as yet before they can official declare Nintendo flipped over with their weak-spot exposed. Firstly the Wii has established itself as the market leader and a name synonymous amongst mums everywhere with virtual bowling and fitness, Sony went to a lot of effort to separate itself from the more childish connotations of gaming, and now it has to backtrack over years of work to lure in the casual market. The other major point of contention will be pricing, the announcement was made that Move will cost less than $100, but they shouldn't have to announce it will be less than one hundred bucks, everyone is expecting it to be less than that, a LOT less. The wording of this statement has lead many to expect a $99.99 price point. Considering the target audience will be unlikely to own a PS3 already it will be hard to convince people not to just buy a Wii instead, especially as Nintendo's console already has a large back-catalogue of games already available.

Speaking of games, unsurprisingly these are what will make or break both Sony and Microsoft's attempts to venture into the world of mad flailing instead of button pressing. No matter how innovative a control method may be if there aren't any games to justify using it then it will never succeed. The Wii has an insane amount of shovelware, something Nintendo seem to be aware of as the 'Nintendo Seal of Quality' is now just the 'Official Nintendo Seal' and the requirements to earn said seal are far from strict. Is it worth disenfranchising your loyal customers by throwing open the gates of the kingdom to every shovelware producing publisher in the name of appealing to the casual market? Sadly the answer is a resounding "yes" judging by the profits being posted by Nintendo. If Microsoft and Sony can embrace the casual market while still focusing on providing their loyal fans with the quality games they have come to expect then they may well be able to have the best of both worlds. And while both Move and Natal have the potential to be fantastic gimmicks and could provide some interesting and innovative ways to play some types of games, to regard them as anything more than quirky experiments at this stage would be a big mistake.

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