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There's no greater cynic when it comes to motion controls than me. Though I admire the way the Wii has brought gaming to a completely new demographic of gamers thanks to its accessible Wii remote and Nunchuk, I still find the practical usage of such a system flawed for the enthusiast gamer more interested in the Xbox 360 and PS3. Both of these popular systems will have their own brand of motion controls come the autumn so lets take a look at both of them and what it means for the future of gaming.
First up is Sony. At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco last month, Sony officially unveiled the PlayStation Move, saying it would breathe new life into games. The more cynical commentary at the time compared the light bulb topped motion control and sub-controller as merely a high-definition clone of the cheaper Nintendo Wii games.
While both systems look very similar I noticed some differences between the two that put the Move much further ahead. What Sony have highlighted most of all is the fidelity of this device, boasting that it has enough accuracy to play Starcraft effectively. While the Wii does have 1 to 1 movement with its MotionPlus attachment, the PlayStation Move seems to have a much greater fine-tuned responsiveness, especially when showing off archery games, boxing simulators and third or first person shooters.
While the Wii does have 1 to 1 movement with its MotionPlus attachment, the PlayStation Move seems to have a much greater fine-tuned responsiveness
These games set it apart from Nintendo's console as Sony has indicated that this motion control system will be an essential add-on for many hardcore games. The next SOCOM game was demoed at GDC using the Move and even though the demo was put together over only a few weeks, it really added a layer of immersion that complimented such a traditional hardcore game.
However, what concerns me is that Sony believes they can serve both the casual crowd upgrading from the cheaper Wii games and the established enthusiast gamers like me who already enjoy traditional gaming experiences. Only a few non-casual games have been showcased so far and most of the demos on view at GDC were for the family-style games that you'd usually see on the Wii
What's more, it appears that many Wii games like the forthcoming Aragorn's Story will be getting a port or upgrade to the PS3 turning Sony's console towards the casual audience more than ever before. This mixed message doesn't bode well for the future - trying to hit both enthusiast and the casual gaming market effectively could be difficult and Sony's track record over the past five years is sketchy at best trying to serve the hardcore.
What works in Sony's favour is the physical nature of these motion controls. The PlayStation Move, despite its curious ball-on-a-stick design, looks like a pretty cool piece of hardware and you can never discount the importance of a well-made device. Having that physical connection to what you're playing with a high quality ergonomic controller is a surprisingly effective way of raising the level of immersion within a game.
Project Natal is a very different approach where your body becomes the controller - according to PR guff that is
That leads me onto Microsoft and their foray into a device that dispenses with controllers altogether. Project Natal is a very different approach where your body becomes the controller - according to PR guff that is. Using new technology that combines infra-red light and high quality cameras Natal is able to track and interpret your physical movements without needing any controllers to aid it.
While last year's E3 announcement was impressive the application of this technology has yet to be fully unveiled. The idea of flicking through menus and navigating the Xbox interface with Minority Report style movement is pretty awesome, but whether or not that can translate effectively to games remains to be seen. I'm a little sceptical that playing Modern Warfare 2 or Forza 3 with nothing more than body gestures would be anything more than tiresome and irritating. Playing these games requires concentration and time - I really can't see using Natal (or Move for that matter) for more than an hour without feeling exhausted or bored.
What I think may work against Natal is the physical connection that we all like to have with a controller. Using just your hands or your body with be fun as a novelty for the first few hours but it will be interesting to see if the experience is just as 'connected' as a normal controller-based game.
Out of the two, Microsoft's Natal feels the most adventurous. It's heading into new territory that feels like it could be a groundbreaking move if done right, or a crushing disappointment. The PlayStation Move on the other hand feels more like a refined knock-off of the cheaper Wii game controls - a safe extension of a tradition control scheme already popularised by Nintendo's console. I find it difficult to see what Sony could do to differentiate itself from the Wii aside from better graphics.
Out of the two, Microsoft's Natal feels the most adventurous.
This time next year we should have many exclusive games using both systems to their full potential. With projects such as Peter Molyneux's Milo and the Natal integration into Fable 3 offering some unique game play missing from most other motion control games, maybe these new system can offer a depth and immersion we haven't seen before. But just as with the Wii I'm yet to be convinced until I've tried them out for myself.
Either way, we don't think it will have a huge effect on how you rent or buy games. Although some games will have these controllers packed in the box ready for rent, the majority are likely to rely on you having your own hardware from previous purchases.
What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic about the future of motion controls or do you think both these new motion control schemes change gaming for the better?
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