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Future of Exergaming

07/01/2009 Family Fit Gamer Article
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Future of Exergaming

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It's been 18 months since Wii-Fit created a whole new genre of games. Despite continuing to occupy the top spots in sales charts, neither Nintendo or their competitors are resting on their laurels. Before we hit the next influx of fitness titles, I thought it would be good to take a look at what's on the horizon.

Wii-Fit Plus

Wii-Fit is great, and is responsible for getting me into exercise games, and as the creator of WiiFitForum you'd expect me to be a bit biased, but I'm the first to point out some of its gaping flaws. Wii-Fit Plus, due in Autumn, finally fixes the biggest complaint of all, the lack of structured routines.

Wii-Fit Plus creates custom routines for you, targeting different areas, or you can design your own. Along with more exercises including Rhythm Kung-fu (I kid you not), obstacle courses, and a surreal sounding game involving a chicken suit the new routines should greatly improve the effectiveness of a Wii-Fit based workout and silence most of the criticisms. The new version will be available with or without a balance board, depending on whether you brought the first game.

EA Sport Active

EA Sports Active is currently the most effective exercise game on the market if you are after a proper cardio workout. It succeeds by packing a lot of exercise into a short space of time. EA are here showing Nintendo how it's done.

However this hasn't stopped EA from looking to the future with an expansion pack due in a few months. This will add 30 new activities, including more toning and muscle challenges which were oddly missing in the original.

It succeeds by packing a lot of exercise into a short space of time.

It will build on the 30 day challenge with a 6 week version and add weight and calorie tracking. EA are not stopping at the expansion pack either - EA Sports' President Peter Moore has recently commented that 'come 2010 we'll be looking in how we continue to get more variety, more challenges, different looks about how you can get fitter, and we're going to keep driving this until the consumer gets bored' so we can safely expect continuous improvement over the next few years.

Motion Tracking

This is where things start to get really interesting. While Wii-Fit Plus and the EA Sports Active Wii expansion are evolutionary, there is a new idea shaking up the active game market. At last month's E3 conference, Microsoft unveiled "Project Natal, their new camera based motion tracking system for the 360 that does away with controllers entirely.

The accuracy of Natal is a cut above previous vision based trackers such as the old PS2 Eye Toy camera, and provides very responsive controls.

Project Natal... shows great potential for building fitness games.

While Project Natal is clearly still in development it shows great potential for building fitness games, allowing you to exercise without being tied to controllers or a balance board. In fact EA's Peter Moore has said they 'are actively investigating concepts' for using Project Natal. It remains to be seen how well Natal will work in the real world, but expect to see the exercise game genre to make the jump to the 360 and give the Wii some real competition.

Your Shape

As a Wii owner, I was watching the Project Natal demos with some interest. I wondered if I'd have to invest in a 360 to get the next generation of fitness games. But then, lo and behold, UbiSoft, came to the rescue with "Your Shape".

It will ship with its own motion tracking camera, letting it track your movements as you exercise.

Your Shape Wii looks set to drag Ubisoft's current fitness game offering, My Fitness Coach, into the new era. It will ship with its own motion tracking camera, letting it track your movements as you exercise. However the video on their website seems to indicate a fairly shallow game experience, concentrating on pure exercise without much in the way of fun activities.

There is no release date, and many of the details are pretty sketchy at the moment, so it remains to be seen if it will be on a par with Project Natal in terms of accuracy and responsiveness, or will be low budget version that is only just good enough for doing basic exercises.

The Future is about to getting active

While the exercise genre clearly belongs to Nintendo and EA for the moment, many other companies are eying their success and plotting ways to re-think the whole concept. In the short term we will see significant evolution, but look out for a real revolution in exercise gaming in the next couple of years as competition really starts to heat up.

We can also expect to see many more active games that are not so obviously fitness related, but will still get you up and about. Microsoft clearly believes that motion tracking is the future of gaming, and a way to leapfrog Nintendo's dominance of the console market, so expect to see plenty of active games on the 360 once Project Natal matures into a real product.

Just as gaming has helped make exercise more fun, so games are about to get a lot more active.

There will always be a place for pure fitness oriented games, but there will also be an increasing overlap with more traditional games as improved motion tracking becomes more widespread across platforms (and don't expect Sony to be left out). Just as gaming has helped make exercise more fun, so games are about to get a lot more active.

Written by Luke Pyper

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Luke Pyper writes the Fit Gamer column.

"As a trained professional fitness coach I bring an informed and balanced take on fitness video games. I cover Xbox 360, PS3, Wii-Fit, DS lite and PSP games from a gym, health and fitness angle."

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