E3 is back in a big way, and this year was the battle of the motion controllers and 3D tech. While Nintendo® was the first to prove that motion technology was viable to gaming with the release of the Wii™, Microsoft® and Sony® are attempting to raise the bar with their own versions of motion control…but have they succeeded?
The answer is yes and no. We’ll break down both technologies and point out advantages and disadvantages versus the Wiimote™.
Kinect™ is the funny name given to Microsoft’s® technology formerly known as Project Natal™. Microsoft’®s biggest bragging point turns out to also be it’s biggest handicap, no controller needed. Sony® was only too happy to poke fun of the lack of buttons (and Mii limbs) at their E3 press conference featuring Kevin Butler as you can see in this video:
The good news about Kinect™ is that the hardware itself is quite impressive, and quite capable. Joystiq got a good behind the scenes look at just how much it could see in a room full of people. The part that’s not quite 100% yet is the software that interprets what the hardware is seeing, which requires a lot of processing power. In fact, right now there has even been a lot of controversy as to whether you will be able to sit while using Kinect. But not to worry, because software can be updated. So as long as the hardware is right when it ships to gamers, the software can always be updated to refine it’s precision and capabilities.
The bad news however is what they didn’t reveal at E3, a game controller to work along with it. You see, Kinect™ is actually capable of the motion capturing that Move boasts, plus much more with it’s infrared detecting. But what it can’t do is detect button presses, or the small wrist motions needed for sword/Light Saber movements or precise spins in bowling games.
I got a chance to try the bowling part of the Wii Sports knockoff being developed by Rare® in Microsoft’s® E3 booth, and I asked the two Rare® employees working on it about spinning the ball only to find out that it required you to throw your hand far to the left or right to perform. In fact they admitted openly that Kinect® couldn’t see the twist of a wrist for the spin. That’s a huge problem in itself, but no buttons is even more limiting. How can you play a complex game with no buttons, and who would want to?
If Microsoft® is smart, a controller addition to Kinect™ is already in the works. Otherwise Kinect™ will do nothing to entice core gamers, and they are the ones who told the casual gamers about it with the Wii™. But Microsoft® may simply not care at all about the core gamers with Kinect™, instead going after Nintendo’s® casual gamers solely. Let’s hope not. If the $150 price tag for Kinect turns out to be true, it may sit on the shelves.
In my tests of Kinect™ at E3 I found the motion of my hand to have a significant delay to the action on the screen. This was especially noticeable in the Ubisoft’s Wii™ Fit knockoff, Your Shape™. You can see this lag clearly even in the Microsoft® Press conference demo when the girl moves quickly. I also found that if you moved fast enough it could lose you completely. But to be fair, unlike most titles this game is meant to read very slight movements and positions that won’t be necessary in most games. In fact a Ubisoft employee said that Your Shape™ was reading over one million points on your body at once, which is impressive. Let’s hope this lag doesn’t translate to hardware limitations and affect all games on Kinect.
Move, Yes… But Point?
Sony’s® Move™ controller aims right for the (missing) jugular on the Wii ™by making a clear knock-off with added Motion Capture tech. But aim is the key word here because that’s the one thing they didn’t include, a more precise aiming solution.
As we were the first to report, the Wiimote™ not only uses accelerometers for reading fast swinging motions, but also uses infrared LEDs in the sensor bar that the Wiimote™ sees to point decently precisely on the screen. But the Wiimote™ was handicapped at launch for precise movements, hence the recent addition of the MotionPlus™ add-on which uses gyros to more precisely read twisting motions.
Move™ does not have a separate pointing device like the Wii™, but rather uses the gyros exclusively for the purpose of pointing/aiming on the screen. You heard correctly, the motion capture portion of Move™ (ball and camera) is not used at all for pointing or aiming. This would be tantamount to using the MotionPlus™ exclusively for aiming. Don’t believe it? Check out this video taken at E3 of it aiming while the camera is covered by a dollar bill:
Though I didn’t get video of it, I tested this was true with SOCOM 4 and Time Crisis 4 as well.
For me personally, more precise 1:1 aiming was what I was hoping for most out of the Move controller. Finding out it is likely less accurate than the Wiimote for aiming is a real disappointment.
Another disadvantage of Move™ is that unlike the Wii’s nunchuck, the Navigator doesn’t have accelerometers for motion control in it. This will require you to use two wands for boxing games for example, and no tossing grenades or melee attacks by whipping it around. On a positive note it is wireless, but that too adds a small handicap as it requires an extra Bluetooth® spot, of which the PS3 only has 7 available. That means no 4-player games using a wand and Navigator, no 4-player split-screen FPS games.
The advantage of Move™ is the motion capture capability, unlike the Wii™ it really can see where the controller is in 3D space. The Motion Fighter demo used the mo-cap tech exclusively, covering the camera brought the movement to a complete stop. But this Move Motion Capture tech demo shows just how capable the tech really is, following the exact movements precisely. While trying it for myself at E3, like Kinect™ I found the movement to be somewhat laggy, and if you moved fast enough you could seem to outrun it.
But the motion capture doesn’t help with aiming. That could change, but it’s unclear how it could be used for this purpose as it only tells the hardware where the controller is in 3D space.
Another interesting point about Move™; the color of the ping-pong ball is only used for the player to identify which is their controller or for changing colors for flair in games when making potions or casting spells, the color of the ball does not tell the hardware anything. We also know that the wand has a magnetometer in it which is used to keep it’s center position, which is another reason that it doesn’t need a sensor bar.
There’s still a lot to be learned about the capabilities of both Move™ and Kinect™, but the good news is that we won’t have to wait long as both peripherals are due for release in just a few months. Will the future of gaming change forever with the release of motion-controlled gaming on all three major consoles, or is it a passing fad that will fade obscurely into gaming history?
- Jeremy Kopchak