Jumping Into Motion Controls

Everyone (read Sony and Microsoft) is jumping onto the motion control bandwagon.  Nintendo really started something when they released the Wii back in November of 2006.  They created a niche market where there was really no competition for the same type of gaming experience.  The Wii controlls allowed them to offer a different variety of games that fit the Wii motion controls.  With sports and fitness games leading the pack, Nintendo had a plan and they have executed it beautifully.  According to Wikipedia, “As of June 2010, the Wii leads the generation over the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in worldwide sales, and in December 2009 broke the record for best-selling console in a single month in the United States.”

Now come the followers.  It makes good business sense to get in on this action but jumping in four years behind is going to be a test of which companies and developers have been paying close attention to the rise of the Wii.  Let’s take the comers one at a time and examine their stratagy.

Sony Move for the PlayStation 3

Sony is the closest adaptation to the Wii style controls.  One motion controller connected to a nun-chuck, position tracking; a different method (Wii controllers have the camera inside each controller)  but basically the same tactile responses are measured.  This, I feel, puts Sony in a great position.  There are four years of games out there for the Wii to prove what works and what fails with this style of controls.  Plus, there is the added benefit that many of those titles could (read will) be ported over or rebuilt for the PS3.  The hardcore gamers scoff.  “I wouldn’t want to play that junk.”  Alas, many people DO play that junk and many will play those same Wii style games on the PS3 in the next couple of years.  If Sony does this right, they will get an entire ly new group of users on their consoles and developers that previously developed titles for the Wii will be able to branch out into a larger market by releasing multi-platform motion control games.

Microsoft Kinect
(The device previously known as Natal)

Microsoft must have known that Sony would develop a controller very similar to Nintendo’s.  Not wanting to slice the hand-held motion control pie into three pieces, they went off into another direction.  Full motion sensing, voice recognition, facial recognition, a controller-less operation of the Xbox 360.  On the surface it just looks like both Sony and Microsoft are trying to catch up with Nintendo, but I think what Microsoft has done is different.  So different that not all of Microsoft’s cards have been played yet.

The technology is vastly different from motion control and very few Wii games would port easily over to Kinect.  This type of control has never been done before.  Never tested in the market and no epic failure of games to pave the way to how this technology should be used – or more to the point – how gamers will want to use it.

The Death of Motion Controls

One thing can topple the castle of cards on which the Sony and Microsoft motion controls are so fragilely perched.  Trying to implement them in everything.  It would only take one release of Halo or Gods of War with motion controls for everyone to realize they do not want to run in place, pretending to wield a weapon in front of their TV for a marathon all-nighter.  About 30 minutes in, the old game pad is going to look like VERY sexy technology.  This type of “do-all” utilization will be short lived as games are desecrated in reviews by hard-core gamers.  It’s a mistake that must be made for game makers to appear to be “cutting edge”.  I hope that those who give in to the temptation of adding support for these controls with not make them required, allowing us to play with or without the motion controls, using a standard controller when we want.

Microsoft is offering new gaming experiences that have yet to be tested on the open market, but my guess is that Mod-Nation Racers (standard controller) will stomp Joy-Ride (Kinect) in sales simply because of the controls.  A game pad is a STANDARD INTERFACE common to all the games we play where motion controls are different for every game.  The Microsoft Kinect titles are simply proof of concept games – trying to show off what the little black box can do and test the waters of several genres and age groups.  Do I really want to get up and walk around in front of my TV to look at the cars in Forza?  Hell no.  But here is the hidden card; the one that Microsoft has not played yet, and when they do, and they will, Sony and Nintendo will neither be able to pull this off.

The Sucker Punch

The technology I am referring to is not new or space-age.  It’s been around for years but with the need of much more headgear than just a funny looking set of 3d glasses.  What if I told you Microsoft is setting themselves up to simulate 3D on ANY television your Xbox is connected to – with no glasses or headgear whatsoever.  Would you believe it?  The secret is in head-tracking.  Kinect will be able to implement head-tracking in any single player experience with no sensors on the player.  The caveat is that it will only work for the person playing the game.

What is head-tracking and why should I care?

Watch this 2008 video by the brilliant Johnny Chung Lee who later presented this technology at the annual TED conference. The same Johnny Chung Lee who was later hired by Microsoft to be part of the Project Natal (Kinect) development team.  This is most certainly what Xbox gaming has in store for us in the future with Kinect.

So what does this all boil down to?

After everyone is tired of bowling in their living room with Wii and Move, Kinect will be adding depth and value to games when gaming returns to the couch, where it belongs.  EA has been onto this tech for a couple of years now and even considered putting a head tracking easter egg in Boom Blox.  Being a gamer and a sofa sports enthusiast,  I don’t really have a need for Move (I already have a Wii) but I am keeping my eye on Kinect.  I’m sure we have only seen the begining of what it will be able to add to the gaming experience.

Are you planning to purchase Kinect or Move?  If so, which one and why?  What put you over the edge or turned you off to these new motion controls?  Please leave your comments below.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Brian Heitzenrater

    Nice article. My wife and I are very interested in Kinect. Mainly for our 2 children (ages 2 and 4) but we want to play around with it too. I do agree with you about making it required to play a game like Halo or GoW. After standing on my feet for 8 hours at work, standing on my feet for a couple of hours at night while a play an epic game is not my idea of fun. I really do hope that devs either don’t use it at all or give you the option to choose how you control with most of the “standard” games.

    • Chris Forbis (mensadad)

      My 3 year old went nuts when he saw Kinectimals. He wants a pet tiger on the Xbox.

  • Great article Chris. I agree to a certain extent about implementing Kinect into ‘hardcore’ games can be good. For example something along the lines of using a controller for normal gameplay but then use Kinect to add an extra level to the game with head tracking, voice control etc. It wouldn’t all have to be jumping around like an idiot lol

  • Need to fix this part of my comment so it makes sense: “implementing Kinect into ‘hardcore’ games. It can be good, if done right.”

  • DDSmitty

    While I have very little interest in Kinect at this time, the second they implement head tracking, I’ll be all over it.

  • Hey Chris,

    I’ve been trying to convinve the 3 major game companies that bringing actual hand motion into games would be as radical a change as whenthe Wii was first introduced. They talk about innovation but then just copy each other with is kind of pathetic…

    Anyway, of the three, which company do you believe could best utilize a realtime hand motion controller? Would love to get your opinion.

    • Chris Forbis (mensadad)

      MG Howard,

      As far as “realtime hand motion controller”, I think Sony is in the lead. In listening to the folks that have used it hands-on, the Sony solution is feeling really solid. So for Wii style games – I think Sony is going to be the winner here. For head tracking, Microsoft is going to nail this one. Sony could do head tracking also but it would require wearing something on your head with IR lights for it to track you.

      Long term, Kinect will be a game changer. The tech just allows so many things to be done on the software side. For example – imagine standing in front of you TV and having Kinect scan your likeness into a game. Yea – running around shooting zombies in multi-player as yourself would rock. Add in some of the voice recognition and head tracking – all combined with using a standard game pad – this setup has so much potential that it’s difficult to imagine all the ways it could be utilized.

  • Pingback: Platform Nation’s Lock and Load – Episode 23 | Platform Nation()

  • Pingback: MensaDad » Blog Archive » Jumping Into Motion Controls()

  • Hard to believe the Wii was released in 2006 — and even tougher to believe we did not see more motion-control competition outside of cheap knock-offs in the clearance aisles of your local drugstore.