On Moving and Shaking

As I type, the Game Developer’s Conference is going on in San Francisco, California. Part of me wishes GDC would go back to being for and about game developers instead of the hybrid trade show it has become while E3 is trying to regain its former self. Now publishers are seeing another opportunity to build anticipation for upcoming products and keynote speeches are turning into sales pitches. Of course, despite my qualms there are a few noteworthy news items to come from this years gathering of gaming intellectuals. Most prominently, PlayStation Move. The much anticipated motion controller from Sony’s neck of the woods is real, it has a name that isn’t too awkward, and most importantly it shows tremendous potential. My general apathy in the direction of Nintendo has been documented and while I’m not about to jump on the bandwagon of the Move, I do see a lot of opportunity for this to be a successful venture for Sony and its affiliates.

Let’s get a Move on, shall we?

From the coverage I’ve read, Engadget has the best breakdown of the Move controllers by themselves and also compared to the DualShock 3 and (in my opinion) most importantly to Nintendo’s Wii-mote. At a glance, the Move will almost immediately identify as a Wii-mote clone but, according to Engadget’s Paul Miller, the similarities are short-lived with some additional analysis. “Where Move departs from the Wii is that while the Wii has detection of movement (with its built-in accelerometers), pointing (with the sensor bar), or even exact orientation (with that addition of MotionPlus), Move can track its controller precisely within real 3D space, instead of just relative movement based on a previous position….Of course, for augmented reality you need a camera, and lucky for Sony it has the PlayStation Eye already on the market. In fact, the Move system is partly based on what the Eye can detect of those cute colored balls at the end of each Move controller, which lets the PlayStation know how far away from the camera the controller is, and map, say, a tennis racket exactly to a user’s hand.” As a piece of technology, this has my interest and that’s the first step to becoming a consumer. Don’t worry, I’m a long way from pre-ordering, but I’m curious enough to want to pay attention as the winter approaches.

So the controller will have a learning curve, as does any new peripheral, but what about the games? Without a strong software lineup at launch and continued support in the next months and years, this will all be for nothing. Now that Media Molecule is a property of Sony, I expect their studio to handle the cute and cuddly software to entice the casual Wii Sports player. I have no doubt that Sony will populate store shelves with plenty of games targeted to consumers that don’t fit the standard profile of the current PlayStation 3 owner but Nintendo’s successes practically demand that a similar software approach be taken by Sony. The extent of Move’s launch software lineup is still to be determined, but it’s fairly certain that the so-called “casual market” will dominate the early run of Move capable software. But that’s the easy part, what about the rest of us?

One of the big complaints about the Wii is the lack of high definition visuals. Sure, it’s fun to bowl or throw a Frisbee but not at 480p. With PlayStation Move, we can expect similar, and maybe better gaming experiences compared to what the Wii offers and at a visual fidelity we have come to enjoy and expect from top-teir PlayStation software. Games like Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2 are prime examples of the graphical potential of the PlayStation 3, adding a more intense controlling mechanism can bring a wealth of potential to the capabilities to the PlayStation 3. If executed with the precision that game requires, imagine playing Heavy Rain with the Move. I’ve praised the how the controls and overall gaming experience can draw the player in using the DualShock controller, now the potential exists for games like Heavy Rain to add a new layer of immersion potentially redefining gaming for future generations. And I haven’t even bothered to mention the growing fad that is 3D. True virtual reality is slowly becoming more and more realistic instead of something from a science fiction novel. Believe.

Believe it or not, the success of the Wii also bodes well for the PlayStation Move. These past years of Nintendo dominance should assist in answering the questions likely put forth in Sony board room meetings. The type of software that has sold well on the Wii, while obviously being developed exclusively by Nintendo is accessible and appeals to all ages. There is no tough sell on the premise of the game or how the controls will work. Pick-up-and-play is an essential characteristic of the games that will need to be perfectly executed to convince non-believers that the Move works, and works well. Nintendo has clearly illustrated the types of games that consumers are trending to and hopefully Sony has been taking very detailed notes as their analysts broke down games like Wii Sports Plus. Given what we know about the Wii and PlayStation 3 audiences, Move has the potential to be recognized by core, current PS3 owners with more appealing software lineup while also attracting consumers with knowledge of the system but not the current interest in buying the console.

I consider this a supplement to the DualShock 3, not a replacement. Support and allegiance is not mandatory, but the option is there for developers who wish to implement Move in their games. Much like Halo: Reach being controlled with a traditional Xbox 360 controller, don’t expect to see Move in Uncharted 3. But for the games that would otherwise be passed over, taking advantage of the technology, opportunity and potentially expanded target audience might be the difference in a studio’s success or failure. Move is a risk, but this is the type of calculated risk Sony needs to take to make an impact in the industry as we move into the real “next generation” of gaming.

Yes, we have grown quite fond of using two analog sticks to control movement and camera in our games, but if the interface is intuitive and precise, the transition to the Move may not be as catastrophic as some message boards might suggest. It’s still a bit early to tell if the Move will be a success, but there is a great potential for the PlayStation Move to excel as a piece gaming technology and set a new standard for motion controlled video games.

Engadget’s impressions of the PlayStation Move can be found here. Joystiq’s impressions of the Move, and the software shown can be found here.

This post is featured on Talking About Games.

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