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Motion Control: can the PS3 avoid becoming a dumping ground for dreadful party games?

Submitted by on Monday, 25 January 20103 Comments

Earlier we announced that Sony Computer Entertainment had dated their new Motion Controller (a provisional title) for release this autumn. With its release in sight, we contemplate whether the PS3 with motion sensing is a match made in gaming heaven or whether we should expect to be overrun by a deluge of lobotomy-inducing novelty games – as has arguably been the case with the Wii.

It is entirely down to the incredible success of the Nintendo Wii that motion sensing has become a major staple of gaming. It’s easy to forget that the Wii was a significant gamble for Nintendo; unwilling to go head-to-head with Sony and Microsoft in a battle of processing power, they instead banked on a console which promoted more physical interactivity, challenging the common logic that a joypad is the only effective way of playing a console game.

The 56.14m consoles that Nintendo has sold worldwide is emphatic proof that there is a market for interactive games. That Sony would release the Motion Controller is not a surprise; it has always been a matter of when.

This isn’t Sony’s first foray into motion sensing: the technology first appeared in the SixAxis wireless controller. The SixAxis proved controversial as motion sensing meant the loss of the popular rumble feature. Making matters worse, few developers found a means to utilise its motion sensing capabilities.

Factor 5 did fully embrace motion sensing in Lair, only to show how disagreeable it is to fly a dragon by tilting a controller. Grand Theft Auto IV likewise allowed you to awkwardly navigate a helicopter and other vehicles, while Killzone 2 had you activating explosives by tilting your controller (like a steering wheel) left then right – this actually worked perfectly well, but it felt very much like the gimmick it was.

Possibly the greatest joy gained through the SixAxis was the ability to bob your Sackboy’s head in LittleBigPlanet. As good as that was, it has hardly leaving a memorable legacy for the controller. Disappointment over the SixAxis died down with the return of the rumble pack in its successor the DualShock 3; it’s often easy to forget that the DualShock has motion sensing functionality because of how little it’s used.

The Motion Controller is a different proposition altogether; as a piece of kit it’s very impressive. It is equipped with two motion sensors – a three axes gyroscope and three axes accelerometer – which are there to detect its angle and movement when held in the user’s hand. The controller’s position is registered on the PlayStation Eye offering true 1:1 tracking.

I will smite thee with my mighty smiter.

If all this jargon means little to you then check out the video above to see Sony’s Motion Controller in action at E3 2009. In an unusually straightforward demonstration by Sony’s standards, we can see for ourselves how functional and highly responsive the Motion Controller is. The demonstration also gives us a glimpse at the variety of ways which developers could implement the controller into their games. Its effective use of swords, shields and archery make it an ideal fit for an adventure game in the style of Zelda, and the precise 3D pointing makes it a practical controller for first person shooters.

With Microsoft releasing Natal at roughly the same time, it is no surprise that debates are being made everywhere over the impact this will have on the console war. The general gist of the debates tend to suggest you must be exclusive to one console. What is exciting about the motion sensing technology being released by Sony and Microsoft is how different they are from one another.

The Motion Controller offers a level of functionality which can be easily implemented into games – it works on a more physical level. Natal’s uses are less obvious; it’s a completely hands-off experience which has the potential to have games adapt to the mood of the gamer by reacting to their mannerisms and gestures.

Variety is good for gamers; many Xbox 360 owners who have previously been reluctant to buy a PS3 may rethink their decisions after seeing the Motion Controller become another unique selling point for the console alongside subscription-free online gaming, Blu-ray, 3D technology and exclusive titles such as Uncharted.

If the Motion Controller is to be a success it needs to have the backing of the major studios. Sony will no doubt be vigorously pushing their in-house developers and partners to utilise the controller in their games. It’s entirely likely that the more experimental developers such as Studio Japan (LocoRoco, Patapon) and Q-Games (the PixelJunk series) will be keen to see how far they can take the technology.

At Sony’s Tokyo Game Show presentation, Media Molecule showed their backing for the controller by adding new cooperative aspects to LittleBigPlanet, as one player moves through the level with their DualShock a second person can use the Motion Controller’s 3D pointer to manipulate the objects on the screen. Also at the show, Capcom showed support for the controller by revealing the news that Resident Evil 5: Directors Cut will be looking to take full advantage of it.

Early signs suggest that developers are confident that the Motion Controller will be a welcome addition to the PS3, but can the public be as easily swayed? It is extremely difficult to introduce a new controller midway through a console’s life-cycle. Gamers will have to decide whether it’s wise to invest their hard earned money on a new controller when they know perfectly well that it’s not a necessity for the many AAA games out now. With the Wii it was simple as gamers knew they were investing into a console committed to making only games using motion sensing.

The cost is likely to be a major hurdle for the Motion Controller to overcome; while the price of the actual controller has yet to be confirmed, we already know that the PlayStation Eye is needed and that’s currently retailing at around £24.99. If gamers are being expected to invest over £50 to have the Motion Controller and the PlayStation Eye then many will likely hold fire to see what sort of games they’ll be missing out on.

What could tip the balance is if an influential figure such as Hideo Kojima showed support for the controller; a new Metal Gear Solid fully utilising motion sensing technology would entice many gamers. Should sales of the Motion Controller start slow, then many developers will think twice about investing big money developing games for it.

Here is the catch-22 – gamers will not buy the controller if there are no major games being produced for it, and developers won’t make big budget games unless there is a market to sell to. The Motion Controller’s success all depends on it having a positive launch with the pricing being just right and the software living up to expectations.

Should things go awry, then the only games using motion sensing coming to the PS3 will be the likes of Game Party and Neighbourhood Games on the Wii. These low budget titles are in the low risk category for developers, and they are almost always guaranteed shelf space in the supermarket. Let’s hope for our sake that things go well for the little wand.