October 11, 2009

DuncanR2N's Weekend Thoughts Vol. IX: Motion Control

I've not posted my thoughts lately so I thought I'd write a bit about something that has been rolling around in my head of late. Nintendo burst onto the scene this year with their Wiimotes, and left Sony and Microsoft in the dust in from a hardware sales standpoint. So now, a couple years later, both Sony and MS are poised to release their versions of motion control (I guess the Sixaxis wasn't motion-y enough), with hopes, I'm sure, to steal some of those consumer dollars that keep finding their way into Nintendo's wallet.

Question is, do we really need it?

I understand why both Sony and Microsoft are doing this. The Wii has sold like hotcakes this gen, and yet, it's the weakest system available on the market, no HD support and graphics that probably could have been done on the GameCube. The only thing that it could do that MS and Sony couldn't was the motion control. So, both Sony and MS are planning on adding it. But what are they really going to do with it?

To date, Nintendo and the other third-party devs, haven't really effectively used the Wiimote on more than a handful of games. Most of the uses I have seen of the Wiimote are gimmicky at best. Look at the flagship release for Nintendo, Super Mario Galaxy. There isn't anything in that game that couldn't have been done with a standard controller. Waggling the remote a bit to make Mario spin is hardly the use of the motion control that one would have dreamed of.

Everyone has their own ideas on what's best from a motion control standpoint. We know what Nintendo's is, MS is going for a camera that can detect your every move and Sony is a bit of a hybrid of Nintendo's and Microsoft's approach.

When I first saw the E3 Natal demonstration, it really made me hope that the developers out there wouldn't be so stupid as to release games that are controller-less. When I play PGR, NFS, or even Mario Kart with a controller, I get feedback on the controller when I go off road or bump something or whatever. Now, enter Mario Kart Wii, and I'm holding a controller in mid-air that's not anchored to anything and it just doesn't feel right to me. Yes, I'm more realistically mimicking the action of driving, but it doesn't feel like I am. Now MS wants to take away my controller an make me mimic driving with nothing? No thanks. I just don't see the appeal. I watched that kid 'sparring' in mid air and all I could think of was my son trying a spin-kick that lands his foot in my TV. In fact, the only thing on that video that really appealed to me was using it to navigate the user interface (check the video starting at 2:16).

I'm more on board with the approach that Sony has chosen. It looks like the combination of the controller and the PlayStation Eye gives the best of both the Nintendo approach and the Microsoft approach. But still, it's a tech demo, and going from a tech demo to a full game is a whole different animal.

Maybe simply adding motion controls will do for MS and Sony what it did for Nintendo, and those systems (especially now with their lower price points) will appeal to the 'casual\family' gamer, which is what I think that Sony/MS is trying to target. But for this to work, both really need a solid set of motion control titles that will turn everyone's attention away from the Wii. Here's the funny thing, I don't think the Wii really has a solid set of motion control titles yet.

As I said earlier, we've had the Wii out for a while now and I've not seen anything that really says, "You couldn't do this game with a standard controller" or even "Wow, this game could be done with a standard controller but it wouldn't be as fun." Epic has already stated that they don't see their flagship series being impacted by motion control, so sorry, you won't be mantling your couch anytime soon.

And that's the real test here. I keep hearing that Motion Control is the new multiplayer but I'm still waiting for someone to show me the game that has been released or is going to be released that leverages motion control, that couldn't be done with a standard controller, or at least leverages the motion control so well, that I would never want to go back the old way. But so far, all I'm seeing is not the new MP, but the new Nintendo Power Glove. Neat tech, but is anyone going to actually do anything worthwhile with it?

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