Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Loco Motion: Move vs. Kinect

This article was originally published in Tek Lado Magazine

This fall, Sony and Microsoft are placing a huge bet on motion control. Following the success of the Nintendo Wii, the two gaming Goliaths are set to debut their answer to the Wii Sports craze. Sony’s Playstation Move, which uses a combination of controllers and the Playstation Eye camera, along with Microsoft’s controller-free Kinect system are offering unique experiences as each company tries to up the motion ante. But will this gamble pay off or will gamers be unwilling to invest in a new motion control experience?

When it was first announced at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Sony’s Playstation Move didn’t exactly set the world on fire. A series of tech demos showed what the Move was capable of but the reception among many gamers was lukewarm. The product didn’t have a name, a release date or even an actual game to demonstrate its full potential.

What a difference a year makes. Sony has been busy developing the controller, along with several games, and pushed the Move front and center at this year’s E3.

Playstation Move works together with a few pieces of tech. The Move itself, a wandlike controller, isn’t a far cry from a Nintendo Wii Remote. It’s fitted with a lighted bulb at the end which can be tracked by the Playstation Eye camera. This tracking occurs in true one-to-one fashion. Swing your arm in real life and the motion is mirrored by the game in real time. Sensors inside the Move including accelerometers, a magnetometer, and a few more for good measure, increase the precision. (Think the Nintendo Wii on steroids and in high-definition.) But when it comes to the games, Sony is going after the mainstream Wii crowd and beyond.

The games for Move’s big debut are a blend of casual cash-ins, party games and efforts to appease the hardcore. Sony announced their answer to Wii Sports, a collection of events including archery, gladiator dueling, volleyball and more called Sports Champions. Sony thinks the improved visuals and added precision will make this a no-brainer impulse buy. But the real ace up its sleeve is Sony’s push for augmented reality.

Since the Playstation Eye camera is already pointed at the player, it can easily project gamers onto the screen, surrounding them with objects from the game. Upcoming titles such as EyePet and Start the Partymake good use of this. EyePet is like the Tamagotchi for the new generation. Gamers can feed it, groom it, and play with it as the cuddly little guy bounces around the living room. Start the Party is a collection of mini-games which project players on-screen and incorporates them into the action. Augmented reality is an exciting twist for Playstation Move that Sony should continue to explore.

Playstation Move launched in North America on September 17th. Players can purchase the Move system piece by piece or bundled in a number of packages. Playstation Eye owners can add a Move controller for $49.99 while the Navigation controller, Sony’s answer to the Wii Nunchuck, will run you another $29.99. A Sports Champions Bundle is also in the works which will include a Move, Playstation Eye and a copy of the game for $99.99. But some games require two Move controllers creating a larger gap in what could become a fragmented environment. The pricing and inconsistency of using two wand controllers is the system’s Achilles’ heel and Sony needs to fix the situation.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been busy wiping the slate clean with Kinect. Kinect uses a series of cameras to track a player’s movements. No controller required. Three cameras coordinate incoming data and relay motions in real time. Players move their bodies and their on-screen versions mirror the real-world gestures. At last year’s E3, Microsoft stole the show after debuting Kinect, then known as Project Natal. A year later, new details have finally emerged as Microsoft announced a release date of November 4, 2010, and developers touted their upcoming games. Like Sony, Microsoft is planting a flag in Nintendo’s backyard, targeting many of the upcoming Kinect titles at the Wii’s audience.

Games like Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports are a good introduction to the system. In Kinect Adventures players compete in several mini-games including a rafting ride down a raging river. Jump, lean, and stretch your arms to avoid obstacles, collect points, and pose for the camera. If it sounds tiring, it is. Kinect encourages players to get up and get moving. Kinect Sports is your typical mix of bowling, soccer, and other games. Kick, roll and throw the ball in the game world while you mime the actions in the living room.

From Harmonix, the makers of Rock Band, comes Dance Central. A game which finally gives players without a scrap of rhythm a chance to hit the dance floor. On-screen prompts show the next move as you mirror the action. The better you dance, the better it gets. In Ubisoft‘s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved players are projected into the game as they interact with virtual environments, burning calories along the way. But Kinect isn’t all dance parties and yoga classes. Described as a spiritual successor to Rez, Ubisoft’s Child of Eden is an electronic rhythm-based rail shooter. Beautiful visuals, an intense soundtrack and intelligent use of Kinect’s motion controls might make this the sleeper hit of the system.

Kinect also brings video chatting and voice recognition to the Xbox 360. Navigate the Dashboard with your hands (think Minority Report) and select a movie to watch. Pause the film by saying “Xbox pause” without the need to pry the remote from the couch cushions. The implications of combining voice recognition with Kinect’s motion-tracking could be huge for developers.

Microsoft has announced several ways to get in on the frenetic fervor. This holiday season, the Kinect sensor will come with a copy of Kinect Adventures for $149.99. In addition, they’re going to offer a console bundle with the newly refreshed 4GB model of the Xbox 360 for $299.99.

With Move and Kinect launching this fall, the two companies are using the opportunity to breathe new life into their consoles. Bucking the trend of a typical console cycle, both systems are getting a new start with peripherals rather than a complete hardware refresh. Whether or not the gamble will pay off is unclear but gamers looking to experience a new take on motion controls should double-down on Move and Kinect.


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