June TVGB Q&A / Loco for motion

There were definitely some shockers at this year’s E3 that got gamers talking: Paul and Ringo vamping about The Beatles: Rock Band on Microsoft’s stage, Sony’s decision to price the PSP Go at $249 US dollars, and Nintendo’s surprise collaboration with Team Ninja on Metroid: Other M, to name a few. But no topic fired our collective imaginations more than the industry-wide focus on motion control, spurred by Microsoft’s Project Natal, Sony’s unnamed wands, and Nintendo’s Wii MotionPlus. And it’s with motion control in mind, that we come to this month’s question:

Which of the big three’s motion solutions do you find most compelling, and what would be your ideal game experience using it?

Chris Barraclough: Assuming that all of their promises can actually be delivered, Microsoft’s Project Natal is definitely the most advanced of the three technologies shown off at E3. The combination of motion sensor and facial and voice recognition is a big step on from the likes of the PlayStation Eye. However, I do fear for the health and safety of Xbox owners. I mean, it’s bad enough just waving a wiimote around in my tiny lounge. With Natal, we’ll be kicking the cat out the window and thumping our mates for real during games of Tekken. How many relationships are going to be broken up by flying elbows? How many Christmases ruined when grandma accidentally receives a dragon punch to the thorax?

More from Chris and other TVGB wordsmiths after the break..

My guess is that Natal will only be used in a handful of “novelty” games when it finally comes out, or as an additional means of control alongside the traditional controller. The problem is, I’m not sure if hardcore Xbox owners really want these kinds of games, and I doubt casual gamers will be won over considering most of them already own a Wii.

My ideal game experience would probably be something like Super Mad Breakdance Boogie. Or a porn simulator. Either way, I’d get to show off my intense pelvic thrusting.

Kristen Spencer: Microsoft’s Project Natal definitely presented the most inventive, innovative motion capture technology seen to date, with its controller-less combination of facial and voice recognition, body tracking and object scanner.

Sony’s motion controller might be promising in terms of precision, but it’s still just another controller, not a new way of controlling. Plus the thing they showed off at E3 looks like a homemade dildo — seriously, did they just glue an LED-enhanced ping pong ball onto a stick? Project Natal is exciting because it could represent a new way to interface with games, to immerse yourself in them without the need for a controller — that is, if the finished product can even come close to their ambitious promo video.

Even after the hardware gets perfected, there’s still the software to worry about. I agree with Chris that we’ll be seeing some seriously gimmicky titles at launch, perhaps that awkward family-centric racing game featured in the promo? That’s the problem, even with the casual-catering of Nintendo’s Wii — developers aren’t taking enough risks with the technology, using it in gimmicky ways that too often don’t feel natural or needed. Molyneux’s “Milo” was the only thing that truly got me excited because it shows what designers and developers can do with this new technology beyond basic motion controls. The real thing probably won’t be as realistic and seamless, as we all know Molyneux’s gift for making completely crazy promises, but I can’t wait to go from chatting with a British school boy to directing team mates as we fight back the alien hordes or exploring the post-apocalyptic wastes with a mysteriously motivated partner, reacting not just to my commands but the tone in which they are delivered. That’s even more exciting than the motion sensing, as flailing around like an idiot isn’t my favorite activity, though it does make the top ten.

Nick Coffman: Sony, I don’t blame you. Microsoft showed up, guns blazin’, and you felt it necessary to show off one of your proof-of-concept ideas you had laying around. If that’s a product for retail launch, then I am Latoya Jackson. Let’s move on.

Project Natal is the second camera to be announced for the Xbox 360. The first also sensed motion and was supported by about six games. Chris brings up a good point though, taking into account that only 10 games will actually use Natal as their primary input device before everyone moves on. What game do you want? The ideal game would be one that could only be done or is done best with Natal. I got it. Domestic dispute and hostage negotiation sims. Tone and body language would be important as the woman at the door tries to explain how she must have called 911 on accident or that she fell down the stairs. Project Natal could be a valuable tool in law enforcement training, if the whole videogame thing falls through. Project Natal is challenging us to be actors, not gamers, and the software being developed for it has to reflect that. We shouldn’t settle for facsimiles of actions, like walking in place to move about the map when a compelling and mature gameplay experience could exist standing still.

MotionPlus hasn’t been brought up that much yet, so let’s just get it out of the way. It is not an add-on — it’s a hardware fix. Last time I checked (November 19th, 2006), what MotionPlus offers is what the wiimote was already promised to do. If it works, thank goodness. If not, now I don’t have to pay nearly $90 on a single fully functional controller. Maybe you think that this is harsh, calling Nintendo out for not delivering on its launch promises. Everyone’s gotta have some hype and the Wii had an uphill battle just to gain credibility back then. Why don’t I own a Wii? I’m waiting for the red one.

Jamie Feltham: It’s obvious now that motion is the “in” thing. You can’t avoid it no matter what console. For me, Microsoft wins this almost by default. Wii MotionPlus is something that should have been in the console back at launch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy the Wii is evolving, and it’s great to see the device bundled into so many Wii games at launch, but can you really give Nintendo credit for something that was meant to be there at the start? Besides, we also all know a big problem with the Wii, what games are we going to play it with? Nintendo’s got two games with great potential for the device coming up in 2010 with Metroid: Other M and Super Mario Galaxy 2, but what about here and now? Can Red Steel 2 tide us over? Will it even affect games like Dead Space?

Sony seemed to 1up them in terms of tech by adding the PlayStation Eye into the mix. What you got was an experience that added that one extra level, but wasn’t very well presented. Perhaps the most interesting part of the presentation was when the speaker mentioned “gamer games.” At that point I thought to myself, would I want a gamer game like this? Ducking around my room and picking off bad guys? Aren’t I happy enough with my controller?

Then Natal came along. Again, its not something that appeals to me completely, but it was still the best presented and best looking of the three. Microsoft have a truly interesting potential, literally in their hands at this point. As for my ideal gaming experience with Natal? Well, I would love to kick the living crap out of my brother via a fighting game. But I’m sure there are laws against that…

Vidal Stewart: With the assumption that the motion control solutions of both Microsoft and Sony will work as they were demonstrated on stage, it’s clear that Project Natal is capable of swaying consumers to the Xbox 360. The appeal in it is the idea that your body is the controller and nothing else. It’s not the concept that makes it appealing but instead the lack of needed peripherals. The one interesting thing that could convince buyers to pick up Natal is the notion that your body is the only thing required. The amount of peripherals recommended for the Nintendo Wii is growing and it’s possible that in time, consumers will grow weary of having to buy so much plastic. If that is the case in the future, then Microsoft can definitely capitalize on that and market the Natal as a one-for-all peripheral. And according to analyst Michael Pachter, consumers don’t have that much to worry about as he predicts it’s not as expensive as everyone thinks it will be — then again we’ve already seen him regret some of the things he said on things such as the PSP Go.

One genre that could really benefit from Natal is the flight sim genre and let me tell you, the flight sim genre needs to be revived back into the public spotlight. While there still are many flight sim games out there, H.A.W.X. was the only flight game released this year that received serious public attention and that’s more of a flight combat videogame than a sim — though even H.A.W.X. could get some love from Natal. No more having to buy flight sticks in order to enjoy a select amount of flight games. Theoretically speaking, the player could sit there, grip his or her hand as if they were holding a flight stick, and Natal would recognize whether to pitch or roll. Using the other hand, the player could control the throttle. What was cool about a videogame like H.A.W.X. though was its voice recognition system and the fact that you could issue orders to your plane — and with Natal’s voice recognition, the experience could be even better.