Digital Foundry vs. PlayStation Move • Page 2

Post Natal.

The next part of the demonstration is exceptionally cool. A puppet is created on-screen that is accurately mimicking Mikhailov's movements. By using a combination of inputs from the Move controllers, combined with head-tracking and what must be some level of interpolation, the demo is entering Project Natal territory. Move is seemingly tracking the entire upper body. Um, wow.

"If you want to do the full body tracking like Natal, you can still do this with the camera," Mikhailov says. "It's all very low latency, one-to-one tracking. We had a fighting game on show based on gesture moves [Motion Fighters]. A lot of people don't want to use gesture moves. You don't have to. It's just a game design choice."

Mikhailov's views on full body motion processing as seen in Natal are intriguing and are difficult to argue with. While Microsoft's controller can scan the entire body well, the bottom line is that a hell of a lot of crucial control information comes from our fingers. Factoring them out is a big gamble to take on something as important as a controller.

"Buttons are important. No system right now can track hands reliably," Mikhailov says in pointed reference to Project Natal. "There's just not the resolution in the cameras, there's not the processing in the current chips. Really, it's many years out before you can do awesome full body-tracking.

"You can do something pretty rough with 3D cameras but you just can't do something with this level of precision. If you want a deeper gameplay experience, you're going to need to have this kind of low-level precision. The biggest thing we learned from EyeToy... if you don't have buttons you can do lots of games but they lack depth."

Over and above the comparisons with the competition, I really want some hard and fast technical information and sensing the appetite for the specs, Mikhailov is only too keen to tell us the good stuff.

"The tracking precision is in the order of millimetres. The tracking distance is about 10 feet from the camera; we have a very wide range," he shares. "The camera's field of view is 75 degrees so you can easily fit one player comfortably and two players as well.

"The precision on the tracking is about a millimetre, a sub-millimetre in many cases... in general it's a very precise device. That means as a developer you don't have to do any smoothing or data mangling. Just put it in your game - it's very good for retrofitting into existing titles."

The Move R&D team often talk about "augmented reality", which is essentially the idea of having a video feed on-screen and adding game elements overlaid onto the captured video. In the case of the best game I saw running yesterday, Move Party, various implements are grafted onto your hand depending on the mini-game you're currently playing. As your attention is on the screen, not your hand, the Move controller essentially transforms into whatever the game developer wants.

It's a really neat trick. If you've seen EyePet you have some idea of how in-game graphics can be transposed into the "real life" world, but with Move this takes on an extra dimension as you're holding the items directly and have a one-to-one relationship with them on-screen.

"You really have to feel it to feel why it's different," says Mikhailov. "A lot people think tracking is tracking. It's more precise. So what? It's the same. When you feel how one-to-one and connected it is to your hand, it's a very different experience. It actually feels like you're in the game as opposed to controlling an avatar in the game."

The use of the camera also has some very cool gaming implications for games that support Move, and for others that don't, such as the forthcoming Gran Turismo 5. Kirk Bender of SCEA explains how the head-tracking and facial recognition works, and what it can do.

"PlayStation Eye can identify individuals based on their facial characteristics. It does this by recognising characteristics like face contours, the position of the eyes, nose, mouth and eyebrows in real-time," he reveals. "It can determine the degree of smiling, the gender, the age. It doesn't give a numeric age - fortunately! It can tell if you're a child or an adult. It can detect whether your eyes are open or closed.

"We have a head-tracking library - we can detect the position of the head even if your back is turned. With the head-tracking you can do viewpoint transformation. If you're playing a driving game or a flying game you can change the view based on which way the head is pointing. If you're playing a stealth game you can look around the corner."

Part of the frustration with the games played at the launch event was the fact that little of this groundbreaking tech was being used at all. Motion Fighter was - for me - a real missed opportunity. Its gesture-based control system felt laggy and Wii-like. Quite why that style of gameplay was chosen when Move is capable of full body motion-tracking left me both dismayed and bewildered.

"The data coming out of this thing is very good so as a developer you don't have to worry about doing much processing on top of it," says Anton Mikhailov. "The libraries we provide are all on SPU so the memory and processor usage is very low. We track up to four controllers in under a frame time on one SPU. The memory requirements are under two megabytes. We've worked this into current titles without any real issue."

Which brings us on quite nicely to the SOCOM 4 demo I played at the Sony press event. It's very similar to the control schemes seen in the likes of Metroid, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and The Conduit on Wii.

"I've spoken to the SOCOM team and they've had troubles because the motion control people sometimes really kick the ass of the DualShock people. It's unfair," he says. "They're having balancing issues and stuff. Some people are really good with the motion controller and some people are really good with the DualShock. Some players work better on some devices and that's cool."

I put this exact point to the attendant Zipper staff member looking after SOCOM 4 players at the press event. I was told that the developer really doesn't want to segregate PS3 gamers by controller, but that they may put interface limitations in as an option on private multiplayer games. They aim to "fine tune" and "balance" the game for release, but I remain unconvinced about how well this will work. The bottom line is that pointing and shooting with the Move must surely be faster than turning and shooting with the standard controller.

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