Digital Foundry vs. PlayStation Move • Page 3

Post Natal.

Of course, SOCOM 4 was also the only game present to use the so-called Move Sub-Controller, which is the PS3 equivalent to the Wii's nunchuk (though we don't know if it contains any accelerometers as the Nintendo peripheral does).

The fact that its design is so similar - albeit furnished with many more buttons - is just one of the factors that led many people I spoke to at the press event to conclude that the Move is almost like a Sony rendition of a potential Wii HD. But the team were keen to point out that the camera/sensor combo has far more implications on gameplay than many people realise.

"When you go out of camera view, the inertial sensors can be used to keep track of the controller. Wii MotionPlus has similar sensors and it loses tracking after a while," observes Anton Mikhailov.

"When you're going off screen and coming back, the sensors are good enough. The accelerometers and gyroscopes can give you positional data for a time. The problem is that they drift over time. Over short periods of time, they're great. That's why a lot of Wii games use gestures. But for long periods of time we use the camera to correct the data."

What this does mean, however, is that all Move games require calibration, a system that isn't required on the more pick-up-and-play Wii. According to the Sony team, you simply stand (or sit) in front of the camera, press a button once and that's it. But last night, calibration proved to be far more intrusive.

As I stood in line to get a go on Motion Fighter, the girl playing was having a torrid time getting her gestures recognised. Calibration was blamed and the system was reset. Playing Move Party, a ceiling spotlight appeared to be causing some recognition issues during one gameplay session, again necessitating a recalibration.

This was all pre-alpha software in hardly the best of lighting conditions, and for the most part Move performed well. However, Sports Champions required a two-point calibration each and every time an event was chosen. It felt overly intrusive and I was keen to tackle the team on this issue.

"There are different kinds of calibration," Anton Mikhailov responds. "There's system-level calibration. That's what defines the user environment and checks the lighting. It does general sphere calibration and image calibration etc. The thing you were seeing for sports games is actually calibrating to your body size.

"That's game-specific. If you have long arms, we really want to make sure the body looks correct. For that game in particular, they're trying to do a very accurate sports simulation, so when you're serving or swinging, everything works right."

I have to say that the tech demos the Sony team offered up were clearly far more indicative of the potential of the Move device. Some of the games I'd played the night before had showcased the precision of the controller, but they seemed bereft of the concepts that would really show the wand in its best light.

Sports Champions' table tennis was pretty good, but it felt artificially slow compared to the real thing and despite the claims made by the tech team, it did appear to have some controller latency, as did all the games (the non one-to-one Motion Fighter being the worst in my view). I did get some 720p60 cam video which should allow me to get some idea of controller latency once I'm back in the Digital Foundry lair post-GDC. More on that another time.

But right now, it's not the tech that concerns me, it's the quality of some of the games. The Shoot was typical lightgun fare and aside from a bizarre game mode activated by spinning around on the spot (!), it wasn't particularly noteworthy. Indeed, the ancient Virtua Cop seemed to have more innovative gameplay, particularly in terms of score attack mechanics.

And quite why Brunswick Pro Bowling was at the event at all still leaves me somewhat puzzled. It's a game where you have to mimic the animation of the character on-screen, as opposed to your avatar following your motions. More than that, it's basically a conversion of an existing Wii game - what kind of message does that send out to gamers and press exactly?

Far more engaging and original was Studio Cambridge's TV Superstar, a celeb-based (bear with me) series of mini-games designed to showcase all of Move's various features. There's some nice camera work: take a pic and then build a personalised avatar/celeb for the game. Mini-game fun then ensues.

And fun it truly is - my personal favourite was a game that was basically Pain meets Hole in the Wall. Use Move to choose a target, hold the trigger button and pull yourself back on an enormous catapult, release, and off you fly. The target changes into the shape you need to position your avatar into for impact. Simple, fun, and making good use of the Move wand: surprisingly enjoyable stuff.

The game Sony chose to showcase at the developer event - Move Party - is clearly the cream of the crop. It uses the augmented reality concept extremely well, it makes the most of the one-to-one motion control, it's got universal appeal and it deserves to be the key candidate for inclusion in the $100 Move/PSEye/game combo box that Sony is planning as the main Move SKU at launch.

At the Move launch event I loved the initial, flashy presentation, and enjoyed the implementation of the motion controller in LittleBigPlanet and was a touch dismayed that Sony didn't choose to showcase it as a playable game. But while SOCOM proved it could "do" core games while Move Party and TV Superstar showed plenty of promise, I was disappointed by the lack of creativity in much of the other software.

While PlayStation 3 clearly has the superior hardware, matching or indeed surpassing Nintendo's genius in game design is going to be the key challenge, just as it will be for the Xbox 360 developers currently beavering away on their Project Natal launch titles.

But the right people at Sony are clearly having some great ideas, which hopefully we'll see translated into stronger games than many of those seen so far.

"We're excited about genres that have been typically detached from console, like RTS," says Anton Mikhailov. "All those genres require precise pointer control. This is something we have now on the PS3. Actually I hooked up this device through some hackery to a PC to play a bunch of games. I actually played Starcraft... I could actually play, not just screw around but play.

"It's a testament to how robust this interface is for even the more hardcore game. It's so intuitive that some developers have hooked this up to Maya for modelling, and they actually prefer it over a mouse. You can have camera control in one hand and object control with another hand. You can do some really neat interface stuff."

It's comments like these that give me faith that PlayStation Move is going to be a success. In theory, Sony's motion controller can easily exceed the capabilities of the Wii MotionPlus and also mimic some of the headline functionality of Project Natal. It acknowledges the importance of the human body as a control interface, but is based on the basic common-sense principle that our hands and fingers are a crucial component in communicating with the game.

The thinking is there, the hardware is there. Now it's just a case of getting the games right.

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