It just makes sense. Like Phil Harrison loading a special boss card into Sony's wacky card-battle EyeToy game and it turning into a fire-breathing duck, manoeuvring your WarHawk by tilting the pad is natural. With Sony's new PS3 pad, featuring tilt motion sensors, playing a flight action game like WarHawk is as instinctive as reaching out to prevent a fall.
Speaking of falls, the consensus, walking out after today's PS3 controller revelations, was that it'd be interesting to be a fly on the wall of a Nintendo hotel room tonight. In throwing down (well, lifting up) on the stage, Worldwide Studios boss Phil Harrison remarked that the controller, which can sense its orientation and, in some demos, seemingly map spatial movement to the screen, doesn't need external sensors to pick up what it's doing - a clear reference to Nintendo's Wii controller. Then again, the consensus was also that the main reason it doesn't is that it doesn't do the same thing. It's not gesture systems in the same way. Nintendo's response tomorrow will be interesting.
What it does do though, in WarHawk's case, is allow you to see your natural hand movements harnessed as control rather than simply putting pressure on your thumbs to perform. The effect is that of holding your hand out and twisting it through the air like an aeroplane. You can't spin around 360 degrees - instead you're arcing up a certain way and rolling to the degree your hand might, and in embracing these limits the game's control feels incredibly natural.
It can read subtlety with great ease too - the demo Sony had playable after its press conference featured lots of little ships to shoot down and a few bigger ones with lots of highlighted bits to pepper. The game helps you out by concentrating your stream of X-button fire a bit to the left or right of your absolute orientation - aim within certain bounds and you'll hit the target, effectively - but at the same time it's not a cop-out and you do find that manoeuvring the ship is very simple and effective. And fun.
At the moment, WarHawk's the only real demonstration we have of the tilt sensor technology in Sony's pad - save a couple of tech demos - and it's worth pointing out that while Nintendo says Wii will be here this Christmas, developer Incognito is not prepared to comment on WarHawk's launch prospects. Nor are we likely to see any other PS3 titles in the Wii time-frame that offer this option - even Incog only got their hands on the technology in the last fortnight.
Nonetheless it's a step in an interesting direction for Sony - and, by the sound of it, something the developers are only too happy to embrace. With the conference over and the demo fresh in our heads, we spoke to Incog's Dylan Jobe about the process of getting the tilt control up and running, and a few other specifics about the game and the controller.
Eurogamer: How easy was it to incorporate the tilt sensor technology into WarHawk?
Dylan Jobe: It was real easy - Sony did a fantastic job about making it very seamless. I think case in point - we got our hands on the final controller... God, was it Sunday night? I think it was Sunday night, the final controller. So we brought source code with us, tuned the dynamics, it was pretty easy. WarHawk is a game that's tailor-made for this controller, so it was a real easy transition for us.
Eurogamer: How do you feel that this compares to what Nintendo's doing with the Wii controller?
Dylan Jobe: You know, I've never held the Wii controller so I'm not sure. I think that one of the most exciting things about this controller is that it is completely contained. There are no additional reference points, you don't have to put up any registration marks. It's a completely contained Sony kinetic sensor. That's the whole unit - battery, rumble, kinetic sensor. Everything is in that unit. [Dylan's actually mistaken here. Sony's said that rumble is not included because it'll interfere with the sensors. - Ed]
Eurogamer: How does it actually work, the tilt control?
Dylan Jobe: It's crazy Sony magic. I don't know - it's a special little black box inside there. For us it's very seamless. Sony provided API, and we get signals back from the orientation, and that's it. So the magic inner workings of it? I've no idea.
Eurogamer: When did you first learn about this controller?
Dylan Jobe: We've really known officially for about a week and a half, and we did the final tuning just a couple of days ago.
Eurogamer: Are you going to incorporate this control technique into other areas of the game - ground-based units and so on?
Dylan Jobe: Absolutely. Here's something we want to be very clear about: we're going to use the controller's functionality wherever it's appropriate, so we're not going to try and force controller functionality somewhere where it doesn't belong. It just happens to be that it's great to fly the WarHawk around this way, but in another game mode - let's say on the ground or something else - if it doesn't feel right we won't use it, we'll just use the stick. We're going to make sure the controller feels good in the player's hands, and we're not going to force it.
Eurogamer: Is this the final way that the controls will work or will you refine them further?
Dylan Jobe: We have a lot of refinement to do. Again, as you said, we really only had it finally for a couple of days, so to me this is really exciting because we've been so secretive about this that even some people at the studio didn't even fully know. So it's great for me to be able to see gamers - respected people from the industry that know how to control games - and see what feels good, what feels bad. This is the first time I've actually seen WarHawk in the hands of someone totally new, so it's really interesting to see.
Eurogamer: Enjoying it?
Dylan Jobe: Oh it's great, I'm making lots of mental notes. "This was really good, this was really good, oh we need to tweak this or change that..."
Eurogamer: You've been playing with the controller for a while - do you know anything about battery life, how it recharges, things like that?
Dylan Jobe: To the best of my knowledge, what I've been told, it recharges simply through the USB port. And it's Bluetooth. It's still mind-blowing because the controller is so light. The guys from Sony Japan told us that's a ten-plus-hour battery life. We've had the controllers for... I've seen it run for at least six hours and it can probably keep running - we haven't tested it fully.
Eurogamer: Are you doing a normal control option as well?
Dylan Jobe: Absolutely. On the show floor we don't know how many full-op controllers we're going to have, so some people can still play with the normal two sticks. But yeah, players have the option.
Eurogamer: Do you prefer playing this way?
Dylan Jobe: Yeah... I'm privy to information because the full game mechanics - you can fly the WarHawk with the kinetic controller, but you'll notice the target reticule moves around, and you can actually fly around and then on the full, final controller you can use the analogue in conjunction to move the reticule around independently. So if you play with the whole controller you'll get a better experience.
Eurogamer: Finally, when are you coming out with the game? Is it a launch title?
Dylan Jobe: We haven't announced the launch date yet for WarHawk. We're pretty happy with where we are. We're not showing very much here at E3, but we're committed to making sure the game comes out when it's good and ready.
WarHawk will be released exclusively on PS3, er, when it's good and ready.