Sony PlayStation Move: what the future holds

Sony's Move controller opens up loads of exciting new opportunities for developers to create new types of gameplay experiences
Sony's Move controller opens up loads of exciting new opportunities for developers to create new types of gameplay experiences

Sony announced a total of 16 PlayStation Move games at this year's annual E3 gaming show 'n' tell in LA back in June to show off what was, for many attendees, the most impressive new motion-tech for gamers and games developers alike.

Arguably, while Microsoft's skeleton-scanning 3D Kinect camera is technically more advanced than Move's iteration on the Nintendo Wii Remote, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) clearly hopes that the PlayStation strategy of putting games and gamers first will pay dividends in the long run.

TechRadar's Mike Jackson was lucky enough to get some hands on time with all the latest hardware on show at E3 this year, and was adamant that PlayStation Move was simply "the most impressive motion-tech" on show.

PlayStation move: one of the most impressive new technologies at e3 2010

MOVE: one of the most impressive new technologies at E3 2010

"We left reassuringly convinced of its rock-solid motion detection abilities," said Jackson. "As with all technology, someone creates something good, and then competitors evolve it, make it better, [which is] exactly what Sony has done with the PlayStation Move wand and accompanying Navigation controller."

Intrigues the most ardent naysayers

Dan Dawkins, Editor of PSM3 magazine is another member of that small group of British journalists that has already had a good deal of hands on time with Sony's new gaming tech and someone who is equally as excited about the possibilities opened up by PS Move.

"Irrespective of your feelings about Wii, there's something about PS Move's 1:1 response that intrigues the most ardent naysayers," Dawkins told TechRadar. "You're not just intimating a motion with clumsy brush strokes, where the game reads your intent, but expressing it directly; your every motion reflected on-screen.

"In the PS Move ping pong game, your wrist's flicks and rotations, however minute or subtle, are reflected in your character's on-screen posture and grip. When you bust out a forehand top spin; it feels - and looks in real life - just like a forehand top spin. And there's a Jenga-style puzzle game that had three relatively grouchy grown men on the PSM3 team barking "Use the rubber block! No, vertically… God, let me do it", as another team member crouched, leant forward and inched a vertical building block into a teetering stack."

PlayStation move: the controller design is decepively simple

EASY: The Move controller design is deceptively simple

Dawkins is keen to stress the fact that the PS Move's form factor is, typical of a Sony product, "deceptively sexy, and smaller than you'd think," adding that, "playing games in HD is a blessing - the initial wave of casual titles really show off the tech, but the 1:1 control offers genuine hope of challenging, and innovative, 'core' games to follow.

"Move is easily responsive enough for a first-person shooter; ideal for RTS troop movement and – in the hands of an innovator like Hideo Kojima - potentially a revelation. Playing a disguised agent and having to evade detection by shaking a guard's hand without wobbling? Signature forgery? Micro-precise bomb defusal? Okay, these might be bad ideas, but you get the gist. After my initial scepticism, I think PS Move's near essential for £34.99."

We could, of course (and many will), argue about the relative merits of Kinect versus Move in gaming forums over the coming months. However, until both new systems are on the market and available for us to buy and try out in our own lounges later this year, this seems little more than a fruitless exercise in console fanboy point-scoring.

After all, you can't really knock something until you've tried it. And in addition to a few lucky games journalists the other people we know who have test-driven the new tech extensively are games developers. So we decided to ask them what they thought of PlayStation Move and the 16 new motion-controlled PlayStation games that were on show in La La Land back in June.

From EyeToy to Move

Sony pioneered motion-control in gaming with its PlayStation EyeToy camera, which original launched back in 2003, following 'father of PlayStation' Ken Kutaragi's remit to broaden the PS2's demographics. The whole idea of EyeToy was to remove the controller which was seen as a potential barrier to a large section of the market that would be new to games.

"Very quickly we realised that the experiences that worked best were the ones that mimicked real-world activities," says Richard Groves, Technical Director at games developer StikiPixels, who, with his partner (and Design Director) Jonathan Alpine, have 14 years of combined experience working with EyeToy and, more recently, PlayStation Move. "Activities like window washing or boxing needed no instructions. Most of the time people didn't even need to ask how to play."

PlayStation move: buttons provide familiar control

PLAYSTATION MOVE: Buttons provide familiar control

With their long history of working closely with Sony and making games for the PlayStation, Groves and Alpine are well-placed to offer some valuable insights into where these new interfaces fit in the gaming landscape. The developer also reminds us about some of the issues that arose with EyeToy development that have since been addressed by PlayStation Move, such as:

  • 'Background subtraction' (removing the player image from their background) – "Which keeps coming up in game design but was previously not possible without massive compromises."
  • Lack of button input – "Which meant user interfaces had to be quite clunky and slow to use due to the requirement of making them robust enough to not be triggered accidentally."
  • Improvement in low light response from EyeToy to PSEye – "Which opened up better fidelity motion sensing and wider lighting environments where the camera could be used. Image quality improved massively too and we got the data at 640x480 @ 60fps which hadn't been possible with the PS2 EyeToy."
  • Lag issues due to image processing pipeline – "Which have been solved through software iteration and improvements in understanding."

For Groves, the clear benefits of PS Move include its precision input, the output options available with the controller (sphere colour and vibration), the low processing overhead and low lag. He also sees developers building on both their own and the wider industry experience of using motion control learned from Wii development in recent years.

"The extra fidelity of the data in Move just means you have to make less compromises, and the addition of accurate 3D positional data for the controller makes gesture and movement analysis easy," adds the Move developer.

Compromises and limitations

However, this is not to say that Move isn't without its own compromises and limitations. The number of peripherals required for multi-player means that the costs to the gamer soon escalates for those that want to get a full set of handsets and navigation controllers.

Additionally, Groves adds that: "Bringing back buttons is also a potential barrier to entry. I'm tempted to refer to the classic "if you build it, they will come" quote. Give developers lots of buttons and they'll tend to use them all which isn't necessarily a good thing, for non-gamers in particular."

The developer compares this with Microsoft's Kinect system, which is one peripheral that offers the player "direct interaction without the 'middleman' of a controller."

Both Kinect and Move also really need decent sized playing areas and large screens for the gamer to get the full experience which means, as Groves points out, that, "they are not suited to most bedroom/box-room environments where a lot of consoles still are.

PlayStation eye: the camera sits on or near your tv

PLAYSTATION EYE: The camera sits on or near your TV

"This also impacts development environments: you need a lot more space for each developer to be able to properly test what you are working on, most developer environments (and QA areas) are just not setup for testing multi-player movement games right now.

"Studios with Wii experience will have already had to deal with this to some extent, but Kinect/Move are going to put more pressure on space. For games using the camera image you also need to be able to control the lighting in a test area to see how the game reacts to differing amounts of light in the play area. In general, testing the game for control method robustness becomes a major area that just doesn't exist when using a standard controller."

Adam Hartley