[UPDATE – IGN’s editors weigh in on the PlayStation Move.]
Advances in hardware technology are encouraging gamers to get off the couch, but do the games actually warrant the price of admission (and broken lamps)? New gesture-based controls for Microsoft and Sony are novel, but in order to be truly innovative they have to benefit the gameplay. Otherwise these features will quickly be written off as tacky add-ons designed by marketing experts to keep consumers jonesing for the “next big thing.”
A few days ago at GDC I observed/tested a variety of new high-tech gaming devices, but wasn’t bowled over by any of them. Sony’s wand controller, now officially titled Move and set to launch this fall, does not seem to offer much beyond Nintendo’s Wii remote, which debuted three-plus years ago. It’s more responsive and nice-looking, but as with any of these new peripherals, there’s no way to judge the hardware in a vacuum. Rather, the software will determine the Move’s fate, and even if it’s compelling, to me this feels like a “day late, buck short” response from the historically-conservative Sony. Even if EyePet: Move is an amazing experience, the PlayStation does not stand much chance of moving in on the Wii’s immensely diverse userbase. Just because grandma can hold her own in Wii Tennis doesn’t mean that Little Susie is going to take an interest in dad’s Blu-ray playing, manticore-slaying PS Triple.
Generally speaking, hopes are higher for Microsoft’s camera-based Project Natal, but without substantial software demos, skeptics are outnumbering believers five-to-one. With that in mind, E3 2010 aught to be pretty exciting this year. With all three console giants committed to increasing console lifecycles, these unique add-ons allow developers to experiment with new game designs without starting from scratch on a brand new SDK.
While I can’t fault either company for wanting a piece of the motion-control pie, it seems that an entirely new kind of peripheral would garner a great deal more excitement and attention. As Dan Ackerman points out on the CNET Crave blog, the Wii owes a great deal of its success to its affordability and Nintendo’s reliable, family friendly reputation. The Wii-mote/Natal/Move debate will push gaming even further into the mainstream, but isn’t necessarily the be-all-end-all of gaming’s future. The dual analog-stick controller has gone largely unchanged in the last eight years. As opposed to the waggle revolution, I’d much rather see a design overhaul for “normal” controllers wherein each button, stick, d-pad and trigger is put under the microscope and thoroughly tested and refined. Tomorrow’s best console games will be played via a truly innovative controller that will take cues from the most unique and high-end PC gaming peripherals. Its weight and sensitivity will be user-customizable like today’s gaming mice, it’ll have a variety of force-feedback options and triggers will alter their “give” according to the on-screen action. Yes, this technological marvel might cost a hundred bucks a pop, but it’ll be the official controller in the inevitable two-console future – the gamepad of choice for the decidedly hardcore console.