It's by far the definitive theme this year at E3 2009. It seems everyone wants in on motion control. At their respective press conferences, both Microsoft and Sony debuted compelling demos of what they envision as the future of gaming.
E3 2009: Microsoft introduces Project Natal
Microsoft introduced Project Natal, an initiative to allow the user to play games and navigate through menus using body movements in place of a handheld controller. We got to see what game design guru Peter Molyneux was able to do with the technology in the form of the Milo demo, where a human seemed to convincingly interact with an artificial boy on-screen.
While that demonstration leaves plenty of skepticism and unanswered questions on the table (even with a Steven Spielberg endorsement), most will agree it was the rubber ball block-breaking game performance that really proved that the technology has potential.
Sony on the other hand, presented a seemingly less polished exhibit of the company's motion control ambition. Around the office, we wondered whether or not this was a last-minute addition to the keynote. Surely there's no doubt Sony has been working on a collaboration between the Eye Toy camera and a motion-sensing controller, we're just not sure the company was planning to show it off on Tuesday. That aside, we were impressed by the physics in the tech demo itself and agree that motion control needs some sort of "button pushing" in order to encompass the various genres of gaming. This was made abundantly clear during the first-person-shooter segment of the demo.
Sony keynote at E3 2009
Let's give credit where credit is due. If Nintendo did not come out years ago flooring audiences with the Wii, it's tough to imagine that both Sony and Microsoft would be devoting the time and effort in exploring this technology. I know I'd be complacent if both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 never entered the world of motion-based interactivity with games this generation.
This all leads us to the question, "do we really need motion control?" Ask most hardcore gaming enthusiasts and the unanimous answer is simply "no." In an industry fueled by these early adopters, we can't see the conventional video game controller going extinct just yet. That said, we understand the need for such innovation.
Nintendo has proved that reinventing the way people think about games sparks the curiosity of those who might not normally find themselves owning a console. If it's for that reason, to expand the audience of those who play, then we're all for it. But for those who grew up with an Atari 2600 joystick or NES pad in their hands, it's still going to be a much tougher sell. That generation of button-mashers only take graphics and hardware upgrades seriously--they aren't impressed by the wiggle and shake of a Wii remote or Sixaxis controller.
Once motion control doesn't come off as a gimmicky add-on is when it will be widely accepted as a viable way to interact with a game. Until we see the implementation of the magic that Wii hacker Johnny Lee was able to accomplish in an actual game is when we will see a changing of the tide. Interestingly enough, he was recruited by Microsoft and is working on Project Natal.
It's clear each of the big three console manufacturers all have different takes on how motion control should be implemented in creating the most satisfying interactive experience. Whether it's the motion capture and voice recognition of Project Natal, the combination of camera and motion controllers in the Sony effort, or MotionPlus on Wii, it'll be the technology that convinces hardcore gamers to jump on board that will set the tone for the future of gaming.
What do you think? Do we really need motion control in video games? Sound off in the comments section below.