With Sony having released their “Move” motion controller and Microsoft poised to unleash Kinect in just a few weeks, it seems the video game industry is awash with motion control madness. Both companies are slowly bringing up the rear in an attempt to gain ground on Nintendo’s ridiculously popular Wii. Is this a case of too little, too late? And what makes either Sony’s or Microsoft’s product stand out from Nintendo’s?
The Sony Move is practically a blatant imitation of the Wii controller. The technology used in it allows for more precise controls. This creates a more faithful translation of movements made with the controller to actual on-screen events. Many of those who tested the product at E3 said it was very intuitive to use and were quite impressed with its capabilities. In Sony’s case, duplicating and improving upon an already popular product may be the right way to go.
Microsoft has chosen to take an entirely different route with Kinect for the Xbox. Eschewing physical controllers altogether, the Kinect uses camera technology to see the player and register his or her body movements. While certainly unique, it’s a strange choice. Its very uniqueness may be its ultimate downfall.
The idea of flailing about in the center of your living room in order to control a video game is in fact not new. Does anyone remember the Sega Activator? If not it’s because the device was was poorly conceived and a complete disaster. An octagonal loop of sensors was placed on the floor and the player stood in the center with the intention of using his body to control the game, thereby creating a new level of immersion in video games. The sad truth was that players did a spastic dance of shame within an infrared ring of glory trying hopelessly to make anything happen on-screen until they dropped dead of frustration and/or exhaustion. Kinect easily draws comparisons.
Even if Kinect is technically superior and actually works, the fact remains that the player is asked to perform tasks without any kind of physical item in their hands. Both Wii and Move have the benefit of putting an object in the gamer’s hands. A controller that can be pointed like a gun or swung like a sword. How does this translate to Kinect? The idea of “pretending” to shoot someone with your finger might work for six-year-olds but I doubt it will fly with serious gamers. Even for driving games, the Wii has a steering wheel peripheral that you insert the Wiimote into. The videos of people playing driving games on Kinect, with their hands held out in front of them, sporting big, goofy grins, are laughable at best.
The Kinect seems like it will be best as an interface for browsing menus. As the living room becomes more of an hub for all of our lifestyle activities, the idea of walking into the room to have your device powered on, your profile logged in and the ability to navigate the menus with hand gestures like in Minority Report is pretty cool. It does not, however, seem like it will really offer anything new or exciting to the world of gaming. In fact, it seems quite limited when compared to traditional controllers, motion or otherwise.
It remains to be seen if consumers will embrace Kinect as heartily as Microsoft thinks they will.