Motion Control Wars – Early Report!

With Thursday’s release of the Kinect, all three companies have their motion control peripherals out. Now the “Motion Control Wars” can officially begin. While the controllers still need some more rigorous testing before any “final verdict” can be given, chances are gamers want their answers now. So here’s the early report on how all 3.5 controllers are stacking up.

Wii Remote (Wiimote)
Of course the first question anyone is going to ask is “what can these controllers do that the Wii can’t?”. Well the answer may as well be “everything”, but let’s take a look at the basic Wiimote. The controller has two forms of motion detection: a pointer and a tilt sensor. Due to the fact that the infra-red sensor is inside the controller rather than on top of the TV, it can’t really detect position at all and it can’t really detect orientation that well either. Basically the Wiimote is capable of pointing and tilting and that’s about it. Developers have found it difficult to make any use out of the tilt sensor beyond using the Wiimote as a makeshift steering wheel. However, the pointer has proven itself quite useful. It works great as a lightgun, is a solid replacement for a mouse, and when used right the Wiimote and Nunchuck is the best controller for first person shooters! Yes, even better than the beloved keyboard and mouse combination! Sadly, few developers have figured out how to make good use of the Wiimote as an FPS device. Anything beyond this or using it as a normal controller usually ends in failure. The Wiimote just isn’t built for it. Slight exceptions include Wii Sports Bowling and We Cheer. However, these are rare and require a lot of both technical wizardry and smoke & mirrors.  The Wiimote is incredibly limited as a motion control device to the point where it barely even counts. It is, however, fantastic as a pointer.

The MotionPlus is a gyroscope, no more, no less. In essence the MotionPlus is a replacement tilt sensor for the Wiimote. Luckily it is indeed an impovement, providing shockingly accurate orientation detection. Unfortunately the Wiimote still lacks position sensing. As such, most MotionPlus games just take the orientation readings and “magnify” them depending on the motion you’re supposed to be doing. For example, it could take any horizontal rotation of the Wiimote and “magnify” that into full arm movement. The end result is a controller that provides what appears to be one to one motion sensing but still suffers from many limitations. Also, the MotionPlus needs to be frequently recalibrated as it’s add-on based nature makes it prone to disconnecting. Unfortunately some games have taken this fact to a downright psychotic level; constantly reclaibrating the controller as you play, via the pointer, and thus sometimes it gets dis-calibrated due to sunlight or lamps of the right frequency. On the plus side, there is absolutely no lag at all and that has to be worth something.

PlayStation Move
One could call this the “Wiimote done right” and they wouldn’t be far off. The Move uses a camera and brightly colored ball to detect position and a gyroscope to detect tilt. On top of all that it has things like magentometers to double-check it’s readings. The end result is a controller that is shockingly accurate. One look at Start The Party and you know this thing is working incredibly well as the game digitally replaces the controller with various rendered objects. In order for that to work it has to be very accurate. The Move detects the position of it’s controller in space and it’s movements with nearly pinpoint accuracy. There’s practically no lag (22 milliseconds according to the developers) and since it picks the ball color dependant on the room you’re in, background noise and lighting should be a non-issue. Of course you need to be within the camera’s view for this to really work well. Thankfully the Playstation Eye camera has a wide angle mode that will keep you in view most of the time. On the occasions where you do go off camera though, it uses the data from the remaining sensors to approximate the controller’s position until you return to view. This sometimes causes a hiccup as the controller snaps from the approximated position to the actual position but for the most part it works great. Of course it is only detecting the position of the controller, so arm positions could be inaccurate but ultimately inconsequential. A bigger issue is the somewhat unusual button layout on the core controller and the sheer number of secondary controllers that may be necessary for a full experience. Also, it’s pointer functionality is slightly worse than the Wiimote’s. As long as there is a cross-hair on screen, it’s fine. So first person shooters are still good to go. However, cursor-less lightgun games (like Ghost Squad) aren’t quite an option. Each game also has it’s own unique calibration screen dependant on the kind of actions the game wants. Some have blown this fact wildly out of proportion but it is generally a mild irritant at worst as even the most complex calibration takes seconds.

The Kinect is an incredible piece of technology. A 3D camera capable of tracking your entire body without any markers and map the actions to an on-screen character. When it works it’s an amazing, almost magical, gimmick. Unfortunately the longer you use it, the more apparent the flaws become. You’ll find the slight lag gives a distinct disconnect between you and the character’s actions, making fast reactions and accurate movement very difficult. Glitches and hiccups in the movement detection happens occasionally as well. I also don’t think it can detect your hand’s orientation/tilt either, only it’s position. Also, voice chatting through it is very poor as it tends to pick up the sounds of the TV, resulting in an echo. The biggest problem, however, is the lack of buttons which is it’s very concept! Without buttons you don’t have any definate action confirmations. As such you’ll find menu navigation to be gimped so mis-read actions don’t ruin anything. Even the Kinect dashboard is limited to nothing except logging in, playing discs, and viewing ads so no one accidentally buys something they don’t want when scratching their balls. Worse yet is pausing, which requires you to hold a specific pose for a period of time. That means that pausing isn’t immidiate and could lead to unwanted actions. Other button related issues include moving. The game world is generally bigger than your living room and without buttons there’s no good means of navigating the world. Object manipulation, like firing a gun, is also an issue without buttons. The Kinect doesn’t appear to be able to detect your finger movements or hand tilt so no, finger guns do not appear to be an option. This severely limits the kinds of games that can work well with it. However, it does work great for dancing games as both Dance Central and DanceMasters are awesome. The voice recognition feature is also cool, but that’s more software based than anything. Last but not least, setup takes forever and while you only have to do it once (unless you move to another room) it is quite an ordeal. Gamers, expect your less tech savvy parents to call you over to hook up their Kinects.

The Current Verdict
If judged purely on their functionality, the Move wins hands down. The precise motion tracking (and buttons) allow it to be used for a wide variety of games.  It’s capabilities work well to bridge the casual/hardcore gap. The precision allows for a greater degree of depth than any other control scheme can provide while simultaneously being intuitive enough for casuals to use. Unfortunately the lack of titles coming for it coupled with a lack of advertising and the fact that it’s on the PS3 practically doom it to failure. Expect to hear the Kinect to be declared the winner by many other sites though. Part of this is because it appears to appeal more to casuals (as long as you take out the incredibly irritating setup). Another part of this is because every review site that can be paid off, will be paid off as part of Microsoft’s $500 million ad campaign. To the Kinect’s credit, I am having fun with it and the few launch titles I’ve played are shockingly well-made. However, it also has the worst pack-in title ever. The Wiimote on it’s own barely even counts as a motion controller but it’s pointer functionality does occasionally add something to games and the Wii has a sizeable array of good non-motion controlled games. The MotionPlus, though it adds more functionality to the base Wiimote, barely sees any decent support. As of right now it basically has two good games on it, less than all of it’s competitors. It does, however, have a promising looking Zelda coming for it soon. I know some readers will complain profusely at my shortchanging of the Wii’s motion control here but the fact is that  the Wiimote and Motion Plus just don’t add enough to the gaming experience. However, with it’s accurate and lagless nature, the Motion Plus may just edge out the Kinect in terms of functionality when I get to further testing.

But, as of right now, if you want to see motion control as something more than a gimmick, the Move is the only way to go. Complain all you want about it’s unusual design, to me the Move is the ideal motion controller. Darn shame there’s practically nothing for it!

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One Comment on “Motion Control Wars – Early Report!”

  1. […] fond of the concept of motion control. I did an episode on why it’s actually a good idea and gave a quick review of the three controllers currently available. So how are the controllers faring now? Let’s take a […]

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