Sony and Microsoft’s new motion control demos at E3 09 have been technically amazing. Sony’s PlayStation Eye-powered PS3motes (our name, not Sony's) arguably demonstrate exactly what we all believed Nintendo’s lofty claims would deliver. Using Microsoft’s full body motion-capture Natal project looks like it will feel close to living in the future and having magical powers.
The problem? The new hardware demos’ technically thrilling nature has, I think, finally shown up a fundamental problem with motion control in video games. Before E3 09, we always had the excuse that it was the Wii’s imprecision that limited the scope of its games. With that issue gone, it’s now clear that the problem goes right down to the fundamentals of game design.
Above: Amazing, but try applying it to CoD or Halo
Think about what we see in the videos of MS and Sony’s tech. Mind-blowing interaction, yes, but mind-blowing interaction within very limited 3D spaces. As much as accurate motion control can open up a genuinely liberating degree of interactive freedom on an up-close, micro level, on the macro level of full-sized game worlds, it just hasn’t got the tools. The real reason the Wii is full of minigames? It's because the condensed focus of such games is nearly all that motion control is good for.
As much as Molyneux and Iwata might bemoan the evils of the button fascia and dual analogue set-up, both elements evolved into the cultural landscape of gaming for a reason. They seriously bloody work for controlling modern games. The fact is that the majority of triple-A, landmark games involve controlling a third-person character of some kind. Whether in 2D, 3D or both, that’s the basic model. And similarly, we use it because it’s been proven to be fun.
Above: Very cool indeed, but let's see that knight fight and move
And the sort of challenges that we find enjoyable to overcome with those characters require precision and timing during the swift navigation of in-game realities. Whether we’re talking about Street Fighter or Uncharted, those principles apply. Could even the astoundingly accurate motion control of E3 09 adequately handle either of those experiences? No. Because while amazing at simulating localised, intricate, real-world interactions, the zoomed-out, wider scope of most games needs a totally different approach.
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