E3 09: Why the amazing new demos prove motion control can't work in hardcore gaming

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.


  • Jsen - July 11, 2009 4:37 a.m.

    im thinkin massive virtual medieval war with the ps3 controllers... and i mean big, like lord of the rings @ helms deep :) and definitely some ninja action
  • lukel127 - June 20, 2009 7:22 p.m.

    I can totally see some great fighting games and driving games on the ps3 and 360. I think motion control is awsome in the right hands. It wont kill gaming, but we can play like no one has before, and that sounds exciting. Btw, am i the only one who thinks milo looks nice?
  • Indiana Jones 393 - June 13, 2009 4:14 a.m.

    I agree with all the limitations that this would create. Unfortunately, I see this getting a little better, but then dropping dead. ONe thing that I would like to see is a game like Endwar with this in it. The teaser trailer showed a general commanding his army from a full 3D display. He grabbed with his hands and moved the army, shifted the screen, used voice comm; It's just perfect for something like that. I didn't read the other article, so this may already be mentioned. Ah well.
  • Hobojedi - June 12, 2009 2:06 a.m.

    I agree with the mouse being the perfect motion controller, albeit nothings perfect, but still, it gets the job done.
  • JohnnyMaverik - June 8, 2009 3:19 p.m.

    words not worlds* I promise ill stfu now xD
  • JohnnyMaverik - June 8, 2009 2:56 p.m.

    Reps to you David Houghton. Motion controlls will be a step backward if they break into our genres and while you can say "yea but mirosoft and sony are just presenting them as casual gamer alternatves". Well... that not how it looked to me, Sony seemed pretty desperate to show their motion control as something to "imrpove" hard core games with that arena battle tech demo, and microsoft are bound to throw bucket loads of money as developers to make natal only games to make sure the damn thing sells, so expect Fable 3 to be on Natal, although apparently Lionhead dont want to become known as the studio that just do the fable games, so maybe not fable, but expect them to become the studio tat just make natal games instead.
  • Turkeykilla7 - June 8, 2009 12:30 p.m.

    Dude did you guys check out the new Halo ODST demo they released USING Project Natal? Dude its the sickest thing iv ever seen. Never thought it would actually work. Check it OUT!!
  • Fuhjem - June 8, 2009 12:23 a.m.

    You guys are forgetting about voice command. "I CAST FLARE!!!" or "I CHOOSE YOU, SQUIRTLE!!!" And also Emotiv! Get angry, and villagers flee with terror! Or use telekinesis to fling your enemies across rooms! Hell you could use it to move your character with simple thought!
  • solsunforge - June 7, 2009 9:47 p.m.

    Well you all are looking at it as how they can make games that are totally controlled by this technology. Where nintendo forces the crap down your throat why cant microsoft with natal instad realize the potential in certain situations. Picture this: Your useing your controller to walk and even to fight but you go to a npc and actually talk to them. Hi how are you. Then they act favorably towards you according to how you treat them or maybe a npc thats brash and violent you get to act in kind and threaten him a little and watch him react. Think of the dialouge choices or think of the new puzzles for myst style games that ask you to draw a map of ruins or something like that then hold it to the lens and it would be great and get you involved in more ways then you ever imagined. How about a world game editor where you draw what you want it to look like on paper label the items the game recognizes it and fleshes it out then you can make changes accordingly in game such as colors and textures. I could literally keep going for hours and have already thought of many ideas for it and told a few friends. The potential is only the limit of ones creativity. It can either be a finniky gimmick thats over in a year or 2 or it can be incorporated in ways that will make the games we know and love better. I myself can imagine telling moriority to go to hell and tell me where my father is. I didnt pay him 100 caps he can go to hell. If you didnt get that last line so be it. Anyways I will reserve my judgment for awhile . Im glad im going to college to design video games though. Just see what happens i suppose. Now back to warcraft 3
  • breadlord - June 6, 2009 9:36 p.m.

    The PS3 controll could add joysticks to it. Then you can look up, down and all around, and have a full feature with some more buttons. Natals Milo, god i wanna buy a 360 just for that. Abuse the fuck out of the kid, because Microsoft claims that it works like a real kid. reCaptcha: india Nixon. (He's there?, and only this time)
  • Alaska - June 6, 2009 12:43 a.m.

    That xbox thing seems like Skynet from Terminator
  • icantbelieveitsnutbutter - June 5, 2009 8:40 p.m.

    The Xbox motion control add on looks amazing. Not a fan of motion control but I'll most likely be buying that. The sony add on looks stupid as all hell and i cant believe they have the nerve to even attempt to sell that dildo of a motion controller. Nintendo already has the Motion Plus coming out, and that little glowing sex toy will fail, hard.
  • Spybreak8 - June 5, 2009 1 a.m.

    Sure its a title but I don't think motion control can't be done in hardcore gaming just certain genres like the Gears of War 2 reference. Is Warhawk a hardcore game or casual one since I can think of a way to control that game with motions? Somebody will have to blow everyone out of the water first, wonder who it will be, Company or even third party?!
  • Jordo141 - June 4, 2009 7:12 p.m.

    On a lighter note: Shoop-da-woop in the Natal video @ 1:30
  • potpan0 - June 4, 2009 7:03 a.m.

    I think it would be better on the ps3 motes that they put the buttons on the right one with the triggers and an analog stick on the left with the trigger buttons. but all that's doing is adding a wii mote style camra. It would still be cool with sword fighting though
  • Cerberus1838 - June 4, 2009 4:30 a.m.

    Clearly this technology works, the most viable option of the set up appears to be PS3. The PS3 controllers can do anything really, they link to other controllers to form even better controllers (looked at the patents, 4 linked up to look like a bow), they also have buttons, they can sort these meaningless problems in later design, but it prob won't affect games at much anyway it will be like sixaxis, just good. Progress is progress so just whining about motion controls won't solve anything, thinking of ways to make it work will. Thanks Cerberus PS: Natal will prob be the Xbox sixaxis anyway. PSS: Also one step closer to the Matrix!!!!
  • Pytor - June 4, 2009 3:05 a.m.

    While I do agree with a what this article is stating as a whole, I'd like to point out then when developers eventually DO use this new hardware to make a FPS, Strategy, Action/Adventure, etc, AND it works, the whole landscape of gaming will be changed forever! For example, in a FPS, the player COULD slide one foot forward to walk, a little farther to run, feet together to stand still, slide to the left for stafe left... You get the idea. I'm sure there will be some miserable failures, ALOT of miserable failures. But oh my, I can't wait for a truly great (non-sports, non mini-game), completely immersive, action packed, emotional experience from Natal or the Sony Eyewands. The holodeck is getting close. Can you feel it?
  • Stabby_Joe - June 4, 2009 12:55 a.m.

    I just finished playing 4 hours of Resistance... I all honestly most people could not endure Hale's physical activity for that long. I want to play for as long as I want, not under an hour if you're realistic about how long you can run on the spot while waving the rest of your body around... ...if this becomes the norm, gaming will be dead... ...although in that case I could see some other company making exclusive old school games, thus making all the money by themselves from traditional gaming.
  • FriendlyFire - June 4, 2009 12:40 a.m.

    I think the whole thing about motion control is that it goes against one of the fundamental principles of gaming: that you want to escape reality with them. If you take a good look at it, you'll quickly see that real-world applications (see: Wii Fit, Wii Sports) work not too bad. But what do Uncharted, Call of Duty, Halo or Gears of War have in common? They portrait characters which the common gamer could NEVER emulate! You just don't have the physical strength, the reflexes or the speed to do what they do on a 1:1 basis; you need a controller which lets you drastically multiply every movement you do, you need simple buttons that you can use to make complex on-screen actions. I know I'd never manage mimick Altair's free running or Master Chief's perfect aiming at all times, but with a controller which somehow simplifies the experience, I can enjoy it. Motion controls require you to be able to do the every actions the character does, which in turn limits gameplay. Look at Red Steel 2: while it might be nice to hack and slash enemies all by yourself, you'll notice there isn't so much acrobatics or fancy moves like in Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia or Wet. All in all, I just hope the motion control crave dies down quickly so we can go back to good old gaming the way it was meant to be :)
  • Fenix654 - June 3, 2009 11:54 p.m.

    If they manage to get a game like Halo or even assassin's creed work on Natal, it is probably the coolest thing ever. Until then, I'm skeptical.

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