Monday, March 15, 2010

Moving Units

*NOTE: This is an article for this weeks TN2 magazine, I'm assuming anyone reading this already knows what PSmove is. If you don't, enjoy my briefing. If you do, enjoy the rest of it.

Despite opinions to the contrary, I am personally of the belief that flashes of healthy skepticism are a positive force in a world riddled with manufactured hype. I don't necessarily buy into the idea that corporations are the enemy or that Starbucks harvest children for sandwich meat, but it's important to recognize the difference between actually wanting something and being told that you want something. That said, there is little in this world that bugs me quite as much as unfounded negativity and my faith in 'healthy skepticism' is often mistaken for the unreasonable belief that 'everything is shit until it can prove itself otherwise'.

So the long talked-about PlayStation motion controller has finally been unveiled as the PlayStation Move, and it seems as if the bloggers are ready to fire up their cynicism cylinders and declare it a failure before it's even hit the track.

Far be it from me to preach about the merits of keeping your hopes up, especially where Sony are concerned, they have an unfortunate reputation for not delivering on promises (or lying, as it's more commonly known), but anyone ready to dismiss the PSMove as a 'Wii-Too' is clearly unaware of the technology that's actually involved.

Let me make one thing clear; I own a Wii. I like the Wii. Sure, it's gimmicky and there's hundreds upon hundreds of terrible, unnecessary and terribly unnecessary titles out for the thing, but the (admittedly few) games I do own I enjoyed immensely. No More Heroes is still my favorite game of 2008 and its sequel could end up being my favorite game of 2010 (FFXIII not withstanding), but even I can't feign ignorance towards Nintendos marketing strategy, although I could be inclined to refer to it as evil genius. The Wii-Motion Plus, which, let's face it, many of us shelled out for, was basically a peripheral to make the Wii do what it was always meant to do in the first place. We'd been had; tricked into buying a console with a control system that was, unbeknownst to us, incomplete and then charged for its completion when sales started to dwindle. Sony's decision to imitate the technology this late in the game isn't much better, but at least they've come to the table with a finished product.

The PlayStation Move is exactly what you'd imagine a Wii-Remote to look like if it were made by Sony and had a giant plastic ball attached to it. If that sounds comical, well, it is. It looks ridiculous. However, last week at GDC the press finally got their first chance to test it out first-hand and while a trip to San Francisco was just slightly out of TN2s budget this year, the reports from more financially viable press sources have been generally favorable.

The giant ball at the top of the controller contains three LEDs that can combine to make any color you can imagine. When a game is fired up, the eyetoy camera (a peripheral required to use the PSMove) scans the room for colors and lights up the controller in a color it didn't find, thus providing a highly effective way to keep the tracking at a ratio of 1:1. For instance, if you were in a room with lots of blue, the sphere would likely turn orange or red, so the camera can track the big orange or red thing in the room full of blue. It really is that simple.

While Sony have admitted that they're planning a considerable amount of casual fare to be released for the device, their insistence that they're still a company for the 'core gamer' (a term I use with much disdain) took a sharp turn for the believable when the latest title in their much revered SOCOM franchise, SOCOM 4, was demoed using the PSMove in a way, nay a multitude of ways, that actually worked. Admittedly, it required the presence of the conspicuous 'sub-controller', an additional wand that resembles Nintendos Nunchuck peripheral, which seemingly brings us right back to the Wii argument, but the video is undeniably impressive, showcasing a tracking ratio unlike anything I've seen on the Wii, with or without it's motion-plus add-on.

The PlayStation Move is currently scheduled for an autumn release, coinciding with the release of Microsofts controllerless-controller-camera-thing, currently codenamed Project Natal. The unveiling at GDC confirmed several bundle packages, the most alluring of which being the 'starter kit', containing a controller, a game and the eyetoy camera for (apparently) under $100. Microsoft have come under some criticism for their avant-garde approach to this idea (doing away with a controller altogether) and with Nintendo consistently underwhelming everyone of late, Sony might just be on to a winner here. Only time will tell if developers will really get on board with this, after all third-party support for the Wii has been thin on the ground, but with the right software support and the inevitable marketing push towards Christmas 2010, the PSMove has the potential to truly finish what the Wii began.

TL;DR: PlayStation Move could quite possibly do what Epic Games have failed to do: Kill the Wii.

Andy x

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