Off The Record – Motion Based Gaming

With the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006 it was clear, casual gaming is the new way to make money. Sadly, that’s what the industry has become, yet another monopoly where the big wigs strive to plant, nourish, and harvest cash crops. No longer is the gaming industry a couple of socially awkward friends in a basement coding the sequel to Zork. It goes without saying that this is a good thing for us gamers. Without competition from the heads of major industry leaders there would be little to no drive towards advancement in the games themselves. Whether that advancement be made via story, graphics engines, orchestral soundtracks, or just genre overhaul in general, we can safely put our bets on the idea that a push forward is a good thing for the gamers. However, with Nintendo’s withdrawal from the on-going battle between the three heads of the gaming industry hydra (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) that leaves us with only two companies to duke it out in a Battle Royal-esque, profit-seeking, power struggle. Even worse is the fact which grows more and more obvious with every revealed “project” detail. That glaring fact is simply that Sony and Microsoft are giving the gaming community the same merchandise with a different coat of sheen per system.

Today, in Off The Record, I come not to bear grievance over the outstanding similarities between Killzone and Halo or Gears of War. Rather, the industry’s current obsession with motion sensory based gaming. This is nothing new in the industry, nay, it dates back to the NES where many peripherals were attempted, and failed horribly. With the Zapper Light Gun being excluded we had the Powerglove and the U-Force, both touchy and gimmicky with little to no success rate. Still, no one could land that detestable plane in Top Gun. One would assume that the technology was just too new, it wasn’t ready. These accessories were ahead of their time and they’ve been pushed aside in the scramble towards the top.

However, let us travel back only a few years, to 2003, to the PlayStation EyeToy, Sony’s attempt at motion-based gaming, no cords attached if you will. As exciting as the peripheral was when it first released, and even though it was a major attraction at gaming store displays, the EyeToy quickly lost steam from the gimmick-fueled boat that shipped it into our homes. What really brought upon the death of the EyeToy was the lack of fresh content and, more than likely, the physical state of gamers at that time. Sony gave us something with too much potential but not enough of a finished product to back up its relevance.

Then, as previously mentioned, in 2006 Nintendo gave us the Wii, an almost completely motion-based gaming console. With the Wii’s birth into the industry Nintendo simultaneously stepped back from the competition and decided to do what they did best, appeal to their fans. What grew from that move was a spree of casual games, designed toward both extreme ends of the spectrum, children and the older generations. Scorned by hardcore gamers, the Wii was ostracized for this, but it must be recognized as a huge step in gaming history. For what seems to be the first time in our history, video games are starting to be accepted as a hobby, a family past time, a future career. Sure, there have been casual games from the beginning; after all, Pong was nothing more than a casual game by today’s standards. It was not until the Wii that gaming was realized as something for everyone.

Now, the year is 2010, and it’s finally time to cue Sony and Microsoft’s response to Nintendo’s incredibly successful console. We saw an attempt by Sony at the very beginning of the current generation with the PlayStation 3’s original controller release, the Sixaxis. The Sixaxis was considered to be somewhat of a failure in design. Not only was the idea of a sensory based controller obviously similar to Nintendo’s Wiimote, but the end product felt cheap and flimsy. Sony responded with the creation of the DualShock 3, which some would say was the original logical step, but leaving Sixaxis technology hidden inside the sturdier, more durable controller. Sony is trying again, present day, and this time Microsoft is tailing behind them.

It was only relatively recently that Sony announced the PlayStation Move. The PlayStation Move is a new motion-sensor based controller system which looks suspiciously like a pair of black Wiimotes with Bozo the Clown’s nose glued to the top of each. Microsoft’s response to this announcement was Project Natal. Not much is known about Natal yet, but Microsoft has boasted that it will not involve any sort of controller whatsoever. What Project Natal sounds like to this writer is the EyeToy, a decade later. In the eighties, at the height of the arcades, considered the Golden Age of gaming by some, virtual reality games were perceived to be the future. No controllers and a fully immersive virtual world where even the flick of a left pinky finger could trigger a line of code to react in a particular way was fathomed. I highly doubt we are any where near those times yet, but the industry certainly seems to be headed toward this progression nonetheless.

Whether or not the technology is developed enough to fully utilize the PlayStation Move or Project Natal is a question yet to be answered. When the Wii first hit store shelves the Wiimotes were still somewhat inaccurate and untrustworthy. The bigger question, though, is not are we ready, but where will it end? There are already over twelve major publishers signed on to Project Natal. Are gamers fated to do away with controllers and do-hickeys for good to wave their arms and legs in front of a television to become a fully integrated playing piece in the game? Or, will history repeat itself and this technology will fade out yet again, losing its onward push once gamers grow tired of the novelty? For these answers we will have to wait and see, but with over thirty years of joystick-in-hand gaming we can probably assume that there will still be some growth in the games we want to see.