23 Mar 2010

Out of Control(lers)

OK there's been a lot of talk about the next big thing in gaming. The response from the gaming industry has been not (yet) been the development of new consoles, but instead look at new controller systems. So here's what's going on with the 3 big console companies:

Nintendo (Wii) were the first to release a motion controller. Thier first controller was the wireless Wii Remote, which can be used as a handheld pointing device using optical technology (very similar to remote controls & has a big receiver bar placed on or in front of the TV) and detects movement in 3 dimensions.They also have a 'Nunchuk' which works along side it (again with 3D movement) creating in total a 6 axis control mechanism. Their new controller is the Wii MotionPlus & this is a method of sharpening up the movement detection - critically without the need to purchase a whole new set of controllers. This is different & arguably better, because it's a 'snap-on' addition, not a whole redesign. However, I'm not convinced of the Wii as a 'gamer's console', but as a family-based entertainment console - that is hard to argue against.

Sony (PlayStation 3) released a 6-axis controller with the PS3, but so far all the games released which are compatible (surprisingly few) have been more gimmicky than functional or natural (I'm thinking of you 'Lair'. The design is nothing new - it's a little new tech under the hood (sixaxis & bluetooth wireless) but the design is the same as the dualshock controller from the original PlayStation (circa 1997). What Sony decided to to was (arguably) use a 'similar' idea to the Wii's controller - called Move. Now to me, this looks just like a smaller Wii Remote in black rather than white. Time will have to tell on this one, but it appears that this is just Sony attempting to break into the 'family' area of the gaming market. Further reading on Xplay

Microsoft (Xbox 360) have once again done things a little different,ly. The Xbox 360 had redesigned controllers in either wired or (bluetooth)  wireless versions, in a variety of colours. The controllers are my preferred choice out of all the major consoles (biased but it's OK - it's only my opinion!) & I hoped that they would not go the same way as all their competitors & do something that looks suspiciously like a jumped-up TV remote! Well what they did is to create Project Natal which at first glance looks very odd, when you first see what it does it looks like a grown-up version of the Live Vision/Eye. The idea is that it's smart  version of motion capture - once you're 'captured' you can "control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need to touch a game controller through a natural user interface using gestures, spoken commands, or presented objects and images" (thanks Wiki!). Again it's not out yet to consumers, but the industry insiders & testers (mostly from Lionhead Studios - the crew behind the award-winning Fable series) are saying good things. I'll wait to give a full account as to what this means for the 'average' gamer...

But here's my issue with the whole controller 'revolution' (especially Natal) - they all depend, to varying extents, the dexterity & mobility of the individual players. Therefore you could argue that if you have a lack of those dependants - you could well be scuppered with the new mostion controllers/sensors. I think this is a problem which keeps some consumers away from the Wii (mostly the more hardcore gamers) generally, but I think that it's a limiting factor & not one the industry is taking a great deal of notice of...we shall see.

...we continue

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