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Fun & Games March 2010

Sony: Move Over Wii
By John R. Quain
The closer we get to Sony's new controller, the better it looks


Although some have dismissed Sony's forthcoming motion controller for the PlayStation 3 as a Wii-too copycat or conversely as a poor man's version of the forthcoming Natal for the Xbox 360, the closer it gets to launch, the better Sony's entry looks.

Sony was recently demonstrating the latest iteration of the Move for members of the press. The controller's improved game playing abilities and its underlying technology mean that it could be the blockbuster game accessory of the 2010 holiday shopping season. Expected to be priced under $100 this fall, promotional Move packages should include not only the wand controller but also the necessary motion-sensing Eye camera and one game. It's an attractive offering, especially if one considers the possiblity of a 3-D Avatar game tied to the Move controller.

The Move controller has an odd-looking glowing orb on the end of conventional handheld wand. The precise size and shape of the illuminated bulb is intentional. It turns out that the soft, rubbery orb has to be that particular size for the camera to pinpoint its position, including how close it is to the screen. Specifically, it means it can tell when you, say, are thrusting a sword forward. Together with built-in accelerometer and gyroscopic sensors (which use Bluetooth), it can also precisely place your hand movements in 3-dimensional space. And to ensure that the camera can follow the wand in any room and under any lighting conditions, the color of the glowing orb can be changed (which also allows it to track more that one controller at a time by using a different color for each). So if you've got, for example, a blue wall behind you in the den, the orb will glow a contrasting red.

In short, the Move controller gives players much more precise control over game play than has been possible before. Combat games can use two controllers, for example, so that you can hold up a shield and wield a sword at the same time. Each twist and parry is also accurately tracked.

The Move is also capable of "virtual multitouch" in 3 dimensions. I tried it on a couple of prototype programs using two controllers, which allowed me to grab the edges of a picture and twist, stretch, and move it. One can also rotate a 3-D object in space or have characters complete a series of complex moves with a sweep of your hand. Interesting capabilities given the emphasis on games like LittleBigPlanet that allow for endless user-generated scenes and sub games.

So far, the sports and family-oriented games seem to gain the most from the Move. I found that playing ping pong in Move Party was much more accurate and fun that anything on the Wii. And the casual group games in Move Party were quickly mastered, eliminating the lag and delays one has to get accustomed to on the Wii. On the other hand, the first-person shooter SOCOM 4 derived improved firing accuracy from the new controller, but little else as yet (it will not follow you if you crouch or jump to one side--although this is distinct possibility in future editions).

This fall could see the game console market shaking out as follows: The Ninendo Wii will stake out the low-end of the market (standard definition Netflix streaming movies and less precise but good enough motion controllers for casual gamers and families). The Sony PlayStation 3 growing to slice into more of both the Wii and Xbox user base with some introductory 3-D movies on Blu-ray, solid video on-demand offerings (including Netflix in higher resolution), and the Move controller yielding offering precise control in sports and action titles. The Xbox 360 could move to higher ground with gesture recognition in the form of Natal; it might appeal to the party/Twister set but is likely to represent a higher price point.

Of course, much depends on what games are coupled to what console. If there's a compelling title for the XBox's Natal option, shoppers could gravitate toward it, no matter what the price. Sony, on the other hand, could have the next Guitar Hero on its hands given the enticing price of the Move.

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