Nintendo Wii's role as king of motion gaming consoles is at risk. Sony and Microsoft have both previewed motion control systems at the E3 video game expo, and both systems knock Wii clean off the throne--even though neither has announced when their controllers will become available to the public.
Sony's system is exclusively for the PS3 as it works in collaboration with the Playstation Eye camera. It uses a sensor-packed wand in combination with a glowing sphere that the Eye can recognise--similar, it seems, to the motion-capture systems used to make Gollum move realistically in Lord of the Rings. And, from the prototype demo shown at E3, it's absolutely awesome.
Sony's engineers noted they went for a physical wand, somewhat like the Wiimote, because sometimes you just "need a trigger." The combination of sensors and camera recognition give the controller sub-millimeter accuracy, and three-dimensional positioning. And since you can use two controls together, that opens up amazing gaming possiblities: Check the video of the demo for the archery game--the Wiimote just can't compete with that.
Microsoft has taken a totally different route. While Sony's option is a progression from the company's original EyeToy tech, combining that system's motion recognition with a sensor wand, Microsoft has developed a camera-based vision system. In its prototype form it's dubbed Project Natal, and by scanning with a camera, IR sensor and array microphones, it can track full body motions. It's connected up to the Xbox 360, and there is a sensor bar that sits under your TV like the Wii's one--but more sophisitcated.
Microsoft's also promoting the fact that Natal can be used to control more than just games--you can control menus by gesturing with your hands, facial recognition will auto-log you into your Xbox profiles, and so on. It's amazingly clever, and it surpasses what the Wii can do by an enormous factor, and is a steep challenge to Sony--after all, the Wii just tracks your hand motions, and does it approximately, versus Sony's precision hand-tracker.
But which will win? It's clear that Nintendo can't keep up with these two offerings, even with it's newly previewed higher-sensitivity Wii Motion Plus tech, because the basic control interface isn't as intelligent, and the Wii itself is a fairly hardware-limited machine. Microsoft has gone for a controller-free system, and it'll probably integrate sweetly with the Xbox Live experience. Natal's admittedly cheesey demo video shows how games using the system are likely to continue down the casual gaming road that Nintendo has trailblazed. Meanwhile Sony's system is amazingly rich, and offers a degree of sophistication far beyond either the Wii or Natal. The demo of first-person shooter mode suggests it's highly suited to more serious games. But it's not due on sale until next year at the earliest.
Now that everyone is familiar with the casual family motion control game--thanks, Nintendo!--I'm guessing it's time the motion control gaming genre to grow up. And when it comes to control complexity, and pushing more sales of consoles, Sony's system is the clear winner--unless Microsoft comes up with a few hardcore Natal gaming titles that dazzle before Sony does.
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