Making motions

Date:1 November 2010 Tags:,

My mother recently confessed that she had never played a video game. Ever. Hearing this news, I did what any good son would do: I bought her a Wii. Within minutes of setup (on her hulk of a CRT TV), I understood the genius behind the system – despite countless news reports over the past four years attesting to the Wii’s appeal to a wide demographic, it took seeing my mother wave her way through a game of tennis to truly understand how Nintendo had managed to sell more than 70 million of these things since it was introduced in 2006. For nongamers who may be intimidated by complex control schemes, the ability to literally jump right into a game is very appealing.

The gaming world has noticed this success: by the end of this year, all three major consoles will have some motioncontrol capabilities. I’ve tested all three. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.

Nintendo Wii
It has been four years since I bought my first Wii. And although the system’s motioncontrol abilities have been improved with the aid of the Motion Plus accessory (which allows for what is called one-to-one motion control for some games), the tech is still the most primitive of the batch. Whereas the other systems use cameras to track you or your controller’s exact physical position, the Wii uses a simple (and not nearly as accurate) IR emitter to monitor movement.

But the ageing Wii still has a trump card: four years’ worth of games.

Sony PlayStation Move
Like the Wii, the Sony PlayStation Move add-on controller detects movement and relative position. But where the Move trumps the Wii is in its ability to tell the precise location of the controller in relation to the TV. It does this by using the Play- Station Eye camera accessory to follow a glowing orb on the tip of the controller. By pairing these two data sources, the Move can generate an incredibly accurate representation of your movements.

Microsoft Kinect
When the world first saw Microsoft’s Kinect more than a year ago, it was known as Project Natal, and it seemed straight out of science fiction. The Xbox 360 accessory used depth-perceiving cameras to transform flailing limbs into onscreen actions. It worked so well we gave it one of our annual Breakthrough Awards. And it’s coming out as a real product this November. Kinect’s lack of a controller limits the types of games that can be made for it. But we would bet our flatscreens that Microsoft is thinking far beyond gaming. Kinect will be integrated into the Xbox’s robust media capabilities, offering users a way to navigate through music and movies with a few simple waves. If Microsoft eventually builds the technology into Windows, it could change the way we interact with our PCs.

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