PlayStation Move: The Verdict

By Richard Pilot

This Christmas is set to be the battleground for the war of motion control with Microsoft and Sony both pushing their respective motion-based controllers. Sony is first out of the gate with their justly named controller, Move. With Kinect literally just around the corner, we take a look at Sony's motion offering and the technology they have utilized.

The Tech

From a technical point of view, PlayStation Move is an impressive assortment of varying technology. There are two aspects to the PlayStation Move, the internals and a rather prominent rubber ball that sits on top of the controller. This part of the controller is designed to work the PlayStation Eye, essentially a webcam that Sony released back in 2007, itself an updated version of 2003's EyeToy. By setting the colour of the LED inside the ball the camera can identify where the controller is in relation to the television, in a similar way to how the Wii controller can track the sensor bar. However, since the ball is visible regardless of where you point it, you no longer have to rely on the user pointing the controller at the screen in order to identify its position. In addition, since the ball is a known size, the camera is able to track where it is in 3D space, granting the Move depth perception.

We'll try not to bore you with the internals, but the Move controller is jam-packed with sensors including:

  • A three-axis linear accelerometer (Tracks acceleration or movement of the controller in three dimensions)
  • A three-axis angular rate sensor (Measures angular rate of the controller in three dimensions) [Where it's pointed - Matt]
  • A magnetometer and inertial sensors (Used to figure out what the controller is doing when it can't be seen, if you hide it behind your back, for example)

There are numerous tricks and algorithms that the Move controller employs, but in essense, all this tech allows developers to accurately and reliably track the position and movement of the controller as you swing, point or perform any other gesture you can come up with, in your games.

The last part we should mention about the controller is the buttons and if Sony's marketing campaign is to be believed, they are an essential part of gaming (see, for example, yaybuttons.com). The controller sports the obligatory actions buttons (Square, Circle, Triangle and Cross) as well as the usual PS button found on most PlayStation 3 peripherals. In addition to this, smack bang in the middle, is a new primary button emblazoned with the Move logo used in most games as an accept or continue action. On the sides are the familar Start and Select buttons and the underside sports an analogue trigger. Overall, the controller feels very nice to hold with the buttons designed in an easy-to-access manner, although the Select and Start buttons are the most tricky to press. The trigger itself is well placed for actions games and in the small sample of first person shooters we've tried, plays well.

The Nintendo Wii had the Nunchuck, PlayStation Move has the Navigation controller. This is a separate controller with an additional assortment of buttons and more importantly, an analog stick - and unlike its Wii counterpart it does not require a lead connected to the main controller. Whilst this does mean an extra pad to charge, it does allow for a lot more freedom of movement and no leads will get stretched or tangle around you. [The Nav controller also means you can have regular action games like Resident Evil 5 Gold rather than more on-rails shooters -Matt]

What's in the Box?

The interesting thing to know about Move is that there isn't just one kit. Depending on what peripherals you already own means you have a choice of two packages. As we've already mentioned, Move uses the PlayStation Eye to track a coloured ball and reflect this data on screen. This effective reuse of tech means that if you already own the PlayStation Eye then you only need to buy the Move controller. At the time of writing, however, there isn't much of a difference between the solo PlayStation Move controller or the bundled PS Move + PS Eye package, so we'll describe whats in the complete box, the PlayStation Move Starter Kit. This is, of course comprised of the PlayStation Move controller and a PlayStation Eye, and in addition you also get a Starter Disc which contains a nice selection of PlayStation Move demos that were available at launch.

The Starter Disc is a great way to introduce you to the world of Move-based games with a strong selection of the launch titles available to you. The problem, however, is that in order to play any of the demos bundled then you must first install them to the hard drive. Considering the amount of different games on the disc each using their own engines, this is understandable, but it's still a little irritating if you want to quickly try all the titles on offer.

Before we move on, I think it#s important to make note of what isn't packaged within this "Starter Kit", namely the Navigation controller and there are no games beside those trials on the demo disc. On top of this you only get one core PlayStation Move controller. This means you'll need to fork out an additional bunch of cash to get enough controllers to support even two players. At a time when the Kinect is being scolded on the high cost of entry, it's worth noting that in order to support the same number of players that Kinect does (namely two) then you may need to fork out around £100.

So which kit should you buy? If you just want to test out the technology then the starter kit or just the single PlayStation Move controller will suffice. As we'll go into in a moment, there are more than enough games that support the single controller to start with. If you want to get into multiplayer motion gaming then the matter gets even more confusing. Games such as Start the Party (described below) need only the one controller to support up to four players and in fact will ignore any additional controllers you decide to plug in. Sports Champions allows you to use between one and four PlayStation Move controllers as well as up to two navigation controllers. So our best advice is to look closely at which games you wish to purchase to identify how many controllers (and of which type) you'll need.

The Games

We'll be saving our reviews of some of the Move games to their own reviews, but for the time being, here's an overview of some of the Move supported games that were available at launch.

Sports Champions
Every new motion tech needs a Sports game to show off just what it can do and PlayStation Move is no exception. There are six games bundled in this package; Gladiator style combat, Disc Golf, Archery, Volleyball, Table Tennis and Bocce. Unfortunately, this doesn't engage you like other sports games. While the games are functionally impressive (the gladiator arena and disc golf being two of the highlights) they lack the enthusiasm or soul of Wii Sports. The pre-generated characters, while looking realistic, don't have much personality to them bar the odd two seconds when playing victory animations and there isn't a large selection of levels to chose from. The demo bundled in the starter pack is more than enough to give you an impression of the overall game so we recommend you try that before committing to a purchase.

Start the Party
Party games seem to be ideally suited for motion gaming. They introduce the novelty of the technology in a fun and light atmosphere where you can laugh and point at those in control before getting in front of the screen for some humiliation yourself. It therefore comes as no surprise to see a few party games in the Move's lineup. What is suprising however, is how fun Start the Party is to pick up and play. From the outside, Start the Party looks like your typical EyeToy collection of mini games, albeit modified slightly to take advantage of the Move's augmented reality features. Whilst this is true, the key to Start the Party is the way it wraps up this simple concept in a thoroughly entertaining game, full of charm and personality. In addition, the augmented reality really shows off the power of Move, with reflected images of your controller sporting various attachments such as bug swatters, flags and even pizzas! You can't help but pause on the game's menu just to watch the precise movements of the controller being reflected in whatever crazy gadget they have decided to give you; the fidelity of control being displayed is stunning. Curiously, Supermassive Games took the design decision to not support multiple Move controllers, requiring you to pass the remote around every time the player changes. Definitely a positive if you only have the one controller but a bit annoying if you have a stack of Move controllers begging to be used. You may get bored of the relatively small selection of games (just over 20), but it works when you have a few friends around with a couple of hours to kill. You'll soon be addicted to the Wario Ware-esque frantic quick-fire rounds.

Tumble (PSN)
The final game we look at in this feature is Tumble, a downloadable game available on PSN for a very reasonable £7.99. The concept is extremely simple; using the controller as a pointer, you have to stack blocks of various shapes and sizes in order to build a tower. Building over a certain height grants you a medal, but if the tower falls, the level ends and you have to start again. Over the course of the game's impressive amount of levels, Tumble introduces a number of different combats, such as building rotating platforms. The game also supports multiplayer, utilising one or two Move controllers, resulting in either a frantic race to the top or a more tense session of tower building where you build strategically in order to force the other play to fail during their turn. It's nice to see PlayStation Move going beyond the £30-40 release and allowing smaller developers to try out this latest tech. This could be the winning factor for the Move, allowing a number of niche devlopers to come up with interesting and novel experiences and we look forward to see what these developers come up with.

An important distinction of the PlayStation Move line-up is the presence of some interesting core titles. Most people who would describe themselves as "gamers" are not interested in casual gaming or mini game collections (although there are a few of those if you are interested) and it is therefore nice to see that there are games that are outside of these genres. What's even more impressive is that titles in the PlayStation 3's back catalogue are being ported to take advantage of the new control scheme, such as Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5. In summary, we are pleasantly surprised to see motion controls going beyond the casual gaming stigma that they have been plagued with since the introduction of the Wii, and with Sony continuing to heavily support their controller with AAA titles such as SOCOM 4, LittleBigPlanet 2 and Killzone 3, this stigma will soon be eradicated.

Summary

By utilizing an already existing piece of technology, the PlayStation Eye, Sony have managed to reduce development costs and more importantly, are able to work out all the kinks early on. Whilst it does make the PlayStation Move seem more of an iterative step rather than the motion controller alternative offered by Microsoft, it is certainly not a bad thing. This is the experience that we wished we had with our Nintendo controllers back in 2006 when the system launched. Essentially this is the Wiimote for the hardcore and on a platform that is significantly more powerful, capable of displaying a greater variety of impressive games.

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