Rumours have abounded regarding an upcoming motion control device for the Xbox 360, purportedly codenamed "Newton" — first, a loquacious anonymous source told MTV that such a controller is in development with support from developer Rare, and next 8bitjoystick pegged patents from Gyration, the same company responsible for Nintendo's Wii remote technology, as the likely tech behind Microsoft's top-secret project.
Gyration, however, unequivocally denied yesterday that it has any such project in development with Microsoft. However, talking to Rare, Microsoft and a company called Motus revealed more items of interest regarding the "Newton" — the picture seen above is Motus' "Darwin" controller.
"There's absolutely no truth to the rumours, and I have no idea where they're coming from," said a genuinely perplexed-sounding Zac Rivera, the PR rep for Movea Inc., the company that purchased Gyration in January 2008. He added, "Gyration is working on some game-related projects, but it won't be announced until later this year, and it is not related to the Xbox 360."
However, when it comes to motion controls, Gyration is not the only game in town. Boston-based Motus also develops motion controller tech for games, and, looking into the company for possible information on the "Newton," we learned that it has an existing product on the market already called the "Darwin."
Motus calls its Darwin controller "the evolution of the Wii" (Darwin, evolution, SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE?), but Motus chairman Satayan Mahajan says he's not trying to trash-talk: "We really admire the Wii; we think it's a great device. It's done a lot for us... in bringing motion sensing out to the rest of the world. Darwin offers the next generation of Wii."
Mahajan says he's never heard of a project codenamed "Newton," but while Gyration offered an outright denial of a relationship with Microsoft, Mahajan refused to comment on what companies are currently using its technology. "There are publishers in studios using it right now, but we have not announced our relationships."
So does Motus' Darwin aim to compete with existing motion controls, or add that kind of technology to products that don't currently have it?
"That's a tough question," Mahajan says. "We're doing what we're doing; we've created motion-based technology that offers wonderful control. Competition is kind of a natural part of doing business. Our goal is not to compete, but to do what we do and do it very well. We're not knocking down the Wii; we respect it and we admire it."
So where is Darwin aiming? "Darwin will work on console as well as PC. One [console]has very good motion controls... the PlayStation's Sixaxis struggled a little bit, and I think the other consoles, as well as PC, are looking for full motion-based solutions too," said Mahajan. "If you look at the rumour mill... it looks like Microsoft is coming up with something, and we have something... So motion-based control is needed on the other consoles, as well as PC."
The other consoles? You mean, other than PC, PlayStation and the one with "very good motion controls"? Isn't that just one console?
Motus has a previous relationship with Microsoft, too. Its iClub technology encompasses motion analysis and capture, and they've been at that for nearly five years now. The iClub technology was used in Microsoft's Links golf title in 2005. Is Motus continuing to work together with Microsoft?
"I couldn't tell you that," Mahajan said. "I would love to tell you that, but I can't."
One point Mahajan made is that when publishers release Wii titles where motion plays a key role - say, a Harry Potter - they lose "two thirds of their revenue" because without the motion controls that make magical wand-waving what it is, those titles don't sell as well on Xbox 360 and PS3.
We talked to Aaron Greenberg, director of product management for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live to see how concerned Microsoft is about losing the attention of that waggle-loving, more casual market.
"Nintendo's success is great for us," says Greenberg. "It's helped broaden the industry, and we feel like we're a part of that effort. I think that Xbox 360 is a great compliment to that experience; our belief is we offer an experience that has a broad appeal from teens to adults and even young adults... what we're seeing right now, coming out of last holiday, is that the fastest-growing segment for us is teenagers and teenage girls. With Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution... the music genre has really exploded and those titles are selling best on Xbox 360."
In Greenberg's view, the all-inclusive motion-based Wii experience is a gateway drug for young consumers who eventually "graduate" to the Xbox 360. But the Wii has the broadest install base among current consoles — how much of that does Greenberg feel is due to the Wii's controls? "Motion control in particular... I wouldn't say that has been the differentiator. It helped contribute to the Wii's success but it created a backlash for Sony. It's not necessarily about motion or no motion, but it's about the implementation of that experience."
He continues, "People buy your console to be entertained, and they buy it for an entertaining gaming experience. By having motion, that doesn't make the gaming experience any better. There's certain types you've seen where it's definitely been unique... and some where you don't want a motion control, like when playing GTA or Madden or a racing game or an RPG. Wii Sports worked well, but in this industry, people want a lot more variety beyond the whack-a-mole type of experience that you get with that."
Does that mean Microsoft has plans to add motion controls only for certain kinds of games? "We haven't announced anything like that," he said. "We really don't comment on those types of speculative rumors."
But does the company think it's necessary to take a cue from Wii and loop in more of the casual audience? Not necessarily, says Greenberg, implying the hardcore gamer is still the platform's main priority. "The fact is, if you look at the top selling and best-rated games in the industry, you'll find that majority of those titles are on Xbox 360," he says. "Four genres drive 80 percent of sales. We've got the top-rated games and the most exclusives in those genres. If [gamers]are only going to buy one system, we feel like we offer the complete experience."
Leaked documents on a possible upcoming Rare title called The Fast And The Furriest, featuring surly squirrel Conker, suggested that the game might include a Wii-like motion control scheme. But an anonymous source inside Rare says that game is just a rumour, noting, "A new Conker game doesn't really factor that high up on our agenda."
Apparently, says the source, lead designer and Conker creator Chris Seavor is sick to death of the character and the franchise, and prefers to back-burner any title featuring the Rare mainstay. "We really don't want to run the risk of being pigeonholed as a casual games developer," adds the source. However, Rare belongs to Microsoft now. "They own us outright, but they still respect our creative integrity," stresses the source.
Still, our source could neither confirm nor deny rumours that the game was once or is currently in development, and nor would the source comment on the waggle rumours. "Many things are possible, but that's not to say that any of them could be true," the source says.
In fact, adds the source, "All this speculation couldn't have come at a worse time for us." Why? Rare would prefer fans focus not on rumours, but on the very true impending launch of Banjo 3, about which the whole team is enormously excited. "Don't expect a traditional platformer," promises the source, "We've gone away and invented a game mechanic that's never been in any game before."
So Microsoft may feign disinterest in the women, kiddos and seniors who've caught the Wii-waggle bug, Rare may be sick of Conker and prefer not to be a "casual developer," and Gyration swears it's not involved. But Darwin developer Motus is keeping the truth close to its chest, so it's unlikely the rumours about the "Newton" will die down anytime soon.