In the dark, distant future, when people write about the history of video games and get to the part labelled “2000-2010”, they’ll note one thing: 2009 was the beginning of the end for the control pad.
Not that it’ll go away any time soon; indeed, as I’ve said, I think the humble d-pad-and-buttons-thing has a few years left as the dominant control method.
But when it does die out, as it inevitably will (everything must come to an end at some point), people will look back to 2009 – and particularly E3 – and say this was the year the rot set in. That the decline began.
Why do I say 2009 and not 2006, the year of the Wii’s debut? Because until now, motion-control gaming has been confined not just to the Wii, but to select games on the Wii. Some, like Wii Sports, did it well. Others, like Red Steel, did not do it well, while for many more – from Twilight Princess to No More Heroes – it was an awkward addition, a bullet-point feature that fit the game like a square peg in a round hole.
But in 2009, both Microsoft and Sony revealed controllers and peripherals to support motion-sensing (in case you can’t tell, I am ignoring completely, as most developers did, the Sixaxis). What had been a unique point about one of three consoles suddenly became a universal feature. A clear signal of intent that motion control was the future of the entire console industry.
Both Microsoft’s peripheral (code-named “Project Natal”) and Sony’s controller (with one code-name among many being “Gem”) are scheduled to hit the market in 2010, and what’s most interesting about their respective launches is not their proximity to each other, but in the different approaches each is taking towards the technology.
Sony’s controller is “traditional”, if only in the sense that it’s similar to the Wii Remote. A controller, with buttons on it, that you hold and wave around, the device replicating an on-screen object or movement. It differs from the Wii Remote, however, in a few key areas. For one, it’s got a giant glowing orb on the top of it, which Sony claim allows for incredibly fine recognition of the user’s movements.
Microsoft’s, meanwhile, is slightly more exciting. And a riskier proposition because of it.
“Project Natal” is essentially a camera that is plugged into the Xbox 360, which can detect a player’s movements in three dimensions and replicate them on-screen. No controllers required. It was demoed to good effect at E3, but the sheer audacity of the tech has many suspecting that while it may work fine in tech demos, creating functioning games – for example with accurate movement recognition and no noticeable lag – with the tech may be more difficult.
And when they do – entering a market already dominated by the Wii and it’s now-improved Wii Remote – we’ll be looking at a very exciting time for the video game industry. A time that kicked off in 2009.
[Sony image: T3]