2009 In Review: Motion-Control Gaming Grabs The Spotlight

2009 In Review: Motion-Control Gaming Grabs The Spotlight

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.

Even Nintendo contributed to the movement in 2009, releasing Wii MotionPlus, an add-on for the existing Wii Remote that brought a finer degree of recognition to a device that had until then only partially delivered on its promise of 1:1 motion recognition.

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.

Another difference is that it appears to be lacking a d-pad, something Nintendo’s controller retains so that it can be used on older games. An interesting omission, particularly given Sony’s penchant for re-selling you older games, and it lends credence to the rumours of additional peripherals being made available to “attach” the device, similar to the nunchuk available for the Wii Remote.

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.

But hey, it’s not out yet. And neither is Sony’s. With both devices not expected until late 2010, there’s plenty of time to fine-tune them, ensure that they’re ready to hit the ground running.

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]


  • Is it wrong to like game pads? Wiggling and waggling is fun for sports games and such, but I can’t get into it for action adventures such as Twilight Princess or Mario Galaxy. The latter was a fun game, but not because of the controls, which I sometimes felt a hassle.

    As lazy as it may sound, if I want to get up and move, I’ll play sports. That’s not what my video games are for, and asofnow motion controls are, really, only for getting up, not for getting in (to the game).

  • The traditional controller won’t die out completely, I mean who would have imagined the popularity of arcade sticks. It’s a superior input method, for the fighting genre.

    The current gen games have been designed around the controllers we use now. So not only will the core mechanics of any new games need to change but they will also need to be decent games. The wii might be the motion control king but the shovelware on the shelves doesn’t quite scream revolution yet.

    In fact looking at the top ten each week it’s not hard to tell there’s only a few games critical to the Wii’s success. They rank high every week but beyond them I’d love to see how further sales stack up. The door is opened, but only for another wave of plastic devices to take up our lounge rooms and a long tail of control pad sales once the new consoles are only bundled with motion controllers. How many people play super smash bros with the wiimote?

  • I’m surprised it took this long for Microsoft and Sony to jump on the motion control bandwagon (I guess they had to wait to see if the success of the Wii wasn’t just a fad that would pass, apparently not).

    But I’m not really as psyched about this for Sony and Microsoft as I should be and here is why, unlike the Wii both of the other companies have said that this isn’t the next big thing for their consoles but rather than an alternative like a little add on. So unlike the Wii i think Sony and Microsoft are just treating this like a cash in, have you seen the types of tech demos they debuted with the hardware?, none of them look like anything more than just throwaway gags.

    I think their is no point imitating the Wii, because you cant beat the Wii at what it does, why not try to take it in a new direction, i can see this working for Microsoft, but certainly not for Sony just yet.

    I just get the feeling that both companies just want to cash in while they can rather than add anything to the motion control craze. With the exception of Milo, nothing i have seen from Sony or Microsoft is worthwhile, but who knows it’s still early days.

    • I think that Sony and Microsoft don’t actually believe that motion control is all that bankable on their systems to tell you the truth. After watching the stuff shown at E3 again i just don’t think either company is trying all that hard to come up with anything that breaks the mould, just stuff that treads old ground. Sony are pretty much the patron saints of showing unbelievable footage early on and actually making that a reality later, So why only show things like moving a sword and painting graffiti?, weren’t we doing just this same thing in 2004 with the eyetoy?. Same with Microsoft, waiving your arms around to stop soccer balls?, throwing paint on a wall?, we were doing these things years ago. Both these companies need to innovate if they truly want to be contenders with the Wii.

      So why are Sony and Microsoft actually doing this if they aren’t really going to put any effort into it?, I think it’s an insurance policy, Let’s say that Motion control is a giant fad that lasts one generation, perhaps people will want actual controllers in the next generation. If that’s the case, well no harm no foul, Sony and Microsoft got in on the action while they could and are moving on to better things. But let’s say motion control is the way of the future (and it may very well be) at least than they have a somewhat smoother transition from a traditional controls to the motion control.

      Meanwhile the Wii came out with the balance board and Wii fit and is pretty much laughing all the way to the bank. As long as both companies treat this like a nifty little gadget rather than a new way to play and make games, motion control will never become a reality on their systems.

  • Nah, joypads aren’t going down. They’re too important. They’re too historical. And don’t forget about those poor people who can’t use those motion-based controllers.

    Besides, with the level the technology is at in terms of motion controls today, the motion controllers aren’t set to say “All your controllers are belong to us” just yet.

    Example 1: Natal. From some reports I’ve heard, it’s actually split-second laggy. Might not be noticeable with exceptional game design, but otherwise, laggy nonetheless.

    Example 2: Wiimote. The Wiimote wasn’t able to detect true 1:1 motion. Even when the Wii MotionPlus came out, you still needed to attach a big block on the end, and you also needed to recalibrate it every 5-15 minutes.

  • I’d concur with you guys – I’m a pretty big fan of my controller based gameplay, and the reason is simple: precision. You simply cannot get the fine degree of control offered by controllers into motion control games yet, because the tech isn’t good enough and the devs are just not used to implementing it usefully.

    Th Wii’s lack of precision has always bugged me, relegating the waggle controls to the sidelines of all but a few AAA titles. I fear that the same fate awaits the Natal and Gem setups for a few years at least, which means less choice for us as gamers.

    And I may be the only one, but I always thought that the minimalist approach to motion control offered by the Sixaxis was fantastic – it’s not much used (which I’m alright with), but small, subtle implementations like needing to keep your controller stable when sniping in Killzone 2 really enhance existing gaming experiences rather than try and invent entirely new ones, which can be tricky and hit-or-miss.

  • Motion control for Sony and Microsoft is to just get the casual market attracted to them.

    I’m intrigued to what outcome will come out of both technologies. If the Natal becomes successful I might suggest to buy a 360 for myself.

    Gamepads will live on for a long time. Its essential to play games with it. Its just easy to. I agree with Flux, its all about the precision and accuracy.

  • I hope that controllers don’t die out. For me, controllers are far superior to motion-sensing technology. I’m fine with having built in mechanics such as DualShock etc; but I much prefer using a gamepad for most; if not all games. Some sports games like Wii Sports Resort and the original could very well be played with full-body setups like Natal or Sony’s controller. I’d still prefer controllers. I think Natal, at least, will end up as a cheap gimmick with only a few games released that support the platform.

  • I would say 2009 was the year that games journalists, tech journalists and possibly some casual gamers with little interest in actual gaming went ‘squee’ over motion control. Most gamers looked, nodded & went back to their gamepads.

    Seriously, it has a place – and that place could become fairly large – but I would bet my firstborn against it taking over from regular controllers.

  • control pads are the great equalizers! it doesn’t matter how fat, frail, weak,slow, fast handicapped, or if you are even bed bound. as long as you can move the control sticks and press the buttons you are on a level playing ground.thats the beauty of video games. motion control could be good for physical rehabilitation but i don’t really want it in my lounge room. my girlfriend already pays me out enough for playing video games. if she see’s me waving a magical wand in our living room……………. the hurt will never stop!

  • I don’t think this jump in interest for motion control will be seen as a horrible thing in years to come. If the audience doesn’t like it, it won’t kick off. If the audience likes it, then something must’ve been done right, in which case it probably won’t be all too bad.

    If the first generation of controllers weren’t replaced by the second (Tekken 6 arcade stick Bundle, for example), then whats to say this generation’s controllers will be replaced by the next?

  • Mr Spoon thinks conroller design has been on the wane ever since the mighty Atari 2600 joystick. Mr Spoon reminds you all it needed was an analog controller stick the size of a roll of Mentos, and a single button in the only proper colour to make a contoller button, red. Mr Spoon is saddened that the Xbox controller is the only one to untilse the might of a red button, and even then they louse it up by printing a B on it…

  • I wholeheartedly embrace motion controls. WiiSports Resort was awesome and immersive, and Red Steel 2 looks great as well.

    Anyway, here’s to Motion COntrols in 2010!

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