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Sony Move – the first of several impressions

Posted by Bart

sport-champion-screenshot Yesterday was launch day for Sony Move in our neck of the woods. With all the other stuff happening like our TAG general meeting and a minor obsession with unboxing videos I had forgotten about it.  Luckily Will was on top of things. Of course he had wisely pre-ordered whereas I decided to walk-in.  I walked out with only a Move bundle (Sports Champions plus one Move controller, plus an eyecamera) and EyePet…  I’ll have to get another single controller later.

I got only briefest taste in the TAGlab after the meeting but once at home I enrolled my little RAs (aka kids) for some eyepet analysis and then once they were in bed I had a few hours of sports champions.  Aside from noting that I have a very sore sword arm its worth noting a few observations now that might be developed as things progress.

sony-moveOn the interface — there’s plenty of room to comment on the myriad visual analogies suggested by the form of the Move controller – from sex toys, to microphones, to light saber hilts, to the wiimote itself.  This was the first thing that struck me… the Move controller (it needs a name) seems to lend itself to these analogies in away the wiimote never did.  For all the gleaming white aesthetic The Wiimote looks like a tv remote control and that’s about it. I have no idea how much of the cultural resonance of the Move was planned and how much is unintended consequence of some crazy ergonomic design but its interesting.

From my point of view its also intriguing to see the LED silicon ball on the end lighting up during play — I had read some prior discussion about the double value of the LED for enhanced tracking and as an element of gameplay. What I like about it is how it draws continuous attention to the interface.  I don’t see this as more augmented reality shenanigans but rather it makes the now customary practice of watching Wii players even prettier…  Move players are like dancers with flaming torches now.  Or rather as my kids found out when we turned out the lights its like playing with a flashlight in the dark.

My line on this — the LED ball is a screen immersion breaker but in terms of expanding the conception and realization of the living room and the players body as game space its a very cool innovation.  I am dying to compare this to what I see as the direct opposite which is the non-interface of Kinect.  What kind of gameplay is generated when the interface is present and in your face or not-present and an increasingly a seamless part of the ubiquitous computing universe we are headed for?

On swordfighting gameplay — Sports Champions is the same kind of launch/demo game that Wii Sports is — I am still amazed how many Wii players to this day play nothing else than wii bowling and wii tennis.  That’s a long time to spend with a demo but I guess that shows how powerful a demo can be.

Sports Champions will not be Wii Sports (not even marketing believes this) and in terms of general impression I’ll single out Beach Volleyball followed by Gladiator as the most interesting.  Of course I have a penchant for writing about swordfighting games so this is what I wanted to explore.

Remember I only have one controller so I am missing out on the experience of using two controllers – one for the sword and one for the shield but that will come next.  I played the single player bronze cup challenge to the end.  I beat the computer easily but that’s good… it gave me the chance to experiment and play with the interactions.  I have played every Wii swordfighting game and right now I am fond of Red Steel 2 but if the same mechanic from Gladiator for the Move can be deployed in a real game (i.e.  a game where there is a reason for fighting) I will start rewriting my material.

The gesture mapping of Move is not one to one but it seems much closer than anything I have played to date — no matter what the control scheme is what matters in sword fighting games is that you can make a plan about what sort of attack you want to do, do something and then feel that what you see happening bares some resemblance to what you thought you did.

If, as in the notorious Red Steel 1, you are forced to move your arm in cardinal lines – up, down, side left, side right you end up with a huge disjoint between what you want your body to do and what you actually experience — better in that case to stick to buttons and joysticks.  But now…  I can look at the opponent and see an opening bottom right or left side then I can swing however I like and score a hit or get legitimately blocked — that’s impressive.  Battles are mostly a matter of finding the right combo of moves but whatever… that’s more of an AI problem to my mind…. plus I’ll get to test this again when I fight with Will in the lab (what else are RAs for 🙂

Its not perfect –precision is missing. You are still aiming for regions not body parts — that gap you thought was there is not really there but I can forgive this if the game designs stick to weapons that don’t have fine control anyway like honking huge swords and clubs… it won’t make any sense if you are wielding a fencing sword or Katana — to put these in your hand is to make you feel like you could do something that you can’t with the technology — but if designers roll with this I think there is lots of potential.

Speaking of Gladiator, let’s say you wanna do one of those movie style spin and swipe sword slashes (never mind the ability to feint right, spin and slash left) — you can sort of do this by moving your onscreen avatar with buttons but you can’t literally turn your body around (facing away from the screen for a second) and slash left.  Except that other than a minor loss in tracking — you sort of can do this and it feels pretty cool.  I am a fan of doing this in Star Wars Force Unleashed for the Wii — why? Because Jedi jump around and spin and stuff – but the wiimote tracking is much poorer and i’d often lose control altogether.  At least in Gladiator, the controller tracking seems both faster and more accurate… this might actually allow players to have more fun and flexibility with what their bodies do even in the absence of direct screen effect. In my writing I refer to this as “excess gesture” and I am looking forward to tracking what happens to this through Move and Kinect games.

’nuff said for now… Clearly this Fall holds great promise of game studies scholars of all stripes… its too bad that we are still not caught up writing about all the previous games and interfaces but you can’t have everything.