In a year that would traditionally see the start of a new console cycle, the platform holders have bet their chips on motion control peripherals in an effort to reach out to the ever-shifting casual market.
Both Sony and Microsoft’s new hardware has arrived at retail and consumers are beginning to experience these so-called ‘revolutionary’ motion devices for themselves.
But do they really offer anything significantly different to the Wii?
“Maybe I’m missing something huge, but it hasn’t been done in the last five years, and they’ve tried everything. I don’t think it’s suddenly magically going to happen,” said indie developer Adam Saltsman in a recent conversation I had with him.
And his comments got me thinking. Developers have crafted some of the most innovative games in the medium’s short history during the last decade.
Part of this is down to the current generation of connected consoles, which have helped reinvigorate the indie scene, and with their considerable power there’s no longer a combined cry from the development community that technology is constraining their visions - unless, of course, you’re Kazunori Yamauchi.
Most important of all though, they’ve gradually been perfecting how to get the most engagement out of gaming’s traditional interface: the joypad. Common configurations for camera control and genre-specific actions have been adopted as standard. Distilling game mechanics to just a few buttons or less is another trend that has been widely praised.
So if it’s taken us more than 40 years to reach a point where we understand enough about human interaction with joypads to design modern games around them, how long will it be before we’ve truly cracked motion control?
I’ve played several PlayStation Move games and, while they’re all a lot prettier than the Wii’s, the same old issues crop up. Tumble is one exception that demonstrates some subtly and finesse to motion control. The rest are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, with mixed results. Then again, there are more similarities between Move and the Wii.
Promising the dawn of controller-free gaming, the Kinect motion sensor has sparked a lot of attention. However, the games for it are still marginally different from its competitors and Microsoft faces an even tougher challenge rewiring peoples’ minds to this new interface.
It’s always exciting to receive new hardware, but, to be a devil’s advocate, I'm not interested in playing another five years of samey motion games. I want to pick up a motion controller and have actions which are as commonplace as right-clicking. With Kinect, I want to infiltrate the Knights’ Guild in the next Elder Scrolls by fooling the guards with my facial expressions - actually, I may just have to place myself in cryosleep for that.
Until we begin to see some genuinely progressive motion games that take us beyond the realm of exaggerated movements and dodgy calibration, motion control may simply remain another exciting twist to the current console race.