It’s easy to dismiss PlayStation Move as a tardy attempt at jumping on Nintendo’s motion control bandwagon. That is, until you get your hands on the controller itself, and realise how fantastically precise it is.
The potential of a motion sensitive controller with the fidelity of a traditional pad offers terrific opportunity for games designers. In parallel with the coming of Natal, Move could see the dwindling reputation of motion-controlled games return to the forefront of the both the professional and public mindsets.
But what of the process of actually creating games for Move? To answer that question, Develop sat down with some of those building the initial wave of titles for the platform.
Joining the debate were EyePet designer May Wong and project manager Nathan Baseley, the producer of the forthcoming SOCOM Elliot Martin, Sports Champions assistant producer Olivier Banal, The Shoot’s associate producer Ray Khalastchi, and TV Superstars designers Sam Dickinson and Jon Torrens:
From a game design perspective, what opportunities has working Move provided to open up the game or genre you’re working with?
Torrens: Really the Move controller lets us interact in loads of different new ways. Typically, a player is presented with one control method in game, and encouraged to simply repeat that. In TV Superstars, the controller is used in all kinds of ways. From being used as a whisk or knife in the cooking part of our game to being a way to affect the physics of the player’s character as it flies through the air in the action game show parody. The precision of Move means that there are loads and loads of different ways for the player to interact with the game.
Dickenson: I think one of the interesting things about technology like this is that you try to think of all the inventive new ways you can use the controller. It’s not just what you want the player to do full-stop. It makes you ask: ‘What can we do? What expressive ideas can we introduce to the experience?’.
Wong: With a game like EyePet, Move helped us, in that we wanted to use live video feed in the game to make it feel like EyePet is actually in your living room. The controller in the player’s hands becomes things in the game like a shower, shampoo [bottle] or toy, so that the player can really feel like they really do interact with the pet. Move lets the player feel like everything is actually in their hands. It makes things more realistic and believable.
Baseley: I just want to second what Mai said really. For EyePet it’s all about immersion. Augmented reality is about making the player think that they in the same world as the EyePet. The Move controller is something that actually exists in the real world and the EyePet world. In terms of the illusion and the immersion, it makes things one-no-one. The pet can see the Move controller and the player can.
Martin: I think the biggest benefit of the Move controller for the SOCOM series is that of accessibility. Motion controllers n general give people a more accessible means or interface with which to play games, as proved well by Nintendo. The third-person shooter genre of game for some people is typically very difficult to pick up and play. It involves changing the viewpoint of the character, using something like the Dual Shock controller, and some people just can’t map that kind of interface to– without meaning to sound rude – their brain. With the move controller what it allows us to do with SOCOM is have the player basically point at enemies on screen with Move as if they were aiming with a real gun in their hand. It a huge change to the genre because rather than having to move the camera, you can just point and shoot. I think Move is going to make that style of game a lot more accessible to a lot more people.
Banal: Sports Champions is a sports simulation and Move, with its level of precision and its fidelity, allows you to really replicate the real life situations and the motions that appear in each sport. That’s something the 3D tracking system allows you to do, whether it’s moving a bat or – in table tennis – putting spin on a ball. You can get a really, really high level of precision and realism with Move. That’s something that is now possible.
Khalastchi: For us, what Move introduces is really about the immediacy of not having to rely on other buttons. We’ve got this arcade shooter, which is very fast paced, and instead of having to use buttons for various powers and inputs we can use gestures instead. It really makes the game faster, more immediate and more immersive. We used one device, Move, to incorporate all the features of the genre. It’s opened up a lot for us, while keeping things a lot faster.
With games like Socom and EyePet supporting Move, the tech doesn’t seem aimed exclusively at either casual or hardcore audiences. Has it allowed you to make single games that appeal to audiences from both demographics?
Martin: SOCOM is a series that has traditionally been perceived as a hardcore title. One of the things the team has always wanted to do is open the game experience up to other types of players. The game will support Move and the traditional Dual Shock controllers which traditional SOCOM gamers are used to, so that they can continue with their experience with the level of finesse that they are familiar with. But Move allows the player to correlate what’s happening on the screen to their actions so they don’t loose any of the level of control; it’s just presented in a way that’s easier for them to understand. That allows the new SOCOM to be a game that genuinely appeals to a hardcore audience and the newer casual gamer who may have never have considered a title like SOCOM before.
Dickenson: Move does make it a lot easier for what you’d traditionally see as a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer to play together at the same time. That means family and party games like TV Superstars, which we’re working on, don’t have the barrier of someone understanding the controller better than someone else. Move certainly introduces that.
Torrens: I agree. I think Move will definitely be revolutionary in that way. You do have this distinction between the hardcore and the casual and the Wii’s come along as something people look at and think ‘that’s the thing with the pointer, that’s for families and not for serious games. Meanwhile the PS3 maybe has been seen as exclusive and a bit hardcore. There’s a division there. Now I think the PS3 will become properly inclusive and people will think hardcore games and casual games all use one controller. I really feel that there won’t just be casual gamers picking it up, but the hardcore gamers picking it up and realising we can all play together. Everyone’s included in the same thing, and that’s a big deal.
Baseley: For me the thing about the precision is interesting too. If you look around the room today, we’ve all got very different titles underway. The move platform presents so many different options, because you’ve got the camera, meaning you can use the live feed that we can do; some of the other titles use the precision like the sports titles; or you can adapt and use it more generally. As a platform, for designers and developers it just gives us loads of options we can play with, that always come back to the same controller. The consumer interface is the same regardless of the title, but the way that developers use it and adapt it is very different. It’s very versatile set of options.
Martin: In the case of SOCOM, the Move controller support was never planned in from the beginning, so it was something, which internally, as the Move initiative gathered momentum, the team were asked to implement. Initially they were hesitant because they thought that a new control system meant that they would completely have to redesign the game. Actually they managed to get the basic implementation up and running in a matter of hours. It work first time, and not only did it work, but it was immediately very intuitive, and it didn’t require any great change of mindset. It was very easy to pick up and play straight away. From that, because they didn’t have to invest the time in prototyping lots of things, it allowed them to just concentrate on how they could use move in more creative ways in the game. In some senses Move fuelled a new branch of design within the game.
What are the challenges of working with Move?
Banal: On Sports the team at Zindagi Games, who are developing the game and who have also been involved in the design of the motion control system, got really good at replicating player movements very, very accurately. The problem with that is Move replicates very accurately what the player is doing wrong. A few user tests revealed that what the designers had got comfortable with, the players were struggling with. That really made them think about accessibility, within that precise device environment. They put a lot of effort into implementing an easy mode that offered a more forgiving approach to movement. That meant that the entry level was pretty low for people not at all used to any video games or the sport that is the theme of the game they are playing. But that still allows for the difficulty to go all the way up to a level of precision and fidelity that allows the more dedicated and more experienced players to really enjoy themselves. That was the way to give a full spectrum of gamers profiles a way to play together. You can adapt the precision to cater for everyone.
Khalastchi: To add to that, it’s important to remember that while move does open a lot of opportunities, it does ultimately come down to good game design. It’s not an answer to every problem, and that’s really key if you’re tackling developing any kind of motion control game. The cool thing on our side is that the actual controller itself has be developed in tandem with our software, so that we’ve been back and forth with all of the teams across the world who’ve actually been creating the hardware itself, who have actually been responding to the software, which is really cool.
Relative to the typical hurdles face by developers, is Move an ‘easy’ platform to work with?
Baseley: To be honest any of the challenges we’ve had have been the same challenges we’ve had before working on anything. Maybe they are slightly different, but they’re no more or less substantial.
Dickenson: Absolutely. It’s petty much the same as any kind of new tech that you’re working with for the first time. You’ll always meet with problems you have to overcome, but working with Move is no better or worse I don’t think.
Wong: Yes. Before, in the last EyePet game, we had to use the Magic Cards and hand gestures, where as now we can use the motion controller. But Move shows how just one new thing can move the game forward.
Torrens: Often in a motion control game you’re controlling something in two dimensions, whether it is on a flat or vertical plane. However, with the Move controller, because we’re actually working for movement in a real 3D space, there is that much more that you then have to make sure your design is that precise for. We hadn’t completely considered that before we started work, and it does place great demands, but because of that there’s greater opportunities.