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Motion commotion

By Paul O’Reilly

As expected, much of the spotlight at this year’s E3 video gaming convention, which wrapped up in Los Angeles last week, was on the “revolutionary” new motion controllers introduced by Microsoft and Sony.

I put the word revolutionary in quotes because, as any Wii owner knows, motion controllers have been around for some time. The real revolution happened four years ago when Nintendo’s ground-breaking console exploded onto the scene. Instead, what we witnessed last week was the other two gaming giants’ attempts to catch up and, if you believe the hype, blow right by their long-time rival.

Although both Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move systems are competing in the same space, they are doing so in very different ways.  Sony's Move follows a fairly traditional route, employing handheld controllers with buttons and spongy round balls on top. A PlayStation Eye camera tracks the controllers as they move around, calculating depth and distance to construct a true 3D image.

Microsoft's Kinect takes a much more dramatic approach, abandoning handheld controllers altogether in favor of a screen-mounted camera that follows a player's body movements. Touting the tagline, “You are the controller”, Kinect also responds to voice commands, allowing users to launch applications, start, pause, and fast-forward movies, and perform various other tasks on the Xbox 360 console.

Microsoft officials admit that when they launched the Xbox 360 they neglected family gamers, something they hope to rectify with Kinect. Fifteen titles – five of them from Microsoft – will be released for Kinect this year and many are family oriented. These include Wii-style games like Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures, and the energy-burning Dance Central, an “immersive dance video game”, which promises to be one of the hottest games of the year.

While positioned as a brand new device, Sony’s Move is really an upgrade of the Eye Toy that was introduced in 2003. While it works better than the Wiimote, there’s really not much difference between the two. That leaves Sony in a difficult position when it comes to marketing Move. The existing Wii owner will feel that they already have a Move-like system and new entrants into the family gaming space will likely be put-off by the lack of “E” titles and the hardcore PlayStation image.

Whatever the merits of the two systems, we can expect a promotional frenzy as we head towards the respective launch dates and the all-important fourth-quarter sales period. Despite the Wii’s huge popularity and head start, it's lack of high-definition visuals, a non-existent web presence, and an aging collection of games headlined by the Mario Bros. make it unusually vulnerable when appealing to this year’s first-time buyer.

After two years in the doldrums, these are once again exciting times for an industry that thrives on innovation and one-upmanship. While Kinect and Move may not constitute a revolution, they certainly represent an uprising and video game enthusiasts will be more than happy with that!

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