We all know the stereotype of the video gamer — inactive, couch-bound, perhaps a touch portly. The only parts of the body that really get a workout are the thumbs.
That all changed with Nintendo’s Wii and its motion control system. As soon as you open the box, you’re swinging those Wiimotes around and burning at least a few calories.
Nintendo’s rivals took a while to come around, but they’re finally ready to answer the motion control challenge. After years of dismissing it as a gimmick and trashing the Wii’s lackluster graphics despite its killer sales numbers, Microsoft and Sony gave in to that old axiom: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Sony came up with a system called Move, compatible with its Playstation 3. It consists of a motion controller, a navigation controller and a camera. It’s so clearly inspired by the Wii’s control system that it could come from an alternate universe. First, the motion controller: you hold it in your right hand, thumb buttons decorate the front and a single trigger button is on the opposite side.
The only thing really distinguishing it from a Wiimote is the giant, light-up, color-changing sphere on top. It provides some feedback to you, changing color in response to your actions in the game. It might look kind of cool, maybe like a microphone, or something.
Try not to use your imagination too much.
To keep your left hand from getting bored, there’s the navigation controller, which bears a startling resemblance to the Wii’s “nunchuck” controller. It has two more triggers, a D-pad and an analog control stick to replicate the left side of the normal two-handed controller — there’s no actual motion control in this component.
The final piece is the Playstation Eye, a camera and microphone evolved from the old Playstation EyeToy. The really awesome part is that the Eye is absolutely required to use the motion controller, since it tracks the glowy sphere ball thing. So there’s that.
Microsoft’s offering is Kinect for the Xbox 360. At first glance, it appears to be just a camera, but it also includes a microphone and infrared depth sensor for precise detection of every move you make. It was known even beyond the company’s walls as the code name “Project Natal.” It can track up to six people at once and is even motorized to follow players. You don’t need to hold a controller — everything from navigating menus to manipulating a game’s characters is done with your whole body.
The bad news for both of these motion control systems is that they cost money on top of the console’s price. Kinect will set you back $150, while the Move controllers add up to about $110. Both come out in the fall.