Last year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft and Sony announced game-changing technologies (literally) and, unless you’re a gamer, you probably haven’t heard of them. Both have to do with user motion-control for the Xbox and PlayStation 3, which directly encroaches on Nintendos long-standing and popular gimmick.
Except Microsoft is taking a different route than the motion controller. They’re taking the controller completely out of the equation by using a host of sensors designed to read your body. Yep, pretend like you’re driving a car, shooting a gun or even fishing and you can play your favorite driving, shooter and fishing games. If this sounds good to you, then you’re the exact kind of gamer the monopolistic company is looking for, which is to say you’re not (a gamer, that is). You see, this sort of virtual technology has never caught on, and yes, this isn’t its first incarnation.
I remember playing VR games in Vegas nearly ten years ago, and it was lame. Why? Because if you’re pretending to grip a steering wheel, aim a gun or cast a net and there’s nothing in your hand, then you’re going to have no connection with the game you’re playing. But isn’t that the point of video games — to play them, to disconnect from reality? Oh wait, that’s what all entertainment is designed to do. Maybe that’s the thing: to reach a level of gaming where you don’t feel like you’re playing a game. Perhaps this is supposed to make the virtual world more real. It’s an interesting concept and is the entire idea behind Project Natal. It’s also a giant gamble.
Sony, on the other hand, is taking a page right out of Nintendo’s playbook. Instead of a cheap knock off though, Sony is putting the motion controller on steroids, handing it over to NASA and making it the next Mars rover. Natal’s tech is impressive, but where the Wii failed, the PlayStation is probably going to succeed (i.e., reinvent the gaming controller). Using the already existing Playstation Eye and a wand-like controller, Sony will be able to achieve a level of accuracy, precision and response time that will make geek dreams of becoming a true blue Jedi Knight (or Sith Lord) a reality.
Unfortunately, pictures of PlayStation Move (as it is officially called) have brought up some people’s concerns of “looking stupid.” I say it’s no more stupid than anyone playing Wii Sports, or even using no controller at all. Besides, you’re playing video games — who cares what you look like? The revolution the PlayStation team is going for is more a bridge between hardcore and casual gamers. We can both enjoy Move’s goofy-looking glowing ball while we shoot up our enemies or cast our line.
Having owned a PS3 for years now, I find nothing in Project Natal that might draw me away. On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed the Wii’s controllers and have almost picked up my second console on a number of occasions, so Move is perfect for my gaming habits. All bias aside, Xbox will definitely benefit from a re-invigoration via Natal, since nothing new has come its way for a while now. PS3 just came out with a newer, slimmer model, which rolled with a nice price drop, so Move will just add to the recent momentum Sony has been experiencing. Combined with Netflix hitting the PS XMB this fall (and getting rid of that pesky disc in the process), Microsoft might start falling behind in the ever-violent console war.
With the release of these new technologies, Wii will become obsolete, which is good because it was always just old tech packaged with a fancy controller. Look at it strictly on a console basis — Nintendo never came out with a next-generation machine. The Xbox is still only a gaming machine that will soon read your movements. The PS3 still has developers working hard to unlock its potential, with games like Killzone 2, Uncharted 2, and Final Fantasy XIII as probably the most impressive examples of what the PlayStation can really do. Along with being the only future-proof Blu-Ray player, it’s a fairly indispensable piece of home entertainment hardware.
Regardless, we’re looking at every gaming system finally taking steps to be more than just a fifth-generation Atari — and that’s a very good thing.
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