E3: Sony busts a move in motion control battle

Jaws dropped yesterday when Microsoft revealed its 'body control' technology for gaming - but Sony matched the software giant today when it demonstrated hugely effective motion controller for the PlayStation 3.

Whereas Microsoft's Project Natal is very much in its early stages, Sony leapt into the race today at E3, demonstrating a mind-blowingly effective controller system that Sony Computer Entertainment America boss Jack Tretton said could be on the market by autumn of next year.

Nintendo, the leader of the motion-based controller in recent times courtesy of its WiiMote, has further increased its lead at this innovative end of the market with its more accurate MotionPlus add-on.

But Sony's demonstration of its prototype Motion Control, which works in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera was incredibly impressive, and seemed like technology far closer to market than Project Natal

Shown by Dr Richard Marx, who worked on the PS2's EyeToy project, the control stick uses a glowing sphere on top of the device, which is tracked three-dimensionally by the camera.

"This far surpasses anything you can get on the market now," said Marx. "We've been hard at work on it for a few years. It's a new set of experiences for PS3.

"Its most distinctive feature is the glowing eye that the PS Eye can track. When you're playing RPG, for an example, you can choose fireball, and you throw to cast spell."

Another Sony engineer, Dr Antony Mikhaeloff, took on the role of stunt gamer while Marx explained the concept and talked the audience through a few functions. Mikhaeloff was rendered on the monitor on a virtual screen, in a three-dimensional virtual room. He was shown playing with a number of objects, hitting at tennis balls with a giant racket, swinging a baseball bat, even waving a dainty pink fan - although this was replaced with a massive gold Desert Eagle handgun, quickly restoring his dignity.

The one-to-one tracking was extremely precise, with an exercise stacking child's blocks showing just how accurate the Motion Control could be - even at this point in development.

"One thing that we learned from the EyeToy is that some experience need a button," Marx said. This does make sense, considering how strange it would feel to fire a gun in a first person shooter without actually pulling a trigger.

Mikhaeloff then demonstrated painting software, writing his name on the wall of the virtual room with a paintbrush, the pressure on the controller's analogue button determining pressure of brush strokes. This proved far more accurate than the results achieved at yesterday's Microsoft demonstration where gestures were vague, at best.

But what got the gamehead crowd really excited was when Marx announced it was time to go into a virtual arena to demonstrate just how fun Motion Control will be when unleashed on FPS or fighting games. The 3D tracking is clever enough that Mikhaeloff was able to reach behind enemies for more effective attacks. The next trick was the clincher - reaching over his own shoulder to pull arrows out of a quiver before dispatching them at enemies.

The three-way scrap for motion control supremacy is obviously far from over - two quite different principles which are still in development and a more rudimentary system that's already at market and getting better by the year. Only time will tell which of the big three really have got the best moves.

Matt Greenop is a guest of Sony PlayStation at E3 Expo

Taken from the New Zealand Herald