Gaming gets physical


  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 21 Dec 2010

Microsoft and Sony attempt to shake up the gaming world with their motion-sensing peripherals.

BY INCLUDING a motion sensor in the Wii gaming console, Nintendo made big waves and caught the attention of the world.

Even non-gamers flocked to buy it and it’s still the best-selling system, beating more advanced gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony.

The two giants have not been standing still as they too have released peripherals that sense motion for their next-generation consoles.

Will Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 and Sony’s Move system for PlayStation3 change the way gamers enjoy their game? Read on to find out.

Controller-free gaming

Microsoft first announced the Kinect at the E3 2009 gaming expo and promised that it is something truly unique.

During the preview, Microsoft said you could grab, say, a toy gun and the Kinect would detect and replicate it in the gaming world. It also claimed that the Kinect was so advanced that it could detect the user’s emotions.

Sadly, it can do neither but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Microsoft’s Kinect was easy and fast to set up. All we needed to do was to plug in the Kinect camera, run some calibration tests and we were all set.

For Kinect to work properly, it requires a bit of space — about 6ft to 8ft between you and the TV.

You will also need to be in a relatively well lit room in order for the camera to “see” you.

Recently, Microsoft introduced a major update for the Xbox 360 which added a special interface for the device called Kinect Hub.

Kinect Hub allows you to use your hand to guide a cursor to select options instead of using the Xbox controller.

We found Kinect Hub to be sparse and there is little you can do with it. At the moment, you can launch the game in the disc tray, edit your avatar and calibrate Kinect.

Disappointingly, there are no options to browse your friends list, the Xbox Marketplace and videos stored on your console.

Possibly the worst news for Kinect users is that the voice recognition feature is region locked and is not available here. So, you will not be able to control the Xbox by speaking to it.

The first few games released for Kinect — Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports, Kinect Joy Ride and Kinectimals — will largely appeal to casual gamers. One of the first games we tried was Kinect Adventures.

Kinect was able to detect movements accurately but there was a noticeable half-a-second lag. Although the lag didn’t adversely affect our gaming experience, it did make some mini-games like river rafting more ­challenging.

Interestingly, Kinect was smart enough to recognise when a second player stepped in and almost immediately assigns the player a second character to control.

The Kinect system definitely feels more physically demanding than the Wii or Move as it only recognises players that are standing up.

You will definitely work up a sweat by playing most Kinect games, a good side effect if you are looking for a more physically exhausting game than, say, Wii Sports.

However, the fun and appeal of Kinect Adventures is limited at best. Sure, it’s fun for the first five minutes to swing your hands around to block moving balls or sway your body to control a fast moving raft, but the novelty wears out quickly.

Another title, Kinect Sports, mirrors Wii Sports in many ways but isn’t as great. For instance, the ping pong game just plays very weirdly with players expected to swing their hands without a paddle.

Although the presentation is good, it’s by far the weakest sports game.

Dance Central, on the other hand, makes the best use of Kinect’s features. Created by Harmonix, the makers of Rock Band, the game is the most innovative dancing game to be released since Dance Dance Revolution in the 1990s.

It doesn’t have a story mode but the main objective of the game is get you to move your body and start ­dancing.

You basically have to dance according to the beat of the song and mirror the on-screen character’s actions.

DC will easily give you a good workout — you’ll feel tired even after one or two songs. That said, it isn’t as easy to pick up and play as, say, Rock Band as you’ve to see and learn the moves first before performing to a song.

The dance moves start out simple (for example, you’ll have to sway your body side-to-side) and can become so complex you’ll be scratching your head for awhile.

If you are lost, you can always start up the tutorial mode which will walk you through each dance move again and can even slow things down until you get it right. We dare say that given time, DC can actually teach players to dance for real. DC is a great party game that will get people on their feet and start grooving.

Moving along

Sony also showcased the Move system last year during E3. It showed an impressive demo that allowed users to interact with virtual objects in 3D space.

The Move system works similar to the Wii — players have to hold a Move controller in the hand to interact within the PlayStation3.

The controller also has the same basic shape as the Wiimote and a similar button layout but it has an extra feature — a built-in accelerometer for more accurate motion detection.

The Move controller works together with the PlayStation Eye camera which detects the lighted balls at the end of each Move controller, and translates the movement to actions on the screen.

Some action games like Resident Evil 5 will require an additional Navigation controller which replicates the function of the left analogue stick on the standard PlayStation3 wireless controller.

The Move controller can also be used to navigate the PlayStation3’s user interface. It works fairly well although it’s a little too sensitive and you can easily overshoot when selecting a menu option. The Move has a far more robust line up of games that will appeal to casual and hardcore gamers.

We tried Sports Champions first because it looked more promising than Wii Sports.

The controls definitely benefit from the built-in sensor as the Move’s movement is tracked accurately, and objects on screen move and rotate exactly the way you want it.

Sports Champions’ selection of games is, however, limited and there are only six to choose from. It also suffers from a lack of variety especially when compared with Wii Sports Resort, the sequel to Wii Sports.

The main highlights of the game are Gladiator Duel and Archery which actually use two Move controllers to perform actions like swinging swords and shooting an arrow.

Movements translate very well in these two games although aiming in Archery feels a bit “loose,” which makes it harder to hit the target.

Table tennis also felt surprisingly good because the Move translated the movement of our hands very well. Lag is quite minimal and you can add spin to your serve by twisting your hand as you hit.

On the whole, Sports Champion is a good effort that takes advantage of the Move's more precise sensing although it doesn’t really offer anything ground breaking.

Casual gamers should also check out Start the Party which is a collection of nine simple and fun games.

The game has an interesting feature that will delight younger gamers. It shows a real-time video feed of ­players and depending on the mini game, Start the Party will transform the motion controller into different objects such as a tennis racket for swatting bugs or a small harpoon for bursting blowfishes.

You are bound to get a few laughs with this game because players will have to frantically perform the required tasks. However, just like Kinect Adventures, Start the Party has no lasting appeal but is still a great party game.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move are interesting answers to Nintendo’s Wii. Each system offers a ­different experience although the edge goes to the Kinect for being something truly unique.

The Kinect, however, caters largely to the casual gaming audience with fun and fitness games at the moment.

Dance Central, for instance, is a great game that takes advantage of Kinect’s controler-free environment.

Hardcore gamers have very little reason to buy a Kinect but that might change with the upcoming Child of Eden title, a visually immersive rhythm-action shooter that allows players to use their hands to aim and shoot.

Sony’s Move system doesn’t really offer anything ground breaking even though it is more accurate and responsive than the Wii. Of course, the PlayStation3 also has better graphics than the Wii.

The main advantage the Move has over Kinect is that it can be easily integrated with upcoming popular titles such as Killzone 3. Plus, software updates can be released to make older games support the Move — the big hit Heavy Rain has already been updated to take advantage of the device.

If you are a hardcore gamer, you are not likely to get a kick out of Kinect or Move for the time being. Casual gamers, on the other hand, will find both options very interesting. However, innovation certainly comes at a high price as the Kinect is significantly more expensive than the Move.

If you are a casual gamer looking for a unique gaming experience, the Kinect is a better system as long as you don’t mind the hefty price tag.

For a much lower price, the Move system is equally fun but not as innovative.

The fate of Microsoft Kinect and Sony Move is still in the balance and only upcoming titles will decide which one will be favoured by gamers.

Kinect provided by Gamer’s Hideout Sdn Bhd, costs RM659 and comes with Kinect Adventures. PlayStation Move provided by Sony Malaysia, costs RM298 and comes with the Move controller, PlayStation Eye camera and one preselected game.

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