The video game industry has seen its fair share of technological innovations during its long and storied history, but some of the most important advancements were met with confusion and outright disdain: 3D graphics accelerators, optical drives, even mice as gaming controllers all had to force their way through varying degrees of resistance before they became de facto standards.
Recently, the console space went through some growing pains with newfangled motion controls. The Wii blazed the trail in this field, of course, but many hardcore gamers still turned their noses up at what they termed a glorified “gimmick” more suited to housewives. So perhaps the PlayStation Move, backed by stalwart Sony and its powerful PlayStation 3 console, will finally bridge the gap between the “elite” and motion controls. But don't judge the Move by its cover: it easily bests the Wii Remote in just about every technical aspect, and enhances games that even the most hardcore gamer would be interested in playing.
Because it's the natural thing to do, I have to start with the inevitable technical comparison between Move and Wii. While it's probably unfair to compare the two directly (Sony, after all, had ample time to study the Wii to see what they could improve), that's exactly what I'm going to do because they're more or less the same product. Thanks to its more ergonomic shape, the Move's controllers are more comfortable in your hand than the Wii-mote/nunchuck combo, and the PlayStation Eye, which acts as the sensor, is both more accurate in its tracking and easier to balance on top of your TV than the Wii's. Moreover, the Move's Z-axis tracking is not only superior to the Wii's (just the fact that it exists is enough for that), it allows more flexibility in your movements, allowing you to move closer to your TV in order to put more power into a bowling throw or to back up in order to absorb a powerful slam at ping pong. The camera also incorporates real, 3D body movement as well, leading to a more intuitive sense of realism.
Beyond the Wii comparison, though, the Move impresses from virtually every technical perspective: both the accelerometer (which tracks how fast you're swinging the controller) and the angular rate sensors (which track in which direction you're moving the controller) are, to quote My Cousin Vinny, dead-on-balls accurate. Tracking is crisp with very low latency, and motion is represented as you'd expect in real life, meaning assimilating to new games is simple. The Move's controllers even include a magnetometer and complex inertial sensors to track its position by dead-reckoning, allowing the PlayStation to know how the controller is moving, even when it is obscured from the PlayStation Eye (for example, when you reach behind your back to grab an arrow from your virtual quiver).
Now, in addition to the motion controller, the Move also comes with what Sony is calling a "navigation" controller which is in essence a Wii Nunchuck. You can use this controller (which thankfully does not need to be plugged into the motion controller via a wire, meaning you can spread your arms as widely as you choose), to navigate menus and such, and it also has some functionality in games like Resident Evil 5, where you use the navigation controller's thumbstick to walk your character around. To Sony's credit, you can actually hold a standard Sixaxis controller vertically and use the left thumbstick as you would the navigation controller – meaning you don't need to shell out the dough for one if you don't want to – but it isn't particularly comfortable or logical.
While I was thoroughly impressed with the Move, there are a couple of negatives that keep it from being a true killer app. It requires constant recalibration, with titles like the very enjoyable Sports Champions, requiring it at nearly every loading screen. The calibration process is not lengthy or onerous, but needing to do it a dozen times in a gaming session gets annoying. Another issue may be cost: most of the games in the Move's initial release cycle allow you to play with just a single Move controller, but most are also enhanced quite a bit when you play with two controllers simultaneously. This means potential Move-aholics will likely have to purchase as many as four separate motion controllers and two navigation controllers if they want to share the tip-top gaming experience with just one other friend. That can add up to a costly proposition.
Of course, the main expense will be whether or not people are willing to buy a PS3 itself now that it has motion controls. While the console continues to register decent sales figures, the Wii has a seemingly insurmountable lead—at the time this article went to press, the Wii had sold 73.97 million consoles while the PS3 had sold a relatively paltry 38.1 million units. Nintendo has also effectively marketed the Wii as a family friendly console; when the average consumer thinks of video games, he (or she) is liable to think of Nintendo. By contrast, Sony has used the PS3's processing power as one of its main selling points thus far, and the monolithic styling of the console certainly doesn't have the friendly, living room vibe of Nintendo's diminutive machine. Whether Sony can make inroads with the casual audience it has essentially capitulated to Nintendo up to this point remains to be seen; it will also be interesting to see if the diehard Sony fans who've been deriding the Wii as a mere “toy” will swallow their pride and support what is essentially technology reversed engineered from the enemy's playbook.
The problem is compounded by the lineup of launch games that will ship with the Move. Most of these have more in common with the sort of games you might get in a happy meal at McDonald's than they do with the PS3's usual, high-production values lineup. While a couple are re-tooled hits from the hardcore zone (including Resident Evil 5, and Heavy Rain), most are simple sports or parlor-game titles, that just scream "tech demo" and have about as much depth as a postage stamp. The lone exception is Sports Champions, which both makes fantastic use of Move's strengths and is just plain fun in its own right, especially with friends in the room. But again, it's just retreading the same road path Nintendo forged four years ago with Wii Sports. Most prospective Move fans would do well to wait a month or two until dedicated Move games come out, as right now, there just isn't that much interesting to do with the super slick hardware. And in the long run, for the Move to truly succeed, Sony would be wise to leverage the relatively superior hardware of their console to address the one critical weakness the Wii has always had: its inability to deliver truly next-gen experiences. If Sony can replicate the natural “fun” that the Wii is known for and couple it with the usual high-end, big budget production values it's already known for then it has the potential to steal Nintendo's future right out from under it.