"Take that, Microsoft," may not be what PlayStation 3 special projects manager Dr. Richard "EyeToy" Marks actually said when he took the stage back in early June at E3 2009. Still, you could practically hear it whispered in the rare downbeats as Marks divulged Sony's own two-fisted take on precision motion-control.
Imagine a microphone with a translucent bulb in lieu of the mic's metal mesh, capable of lighting up and changing color, almost a wand of sorts. "Just a prototype," said Marks then, and the final look will probably change, but you hold it like you're gripping the hilt of a sword. Now imagine that device (or devices--Sony eventually rolled out two) working in tandem with the PlayStation Eye camera/microphone to offer stunningly precise 1-to-1 tracking, and you have what Sony informally dubbed "PlayStation Motion Control."
I recently posed a series of questions to Marks about the technology by email. These are his responses.
Game On: At what point did you settle on your current two-peripheral approach to motion-control? When did you say "this is it"?
Richard Marks: I’ll give you two very different answers to this.
The first answer is that we have been moving toward this solution for several years now. We learned a lot from our experience creating EyeToy, and also from other research we have done, and from the experiences we have observed for other products. We learned that while people definitely enjoy physical interaction and movement, they also want precise control and a simple, fast, reliable way to trigger actions. We designed our new control system to accomplish all of this. We believe the path we have chosen is an ideal combination of both spatial and action/button input, and of course we can combine that with voice and video data from the PlayStation Eye mic array and camera.
The second answer is much less complicated. The first time I pressed a button and saw a virtual light sword extend up out of the controller, and watched it move just as it should when I swung it, I thought “this is it”. Then, when I saw the reaction of my kids when they tried the same, I knew we had it right.
GO: Just to clarify, the total setup will consist of the currently available PlayStation Eye, the two "wands" you demonstrated at E3, and the games themselves? Will the technology be backward compatible with any existing PS3 games?
RM: The new controller is designed to provide new and innovative gameplay. At E3, we showed both one and two-handed experiences. We are currently looking into the possibility of incorporating many familiar characters and franchises with these new experiences. More details will be provided when we make the official announcement of the product.
GO: Will it be called PlayStation Motion Control, or is that just a temporary concept name?
RM: No, that is just a temporary mouthful. We’ve yet to announce an official name and will provide more product details at a later time.
GO: After E3, Nintendo delivered a kind of backhanded compliment in welcoming Sony Computer Entertainment and Microsoft to the motion-control stable and saying it was "flattered" by your announcements. But SCE’s controller-free motion-sensing EyeToy--which, since its introduction in 2003, has sold over 10 million units worldwide--was out years before the Wii, wasn't it?
RM: Of course EyeToy came out before Wii, but that does not diminish the contribution Nintendo made to game interfaces. I’m a gamer first, so the way I see it both EyeToy and the Wii controller represent advancements that broadened the gaming market and enabled new experiences. Our new controller takes this even further by combining the strengths of previous interface approaches with responsive new high-precision tracking.
GO: The EyeToy delivered controller-free motion capture, then the Wii introduced two-handed controls, and now Microsoft's put together what for all intents and purposes resembles a high-resolution EyeToy. Tying into the first question, what triggered your decision to reintroduce controllers, i.e. the "wands," after the EyeToy and PlayStation Eye's controller-free approach?
RM: EyeToy was created to allow players to physically interact with games using their body. The unencumbered feeling of no wires and feeling free (instead of connected to your television) was very important, as was the simplicity of the controls. Everyone, even non-gamers, felt like they could just jump in and play, which was great.
We still believe that is the best interface for some experiences, but for other experiences, additional capabilities are important. We discovered during our research that some experiences demand precise control and a simple, fast, reliable way to trigger actions. We also found that some experiences just feel more natural when holding a tool, or a “prop”. Our new controller adds these new capabilities to those we already have from PlayStation Eye.