GO: What about the functional advantages of controller vs. no-controller? Do peripherals allow for more precise tracking? Is it a matter of "amplification through simplification"?
RM: Having a hand-held controller greatly increases the precision that is possible, since we have designed it specifically for that purpose. The new controller’s high-precision embedded sensors detect the sensitive movements of the hands, and the PlayStation Eye tracks the sphere on the controller to precisely detect the position in real-life 3D space.
As I mentioned before, another huge benefit of having a controller comes from being able to trigger abstract actions with a simple button press. This is very important, because this event triggering capability is complementary to the spatial input provided by the tracking, and some experiences need both.
GO: Is the PlayStation Eye capable of effecting what Project Natal's claiming, i.e. peripheral-free highly detailed three-dimensional body tracking and advanced voice recognition? Would SCE ever use the Eye in that capacity like Natal, controller-free?
RM: Peripheral-free, marker-free, highly detailed three-dimensional body tracking is a challenge, even with a 3D camera, and it is even more difficult with a 2D camera. Partial solutions are possible, and these are often more appropriate for creating a compelling play experience. Again, the PlayStation Eye taught us that while people definitely enjoy physical interaction and movement, buttons are needed for some experiences.
Regarding voice recognition, the controller itself does not have any such capabilities. However, the PlayStation Eye has a four-microphone array, which we designed primarily to enable far-field voice input, so voice recognition is a possibility.
GO: For all its advantages, the Wii is notoriously imprecise with a relatively restrictive motion "box." Assuming SCE’s "wands" operate line-of-sight, how free will we be to move around? What's the virtual "box" size, roughly speaking in "real" space, that we'll be able to move about in?
RM: We specifically designed PlayStation Eye with a wide field of view (75 degrees). This means when you are 10 feet away from the camera, the range of motion is 12 feet across by 9 feet high.
GO: When we spoke a few years ago, I asked you about brain interfaces, and you were skeptical about the absent biofeedback mechanism. One of my issues with the original Eye Toy and now Project Natal (at least in theory) is that both approaches have you interacting with nothing, or nothing tactile anyway. The Wii Remote, at least, becomes the hilt of your sword, the stock of your rifle, the wood of your bow, and so forth. The physicality of the interface buoys the illusion. Your thoughts?
RM: As mentioned before, I completely agree. While it is okay for some experiences, we learned from EyeToy the limitations for a camera-only interface. While there are definitely some benefits to improving on the camera—like adding 3D, for example—we didn’t feel a camera-only interface was the best solution for games. We looked very carefully down that path, and we chose to follow a different one.
GO: Riffing on the last question, what about...not precision tracking, but precision simulating? A finger pulling against air, even with visual aids, can't easily detect the tension point of a gun trigger. That tension point is absolutely crucial toward letting you know at what point a tiny cordite-laced missile is going to pop out the end of the barrel. A pair of wands with buttons (or analog triggers, like on a gamepad) can at least compensate by leaving the fine motor mechanics, e.g. thumbing hammers, pulling triggers, plucking strings, etc. to the latter. Your thoughts?
RM: You’ve hit on it exactly. No matter how good our visual tracking might become, the feeling you get from actually squeezing something physical is a better simulation than just positioning your finger. This relates to an interface phenomenon I call “somatic gratification”. The feeling of the interaction can be just as important as the effectiveness.
GO: You're aiming for a Spring 2010 release. Will you ship with one or more "demonstration" games along the lines of what Nintendo did with Wii Sports? A bundle that includes the PlayStation Eye? I'm assuming you'll be able to buy the wands by themselves... Do you have a ballpark price range, say under $100, for the pair?
RM: The new controller will be available to consumers Spring 2010. Further details will be provided when we make the official announcement.
GO: Thanks Richard.
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