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Monday, April 2, 2012

An Overview of Motion Sensor Gaming – So Far

The ‘console wars’ have this generation been arguably the most fierce and interesting yet. In the past there were always clear winners and losers as each of the big console manufacturers ended up on a podium at the end of the race. The PSOne for instance thrashed the poor Sega Saturn and beat N64 by a long shot too. The Genesis largely fended off the SNES, and the PS2 was victorious over the Xbox and Dreamcast. This time however things have not been nearly as clean cut. 

The Xbox 360 arguably has been the more popular of the two ‘core’ gaming consoles, but that’s a very close call with the PS3 also shifting a lot of units and having some very big hits – particularly most recently. But then there was this third ‘lose canon’ of a console in the form of the Wii. It was nothing like the other two home consoles – eschewing HD graphics and heavy realism for fun motion controlled gameplay and a family-friendly vibe. This proved to be a masterstroke for Nintendo which quickly saw it technically outsell the other two in many territories despite note really posing a threat to either of them. Nintendo had (once again) tapped an entirely new market and brought gaming to a mainstream audience.

Of course it wasn’t long before Sony and Microsoft cottoned on to this major success story and started rolling out their own motion sensor hardware in the form of Playstation Move and Xbox Kinect. But how would these fare? And did they come to the party a bit late?

Italiano: Xbox 360 Slim with KinectItaliano: Xbox 360 Slim with Kinect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Technology

Of the three motion sensor gaming devices, the Kinect is by far the most technologically advanced. While the Move was very accurate it ultimately relied on a wand which limited what it was capable of achieving. Meanwhile the Wii was of course a great piece of kit in its day, but is starting to look a little limited compared to the new kids on the block.

The Microsoft Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360.The Microsoft Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Kinect however was unique in that it required no extra peripherals to control. This allows gamers to literally ‘be the controller’ as the ad campaigns promised, and this meant kicking footballs, punching bad guys, and pulling off dance moves. The technology is so good that many organizations are looking at how it could be implemented in other devices – you could ‘be’ your TV remote for instance, or be your mouse on the PC. At the same time the implementation of voice control makes it that bit more flexible.

Allegedly the Kinect could actually have been even more powerful and sensitive – and early versions included the ability to recognise finger positions and hand gestures. The problem however was in the costs of the required CPU – maybe something for the next console generation?

Value and Gameplay

Of course this technology is largely moot, and a console is really defined by its library of games. In this regard Nintendo still has the upper hand with a huge back catalogue of games like Skyward Sword, Wii Fit and Epic Mickey to play with its motion controls. At the same time the more serious developers that are used to producing games for Xbox and PS3 seem somewhat baffled as to how to approach and integrate motion controls into their gameplay. Somehow COD3 just doesn’t work with a wand… At the time of writing then there is something of a dearth of games for these other two consoles.

A slide from Microsoft's E3 Conference showing...A slide from Microsoft's E3 Conference showing a diagram of the technologies in Kinect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However there is good news on the horizon and this is all looking to come to an end soon for Kinect owners. While third party publishers might be struggling to make a splash on the Kinect, Microsoft has very smartly decided to open up its library of code for hobbyists and the community at large, which has seen some extraordinary things being done on YouTube (a combination of 3D glasses and Kinect control has made for an incredible Minority Report style web browser in one video). And now Microsoft are poised to go one step further by opening up the Xbox marketplace to indie developers. If we start to see anywhere near the innovation and great design for Kinect that we have witnessed on Steam, and in the mobile app stores, then we can expect to see incredible things heading to Kinect soon.

Sarah Branigan is gadget lover and owner at . A online portal to buy gadgets at cheap rates. Check more about .

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