PlayStation Move Hands-on Impressions

At GDC 2010, Sony formally introduced its motion controller, aptly titled: PlayStation Move. For those that haven't been following its development and unveiling at E3 2009, the technology pairs a camera (the already available PlayStation Eye) and a wand with a colored orb at the top.

Garnett Lee and I went hands-on with two pre-alpha titles here at GDC: SOCOM 4 and Sports Champions.

SOCOM 4, announced last week, is the latest in the franchise from founding developer Zipper Interactive. The game will support PlayStation Move and a quick tech demo was rigged up for the show. Players use a Move controller to aim and shoot and the poorly named "Sub-Controller", which includes an analog stick, to move around. It works a lot like the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo for Nintendo's Wii.

Unfortunately, the Move is actually a downgraded experience for aiming. Like the Wii, Move tracks where the player is pointing. This doesn't work well for shooters as it requires extremely precise movements easily accomplished on a mouse or with an analog stick. At almost every point during my brief hands-on with SOCOM 4, I considered asking the gentleman from Sony for a DualShock 3. If you are going to jump on the Move bandwagon, it won't be with SOCOM or any other shooter.

Here's what Garnett thought of Move with SOCOM 4:

We've had many an argument over whether shooters control better with controller sticks or mouse and keyboard. The Wii didn't bring pointing and nunchuks into those conversations. And after briefly playing SOCOM 4, neither does Move. From a strictly technical perspective, the enhanced sensitivity Sony's promoted in Move does work to make it a smoother experience. The crosshair tracks smoothly across the screen and once I had calibrated my head to its position I was able to move it where I wanted fairly easy.

The problem remains, though, of it being hard to hold the controller freely in space in front of me and make the many fine movements needed to play a shooter. I've even resorted to resting my forearm on my leg to give it a stable base when playing similar games on the Wii. It's only a partial solution but one that no amount of tech will potentially solve.

Next, I played two minigames from Sports Champions -- a fighting minigame called gladiator fight and table tennis.

The gladiaty minigame required the use of two Move controllers, one serving as my shield and the other a hammer. I could block with the shield and attack by swinging the hammer. This controlled much better than SOCOM as Move works much better for capturing broad, sweeping movements over precise manipulation. My motions were captured well, but the minigame itself was pre-alpha so its tough to form a definite opinion. My hopes had improved, though.

What did Garnett think of gladiator fight?

After switching over to more Wii-like, activity games, the Move hits its stride better. The gladiator fight took best advantage of the position tracking capabilities of the controller. From the fighting stance suggested by the on-screen help using the hammer and shield was pretty natural. The one strange part with being so directly involved in controlling the action is that there's no complimentary physical reinforcement. For instance, to know I'd registered a block I had to listen for the sounds despite throwing my shield arm into place to stop the blow.

Next, I tried table tennis, which I play quite competently in real-life. After some quick training I'm tossed into a game up to 7 against the AI. I could hit topspin shots very reliably and the motion was true 1:1, but it had a lot of trouble dealing with certain types of spin. Underspin was nearly impossible and usually ended up in sending the ball straight up.

Again, the software is pre-alpha, but I had more fun playing table tennis in Wii Sports Resort with Wii Motion Plus. The helpers that Nintendo put in to assist with aim and movement make for a better gaming experience.

PlayStation Move is slated for a fall release. Sony isn't discussing pricing at this time, but is hoping to offer a starter kit, which includes the PlayStation Eye, one Move controller, and a game for under $100. The controllers will be sold separately for those that already own the Eye and there will be a full PS3 bundle that includes the starter kit for those that own nothing.

Close us out, Mr. Lee:

I see Move as an acknowledgement that Nintendo hit something big with motion control and a reflection of the continuing struggle to figure out exactly what that is. As so many have learned making games for the Wii, the trick is translating the theoretical element of what makes motion control appealing into a good game. Much like many Wii games, many of these initial Move offerings feel like I'm doing things with the wands just to be using them. That said, it felt good in my hands and lived up to the technical billing for precision. Sony has created a nice peripheral that game designers should be able to put to use making unique new game experiences.
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