By the time you read this, E3 will be gone until next year and the pontificating will begin about which of the big three developers (Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony) had the best show, which publishers can actually deliver on what they've promised, and whose gear is most affordable.
There is one thing that isn't up for debate, however. Now that Nintendo has caused all kinds of excitement (and profits) with its motion controls, Sony and Microsoft have entered the high-stakes game of seeking what might soon become a new standard of manipulating physical movement to control virtual characters in games.
As most gamers know by now, Microsoft (along with uber-giddy spokesman Steven Spielberg) unveiled Project Natal at a news conference Monday. Unlike Nintendo and Sony, the motion control it is offering reads the user, not the control points the user would be swinging around. If you punch, supposedly the character in the game punches. The video Microsoft showed featured gamers turning an invisible steering wheel and manipulating an invisible skateboard, with the on-screen game reacting appropriately. And you thought people looked silly playing the Wii. Microsoft's gear also can recognize and scan faces and has incorporated voice commands.
Here's the thing: It looks great, but until we hear more about its implementation, questions remain. How will Microsoft incorporate the use of buttons and triggers to complete actions if there aren't any? Will we be relegated to super-simple games that require only physical movement? Personally, I think there are controllers in the works for this system, but they didn't want to look Wii-like with this announcement. I wrote in a previous column that Microsoft had filed a patent for a magic wand thingamajig. It may help complete the cool-looking, but somewhat hazy, picture that is Project Natal. No word on a target date for release either.
Sony chose a more standard pitch for its motion-control endeavors, using a control stick for the PlayStation Eye camera to capture 3D movement.
There are a couple of things Sony has going for it. First, the type of technology it is using is an improved version of what already is available (Sony says its controller will be the most accurate in terms of 3D accuracy) and could, theoretically, start being commercially implemented in games this year. Also, as with Nintendo, the gamer still has a physical device to manipulate in order to control movement on the screen. In fact, gamers will be able to use two of the motion sticks together, leading to all kinds of interesting possibilities. A horizontal position for a shield, and a vertical position for a sword, perhaps.
Let's not forget that there is a reason Nintendo is in the position it is in now. It recognized the powerful draw of simple-to-use, easy-to-understand gaming. In fact, most Wii games rarely need instructions for gamers to get the basics down.
Sony and Microsoft have touted their technological brawn with this console generation (which came at a cost some still aren't willing to pay), to varying results. I hope in this next round of the console war (let's call this one the Battle for Motion Hill) that whatever these newfangled movement-based things can do, they do it in a fairly inexpensive and noncomplex way.
Few will empty their pockets to play Twister with themselves in front of a TV.