Following a conversation with Japh and a coincidental paragraph in a blog post from Bice, I thought I’d commit my take on the subject to the intertubes.

I’m not sure about motion controls.

Stare into Project Natal's child-like eyes
First we had the Wii – it was quite fun, but inaccurate. Rather than actually being able to swing Link’s sword using the remote and ready his shield with the nunchuck, we were disappointed to find that the game replaced button-presses with motion. Instead of pressing X to swing, we move the remote in a downward arc (ironically, causing Link to swing his sword in a horizontal arc).
Our dreams of 1:1 sword swinging were not realised.

Then came the announcement of the Wii Motion Plus, a gyroscope-based peripheral for the Wiimote that provided 1:1 feedback. Unfortunately these things are yet to be seen, prohibitively priced and only supported by a small number of games (at least, in Australia).

At E3 this year, both Sony and Microsoft announce that they too have decided to jump on the bandwagon and produce their own motion peripherals.

Sony’s offering provided a fairly exciting demonstration. 1:1 realtime mapping of the user’s movements, high degrees of environmental interaction, video feedback from the Eyetoy’s camera and the ability to utilise two of the devices made it seem a fairly attractive possibility.

Microsoft’s Project Natal was somewhat unexpected. Rumours of a Wiimote-esque product for the Xbox-360 have been circulating for some time now and were recently confirmed at E3. Unfortunately for Performance Designed Products, Natal seems to have made their product redundant. They don’t seem particularly phasedfazed by the prospect, though.
Having watched the linked product vision video, Natal initially comes across as a bit of a pipe-dream. Until, that is I read the hands-on demo some of the Kotakuites were given at E3. Full body control, without a controller is something we’ve been pining for ever since we first saw Minority Report. It seems that Microsoft may have something incredible on their hands here. If, only for its practical uses in the system’s operating system.

My concern is that I cannot see how this tech will be utilised in the types of games that built this industry. Sure there will be feckless minigames to play with, little more than tech demos used to show off the new products at conferences, but how will they fare under scrutiny from the ‘hardcore’ player-base?

I’ve heard musings about the prospect of Sony’s offering being used conjunction with Assassin’s Creed 2. I know what you’re thinking: “He’s got that twin blade thing going on, that could be awesome.” Thanks for bringing that up, Assassin’s Creed 2 is a great example.
In my opinion, Assassin’s Creed was primarily a cinematic experience. The thing that ‘made’ Assassin’s Creed was the fluidity and fluency with which Altair dispatched his opponents. Attempting to map that sort of skill to a 1:1 control interface seem fraught with danger to me. The demo of Sony’s motion control system highlighted one of the major problems with motion controls. You have no physical presence in the game world and thus, your ability to instinctively interact with it is diluted.

Case Study: You want to pick up that block.

Real life: You reach out and pick up the block.
Motion-controlled game world:
You reach out, watch the screen so that you know when your hands are over the block, move back and forth a bit to make sure that you’re directly over it, press the button that grabs the block, miss it, try again and eventually pick up the block.

You don’t have the advantage of all of your other senses and subsequently lose your reflexive, unconscious ability in these contexts.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think motion controls are interesting or even promising. I just don’t think we’re there yet. I am quite excited to see how Natal is used in the Xbox Dashboard interface. I think motion controlled operating systems could be great – In conjunction with a good old keyboard and mouse that is.