Motion Gaming Gains MomentumS

What do baby pacifiers, an expert martial artist, and an industrial robot all have in common? Sony's motion-detecting PS3 add-on, the Playstation Move.

The Playstation Move hit North America this month, bringing motion games to Playstation 3's legions of fans. The add-on uses a camera and cylindrical controller to track motion for gaming. The add-ons cost $50 to $100 depending on what you need, $400 if you don't have a Playstation 3 yet. In many ways the Playstation Move offers some of the same experiences that the Nintendo Wii first started delivering back in 2006.

But there are some notable differences between the Wii and Move. The Playstation Move feels a bit more accurate than the Wii, even with Nintendo's MotionPlus add-on, and the sorts of games the more powerful PS3 can eventually offer gamers on the Move could appeal to more typical, hardcore gamers.

I've spent nearly a month with the PS3 camera and controller add-on, and while I see the potential for the Playstation Move, I'm still waiting for the game that knocks it out of the ballpark.

The Playstation Move story started around 2001, according to Richard Marks, manager of research and development for Sony, and Anton Mikhailov, who's on the engineering team responsible for the Move. They tell me that the research that led the team to Sony's motion-sensing EyeToy in 2003 pushed them toward the Move as well. In fact in 2001, Sony demonstrated an early version of the Move device in a tech demo they called Magic Duel.

Later they built an early prototype of the Move using a PVC pipe with a ping pong ball attached to the top. As they continued to develope the Playstation Move controller, the team worked through a variety of form factors.

The one they settled on has a comfortable, subtle, hourglass shape designed to naturally fit hands of all sizes. I grip the controller further back, where it's a bit wider. My 9-year-old son tends to hold the controller near the middle, where it is thinnest. Both of us can comfortably reach the controller's six face buttons and one trigger and the Move never feels loose in our hands.

The plastic cylinder of the Move controller is topped with a white sphere that I'm told is made of the same sort of silicon rubber found in baby pacifiers. This, Sony tells me, makes the controller safe and durable. That ball can also change colors, adding one more interaction, a bit more immersion for gamers.

For instance, while playing strategy game R.U.S.E. the ball turns red when I point the Move controller at on-screen enemies. Sony tells me that the LED inside the sphere is capable of producing millions of colors.

There's also plenty of other tech hidden away inside the device. Besides the pair of inertial sensors used to track motion, the Playstation Move also has a magnetometer in it to help it detect in which direction it's pointed.

Marks and Mikhailov tell me that hidden away inside the compact little device is a temperature sensor which is used to adjust internal signals based on the temperature of the environment. This, they say, makes the controller much more precise.

Just how precise?

The Playstation Move can detect your motions at more than 100 times a second, according to the two. The team came up with this figure after wiring up an expert martial artist with professional motion capture equipment to see how fast a person was capable of moving.

Finally, the Move was handed over to an industrial robot that is accurate to one tenth of a millimeter, to check out the precision of the controller. The techies even added a little peg onto the prototype controller so the robot could turn Move on by itself.

The results are a type of motion gameplay that feels both similar, and also ripe with possibility. But if Sony wants to take Nintendo on in motion gaming, an area where the Wii currently excels, they're going to need to start lining up more of their big, hardware-pushing games with Move support.

Currently the company has plans for bringing support for the Move to popular PS3 shooter SOCOM 4, but that's not due out until next year.

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