The Future of Video Games is a series that takes a look at the past of video games in order to examine certain pieces of technology to figure out the direction the industry is taking.
The third part looks at how motion sensors were used in past consoles to see if it can be used well for future games.
Motion sensors really appears to be the future of video games. It turns the gamer into the controller. In theory, this should create a far more immersive experience for the gamer. When the gamer plays a boxing game, they can throw punches, duck and weave, and do everything else boxers do. Or look at all the various dancing games out there. Each of them can only really be played using motion sensors, making sure the player is dancing just right.
Has there ever really been a successful motion sensor system? For the purposes of this article, only items released in the U.S. will be considered. Because of that, the Dreameye and other items will be glossed over. This is done for the sake of brevity, as well as because I would have no chance to use it.
Game Boy Camera
I’ve only seen this played. I have not had the chance to, nor do I believe I will. There weren’t enough games to really access the potential for this to play games, though I know there was one. The game, Ball, was fundamentally a game of virtual catch. The Game Boy Camera seems to be far more popular as an actual camera.
The U-Force was one of the first attempts to use a type of wireless sensor rather than buttons for a video game controller. It used infrared technology to detect hand movement. For anyone who saw the commercial for this thing, it looked nothing short of futuristic. In fact, if you watch the commercial carefully, it’s pretty clear that is how the advertisers wanted the viewer to view the product.
It is considered to be one of the worst controllers of all time, for good reason. It was unresponsive and difficult to use. For example, take a look again at the commercial and how they showed how Punch-Out was played. In reality, there were two sensors on the U-Force, one for the b-button and one for the a-button. You had to move your hand over the sensor in order to activate it. It’s hardly the punching that the commercial promised.
The failure of the U-Force was probably a reason why motion sensor technology wasn’t tried again until the 6th generation console game. While the technology was flawed, it was an interesting starting point for console games.
The Eye Toy was effectively a web camera designed for the PlayStation 2. A number of sports and dancing games used this item with varying degrees of success. One of the biggest complaints about this device wasn’t that it didn’t function well in low lighting. Other devices, like the Kinect, suffered from the same thing. It was there was little replay value to the games that used this device.
A common complaint about this device was the lack of replayability with the games. The games were fairly enjoyable, but after they were played a couple of times, there was no desire to go back to them.
The Wii nunchuck took a very different approach to motion sensors. Nintendo used accelerometers to monitor how fast the nunchucks were moved and infrared sensors with the LED bar to figure out exactly where the user was at in 3D space. The nunchuck connected to the console using a bluetooth. Overall, this was a completely different way of designing the technology. It got around any low light difficulty that plagued the other systems.
The Wii nunchuck was arguable the best motion sensor controller out there. The technology functions fairly well with a number of games that Nintendo produced. For the games Nintendo didn’t produce, it was rather hit and miss. The truly fascinating thing about the Wii nunchuck was that it was fundamental part of the Wii. You couldn’t use the Wii without using the motion sensor technology.
The Kinect followed the Eye Toy, using a range camera and an infrared projector to calculate a 3D image of the gamer. Though this piece of technology was award winning and considered to be revolutionary, it wasn’t very successful on the Xbox 360. Approximately 10% of Xbox 360 games use the Kinect (129 out of 1121). Microsoft attempted to make the Kinect far more important on the Xbox One, making it ‘always on.’
As put earlier, there have been a number of complains that the Kinect does not work right in low light and sometimes doesn’t work right if not positioned perfectly. Like with the Wii, games that use the Kinect is hit and miss.
The Playstation Move uses a wand controller with a light at the end and a camera to follow its movement in order to help calculate where the gamer is at in 3D space. Like the Wii, the Playstation Move uses accelerometers in order to calculate how fast the controller is moving. It is an interesting variation of how the Wii remote shows the movement of the gamer.
What can be said about the future of motion sensors?
From the very beginning, motion sensors used cameras and infrared. Any motion sensor will more than likely use the same technology. It’s difficult to say if controllers will still be using this technology as well. The Playstation Camera (for the PS4) uses dual cameras in order to generate a 3D image and follow motion. It doesn’t use the controller like the Playstation Move. The Kinect does not use the controller. The Wii U uses a motion sensor bar and a motion detector and accelerometer in the gamepad. Though since the Wii U is struggling, the technology may end up going optional like the PS4 and the Xbox One (the always on Kinect is optional now).
Motion sensors will hopefully continue to improve. Though something that the U-Force promised should be questioned: does motion sensor technology create an immersive experience?