For those on the outside looking in, motion controls are one of the many case studies levelled against virtual reality (VR) technology and its chances of success. It wasn’t so long ago that a Wii-dominated videogame landscape heavily influenced both Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and Microsoft’s visions for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively. The latter console would eventually be introduced to Kinect, a system that arguably never reached its full potential before the company pulled the plug on its necessity in the Xbox One. As for PlayStation, SCE came up with something less fondly remembered; PlayStation Move.
The Move was essentially SCE’s take on the Wii Remote, only with much more accurate 1:1 tracking and systems that allowed the controller to appear as an actual object in a virtual world rather than act as a simple pointer that would recognise certain movements. It was undeniably impressive tech, but it’s fair to say that it was stifled on PlayStation 3. PlayStation Move was fighting a war on all fronts; convincing third-parties to supply content for the device was challenging, but getting any developer to come up with worthwhile, functional experiences was harder still.
Ultimately the controller was used for a heap of Wii ports and native titles, precious few of which capitalised on its capabilities. You can see, then, why many that are yet to try VR fear that SCE, Oculus and Valve are simply trying to force another motion controller situation upon the industry. Ironically, VR is, if anything, set to redeem the PlayStation Move and motion control over the course of the next few years.
PlayStation Move hasn’t yet has much of a life on PlayStation 4, but that’s set to change with the arrival of Project Morpheus. While the Dualshock 4 has its own set of sensors for motion control, the wand-shaped controller is far more suited to placing VR players within an environment. Developers such as Untold Games are already using the controller as it was originally intended, with the tracked-devices acting as a player’s hands that can reach deeper into a world and interact with objects in realistic ways.
SCE London, developer of popular Project Morpheus experiences such as The Deep, has shared stories that prove the power of motion control within VR. In its latest experience, London Heist, the developer has seen people finish up by taking the virtual gun they hold within the videogame, reaching out and dropping it on a virtual desk. Of course, players are so convinced by the experience that they forget there is no desk in real life and that they’re holding a controller, not a gun, which they proceed to drop onto the floor.
VR is providing the context that motion controllers have always needed to become as immersive as they were originally pitched to be. You could now step into the arena in Sports Champions and believe that you really were wielding a bow and arrow, or take on the latest Time Crisis not with a pointer that must be dragged around the screen but instead have to actually aim with a weapon in your hands.
It’s telling, too, that this form of control is also the path that both Oculus VR and Valve are taking with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive respectively. The former recently introduced its Oculus Touch controllers while the latter has a pair of position-tracked devices that complement its Room-Scale tracking. Motion controls aren’t the perfect solution for VR but, in its early stages, serve as a great way for people to literally get to grips with the technology.
All that said PlayStation Move does have some drawbacks. The most painful is the lack of analogue sticks on the device itself, something that seemed like an oversight even when the kit launched for the PlayStation 3. Experiences are suffering for it; Loading Human’s navigation is awkward to say the least without sticks to properly direct the player. Move simply looks outdated, especially by Oculus Touch’s standards, and it’s a real shame that SCE seemingly isn’t considering an updated version of the device, even with the potential price hike this would bring.
PlayStation Move has had a rough ride so far. Project Morpheus isn’t just a chance to immerse players in videogame worlds like never before, it’s also a chance to redeem one of the most controversial initiatives in PlayStation history.