This week's edition of Gamasutra's 'The Euro Vision' column
sees Jon Jordan in a swinging mood, as he talks to Harry Holmwood of the UK's In2Games about out Wii-ing the Wii by bringing its forthcoming motion sensing Fusion controller to PS3 and the Xbox 360.
Harry Holmwood is a man who wants to bring real 'wave your arms in the air' gaming fun to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Neither vanilla dual analogue sticks nor SIXAXIS' six degrees of freedom are anything like enough for the director of innovative controller company In2Games
Instead, what best explains the ambition of the UK outfit - currently in the process of refining its wireless Fusion
product for release - is Holmwood's attitude to the current golden calf of fun game control, the Wiimote.
"Like Wii, Fusion has an accelerometer, but we also have ultrasonic X, Y, Z positioning that allows so much more flexibility and control. The Wii controller knows that it's moved, and as long as you're moving it slowly, it knows a bit about how it's being moved. But, when it's not being pointed at the screen, which is most of the time if you're making real-world movements, it has no idea whatsoever about where it is," he scolds.
And isn't not just him and his fellow In2Games execs who thinks like this either. They've raised up to £7.76 million ($15.5 million) from investment company Ingenious Media Active Capital to make their dream - better-than-Wii game control for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 - into reality.
The story of In2Games begins with a more bulky approach to setting gamers free however.
A Wired, Wired World
Launched in Europe in 2004, Gametrak was a 3D motion sensing controller that worked by tracking the position of your hands. You had to attach your hands to cords connected to the main controller unit in order for it to work however; something which Holmwood admits limited its appeal.
"While it was an incredibly clever and accurate piece of kit, it had a bit of an image problem," he agrees. "Being physically connected to the device via the Trak Cables looked a little clunky and definitely put some people off."
Another issue was the size of In2Games itself. Although well connected - Holmwood had been involved in a string of game-related ventures, while MD Elliott Myers previously worked on Europe's biggest thirdparty peripherals brand Gamester - it didn't have much cash, either for marketing or to develop the specialised games that used the technology. In the end, only three Gametrak titles were released.
"Gametrak was launched on an incredibly small budget, raised from a handful of friends and family who had the belief we really could deliver something new," Holmwood says.
But it's wasn't all bad news. The commercial bright spot for Gametrak was the success of its Real World Golf
games, which sold around 300,000 units. Swinging a golf club, even attached with cords, seemed to be something people, even those who wouldn't call themselves gamers, could relate to.
So armed with this findings, wires bad, sports good, In2Games prepared for its next piece of technology, Fusion.
Swing Like You’re Winning
Built around a combination of ultrasonic and radio frequency technology that tracks player movement, as well as 3-axis accelerometers mounted in the main controller, the unique selling point of Fusion is that it enables you to track the absolute position and orientation in 3D space of the controller. Designed in a wand or baton-style configuration, it can be fitted with clip-on heads such as golf clubs, baseball bats, and tennis racquets. Standalone peripherals are also being planned. In2Games has demonstrated a bowling ball peripheral, for example.
And with the finance now in place, Holmwood says it's the right place, right time to satisfy In2Game's global ambitions. It already has offices in the UK and Hong Kong, plus the requisite Chinese factory, and will be setting up a North American office in the coming months. “We're already talking to a large number of distribution and publishing partners for the North American market,” Holmwood says. “We see North America as being equally important to us as Europe.”
Fusion's pricing and launch details remain to be announced however.
"If you consider the success of Wii, combined with the likes of Guitar Hero
and European phenomenon that is SingStar
, it's clear consumers are loving the more interactive, party-type gaming that new control systems can allow," he says.
"Thanks to our experience with Gametrak, we've built up great relationships with retailers, distributors, developers and format holders. We have the finance to create a whole host of games ourselves but, more importantly, we have publishers knocking on our doors wanting to integrate Fusion support into their titles too."
Indeed, even with its warchest, the success of Fusion is likely to be measured by the number of traditional publishers who decide to get onboard with the technology.
"By supporting Fusion in PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 titles, publishers can bring the very best motion sensing titles to those platforms," Holmwood argues. "Because Fusion is a true motion capture device, delivering absolute X, Y, Z positions in 3D space, rather than just using a tilt sensor to give some vague motion sensing capability, it can be used to create much more precise control leading, in turn, to games with real depth of play and player progression."
Out Wiiing The Wiimote
Of course, one obstacle to such widespread adoption will be the speed at which In2Games can create a commercially-viable install base for the underlying technology. It expects to launch around 20 titles over a four year period, but the question of whether third party publishers will be prepared to use and market someone else's controller technology in order to create a Guitar Hero
-type phenomenon rather than wait until there are a million base units in the market, remains open to question. PlayStation 2’s EyeToy has been a great success in Europe for Sony, but attempts by the likes of Sega, Konami, and EA to tap into the market have gained little traction.
As you might expect, Holmwood remains positive about the range of options. "As well as Fusion, we're also looking at a bunch of other new control systems and gaming possibilities," he reveals. "In2Games specialises in combining hardware innovation with software, and outside of the format holders themselves I can't think of any other companies who combine that level of expertise in hardware design, manufacture, and software development and publishing. We're certainly keen to hear from developers or publishers who have ideas for, or need help with, creating hardware/software products."
He's also keen not to finish without reinforcing Fusion's superiority.
"To conclude, it's straightforward to port a Wii motion-sensing game to Fusion," he ends. "It's a great first step but it's trivial. Why not take full advantage of what Fusion can offer? What we can do with Fusion is make PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games that not only have true nextgen graphics, but have true, nextgen motion capture gaming too."
[Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He prefers six degrees of separation to six degrees of freedom.]