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E3: Peter Moore: Do We Need a Controller?
E3: Peter Moore: Do We Need a Controller?
June 4, 2009 | By Brandon Sheffield




In an interview this morning, after the announcement of Project Natal, the Sony motion controller, and EA Sports’ continued commitment to the exercise space, Peter Moore has shared with Gamasutra his thoughts on what will make a successful Natal product.

“We’ve seen both Natal and the motion controller from Sony several months ago,” Moore began, “so we’re already looking at opportunities to bring both our licensed product and our fitness product to these new controller mechanisms.”

Hinting at things to come, we asked whether it would be simple to bring the exercise experience to Natal, when people are used to device or object-based exercising in America.

“The challenge with gesture control is yes, do you need “something?” he asked. “That’s always the thing, we’ve looked at these things for many years."

"Do you need something to counter-balance your movement, as we do in a golf game, you typically need a club, or a racket or a baseball bat. Do you need that?”

Moore postulates that perhaps you may in some instances need a device, but suggests that a game like Fight Night would adapt well to first person boxing without needing to hold “something.”

“We’re constantly evaluating,” he says, “and I think what you’ve got to do with Natal in particular is you’ve got to come up with new experiences that feel natural without something being held or something on your body. And that’s going to be the key to successful software for Natal.”


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Comments


steve roger
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You know the more I think about it, I think Sony is right. I don't think I will ever like waving my empty hands and arms in front of the TV. Maybe once or twice for a boxing game. But as a regular thing.?



I am about as interested in that as I am in dragging out my Dance Dance Revolution pad.



Moore needs a hit but this ain't going to be it.

J Gott
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Sony put out a wii-mote. There is no getting around it. Wiimote with motion plus is 1:1. Sony announced a controller that does the same exact thing...but won't be released for another year.



Microsoft just leapfrogged both of them. If you think NATAL is about cartoon tennis or silly resort games you're kidding yourself. The brains at these game development companies are going to do stuff with the facial/voice/body recognition that we can't even imagine yet.



It's an exciting time in gaming thanks to Microsoft. Too bad Sony just copies technology instead of inventing it.

Alan Rimkeit
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Yes we do Peter. Sorry, but i just like controllers. They are an intrinsic part of playing video games.



The only time I will forget about controllers is when the game is hooked directly up to my brain like in Neromancer or Snow Crash (no not the Matrix because the Matrix ripped both books off whole sale....).

Mike Lopez
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@ Steve: you could always hold your TV remote if it makes you feel better. :)



For me it all comes down to what kind of precision and feel I will have with the new devices and that is what I am most skeptical of. Is there really a difference perceived with my limbs in somewhat similar positions with only slight orientation variations? Are there interesting nuances to the input that will allow me to achieve greater depth of control in games with mechanics that support them?



Also, I wonder if there is a limit of a control input becoming too physical. I can't really see myself playing Wii Sports boxing for even 2 hours straight without resorting to lazy wrist-only control.



It should be interesting to see how the devices stack up in both areas.

Mike Lopez
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@ Andre: I agree the 360/PS3 will have a hard time reaching any healthy market saturation with these input devices and do not see them taking off big until a time when they are bundled with the hardware (and possibly even the only option of control like on the Wii). That may very well not occur until the Xbox 720 or PS4 days.



But while I think price was certainly a huge factor of success on the Wii you cannot discount the massive reduction in complexity of the control input. The vastly increased accessibility formula seems to be validated with the fantastic widening of mass market appeal to demographics far outside of traditional console gamers.

J Gott
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You guys do realize that NATAL will and can be used with a controller also. It is not one of the other. You will use a controller for FPS games of course...but you don't need a controller to scroll through menus....



Controllers and NATAL will be both used and integrated into games...

Eddie Vertigo
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All three consoles are smart in trying to incorporate motion-controllers for alternative gameplay. To not do so would make them appear both stubborn and antiquated. Besides, traditional controllers aren't going to go away, just like radio didn't go away once the television caught on; there's room for all these methods of gaming.

Duong Nguyen
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Its just not a question of having a physical presence within the controller, but also the fidelity and accuracy. You press a button you know 100% that button has been registered by the machine and you see the feedback immediately. Can NATAL really read the movement of your finger precisely enough and without ambiguity to know you've pulled the trigger purposely to fire a mock gun or were u just scratching your hand?



You can of course use a hybrid scheme, but then is it really worth all that money if your only going to use it for fancy menu swiping or some augmented sideswiping controls?



NATAL does open up new and interesting dynamics, but it won't replace the controller by any means for most games. The biggest thing consoles lack right now is an accurate and fast input device, which the Wii mote promised but I think the Playstation motion controller will deliver.



-ddn

Brandon Sheffield
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also, everyone should realize he's not saying we don't need a controller period - just that the best experiences with Natal will be those that don't require a controller.

J Gott
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If i want to watch a movie on the 360. I don't even want to touch a controller. If i can turn on the 360 with my voice, scroll through the menu by waving my hand, and start the movie i have selected by saying "Play Movie"...then I am 100% in favor of this.



Like everyone else has said this is just the first step in the possibilities.



If you own the movie you will probably be able to say "Watch Batman Returns" and the movie will just start.



Of course i want to use a controller to play Gears.



Having more options is good guys...don't forget that. No one is taking the controller away...

Shaun Greene
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Personally, I'm excited for this. Think of an possibilities... I imagine an exergame in a fully imersive 3d environment that needs no controller at all. Oh wait... I think it's called OUTSIDE.

J Gott
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Derek Saclolo - You have no idea what they are going to inveil for NATAL, just like the rest of us.



So you are comparing a title that is set for release with...the concept of a new type of gameplay?



They might even have controllers for certain games! No one knows! Just because you don't need a controller might not mean that you're not going to be able to get one.

J Gott
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Shaun Greene - What if it's winter and you want to play football? What if it's 90 degrees outside and you want to go snowboarding?



Try to exhibit a little creativity and open-mindedness huh?

Nick DiRubio
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Personally, I think that this is the first step to opening up a huge realm in gaming. As Alan Rimkeit said, "The only time I will forget about controllers is when the game is hooked directly up to my brain..." Well, with the development and perfection of these new motion devices, we are that much closer to being "hooked up" with games.



I'm excited for the time when gaming takes place in a virtual world around us. So when I no-scope someone in Halo, it wasn't just me pressing a button, but me holding a sniper rifle and taking his/her face. That's when it'll be truly skillful. (Then again, I probably won't live long enough to see that. But I can dream...)





-Nick

J Gott
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There's a movie coming out where you link up to another human and use them to play games. The human you link up to is a convict on deathrow of course and you play what looks like a first-person or third person shooter by controlling the convict with your mind.



Saw a preview of it before Star Trek or Terminator i think...looks big budget.

Eric Carr
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I don't think, regardless of how Microsoft markets this, that it will ever achieve the market penetration needed for developers to embrace it in a meaningful way. So I think that it will get a few Microsoft produced games that may be very innovative, but the device as a whole will be unable to catch on.

Having said that, I don't want to use this and a controller, at least not a traditional one. Mostly, I don't want to lose the control offered by a tried and true system for some concept of "immersion". If we combine them, I get to take my hot little hands off the gamepad to flail about?

@J "What if it's winter and you want to play football?"

Football in the snow is awesome.

J Gott
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haha...yeah true...but you get the idea...it's about being open to a world of new possibilities that you know you couldn't even imagine.



They have people working on this thing far smarter than we are...so i say before we judge if it's going to work or not we give them a chance to show us what it can do.

Carl Trett
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There definitely needs to be a blend of the motion sensing with something physically manipulated by the player in my opinion.



Boxing on the Wii is alright with the hand held controllers, but the experience really breaks down when your characters start getting hit and your movements no longer are translated onto the screen. I honestly see any game that purely relies on video captured motion control to suffer the same failure.



Short of us getting into tethered suits to play games, I feel we are always going to get close but seriously remain disappointed by the results.



I suppose though I almost find these devices worrisome as well as exciting for our society as a whole. Bare with me for a minute...When you swing a baseball in real life and connect with a ball the feedback you receive through your skin, muscles and bones is very solid and 'real'.



Swinging your empty hands, or even holding a stick/wand-like batting device, even one equipped with a rumble-pack, can not for the moment translate the same experience. The problem I have with this though is I already think young people have some major issues with appreciating/understanding playing sports or fighting/killing in real life. They are not exposed enough at a young age to the idea of consequences, or action and reaction.



To go back to Wii boxing, you can swing endlessly like a madman at your opponent but your character on-screen is limited to game specific rules on when and how it can react. Currently there is no way to limit the player to the specific moves that the on-screen character must abide by. Players will learn that they don't need to expend extra energy to conquer the game challenges, but they only learn this through frustration at what they see and hear in response to their physical movement.



I am all for VR, I've been anxious to dive into the 'net since I was a Wee Todd, but I can appreciate the outdoors and live sports because I grew up when computers were still new to society. If we try too hard to replicate what can be experienced for free by running around in the fresh air, then all we are doing is limiting our ability to live outside of our virtual networks. Something that should be carefully considered.



Video games should not be a replacement for physical reality, but allow us to transport ourselves into realities that normally could not be experienced. Indeed I see Natal and other devices opening up some extremely exciting design possibilities for virtual media and games, I only hope that we don't go too far too fast.



Don't forget about the children. I have enough problem with plastic gun controllers reducing the seriousness of weapon use and relegating shooting targets to a second thought reaction like waving to a passing friend.



If we move forward fully with these devices, let's at the very least make an active effort to find the most positive returns for everyone though the introduction of these new control schema.



Perhaps a motion controlled building blocks game where you place blocks with hand motions. Oh wait...that's called LEGO. ;) Though make those blocks look magical and give them many emitters for fancy effects, play with gravity in wacky ways and we are a go!



peace,

J Gott
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I am sure they will have simulations like the blocks thing for kids...these kind of things will make out kids smarter at a younger age. If they have access to anything under the sun on the system and they interact with it just as if it were in front of them. Bright future for those little nerds yet to be born i tell ya.

Matt Dabrowski
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Apparently, Back to the Future Part II had it right:



"You mean you have to use your hands?"

"That's like a baby's toy!"

Alex Meade
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All I know is, I am not making any assumptions about it's possible success. I personally think a hands free boxing game would be awesome, but that may be because I have a history in boxing. It really all depends on what creative ideas developers come up with. Who knows, games for toddlers maybe? Sounds good to me.



I can agree that some types of games would only feel right with something in your hands. That is why you make games for the device, umm hello who would want to play DDR on the controller? Leave the controller games for the controller.



Dunno, ya never know what they will come up with and what crap they will be able to market successfully.



I just hope it is less clunky than the Wii.

J Gott
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I wonder if you could play music games using a real guitar and drums...you definitely won't need a mic anymore since it is already built in...

An Dang
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Yep, there are limitations to what Natal can do. However, as it is now, I think Natal is the best for the unarmed combat games--and straight-up exercise games. I would feel weird doing cardio with a piece of plastic in my hand for my sweat to envelop. Then again, I'd feel weird exercising watching myself on the TV.

J Gott
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Ummm...porn? Hello?



Porn industry is going to go crazy with this thing...

Jamie Mann
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The key problem with these control mechanisms is lack of feedback/resistance. Sword-fighting is the prime example for this: the player has to use stylised gestures because their real-life movements can't be mapped onto the virtual world. It can be argued that this is more immersive, but from a control perspective, it doesn't really offer anything above and beyond pressing a button.



A secondary problem is that it's harder to play the games when sitting down - bowling or boxing are the prime Wii examples. Again, it can be argued that getting people to stand up and exercise is very much a good thing, but it's not always appropriate or possible!



Natal also offers a new issue: misinterpreted gestures. J Gott had the example of being able to control movie playback by waving a hand - but what if you sneeze, answer the phone or hand-wave while chatting to the person next to you? Admittedly, I've not watched any Natal videos, so they may have a sensible solution for this.



Finally, the biggest problem is inappropriate usage of motion-sensing technology. The Wii already has a raft of games where motion-sensing has been forced into the gameplay (case in point: de Blob: you jump by waving the wiimote up and down, despite the fact that jump height is fixed and the A button isn't used).



(there's also an argument that people may not want additional realism in their games - apart from anything else, this implies that a greater level of skill will be required, which deviates from the pick-up-and-play mechanisms found in stuff like Wii Sports. This isn't an elitist thing: put simply, having to spend time learning how to play a game effectively isn't something everyone finds to be fun)



I'm all for greater immersion in games, but only where it makes sense...

Jason Bain
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The reason I will never buy a Wii- my son is 100% physically disabled. He loves games and he can play just like anybody else with a control in his hands. But he cannot do anything with Natal or the Wii. People always tell us, all you have to do is barely move on the Wii, however he cannot BARELY move. And besides, that's not fun for anyone.

I really hope controllers are never replaced or a lot of disabled gamers will be excluded from playing the latest games.

Ben Rice
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Jason, I can't imagine what a true VR game would be like for your son.. walking for the first time in a console game... This technology has roots in some powerful implications.



I am all for moving forward with all three companies ideas. Each are unique in their own way, and it will be interesting to see how this healthy competition develops technology to benefit us all.

Phil Ledru
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The whole thing is about interfaces. How do our actions interact with virtual worlds. Different interactions require different devices, the very last step of it being 100% reality-like (Star Trek holodeck). Now here's what seems to be a logical technological path to holodecks:



- Using discrete electronical devices with various sensors (buttons, motion, etc.) That's roughly everything we have today, keybords, mouses, controllers, joystick, and so on. Even the wiimote: it "points" at something on the screen, or detects a move, but it's triggered (my moving the wiimote sends a precise info to the game which triggers a defined move). There's no "existence" whatsoever of the wiimote inside the game, nothing crosses the virtual frontier. The WiiMote is basically a remote plus acceleration sensors, it only emulates what sony apparently developped.



- The net step is using real objects that "exist" in the virtual environment. Watching Sony's tech demo from E3, it can be said that the "controller" detected by the Eye Toy camera exists noth in reality and virtually. That's a crossing from one world to another, isn't it? Likewise, Natal uses the player body and makes it cross into the virtual world. My personal idea is that if it can detect a whole body, it can detect a dedicated gun, sword or whatever accessory bundled in games. This step should keep us busy for the next few years.



- Now you may have realized that this idea of dual existence, the fact that the player (or its accessory) exists both in the real world and in the virtual world is in fact a limitation to the virtual world. Say there's 100 yards I need to run in the game, obviously my living room isn't that large, neither is my screen. That's actually the big mystery of the holodeck: how do people not hit walls? : )

The next step is thus logically to remove the need for players to make actual, real moves, while providing the same physical sensations (or better) than any of the two previous steps. To my knowledge, there's no other way than connecting to the brain and faking its senses. The trick is the necessity to disable the real movement. And this is how we'll be able to run (actually feel we are) while sitting in a couch. Obviously, when this step is achieved, the feedback is possible and can be 100% realistic. Oh wait, we'll remove pain i guess.

As of today, researchers are already at work on those brain interfaces. Disabled people – few of them unfortunately – already have tested direct brain interfaces, moving dots on a screen and so on.



I can't imagine what's between this and the perfect holodeck. Too many unknowns. All I'm sure of is that faking vision, hearing, action to the brain is to be non-intrusive to be widely accepted – no chirurgy or whatsoever, even if a device is used it has to work wirelessly with the "inside" of the body. Not yet a concern, ethics have a role to play. I agree with Carl Trett on this: there are definitely some concerns on how our relationship to the reality is going to change, or blend, with "touch-and-feel" virtual worlds. So far they're only "look and point", and look at the issues it raises psychologicaly and for society as a whole.



My opinion is that both Sony and MS are headed on this way, the holodeck way, the very way Nintendo pioneered on a technical aspect. And while they may be on separate tracks they're not that divergeant. As usual, MS goes "further" at the risk of being too early. I don't see downloadable content replacing optical discs yet, especially with tiny HDDs, and my guess is the same may happen with Natal at first: of course we're going there eventually, but isn't it too soon to deliver yet? Customer experience should remain the primary concern, not inovation for the sake of it.

Russell Carroll
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Controllers aren't ever going to be entirely replaced by motion controls, perhaps by some more direct brain connection that we are apparently dreaming about, but not by motion controls.



Controllers provide a better input device for most kinds of games, motion controls are fun for some games, but they're niche. A fighting game can be better with them (or potentially much worse). However, motion controls fail in many cases b/c they are being used where they aren't the best input device for the game, and a game is best when it uses an input device tailored to it.



Guitar Hero is better because of the guitar controller, not in spite of it. The music genre really rose due to peripherals. Pressing buttons on a normal controller, or clicking circles with a stylus or mouse doesn't create the same feeling.

Racing games in the arcade have wheels to hold, and they're more fun because of it. Making driving gestures with your hand isn't nearly as fun without a controller, and having petals instead of using buttons for breaks is more enjoyable and makes the game better. But buttons are still better than gesturing for gas, and breaks!

Light-gun games like Time Crisis are better because of the controller, it is much more fun to hold the gun and point and shoot then to use a mouse or joypad to aim and shoot.

There are many more examples, and NPD sales have really shown that people aren't buying things in spite of peripherals, but b/c of peripherals. For many games having a tailored controller makes the experience much more satisfying.



I think most everyone has felt the frustration of motion controls on the Wii, along with the joy of motion controls on the Wii. They don't work everywhere because they aren't the optimal control type for everything. Button presses are often better, custom controllers (guns/guitars/wheels/etc. are often better, but for some niche games, motion controls are a lot more fun (Wii Sports is a great example of this). I would expect for many games Natal will need a controller, for gaming applications it would be far too limited without one (many?).



Motion controls are a part of the future, but they are not the entirety of it, they will remain niche in usefulness, though they may be forced into many games where they aren't useful to the detriment of the games and the players. When used where they are a natural extension of the game, they do make things a lot more fun, which makes both Sony's and Microsoft's announcements exciting :).

Arne Gleason
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I think that there are very few existing-genera 360 games for which Natal be better than the 360 control.



But, I also think that the control/experience of almost all games can be greatly augmented by the Natal approach (as has been said before, you don't have to put down the controller).



Let me peek around a corner by making the action of peeking around the corner and I'm in (I find myself reflexively trying to do that now anyway).

Brighton gardiner
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I love how everyone who comments on Natal seems to think that you can't hold anything in your hand. This is not the case. You can use whatever prop you feel is appropriate as long as there is support from the developer. You could easily put on some Sparring gloves and have a go in say Fight Night Round 5 or something.



If you want the weight of something in your hand then you could simply use that object, or any object. No one said that you couldn't hold something in your hand.



Natal is offering a lot of flexibility in how you interface with the game.

Ning Wang
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If Natal is based on video pattern recognition, hold something will quite possibly affects the input, at least affects the accuracy.

Paopao Saul
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If you looked at the NATAL demo at E3, you can see that the techniques they are using are just the tip of the iceberg.



In a RPG, for example, you can get a kendo stick, let the game scan it as your sword, and swing away like its a real katana in the game. You can even do quirky things like wear your smiley face t-shirt and have the game scan it as your "+100 platinum armor of defiance". Now every time you use the kendo stick or your smiley shirt, the game will recognize it as those items in the game world. What if you weren't wearing a shirt? :)



It doesn't stop there, if you saw the demo for "Milo", imagine instead that your talking to a shopkeeper on some distant dystopian world, and you had to literally haggle your way to get a good price on your wares? Or pointing to some artifact on the shopekeeper's virtual shelf and asking what it is? The shopkeeper can even bump the price up if you didn't know what the item was, maybe based on your tone?



Just a few thoughts, but as you can see, image recognition from both these companies will open up new possibilities, as long as the developers think outside the box. Frankly, its all very exciting from a development standpoint.

Benjamin Solheim
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I have to wonder if this might make things easier in the long run. You have an old wheel and brakes set for the PC there is no way it will work on your consoles, the NATAL watches your hand and feet movement and tells the console you are steering. Baseball comes to mind as being nice for the pitcher, as far as the batter goes it could mesure acceleration maybe which means no physical feedback but they could use sound loud crack if you hit and whoose if you miss. The place it would really shine is fighting games if the motion is mapped to the char's rig you no longer are limited by the developer you can do any move you know how to and can physically perform. I just see that as interacting not reacting based on a having memoried the entire list of moves and counter moves. That and you would be able to fake people out.


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