New Motion Controllers – How they do/will perform

There has been a lot of talk about Wii MotionPlus and how it will affect games we play. Also, this E3, the competitors have announced their own motion control systems. Let us pick them apart one by one.

Wii MotionPlus was the first MotionUpgrade announced, back at last year’s E3. It adds a small box to the back of the Wii Remote improving its built-in motion sensing. This is done through a set of gyroscopic sensors, one dual-axis sensor and a single-axis one, which, when combined, can read all the rotational axes of pitch, yaw and roll. Combined with the accelerometer, which can only read translational motion (up/down, forward/back and left/right), it allows for full 6 degrees of freedom to be tracked, however the accumulation of reading errors, especially with the Wii Remote accelerometer, requires regular re-calibration, which can be done using the sensor bar or by holding the remote in place in a pre-determined position.

People expect a lot of the Wii MotionPlus, which is the only enhanced motion controller out already. For example, they wonder whether it will improve old games, or whether Nunchuk motion recognition is improved, as well. To both I can say this much: no.

The Wii MotionPlus is a device providing additional sensors, whose data is sent via Wii Remote to the game. How the game uses this data, however, is up to the game itself. If the game is not programmed to take into account this data, it will not. The only effect a connected Wii MotionPlus might have on a non-supported game is the fact that the additional plastic in the back affects size, mass and balance of the Wii Remote. Also, as the addition from the Wii MotionPlus is sensors, not logic, it can not affect the Nunchuk. The Wii MotionPlus only works because it is moved in the same direction, rotated in the same way as the Wii Remote. This fixed orientation is not present with the Nunchuk, which is connected by cable. Ergo, no Nunchuk improvement.

Next up, the PlayStation 3 Motion Controller. Probably the more direct attack on the Wii Remote of the two. You hold a rod-shaped controller with motion sensors, which detect your movement to be rendered in the game. The key difference is that instead of an infrared camera in the controller watching a set of reference points on the TV (the Sensor Bar), we have the opposite approach: A camera on the TV (the PlayStation Eye) watches a light orb in the controller. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it can even read the position (and recalibrate the data read by the motion sensors) when the controller is not pointing at the screen. The disadvantage is that only the position of the tip of the controller is recognized, not the orientation of the device. Also, the resolution of the PlayStation Eye is lower than  that of the Wii infrared camera, demasking the “sub-millimeter accuracy” said to be provided with this controller as pure marketing bullshit.

The internal motion sensors are similar to that of the Wii Remote. Whether this is with or without Motionplus remains to be seen. The better absolute positioning system via PlayStation Eye can be seen as an advantage, but there also is a disadvantage. What makes Wii controls as good as they are is not just the motion sensor / infrared camera in the Wii Remote, another major part is the Nunchuk. Having a minor controller for the other hand, offering both traditional left-hand controls and rudimentary motion sensing, is not to be underestimated. This is why the PS3 Motion Controller will not be the “Wii Killer” it is hyped to be.

Last point on our list, Project Natal for the XBox 360. The odd one of the bunch, with no controller at all, but a camera and some depth-sensing equipment. This is more of an attack on the EyeToy than on Wii, and I believe Miyamoto when he says that people need a controller. Sure, he is trying to defend “his” system, but I say that this defense is justified. I think Natal is everything people dislike about the Wii Motion Controls to the second power times the gimmicky-peripheralness of the EyeToy.

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