Saturday, 13 March 2010

PlayStation Move: The Complete Report

Motion controls are definitely being seen as the next big thing to embrace videogaming this decade. Driven by the success of Nintendo’s Wii, both Sony and Microsoft are now attempting to steal away some of the Big N’s dedicated fan base with their own attempts at motion control. While Microsoft are pursuing a controller less system of body and movement tracking, Sony are playing the head to head game with Nintendo, featuring a wand-style controller design, along with head tracking and more advanced movement in conjunction with using their PS Eye camera.

At GDC10, Sony revealed a near finished version of what they are now calling the PlayStation Move, previously known by the codenames of Gem, or more recently PlayStation Arc, and originally referred to as simply, the ‘PlayStation Motion Controller’. Two individual parts making up a complete set of controls for the device was shown, one recognising various movements and actual screen positioning, and the other used as a secondary option for games also requiring more traditional controls in addition to motion recognition. Both serve as Sony’s higher end tech approach to Nintendo’s Wii Remote and Nunchuck.

Sony first showed off the ‘Move’ at E3 2009, in which audiences were presented with a device not too dissimilar from the Wii Remote, but featuring a more curved ergonomic shape, and a round glowing ball on the end. On first impressions the Move looks much like a highly modified Microphone controller for use with Singstar, but with the glowing Ping Pong ball attached. However the device is flatter on the underside, and features an array of buttons found on the Dual Shock 3 and Sixaxis controllers. The controller also features the full rumbling capabilities of the Dual Shock 3, and vastly superior motion handling compared to the Sixaxis.

On the underside of the Move, near the end, you have one analogue trigger, whilst on the front you have the main ‘Move’ button, surrounded by the ‘square’ and ‘cross’ buttons on one side, and ‘triangle’ and ‘circle’ on the other. Below this sits the iconic ‘home’ button with the familiar ‘PS’ logo on it. Further down sees a Sony logo placed above the small and familiar, square-shaped red light, used to indicate power and connection of the controller with the PS3. The Move itself is fully wireless, featuring a built in battery just like the standard Official PS3 controllers, and is charged by using the same USB cable as those. The port for this sits underneath the bottom of the Move controller directly, just where on the Wii Remote the Nunchuck would plug into.

Using different sphere colours for each controller, up to four Move controllers can be tracked at once with the PlayStation Eye. At the GDC Sony showed off demos for the PlayStation Move using one Move motion controller, as well as some which used two motion controllers, where the user hold one in each hand. Initially, Sony has stated that all launch titles for the device would be playable with just a single Move controller, with additional options for use with multiple motion controllers. This is being done to minimize the cost for the user, to make it more appealing for the casual gamer, and to allow a faster uptake of the device, otherwise hindered by an additional expense of buying several controllers.

The other part of the Move experience is the Sub-Controller, which looks very similar to the Move itself, having almost the same rounded, ergonomically designed shape, but featuring a slight downwards curve on the underside at the front. The Sub-Controller is essentially Sony’s Nunchuck companion to the main Move device, and is used to facilitate the duties usually carried out by the Dual Shock 3 controller.

Around the font, and at the top of the controller, sits a single Dual Shock 3 style analogue stick. Below this sits the ‘cross’ and ‘circle’ buttons, whilst a traditional d-pad is situated directly below these. Just down from this is the ‘home’ button, marked again by the ‘PS’ wording printed on top. Like with the Move controller the ’Sub’ also features a printed Sony logo at the bottom, along with the power and sync light. Lastly, on the underside of the unit, situated at the front, you’ll find both an L1 button, and L2 analogue trigger. Unlike the Move controller the Sub has no rumble or motion handling capabilities. It is unclear whether this is the case due to either a lack of software using these features, or simply, that the controller just lacks these abilities outright.

These two separate parts, and the use of the PS Eye make up the complete overall motion experience that is PlayStation Move. In many ways usage of this system should be almost identical o that of Nintendo’s Wii. Certainly judging by the early reports from GDC 10, this seems to be the case, although one single element sticks out from Ninty’s system, and also borrows a chunk right out of Natal. This is the Move’s ability for accurate body and face recognition features in addition to the standard motion controls available.

By using the PS Eye camera’s ability to track head movements in combination with the sensors inside the Move, and through the ball on the end, allows the system to track basic body movements in a 3D space, much like how Natal does. However the Move and the PS Eye system in combination can operate within just 1 or 2 frames of additional lag, meaning that at best only around 66ms of lag will be present on the console side of things. Most decent HDTV’s will add around 15 to 38ms of lag on top of that, which in total is on roughly on par with what games like Halo 3 are providing, minus additional lag via the TV. In worst case scenarios total lag is likely to be around 150ms including HDTV lag, in a fully optimised title. This however is still much better than the kind of lag most Natal titles are having to deal with, but sadly, there was nothing software-wise remotely finished enough at GDC to make any solid technical statements to back these up, other than the raw factual data about how the Move operates.

So the Move can handle at least basic body recognition, and is extremely accurate with very little control lag. But how does it do this, and why does it have the potential to work so well?

Well, we’ll start off by explaining how the actual Move wand works itself. The glowing ball on the end of the controller glows in a range of colours using the built-in RGB LEDs, these colours serve as a marker of sorts in which the PS Eye can track along in its image plane. The rounded shape of the ball, and the size of the light, allows the PS3 to determine the distance of the controller from the PS Eye via the light’s image size, enabling the controller’s position to be tracked in three dimensions, with a great deal of accuracy. This sphere-based calculation method, allows the controller to operate with minimal processing lag compared to other ways of image processing via the camera. Which is why there is expected to be slightly more lag when using the PS Eye to help track body movements, even though is likely to be no more than around 2 or 3 fames at most.

In addition to this, the Move also features a range of internal sensors to also help with movement and position tracking, especially in situations in which the device is hidden from the PS Eye camera. A pair of inertial sensors inside the controller, along with a three-axis linear accelerometer, and a three-axis angular rate sensor, are used to track rotation and overall motion of the device. In addition to this, an internal magnetometer is used for calibrating the controller against the Earth’s magnetic field to aid in correcting cumulative errors, or drift, if you will, in the inertial sensors. All these sensors can be used to track the position of the controller when obscured from the camera, such as when held behind the player’s back, or behind another player in the same room. Meaning that the Move isn’t completely reliant on the PS Eye in order to function correctly at all times.

In terms of the level of precision this system provides, Eye Toy creator Richard Marks stated that “the sphere's position along the camera's image plane can be resolved at a really sub-pixel level”, which in terms of accuracy, allows for some pin-point adjustments and subtleties not available to either Natal or the Wii Remote with Motion Plus enabled. This means that one-to-one recognition will be available as standard, and will be easier to achieve than on Nintendo’s Wii Remote and Motion Plus. Also, that this kind of accuracy should be available when talking about the full body tracking made possible by using the PS Eye.

More information was forthcoming at Sony's GDC press conference, with David Coombes, and Anton Mikhailov showcasing a number of technical demonstrations, many of which showed audiences the Move's pinpoint precision and low latency. Along with these, they also discussed how the Move supports full body tracking, showing a demo of an on-screen puppet being controller by the use of the Move and PS Eye, not unlike similar demos for Natal.

Like I mentioned earlier, body tracking is made possible by the combined use of the Move and the PS Eye’s head tracking abilities. According to the GDC presentation, the PS3 will also be able to detect faces, identifying individuals through face contour and feature detection. It will also be able to recognize gender, age, smiles and when eyes open and close, in addition to tracking movement. All of this is also done with minimal processing lag, hopefully allowing maximum responsiveness on the users end.

Coombes explained during the presentation, that all the calculations to do with the image processing are done by the Cell CPU, which is perfectly suited to the high levels of floating point calculations needed for such a task. Apparently the raw data taken from the Move and PS Eye can be processed in “under a frame” in optimum circumstances to around one to two fames in most others. The amount of memory usage for the whole process is also only around 1-2MB of system memory, which Mikhailov described as being truly “insignificant”.

Essentially what this means, is that the Move when used with the camera, can not only handle direct one-to-one motion tracking, but also what amounts to augmented reality applications too, all with extremely high levels of accuracy, without too much impact on user control or fluidity. Of course it will be down to the software, and developers to make sure everything is implemented and optimised in a way in which to take advantage of these advanced features. If they do so, the Move could well be an impressive solution to handling some of the controller less type games so integral to the Natal experience, whilst also providing a platform for ‘core’ gamers to enjoy the benefits of motion control.

Unfortunately, Sony failed to show off any unique, or particularly polished software at their GDC press conference. Most of the titles simply featured merely serviceable levels of motion control, with noticeable lag being present, or in some cases a complete lack of on-to-one motion handling at all. Some of the Sports titles displayed seemed to rely more on gesture-based systems than the high end tracking available with Move.

However Sony did manage to demonstrate two or three games, which used the Move in the precise ways shown in their technical demos. The first of these was the newly revealed SOCOM 4, which used the Move in combination with the Sub-Controller exactly like Resident Evil 4, or Metroid Prime 3 on the Wii. The Move device handled all the aiming and shooting, while the Sub-Controller was used for moving your character around amongst other things. Sony showed a demo of SOCOM 4 in action, using the two-controller set-up. The difference being that the pointer precision was far more accurate than on Nintendo’s console, and the motion detection seemed to have a greater range of sensitivity; The second was another in-house Sony product, titled Motion Fighters, a boxing game showing off the full body tracking capable by the Move, and lastly, camera-enabled real time 3D interaction in Move Party. For each of these demos the Move was shown to be incredibly accurate, with regards to response time and tracking. However the software had a number of glitches, and Move support was obviously very early, leading to problems with lag and calibration issues.

So far, what has been revealed, shows off a tantalizing potential for Sony's Move device, producing a one-fits-all controller which could well become the new standard in motion-based gaming. However despite this, Sony had very little in the way of real polished software, certainly nothing screaming out as essential as to buying the Move, plus, as of now, there are still far too many questions left unanswered. We still don’t know if the Sub-Controller has any motion capabilities, and nothing concrete was revealed on the pricing structure, or if any solid bundles featuring the PS3 and the complete Move package would be available at launch.

Sony did confirm that they were looking into providing something along these lines, though obviously subject to change at the moment.

- A basic starter kit, which includes a PlayStation Move controller, along with a PlayStation Eye and a demo disc, for no more than $100. This seems to be the basic entry package.

- A pack which includes a PlayStation 3 console, DualShock 3, PlayStation Eye, and PlayStation Move motion controller.

- Lastly, a bundle with a PlayStation Move controller with selected games.

Other than the rough $100 entry package, no other specific pricing details were revealed, and disappointingly there was no mention of a complete package with a Sub-Controller, leading me to believe that you may well have to buy it separately. On top of the above options, you can expect to be able to buy extra Move controllers, and Sub-Controllers separately. Though again, no pricing details were announced at this time.

It is believed that Sony will be making a full unveiling of the PlayStation Move, along with pricing and more polished software at this year’s E3 expo. There we shall be able to see if they’re on target to deliver some of the initial promises of actually having the most accurate, and most responsive motion control system this generation. We shall also will be able to see how the Move stacks up against Microsoft’s Natal, and to see which one provides the user with a greater range of motion controlled gaming experiences.

You can expect a fully featured tech article at IQGamer later on in the year, along with a full hands-on with both Controllers. Until then, we’ll be sure to fill you in on any details passing our way.


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