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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 20, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Sony Move review, with photos

Here’s my take on the Sony Move for the PlayStation 3.

In short, it’s pretty fun and has potential for action games. Teens and older players may prefer it over the Wii if given a choice. It’s a nice addition to the mix of motion-control systems available this year.

But the Move requires more fussing than expected, including frequent calibration. Using the Move with an on-screen keyboard is also tedious and challenging.

It’s also expensive to get started, if you don’t already have a PS3. But there’s a big variety of games available and in the pipeline so Move probably won’t have as slow a start as the console did when it first launched.

Today’s column:

It’s strange and cruel to have the most amazing toys arrive when we can least afford them.

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This happened during the Depression, when Bugatti and Alfa Romeo blended gorgeous design and bleeding-edge technology to produce the greatest sports cars in history.

Now, as poverty reaches record levels in the U.S., it’s Sony and Microsoft releasing dazzling new video-game systems that see and track players and project them into high-definition action on the screen.

Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect systems are a leap forward for home entertainment and may change the way televisions and other electronic devices are used in the future.

It began Sunday when Sony released the Move for the PlayStation 3.

Those who can afford one may want to close the curtains, at least until the neighbors know what you’re playing with.

Sony’s Move controllers look very much like a personal massage devices. They’re plastic wands, each with a glowing rubber sphere on the business end.

To start a round of “Sports Champions,” the introductory Move game from Sony, you hold the controller up to your shoulder, move it down to your thigh and then across your midsection. In play, you madly swing the wand around while jerking and twisting your body, depending on the game you’re playing. Meanwhile, the on-screen action is depicted by physically enhanced, hyper-realistic young women and men, glistening in high-def, Blu-ray glory.

It’s a long way from the cute, cartoonish avatars on Nintendo’s Wii.

Sony is blatantly following the Wii’s motion-control approach and taking it up a few notches, positioning the Move as an upgrade for Wii owners.

“It just seems like a great onramp into high-definition gaming,” PlayStation marketing boss Peter Dille told me a few weeks ago. “Nintendo will continue to do what they’ll do, but our product will have a very attractive beacon.”

Sony nailed the high-def thing with “Sports Champions.”

The game has rich, vivid scenery and nearly photo-realistic props, on par with the latest console action games. It feels more precise and challenging than the sports game that comes bundled with the Wii, and its “Sports Resort” successor. But Sony’s version is also less accessible to nongamers and less charming than Wii Sports.

“Sports Champions” games include archery, bocce, Frisbee golf, pingpong, volleyball and “Gladiator” sword fighting.

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Archery showed how well the Move system will work with PS3 action games. You press the trigger and flip the wand back to nock an arrow, then point an aiming reticle at the target. A faint line appears, showing the arc the arrow will take. When you’re on target, you release the trigger and the arrow shoots with a crisp and satisfying thwap.

Sony is counting on that precision to make the Move appeal to hard-core gamers as well as the broader audience of casual players who were first attracted to the Wii.

“Gladiator” feels like a console action game. After you’ve whacked your opponent with a sword or shield a few times, you’re given the chance to press one of the six buttons on the wand’s face for a super attack. If you follow the prompts and slash the right way, your opponent is tossed into the dirt or thrown through the air.

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Unlike the Nintendo sword-fighting games that are simple and a little silly, “Gladiator” is more complicated to play and has an edge that made me a little uncomfortable slashing and bashing the family.

The realism of the Move works well with the bocce and Frisbee games, both of which are easy to pick up but challenging in the way the actual games are to play.

“Sports Champions” had a few rough spots. The avatars have ethnodemographically appropriate names, but the game would sometimes call the virtual opponent “CPU” — reminding me I wasn’t really playing with a curvaceous Frenchwoman named Giselle, and that the opponent was actually the console’s central-processing unit.

The Move system is easy to set up and use, but it still has a ways to go.

It frequently needs to be calibrated, with different methods depending on the game. It also requires you to play within the limited range of the PlayStation Eye, a camera accessory that connects to the PS3 with a USB cable and receives signals from the Move controllers.

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“Sports Champions” advises you to stand precisely 8 feet from the center of the TV screen. It also requires calibration before starting each game; the camera shows you on the screen, and you have to move until you’re standing within a frame projected on the set. Then you follow prompts telling you to hold the controller up to your shoulder, thigh and belly, a routine that starts to feel like a mandatory salute or religious gesture.

The hardware is a little awkward when you switch to a game with different requirements. “EyePet,” a charming virtual-pet game for young kids, requires you to set the Eye “30 to 60 centimeters” from the floor and tilt it fully downward. It suggests setting the $40 gadget on a stack of books or DVD cases to get the right height.

(Microsoft’s Kinect system coming Nov. 4 doesn’t have the precise aiming of the Move, so you probably won’t use it for action games without a controller. But you won’t have to relocate the sensing device to play different games.)

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“EyePet” is fun – kids use gestures to help a kittenlike creature hatch from an egg, then decorate and play with the animal. But it doesn’t have the magic of Microsoft’s “Kinectimals” game that lets you “pet” and play with realistic wild animals by

moving your hands and body in front of the Kinect device.

A Move bundle costs $400, including a PS3 console, an Eye, a Move controller and “Sports Champions.” If you already have a PS3, a Move starter bundle is $100 and additional controllers are $50.

Dille said Sony is “bullish” about the Move, and retailers are asking Sony to send more hardware for the holidays.

Microsoft’s Kinect will come in bundles starting at $300 with an Xbox 360 console, or $149 for those who already have an Xbox.

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Last week, Microsoft executives were boasting that they’ll sell 3 million Kinect units during the holiday season, triple the number of ($500 to $800) Apple iPads sold in the first month.

What remains to be seen is how far these wonderful, bleeding-edge toys extend beyond the gadget class – the well-off early adopters – and if they’ll become mainstream hits like Nintendo’s $200 Wii.

Otherwise we’ll be facing another digital divide. Upper-crust kids will have virtual pets and play virtual sports in front of their big TVs while their parents smile and look up from their iPads.

The hoi polloi will be stuck with low-definition Wiis. Or, heaven forbid, forced to play with real animals and balls while their parents pass sections of the newspaper back and forth.

Comments | More in Reviews | Topics: Gadgets & products, Games & entertainment, kinect

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