It’s easy to take hardware for granted. Whereas the constant drip-feed of concept art, screenshots and press releases ensures that software develops in front of our eyes, hardware tends to emerge fully formed, months and years of engineering forgotten in a moment of onstage fanfare. Dr Richard Marks is one of the people responsible for designing and bringing new hardware to life. Having studied avionics at MIT, Marks went on to receive a PhD from Stanford, working in underwater robotics, before turning his talents to worthier pursuits.
Working in the PlayStation R&D department, he conceived and developed Sony’s EyeToy, released in 2003, and was later involved in the development of its PS3 successor, PlayStation Eye. His work since then has culminated in Move, which uses the Eye tech’s camera in conjunction with controller- based motion and orientation sensitivity. We sat down with Marks to discuss the development of Sony’s motion control solution and what he thinks about Microsoft’s.
PlayStation Move designer, Dr Richard Marks
How did you settle on the technical solutions for Move?
We looked at lots of possibilities. We looked at lots of sensors – ultrasonic, magnetic and so on. We also did as much as we could before that with just the camera. The most capability came from what we chose. The sensors inside [the controller] are very good at telling the angle that it’s being held at and recognising the motion that’s happening. The camera we’ve always liked because it’s got good position tracking – it knows where you are in the room.
The camera also has a whole bunch of other benefits. It can track your body, and you can use it as a communication device – it has a microphone array you can use for voice input. It has a lot of flexibility. And the reason we wanted to have something in your hand is because they’re so many more experiences which are enabled when you do. You can use it for selection; you can use it to shoot with. It feels good when you swing something.
What do you make of Microsoft’s position, which says that one controller is too many?
I don’t think that point of view is quite right. When we did EyeToy we wanted to create a new way to play games but we didn’t want to replace the existing way. I think that you can do some things really well with just a camera, or just a 3D camera, but there’s just some stuff you can’t do as well. And there’s a bunch of experiences you could never do as well. I think our system is really flexible because we still have a camera – we could still do all the stuff EyeToy did and more – but we also have this more high-fidelity controller which you hold in your hand and is tracked really accurately, and you have the buttons.
You don’t think buttons can be intimidating to certain types of potential players?
Buttons are irreplaceable as an input device. Too many buttons are overwhelming, but one single action button is very powerful feeling. For core games you really do need a set of buttons to quickly choose things. Trying to replace buttons with gestures doesn’t work very well.
For Kinect to work, Microsoft will have come up with new concepts based around controller-free gaming. Do you think Move is better suited to brand-new ideas or twists on existing ones?
I think whether Microsoft succeeds or not really depends on whether or not people think that buying Kinect for that set of experiences makes sense. With Move we wanted to make sure that we had a wide enough range of experiences that it worked as a platform device for us. So we could really say that, no matter who you are, you’ll really want this controller, even if you’ve never played a game or you’ve been playing the hardest core games of all.
I think Move is good for adding a spatial dimension to existing experiences. The thing people don’t quite realise yet is that it is a completely new way to interact. It is a 3D virtual reality kind of device, where if there’s a 3D scene you can reach directly into the screen, manipulate things and navigate around the space in a new way. That’s the part that I think hasn’t quite dawned on everyone yet. We don’t yet have enough experiences showing it, but we’re starting to get those.
When are games going to begin teasing out some of Move’s less obvious potential?
I think that people will figure it out over time. We’re building more and more experiences over time that use Move. A lot of the teams didn’t know what Move would be able to do when they started making their game designs. They knew some fundamental capability so they built their design based on that, and Move delivers that capability for those games. But when you get the controller in your hand and start to play with it for a while you realise there’s new possibilities to work with. And now some of the developers have had that time so their concepts will evolve. Just as with any new platform, it takes time.
So, do you think the launch line-up is an overly conservative one?
I think what you see now is the set of experiences people knew they’d be able to do with Move before they even had it in their hand, and it’s also their first design experience with it. It takes time to be an expert when designing a new capability. I think the launch titles show a good breadth of different things: a firstperson shooter, party game, sports sim, and in the launch timeframe we have action adventure and RTS. I think the breadth of experiences is there and I think the way that Move gets utilised will evolve a little bit more in the future. The most obvious way to use it is a clear 1:1 perfect match with what you’re doing. I think that will evolve more and people will realise that Move’s really just a data source.
Would you be confident putting a timeframe on how long it’ll be before we see some more experimental things?
I think very quickly you’ll see some very new kinds of concepts in small doses, like in PSN games. I think game developers will investigate what’s fun and what isn’t and then the things which really do feel great will go into the more triple-A titles.
Which possibilities that have been under-explored are you most excited about?
Realtime strategy is the easiest one to answer with. It’s just not a genre which exists on the console and I think Move will enable it. There’s actually ways to explore it which are different to what you’ll think of. You can use Move as a direct mouse replacement but you can use it as more than that. Having a 3D virtual world navigator and manipulator – I think there’s a lot of new gameplay experiences in that. You really just feel like you’re in there, and want to reach in and do stuff. It [feels] like you’re controlling something that’s happening in that virtual space in a really direct way.