Joystiq hands-on: PlayStation Eye

One of the most interesting, and certainly most unique video games coming to the PlayStation 3 this year is Sony and SCE Studios Japan's Eye of Judgment, which combines elements of a physical collectible card game with that of a traditional video game for an experience that is, if anything, wholly its own.

While the influence of card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon has long been felt in video games, Eye of Judgment represents the first time to our recollection that the marriage of the two mediums has evolved beyond gameplay to take on a more literal meaning. With real cards you hold in your hand, and a playing mat unfolded on the table, it's entirely possible to play Eye of Judgment with no PS3 involvement whatsoever, and even have a good deal of fun doing so. However, as the game comes bundled with the PS3's new PlayStation Eye camera, it seems a shame to leave such shiny new hardware ignored, so when the game showed up at Joystiq proper, we were inclined to put the new device through the wringer.


While we cannot speak as to how the actual camera will be packaged when Eye of Judgment ships, ours came wrapped in a tightly wound ball of bubble wrap, while the camera stand was sealed in a nondescript white box. The stand itself measures about 13 inches in height when assembled, and is made of the sort of moderately sturdy plastic you'd expect to find on a child's toy, no doubt in order to keep the whole contraption from being destroyed when players inevitably trip over the camera's impossibly short USB cord.

The cord itself is about 77 inches in length, or about 6.5 feet, which may sound like a lot, but when the camera is slotted into the stand and then tethered from wherever you happen to be playing to the front of the PS3, the setup begins to have all the markings of some Home Alone-style booby trap.

That said, camera setup and recognition is simple enough, and after the software held our hand and walked us through a few short screens covering positioning and available room lighting, we were left to our own devices. What's interesting however is that while the camera was originally touted as not needing a good deal of light to function properly, the importance of lighting cannot be understated. Eye of Judgment is designed for well lit rooms such that nothing else will do. As the game is played, and cards are placed below the camera, the game takes a second or two to read a set of symbols at the top of the card in order to determine what it is exactly that you are trying to do. If there is a shadow, or the lighting isn't just right, the process will stop and restart again. Like the caretakers of some kind of electronic houseplant, we were on more than occasion forced to babysit the PlayStation Eye by hovering over it with a portable lamp just to get it to read the cards on the table correctly.

The camera itself features a lens that can be adjusted for either 50hz or 60hz display settings as well as for both regular and wide angle capturing, though honestly the difference between the two capture modes is negligible. Still this is essentially a webcam we're talking about here, and not a Nikon D3, so all things considered we were happy just to see recognizable shapes moving on the screen.

The PlayStation Eye delivers on expectations in terms of features and capture quality, which ranks marginally above its EyeToy predecessor, with a smoother frame rate and slightly crisper on-screen image, as well as a nice auto-focus capability that does a reasonable job at keeping up with what's going on in front of it. In addition, the camera does boast an integrated '4 Microphone Array System,' making its use in games, such as the forthcoming PS3 edition of SingStar, seem positively frightening. Our voices came over well enough when testing during a chat session, negating the need for a headset, though doing so means that voices are instead routed through the television speaker, making the device's use during online play seem decidedly less attractive.

After fiddling with the camera and playing a few games of Eye of Judgment, inspiration took hold, and we found ourselves plugging the little guy into anything with a USB slot just to see what would happen. Sadly, nothing did. The camera was not recognized as a suitable replacement for the Xbox Live Vision, nor was it given notice by the PS2 as yet another EyeToy. Plugging it into the PC did give us hope, as the computer began to look for drivers, but finding none, it told us in typically cryptic computer lingo to please shove off; though like the EyeToy, we expect proper PC drivers to become available not long after the PlayStation Eye is released into the wild.

The PlayStation Eye hits retail on October 23 in two flavors: as part of the Eye of Judgment package for $69.99, as well as by itself for $39.99, which promises to include the EyeCreate editing software, as well as a collection of mini-games and screen savers. We're also hopeful that Sony will take full advantage of the camera after it is released, possibly through a future firmware update, though nothing has yet been announced.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.