Sony dropped a lot of knowledge on us yesterday, at long last replacing rampant speculation with some cold hard facts -- and even a name! -- for its new PlayStation motion controller. The PlayStation Move is being described as a "platform" and a "virtual console launch" by folks at Sony, and we think they mean it, so prepare for a motion-controlled ad war later this year, as Microsoft and Sony set themselves up for a real three-way fight with Nintendo for your physical living room activity of the gaming variety. While some of the high-level Wii-like functionalities might be obvious, follow us after the break as we walk through the nitty gritty of everything we know so far about Move.
Gallery | 10 Photos

PlayStation Move press photos



The basics

If you've seen a Wii before, you're already familiar with the most basic concept here. PlayStation Move is a motion controller system, with sensors to detect the player's movements and translate them into gameplay. There's a wrist strap, so you're expected to make some exaggerated movements. Where Move departs from the Wii is that while the Wii has detection of movement (with its built-in accelerometers), pointing (with the sensor bar), or even exact orientation (with that addition of MotionPlus), Move can track its controller precisely within real 3D space, instead of just relative movement based on a previous position. For gameplay this means less of those cute little flicks Wii pros have come so fond of -- most gameplay motions require a full and complete movement on Move -- but it also means interesting things for augmented reality. Of course, for augmented reality you need a camera, and lucky for Sony it has the PlayStation Eye already on the market. In fact, the Move system is partly based on what the Eye can detect of those cute colored balls at the end of each Move controller, which lets the PlayStation know how far away from the camera the controller is, and map, say, a tennis racket exactly to a user's hand.

This sounds all well and good, but it would be worthless if Sony hadn't worked out the potential lag in such a CPU-heavy tracking process. Luckily, they say they've got the problem cracked, sending control data with a mere 1 fps delay -- equal to that of the DualShock 3.

Move controller and sub-controller

The Move controller is a very odd-looking affair. It's almost like if you took a wireless microphone, and then extended the mesh ball past the top of the mic until it was its own separate entity. Then you lit the mesh on fire and started waving the mic around wildly. Alright, analogy gone too far.

The black, matte plastic of the controller will be very familiar to anyone who's held a DualShock 3 before, and the sense of weight and balance -- not too heavy to be cumbersome, not too light as to feel cheap -- is right on target as well. The controller is significantly lighter than a Wiimote, which seems like it'll really help fight fatigue, and we're guessing that's mostly to do with the fact that instead of AA batteries the Move controller rocks a rechargeable battery. Of course, with a few of these laying around (the PS3 can support four at once), in addition to your existing DualShocks and maybe a sub-controller or two, we can imagine a burgeoning market for USB charging trees. Of course it's wireless, based on Bluetooth, and the sub-controller is tether-free as well.

The controller is basically cylindrical, with a slight ergonomic taper in the middle, though thanks to the flattened face buttons area and the trigger notch, it's easy to keep the controller in its correct orientation. At the end of the controller is the light-up ball, which is actually hollow, incredibly squishy, and built out of some very odd rubbery material. The upshot of the controller's layout is that your hand should be covering all the hard plastic stuff when you're playing, with just the squishy ball exposed, so potential injuries have already been slightly mitigated without having to resort to the shame of a Wiimote condom.

That ball serves quite a few purposes. Firstly, it's tracked by the PlayStation Eye for its X, Y, and Z positioning in 3D space, based on its size and location in the camera field. One thing that helps it be tracked is the fact that it lights up from within, but those lights serve an additional purpose of conveying game info. None of the games we played last night used this feature (picking instead an arbitrary color), but most of them were planning on it. The ball can flash any RGB color, and has a really delightful glow to it. It's easily the most distinctive bit of the whole setup visually, and expect your less-informed friends to be asking you about "that controller with the funny glowing ball at the end of it" as we near the launch.

Location in 3D space is of doubtless importance, but equally important in motion gaming are the angle, orientation, and acceleration of the controller, and PlayStation Move luckily has those in spades. The Move controller has a three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer and a "terrestrial magnetic field sensor." We're not sure what that last thing is, perhaps a compass, but it sounds pretty badass. The upshot of all this is that even if you take the light-up ball off camera, or it's obscured somehow, the controller still does a good job of figuring out its orientation and movement. A couple of games even have preprogrammed gestures for spin attacks where you literally spin yourself around, or taunts where you place the controller behind your back. In addition to the feedback of the light-up ball there's also built-in rumble. Poor SIXAXIS never stood a chance.

On the face of the controller are small versions of the standard square / circle / triangle / x face buttons, which are slightly more resistive and clicky than a regular PlayStation controller -- they're clearly designed more for occasionally activating a function than constant mashing. Your thumb primarily rests on a large button in the center with the Move logo inscribed on it. We heard this called the "plunger" by one developer, though that doesn't seem to be an official title. In games it's merely denoted by a grey icon in the pill shape of the button. The button has a nice feel to it, and its unique shape means it's easy to hold down without fatigue -- something we've had trouble with at times with the Wii's A button. Below the thumb button and recessed enough to be in no danger of an accidental press is the PlayStation button for bringing up the XMB and syncing the controller with the console. Around back is an analog trigger that is nicely notched and very comfy, and on the front sides are flattened Start and Select buttons.

The "sub-controller" (that's the official, un-catchy name for it at the moment) is a much more limited affair, thought it's easily more complicated than its Nunchuck competition on the Wii side when it comes to buttons. Up top there's a nice, DualShock-style analog stick, below that is a d-pad flanked by replicas of the main controller's X and O buttons (we're guessing this will give people some flexibility in control schemes, otherwise it could cause some major headaches if each X or O does something different), and there's also another PlayStation button. Around back is a second analog trigger more akin to the DualShock's than the notched one on the main controller, and above that is an analog shoulder button. There are no motion sensors inside the sub-controller, and from what we can tell there's no rumble either, though we couldn't get a straight "no" on that.
Gallery | 7 Photos

PlayStation Move first hands-on



Uses

Between the PlayStation Eye, up to four Move controllers, some unnamed quantity of sub-controllers, and your hooligan friends, the combinations and uses are pretty endless. Here are some configurations that are possible off the top of our heads: we're sure there are others, but this should get your imagination going:

  • Single Move controller: This is the most basic setup, and how the controller will be sold as a kit: PlayStation Eye, Move controller, and game.
  • Dual Move controllers: We saw a ton of examples of this in videos and in actual games we tested, so prepare to spring for a second Move controller right away. Luckily, many of the dual-controller games seemed to have a mode where you can control them with a single controller, but that sounds pretty sub-optimal.
  • Move controller + PlayStation Eye: Obviously everything uses the Eye for detecting motion, but we also saw some games like Move! Party (a working title) and EyePet that rely heavily on the Eye. Uses include capturing your face and mapping it to a character, giving you a 3D prop but otherwise displaying the full video feed, and voice commands (there's built-in mic on the Eye).
  • Move controller + sub-controller: We've only seen this demoed with SOCOM 4 so far, and we get the feeling that Sony is going to reserve this more complicated, optional controller for its core gamers. Since there's no way to track the motion of the sub-controller, movement possibilities are also reduced compared to a dual Move controller setup.
  • Move vs. Move, or Dual Move vs. Dual Move: This is where it should get really fun / dangerous. Two people swinging two Move controllers around wildly. We're guessing four player games will be possible as well with one person holding one Move each, but we didn't see any demoed.

Setup

Sony says that most games need configuration before each play. Luckily, it's a pretty painless process, but it also depends on your setup and the game. For instance, some Move games require a "wingspan check" where you hold one controller out to the side with your arm fully extended, and then hold it near your belt. Some dual Move games have this sort of "magnetic" pairing setup, where you place both controllers side by side and point them at the screen, and they rumble as if attracted to one another. For a shooter like SOCOM there's a screen that lights up one center edge of the screen at a time and asks you to point there. For all games you're supposed to stand about two or three yards away from the screen and center yourself on the PlayStation Eye. We don't know if the PlayStation Eye can be placed either above or below the screen, but in all the setups we saw it was placed right above the TV.

Games

In a way, Sony is only ready to show tech demos at this point, to let people know that Move works and how it works, so it's understandable that the games were pretty scarce and rough around the edges. We're promised much more to come, and some more blockbuster-style stuff for 2011. Below is a quick rundown of the games we've seen:

Move Party (working title): A minigame collection that uses a lot of augmented reality and bizarre situations to delight, entertain, and eventually bore you. Check out Joystiq's impressions.

Sports Champions (working title): It's like Wii Sports, but in HD! We didn't see all the games, but we know that at least table tennis (single Move, multiplayer is possible) a gladiator game (dual or single Move) and archery (dual Move, probably single Move, it's unclear). Check out Joystiq's impressions.

SOCOM 4:
It's a FPS, much akin to a traditional Wii FPS control setup, though with a bit more sensitivity for pointing off screen for camera movement. Uses Move controller + sub-controller. Check out Joystiq's impressions.

TV SuperStars: A terrifying minigame collection involving tons of facemapping that we're avoiding at all costs. Steer clear of Joystiq's gallery.

Slider: Some really bizarre, truly Japanese game where an office worker and a rolling deskchair slide improbably through a cityscape. We haven't seen it in action yet, but we're dying to. Joystiq has a gallery.

The Shoot: An on-rails shooter using a single Move controller, with a few motion gimmicks like a spin attack. Was not only unimpressive, but also relatively laggy. We'll be avoiding. Check out Joystiq's impressions.

Motion Fighter (working title):
A very visceral, "gritty" underground boxing game that uses Dual Move controllers. We didn't get to play this, but the demo we saw on stage was pretty impressive, including putting an opponent in a headlock and punching their face with the mere power of mime. Joystiq has a gallery.

EyePet: A PlayStation Eye game that's already available in Europe, but will launch in the US with Move, replacing its card-tracking interface with a Move controller. Joystiq has more info.

Brunswick Pro Bowling: We didn't see this in action, but we can guess how it goes down.

Most of these from what we can tell are slated to launch when PlayStation Move launches this fall. You can follow the rest of Joystiq's coverage here, and check out our hands-on impressions with the games / controllers here.

Retail plans

So, now that you know what it is, when can you buy it? It's slated for a "holidays" launch, which could mean any number of things, but we're guessing Sony's going to want this out not long after November. Unfortunately, Sony has a pretty bad track record with launching stuff on time; PlayStation Move was originally slated for Spring, for instance. Obviously they "have" to get it out for the holidays with Microsoft's Natal launching in a similar time frame, but there's always the danger of a last minute hiccup, and we're not going to put too much stock in projected dates until it's really out.

Pricing details are a little more firm, with a sub-$100 kit slated to bring people the core experience of a PlayStation Eye, Move controller and game (we're guessing Move Party or Sports Champions, though there's no confirmation of either). There will also be a PS3 bundle with all those elements, some high-profile games will be bundled with Move, and you can of course buy each element separately -- perfect for someone who already owns a PlayStation Eye. There isn't any word on prices for separate components, but that's going to be a huge factor in this platform's success -- which we're sure Sony knows as well as anybody. The beauty of Natal is that you buy it and you're set, no extra peripherals needed, no matter how many players you add.

Last thoughts
In all, what we saw here at GDC is a very early incarnation of PlayStation Move. While we doubt the controller will change before launch, Sony even has disclaimers on its press images saying that "design and specifications are subject to change without notice," so anything's possible. All the software, meanwhile, was labeled "pre-alpha," and we really think they mean it. Nothing was feature complete, most games had lag and frame rate hiccups, and we kept hearing "we might be adding that" when asking about specific features. It was a true tech demo, and we are sincerely impressed by the technology, despite the issues. However, at the end of the day Sony's going to have to show up for its little battle with Natal with some serious gaming firepower, and tight, refined experiences. There's a clear learning curve for developers when it comes to motion controlled gaming that was somewhat forgivable with the Wii at launch, but a few years in we're frankly expecting perfection, no matter how "unfair" that might be. There aren't enough pieces for our hearts to break into if this turns into another SIXAXIS debacle.