Killzone 3's Moves

I haven't tried the PlayStation Move out yet - I couldn't justify making the hefty investment ($100 for the PlayStation Eye camera and the motion controller, plus another $30 for the navigation controller) for what I was worried would be a just gimmick, a glorified WiiMote. But after watching Waggle3D's ludicrously in-depth video analysis of the motion controls in Killzone 3, I have some hope.

So, as a brief overview, there are three competitors in this new motion controller craze: the Nintendo Wiimote, PlayStation Move, and Microsoft Kinect. Nintendo's Wiimote long suffered from technological inferiority, using an accelerometer and IR sensor to achieve fairly basic motion-sensing capabilities (I could rant extensively on the frustration I've experienced trying to do anything with a Wiimote requiring any sort of precision, but that's another story), but the new MotionPlus add-on provides much improved tracking in three dimensions. Microsoft's new Kinect takes a completely different approach, combining video cameras and advanced tracking algorithms to achieve 3D motion tracking. It's some pretty amazing tech - seeing your onscreen avatar mimic your kicks, punches, and jumps with high fidelity, all without the use of any sort of controller or wand was one of the biggest "whoa" moments I've had in gaming in recent years. Lastly, there's the PlLayStation Move. Technologically, it's somewhere between the Kinect and the Wiimote, achieving precise 3D tracking using a gyroscope and accelerometer, plus video tracking of the distinctive glowing ball on the end of the controller. In practice, this makes the Move more of an attempt to take the Wii's approach, and do it better (at least technically...Sony's always been a hardware company, after all), as opposed to trying a completely new approach like Microsoft.

There's been some criticism of Sony for not being original here, but I'm not inclined to come down on them for that - if they can make a better Wiimote, more power to them, I say. As for Microsoft, their technology is awesome, but they still have to find fun things for people to do with it. The point is, at the end of the day it comes down to integrating the motion hardware with gaming software in interesting ways, and this is where the debate gets a bit more interesting. The Wii has already established quite the pigeonhole for itself, largely releasing children- and family-oriented games. This isn't a bad thing on principle, but it has alienated much of the older demographic and most of the 'hardcore' gamers. Now that Microsoft and Sony have entered the ring, there's rampant speculation as to how their motion-based games will compare. So far, Microsoft's offerings seem to be miming the Wii's tendency to target young and casual gamers. Sony, on the other hand, looks like they're attempting to incorporate the Move into games more directed at a the mature/hardcore demographic, like Killzone.

So that's the lay of the land (in a very small nutshell). I'm not saying it's necessarily more important to target one audience over the other, though I would argue it's better when a system is flexible enough to allow development of games that attract all classes of players, but let's not digress any further. Back to Killzone 3.

The video I referenced at the beginning is a bit on the long side, but I found it worth watching not only because it lays out exactly how the Move controls have been implemented into gameplay, but also spends a lot of time comparing how they compare to the controls used with the DualShock3 (the game can be played using either this, the standard controller, or the Move). What I noticed as I watched the video was the attention to detail evident in Guerrilla's (the development studio behind the Killzone series) implementation of Move motion controls. This wasn't a simple half-hearted port of the DualShock controls to the new interface, but rather a serious reevaluation of how different control elements should operate with the different controller. The video goes over how Guerilla adjusted recoil effects, crosshair appearance and movement, autoaim, and more to make for a more intuitive experience using the motion controller. Watching such a detailed analysis was enlightening, providing a glimpse at the complex considerations involved in the game design process, especially when it comes to adapting a game for a new peripheral.

One could argue that we shouldn't find this all that impressive. Killzone, after all, is one of the PS3's big franchises, and it's not terribly surprising that it would be one of the first games to incorporate new technologies like motion control and 3D graphics (yep, it has that too, but I'm not getting into that here). And of course we would expect such a prominent game to invest the design hours necessary to implement these technologies effectively. Even so, they could have made the Move controls a gimmick, but they didn't, and there's something to be said for that.

Stepping back for a moment, I realize what really intrigued me about this story doesn't actually have anything to do with the Move. Though the technology is definitely interesting, what the video really got me thinking about is the intimate connection between good game design and good science. Imagine for a moment what was involved in developing the Move controls for Killzone. It required serious thinking about how people would be comfortable controlling a first-person shooter with a motion controller - how do we make it intuitive? How do we make it precise? How do we make it fun? These questions were asked, ideas were proposed, and countless hours of playtesting led to modification after modification until Guerrilla settled on a design that worked. This obviously entails many hours of of work, but also a rather deep understanding of how the human mind and body works. That's no small feat, and we'd do well to remember that the same process is used in developing all the components of a good game. Now, compare this to the scientific method, where we raise a question, develop a theory, and test it with experiments. Is it really so different? Even though the motivations for the questions asked by a game designer may be very different from those asked by, say, a cognitive scientist, I'd argue the two aren't really so different. In the course of developing fun, engaging games, the game design community has done real work on important questions about what makes humans tick. This highlights why the scientific and game design communities have so much to learn from one another, and I really hope that our blog can encourage people to see these commonalities and take advantage of them.

Killzone 3's Moves by Jared Lorince, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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