Is This the Next Leap in Motion Technology?

For a peripheral that is somewhat overpriced, underutilized, and in general vastly inferior to the Nintendo Wii console it seemingly got most of its motivation from, the Xbox Kinect has made quite a splash in the motion based control field.

There are of course the Guiness Book of World Records worthy initial sales figures to back this up, but the real proof of this impact is evident in the creativity this device’s impressive technology has inspired in its users. See while game developers can’t seem to make a good Kinect game that isn’t a dance simulator or Wii sports rip off if their jobs depended on it, the Kinect users have managed to hack into the device to make the basic technology that runs it do some incredible things. These include the entertaining (light saber simulators), the sci-fi worthy (robot controller), and the practical yet cool advancements in basic human interface:

Motion controlled interface has been a dream of sorts for consumers, especially since it was popularized in the movie “Minority Report.” With devices like the Kinect and iPhone, we have gotten closer and closer to this goal, but have yet to fully realize it. Even the impressive demonstration in that video was marred by the fact that the movements needed to actually control the system had to be very blunt, and required full body commitment to make even the simplest of motion commands.

San Francisco based company Leap Motion thinks they might have the inevitable solution. Their device (called the Leap) is about the size of an iPod and works through a USB input your PC or Mac. It reads a space four cubic feet in size, and is supposed to be 200x more accurate than anything else on the market. This means accuracy to within 1/100th of a millimeter, which should allow for subtle finger movements (instead of whole hand and body motions) being able to produce the desired results.

The extraordinary video the company released seems to back that up.

We’ve been promised the moon with motion sensors before, but I have to say that given the advancements in the motion field over the past few years, I see no real reason that the Leap shouldn’t function in the way it claims to. My only real red flag in that video is the video game controller sections. I still feel that we are a ways off from total motion control in games without the use of any buttons, especially in titles designed with mouse/keyboard in mind. Of course in menu heavy titles like Real Time Strategy Games or RPG’s, I could see this device making formerly monotonous navigation somewhat enjoyable.

Even if it’s not yet perfect, at a modest retail price of $70 (pre-orders are being taken now), many consumers might give this device a shot and find their own ways to make use of it when it’s released early next year. After all, that’s the only explanation as to why the Kinect is doing so well.


GAME REVIEW: Wii Play Motion

Anyone still lamenting the Nintendo Wii’s lack of quality titles is just wasting their breath at this point, because its audience has been figured out for quite some time now, as evidenced by the onslaught of minigame collections targeted at those who only power up their Wiis when they’re having friends and family over. Though there are quite a few compilations out there to choose from, Nintendo’s own “Wii Play” series is probably one of the best, and the latest installment offers up 12 new games that fully utilize the system’s MotionPlus expansion device. If you don’t have a controller with MotionPlus yet, don’t worry, because “Wii Play Motion” comes with a black controller that has the hardware built in, and it’s actually a lot nicer than the bulky add-on that was first released.

As for the games themselves, it’s pretty hit and miss as you might expect, although there aren’t any that are so terrible that you’ll never want to play them again. Star Shuttle, which puts the player in control of a spaceship that they must then dock onto a space station, is certainly the most frustrating of the bunch due to its steep learning curve, while the stone skipping simulator, Skip Skimmer (say that five times fast), isn’t nearly as fun as the real thing. The rest of the minigames range from cute to addictive, like Cone Zone, an amusing balancing game using ice cream scoops; Veggie Garden, a suped-up version of Whack-a-Mole; Pose Mii Plus, a variation on the Japanese game show “Human Tetris”; and Teeter Target, a cool mash-up combining pinball and marble mazes.

My personal favorites, however, were Spooky Search and Treasure Twirl. The former is probably the most innovative game in the collection and has you searching for ghosts using the Wiimote like a metal detector and then reeling them into a containment unit à la “Ghostbusters.” Treasure Twirl, on the other hand, may look boring at first sight, but it makes great use of the Wiimote as you twist it around like a crank to lower your Mii into the deep sea to hunt for treasure, all while avoiding obstacles like sharks and jellyfish. As usual, each game has different modes and levels that you can unlock as you play through them, and you’ll even earn medals for your performances. The biggest downside is the price. But if you’re in need of a new controller, it’s not a bad investment, because while “Wii Play Motion” isn’t something you’ll likely revisit on a regular basis, it’s a nice addition to any party game rotation.


Nintendo Rejected New Technologies From Microsoft And Sony

Satoru Iwata.According to a Financial Times report this week, Nintendo toyed with technologies similar to Project Natal and the Sony wand announced at E3 and rejected them, citing better results from Nintendo’s own accelerometers. Nintendo apparently made experimental games using hardware rigs that were similar to those from Sony and Microsoft.

Financial Times says this is Nintendo’s way of throwing the gauntlet at the feet of it’s two competitors. I say it’s more like a schoolyard insult from a company that sees its highly successful strategy adapted to fit the more hardcore consoles. Nintendo has sold some 50 million units worldwide, compared to 30 million 360s and just 23 million PS3s. As Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, says, “Companies whose people said that motion-sensing wouldn’t work are now proposing motion sensors.” Will they be able to top the Wii?

Despite what FT says, Mr. Iwata seems nervous, and a little confused “Until they say when they’re releasing it, how much it costs and what software it comes with, we won’t know whether that is the route we should have taken.” So Nintendo rejected the technologies because the Wii had a better solution, but it’s still potentially a route Nintendo should have taken? Sounds like Nintendo dumped a hot girl, found out about her incredible new boyfriend and stands waiting for the wedding vows to make an objection.

Source: Financial Times


A Collection of Wii trailers from E3

Here’s a few of my favorite Wii trailers from this year’s E3:

First, Super Mario Galaxy 2. This looks to be an amazing follow-up to what could be considered the best game on the Wii. The graphics and gameplay again look great and you can never go wrong by adding Yoshii.

Also, New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks awesome. I play the DS version and can’t put it down… even months after completing the final level. This looks great!

And finally, even though it’s a XBox 360 and Playstation 3 title as well, you have to marvel at the quality of The Beatles: Rock Band trailer.


Famed Wii Hacker Part of Project Natal

Lee.Last month we ran a highlight on Johnny Chung Lee, the notorious Wiimote hacker responsible for making things like smartboards, multi-point touchscreens, and virtual 3D environments capable of responding to a user’s location, all from a $30 Wiimote. Lee gained notoriety not only for creating complex equipment from simple parts, but because he kept his work free, available on YouTube and his own website.

Well Lee’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed, particularly by Microsoft. Remember that little thing they debuted yesterday? Project Natal? Yeah, that little game-changer (both the development game and the game itself). As it turns out, Microsoft managed to yank Lee away from his Wiimote hacks (probably by stuffing his pockets) to work on the development team for Project Natal.

“Now, I should preface by saying I don’t deserve credit for anything that you saw at E3,” Lee wrote in a blog post last night. “A large team of very smart, very hard-working people were involved in building the demos you saw on stage. The part I am working on has much more to do with making sure this can transition from the E3 stage to your living room – for which there is an even larger team of very smart, very hard-working people involved.”

Hard work indeed. If you haven’t seen the demo videos, you need to, because Natal points to some really groundbreaking possibilities. As Lee puts things, “We would all love to one day have our own personal holodeck. This is a pretty measurable step in that direction.”

I said yesterday that I was having trouble being skeptical about Natal. It is some incredible technology, but my excitement’s wearing off and I’m beginning to think my dreams are probably bigger than the device. Can it really be as great as Lee says? And when he says a step, how big is that step (and obviously it’s one of MANY before we’re anywhere close to a holodeck)? Are you bouncing-off-the-walls excited or just watching from the corner of your eye?

I do know this, if Lee is involved, Microsoft is compiling a pretty incredible team, and it would take a load of bureaucratic problems to turn their hard work into a lackluster device.