Sony took a time out at its impressive E3 press conference to peek into the future at some on-the-horizon motion-control technology -- PlayStation Motion Controller. The routine was familiar already: in fact, Microsoft and Nintendo had similar 'the future is motion' pit-stops in their 2009 E3 press conferences.
Being last, it seemed, would be a disadvantage to Sony. Appearing onstage were two of Sony's team behind the PlayStation Eye and EyeToy, and the general nervousness seemed palpable. When the prototype device was revealed -- a black wand with a glowing purple bulb on top -- it almost seemed like a joke. But a funny thing happened: the longer the demo went on, the better it got.
Sony's black wand appears to be the PS3's Wiimote. Configured with an analogue trigger and some number of buttons, the wand has one-to-one mapping just like the Wii MotionPlus. The glowing orb, which changed colour during the demo, was integral to the positioning technology, although exactly how wasn't detailed in the press conference.
The demonstrations covered some familiar territory: painting, virtual sword and tennis racket wielding, and some virtual object interaction in a 3D room. "Buttons are needed for some experiences," Sony claimed during a demonstration where a user appeared onscreen in a form of augmented reality, with the wand transforming into a baseball bat, gun and laser whip. "There's no way to do this without a trigger... it wouldn't feel right."
An analogue trigger was used to control the thickness of the brush used in a paint program, and the intensity of a virtual can of spray paint. A sword-and-shield demo using two wands showed some delicate touch when slicing up a skeleton, and another archery demo -- almost a direct response to the Wii Sports Resort archery game shown a few hours before -- looked at least as precise, if not more so. "High-precision, sub-millimetre" accuracy was claimed.
One surprise was CEO Jack Tretton's announcement that this controller would be available in spring 2010, meaning it's a near-term release, unlike Project Natal. It looks to add convincing Wii-style controls to games. Again, however, the real question remains over how much software support the PlayStation Motion Controller will have. The wand looked like a potentially excellent wireless 3D mouse for strategy games, but how it might interact with (or replace) the regular PS3 controller was unclear.
Despite Natal's wow factor, having some button control is a wise idea, and Sony was smart to include it. Unlike the failed Sixaxis experiment, a true motion system might have finally arrived -- although, for now, the peripheral seems peripheral to the PS3's core gaming interests.
Which motion demo won the show: Project Natal, Wii Motion Plus (and the Vitality Sensor), or the PlayStation Motion Controller? Let us know in the comments.