Initial thoughts on the Move controller

I think most people are agreed that the Move is a nice bit of technology but Sony has forgotten to make any games for it. After the Sixaxis mistakes (and a whole load terrible Wii games), you would think they would have learnt some lessons about what works in the context of motion control and, more importantly, what doesn't. 
The initial launch line-up didn't deter me from purchasing the equipment and a few games (RUSE, Tiger 11, Flight Control, Tumble, and EyePet). I have a Wii, so I know that these won't be games I'll be playing once the initial novelty has worn off. However, it soon became clear that - with the exception of Flight Control (very simple but has the one-more-play factor) - the Move just isn't fun to use. It doesn't replace a mouse controller (RUSE would be a lot easier to play on a PC), a joypad (the implementation in Tiger is truly terrible) or a pure gesture interface (i.e. a Kinect "no controller" system).  
The reports about how it has been forced into Heavy Rain (at the expense of planned DLC packs) and RE5 seem to be more about Sony's open wallet than an expectation that Move will add anything significant to these games. It's similar to the argument against retro-fitted 3D movies, if it wasn't original intended by the creators, why do it? It just ends up like the Queen of Hearts of Alice in Wonderland painting the roses. 
More worrying is that Sony may think that Move will work in FPS games. Whilst movement controls do seem to work in arcade "on-rails" shooters (Time Crisis, Umbrella Chronicles, Dead Space Extraction and Overkill in particular), they don't have the finesse to compete with the fidelity of control needed for a modern shooter. We shall have to wait to see how SOCOM and Killzone turn out. If the Move puts the player at a disadvantage, it will quickly be rejected.  
Many criticise the Wii for its shovelware, the seemingly endless array of novelty games designed around the simple control system. It suits the casual player, there aren't any complicated control schemes to master and the games are bright, breezy and fun to play with others. The hardcore may complain that there isn't any games for them but Nintendo has been very aware of the appeal of the system to it's core demographic, and more importantly not strayed from its path. There is very little room for integrity in business, you follow where the money goes. If Carnival Games, Wii Fit and Let's Dance sell in their millions, why waste time and effort on pleasing the minority for very little return.  
This is not a route that Sony is comfortable with - it's "casual" market is the FIFA, Madden and Call of Duty crowd who are happy buying just a handful of reliable titles each year. Apart from SingStar, Sony hasn't been playing to the Wii demographic, it just doesn't know how to communicate with that audience and doesn't have a system as friendly to kids, parents and grandparents. For Sony now to try to reach out with the Move seems too forced, too little, too late. LittleBigPlanet looks cute but it is no Mario - beyond the fairly poor platform game is the meta-constructor that goes to the limits of what is acceptable and approachable even to the modest gamer.  
So how can Sony turn this around? Well with 1.5m Move units sold and close to 40m PS3 install base, we can't say that the Move is a failure. Even with Sony's oddly quiet launch, poor release schedule and lack of a killer ap (Sports Champions probably looks the best case for this, trying for the Wii Sports attach rate), the Move can get better if it gets the right software. For this to happen, Sony have to take a page out of the Wii book and produce games that fit the controller and more importantly fit the audience they are aiming for. Whether Sony can manage to support the needs of two distinct and separate markets is going to be a challenge. Can they become "family-friendly" once again after spending the last couple of years solely appealing to the typical young male demographic. Does chasing one market diminish the other?  
Finally, there is one last issue to overcome - Kinect. Sure we've all had our suspicions about Microsoft jumping on the same bandwagon, the lack of haptic controls, the voice controls, the "doesn't work sitting down" / "doesn't work in small rooms" articles. These are still big unknowns to the majority of gamers who have yet to experience the technology either at home, with friends or in stores. We have only a few weeks to wait to see what happens. Pre-orders seem healthy, and Dance Central looks like a must have game but beyond that Kinect's future is still vague. This could be a game-changer or yet another failed attempt at pushing the industry in a new direction.  
Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are at an unusual place at the moment. Without a brand new home system to launch, they are relying on peripheral change to extend the current main product lifecycles. We can expect interesting times ahead ... 

Sound familiar?

Just heard this piece of music on BBC Radio 2 in their Sunday evening worship slot and found a version on You Tube:



Wither Elite

Elite was fantastic. For it's day it was mind-blowing. I played it around my best friend's BBC Micro and the sheer scope of the game (and freedom) once you launched was unlike anything around. Compared to my ZX Spectrum and it's strangely colour platformers (the Manic Miners and Monty Moles), it did seem very alien. A concept where you could fly whereever you wanted and make your own journey wasn't like the tightly controlled paths I had to follow. The limits of my adventuring was to get to the next screen, not the next planet or galaxy. 

Sure we eventually got very basic flight simulators as games grew in complexity but I don't think it was until the Amiga / Atari ST heyday until I found a game of similar depth. Midwinter and Carrier Command as well as the space-themed polygon worlds took their cues from Elite but why was there such a gap in my experiences. If Elite could do it, why could no one else? It wasn't as if it was a niche game. Very popular at a time when games did sell in huge numbers - you would expect at least a few decent imitators. It can't have been a technology thing either as the move from sprites to polygons had arguably started with Asteroids. 

And so time and systems moved on. Elite got a few sequels down the line but the idea of a game where you could go to the farthest star - kill, trade or just sail on by would not be revisited until many years later. The growth of sandbox games really just meant that the cities you drove around got bigger. GTA may have planes and jet packs but you are always returned to Earth (usually in a flaming ball of destruction). The key with Elite was not the graphics but the idea of freedom. It's not the number of weapons you have or the size of your spaceship but that things were possible - not merely pre-ordained waiting for you to trigger the invisible switch to make them happen. I wish the idea behind Elite had carried on through the 8 bit era and onwards. Games can be played within a tight ruleset but the player should be free to make decisions that effect his or her outcome in that situation not merely lead by procedure and rote actions. 

The new Elites? Well I think Mass Effect (1 and 2) are certainly closest in spirit. You can travel galaxies and have the kill or kiss mechanism in choosing the "bad" or "good" outcome. Homeworld and EVE Online bring the scale, the latter still has a strong community that is dictating how the universe develops (console FPS spin-off excepted). The modern MMORPG has finally caught up with the Elite ideal. WOW in space could still be achieved (sorry Jeff but you're probably not going to get your money's worth from Star Trek Online - boldly going nowhere perhaps). I have high hopes the KOTOR will amaze us in new and exciting ways - bringing together strong characters with a vibrant and more importantly fulfilling story world. Perhaps now the technology and multi-million development budgets can bring us the the same feeling as Elite did back when we still coded in our bedrooms and basements. It is just a shame that we have missed so much that could have been had game design to the more cerebral approach back in a far off galaxy and long time ago.