Even the lobby of Sony's gaming division is playful. There are giant sock-puppet sculptures and a boulder made of visitors' name-tag stickers. As avid gamers and Techland bloggers, we had come to the U.S. headquarters of Sony Computer Entertainment to test-drive a bunch of titles on its new Move motion-control system weeks before it would be showcased at E3, the gaming industry's biggest trade show, in Los Angeles.
Sony is hoping the $100 Move component, which is due in stores this fall, will help its once dominant PlayStation 3 console get its mojo back. Longtime rival Nintendo turned the gaming industry on its head in 2006 when it managed to win over millions of nongamers with the Wii an intuitive motion-based gaming platform that let Grandpa (through an avatar) play tennis or golf simply by swinging his Wii remote as though it were a real racket or 9-iron.
Sony's Move kicks things up a few notches by pairing an even fancier remote which has a squishy glow ball on top with a camera attached to the console. The camera measures the distance to the glow ball to more accurately depict a player's movements through three-dimensional space.
A Wii rip-off this is not. For starters, Sony has been selling its motion-sensing webcam, called the EyeToy, as a PlayStation attachment since 2003. And our hands-on time with Move demonstrated a greater level of accuracy than we've experienced in most Wii games.
But motion-sensing is only a small part of Sony's expansion strategy. Stereoscopic 3-D graphics also figure heavily in PlayStation's future and yes, you'll have to wear 3-D glasses while you're playing. When we tested a 3-D version of Killzone 3, the jet-pack-wearing enemies seemed to be floating midway between our heads and the screen. We couldn't help leaning to the left or right to dodge their fire.
The other titles we tested looked just as cool and kept us pumped up in less violent ways. We squabbled like tween siblings over who would get to play with the upcoming EyePet game, in which a virtual critter cooed and yelped as we used the Move controller to wash, blow-dry and playfully tease him. The EyePet experience was so compelling, it made us forget we were waving a controller over a piece of carpet.
Sony is betting that its motion-sensing, 3-D graphics, Web-connected gaming and Blu-ray and HD capability will prove irresistible to people in the market for a new console. "I think it's a really safe bet for consumers," says Peter Dille, senior VP of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America. "No matter where you look, our bases are covered."
With motion control soon available on all three major consoles Microsoft will up the ante this fall when it comes out with a remote-control-free system for its Xbox 360 competition will be stiff. But Sony's got some good, ahem, moves. And after getting to spend some time with its new titles, we think Sony's got a shot at making Gramps adopt an EyePet and maybe rock the KillZone too.