We sit down with SCE Move developer Anton Mikhailov To talk about the status of PlayStation's motion-controller platform since its launch and why it's not just Kinect with a controller.
Q: What is your opinion of the launch so far?
Anton Mikhailov: I think actually it went really well. We are exceeding our predictions which is always a good thing.
Q: In terms of sales?
AM: Yeah. Well actually a couple of things. We're legitimately bound by supply which is great, that's always better than being artificially bound [laughs]. The other good thing is a lot of people are buying a second controller which is also awesome because one of the things we really want to enable is a two-handed experience. So we always wanted our launch to be pretty much playable with one controller so we don't alienate anyone and we have a low priced entry but we found that a lot of people after playing Sports Champions - that's the US bundle - they went out and got a second controller to play either two-player or two-handed gladiator duel.
Q: What about in a critical sense? A lot of people have criticised the fact that so far the titles have been so casual.
AM: Well there's been both sides. I think some of the hardcore people have complained in the sense that - well they always complain, right? They always say "why is Sony wasting their time on this and not making more shooters?" But actually a lot of people have liked using the Move in shooters like MAG, SOCOM, the Killzone 3 guys, so we're getting a lot of good feedback from that. We definitely have the casual titles like EyePet and Start the Party, but a lot of people playing Sports Champions have actually complained that it's too hard. It wasn't so much the complaining but it's like they tried the game and they thought they were pretty good and they switched it to like Gold difficulty and tried to hit the ball, and they're like "Eugh! My arm hurts!"
Q: Do you think those complaints about the casual games is indicative of Move or of the developers who are making these games?
AM: I don't think it's because of Move. Because I haven't seen anybody complain about the Move hardware yet. I haven't seen any reviews that say "Oh it glitched out" or whatever. I don't think it has anything to do with the Move platform. I think what's happening is because Move is different you're just going to have different players and the players that don't like motion games are going to say the Move is not a good thing. It's like some people like to play shooters on consoles, some people like to play shooters on PCs, and there's tons of PC folks who will never touch an analogue stick controller. So I think you're just going to get that no matter what, no matter how good your hardware is going to be.
Q: So do you guys have a specific kind of player in mind for Move then?
AM: What we really want to do with Move is make something that's like a platform level controller. For example EyeToy is more of a peripheral model: you buy EyeToy and then there's games for EyeToy and there's lots of genres that are well-tailored for the EyeToy. Like exercise games, we had EyeToy Kinetic, party games, that kind of stuff. You make a game for EyeToy and it's not really playable with something else. But there's not really games you can work that into. So for example you'll never be able to really do a shooter with EyeToy, you're never going to be able to do a strategy game etc. So by platform level I guess we mean it needs to be on a level of Dual Shock where you can do lots of different genres and you can also integrate it with lots of different games. I think that actually helps it have a broader appeal so that way we can be useful in many areas and I think we have no plans to sort of shove Move into games where it's not useful.
So when we put the Move into a shooter it's because we did user testing and we found that somebody likes it. It doesn't necessarily have to be everyone flocks to it, but somebody out there considers value in that proposition. So I think that's pretty good from that strategy, I think it's a much smarter strategy than "from now on all games will be Move games".
You know, I think strategy games before couldn't even be done on console. There's just been a couple that have tried and they just didn't really work out, but I think with the pointer that you get with the Move you can actually do a pretty good strategy game. So R.U.S.E. is doing pretty well and Under Siege on PSN.
Q: Do you think it has a broader appeal than Kinect then?
AM: I think so. So we actually worked quite a bit with the tech, not Kinect per say but Kinect as a depth camera, it's a structured light depth camera so it projects some stuff and looks at it, there was also stereo cameras that give you depth, so there's a lot of different tech but the output is kind of the same. You get distance to the pixel at which you're looking.
Q: What were you playing around with it for?
AM: We started right after EyeToy, right after PS2 we just figured okay, well, EyeToy is pretty cool; for PS3 let's see what kind of cameras we can do. You know, kind of next-generation stuff. And we played around with a lot of those cameras. They were very expensive back then, they're still quite expensive now. And basically our feeling was the things that they enabled weren't really justified by their cost. Like, part of the reason EyeToy did so well was because it was cheap and because there was not many games for it, just a few games, you could make something that's cheap and you can kind of have a few games and people will still buy it. Whereas if you make a camera that is four or five times that and then you still can't make that many experiences it doesn't seem like a good value. We're not necessarily against Kinect or against depth cameras, it's just we feel like Move has more applicability across more genres so it fits better with what we try to do.
Also I think the tech is a bit, not so much immature, but not quite up to spec in what we think. Like the PlayStation Eye camera runs at 60 frames per second so it can track you very quickly whereas the Kinect and other depth camera are only 30 frames per second. So they are more suited for slower motions. Dancing is still kind of okay and then the yoga stuff that they were doing, it fits that very well, whereas if you want to do quick punches it's harder to do that just because you can't see the player as quickly. And there's also more latency, things like that. So you know, it's not a particularly sexy result, it's just mostly technological problems.
Q: Do you think that Move could possibly be limited by the fact that it doesn't have the immediate novelty value that Kinect has, being a controller-less device?
AM: I don't think it's limited by that, it might be harder to market because of that. Because it's much easier to say "here's something you haven't seen before! Try it out!" but I think in the long run it's just a more useful device so limited probably isn't the right word. I think as people kind of play with it more and more and play with Kinect more and more, I'm not necessarily going to say people are going to think Move is better or Kinect is better, I think what's going to happen is there's always going to be people who like the Kinect experience, I think there will be more people who Move appeals to overall just because we straddle more genres and more different types of people.
Q: Recently there have been a lot of people trying to hack Kinect to work on PC, could you see Move existing without PlayStation in the same way?
AM: I don't think there's anything at the moment out that we've announced but it's very hard to hack it, like from a developer's perspective I can give you a bit of info on that, just because the reason is all of the magic of the Move is actually inside the PlayStation. All the software is inside there. With Kinect what has happened is you can pull the data out of the camera and then re-write the vision algorithms Kinect use and basically they're just pulling that out of the camera, with PlayStation Eye you can also crack it and pull that data out but with the Move even if you get the accelerometer and gyro sensors you still have to write software that tracks the sphere and that's one of the biggest things and it also combines it. You know, you can do it, I'm sure, if you put your mind to it, but it took us several years to develop just the algorithms so you'd basically have to do that effort over again.
But yeah we're looking into ways of doing homebrewed things like that, but I don't know if there's anything announced yet.
Q: Do you think Move will have a longer lifespan than Kinect on the basis that it has a controller?
AM: That was basically our conclusion when we were looking into that tech, because there's so much more things you can do with a controller. Actually when we were even working with EyeToy one of the things our developers asked for was just like a one handed controller that has buttons so we could move around and just press things and kind of convey intentions without doing gestures because gestures are slow, they're kind of unwieldy, they're pretty fun and magical for some things but they don't map certainly to others. For example shooting or even walking around. So just for that our EyeToy guys just really wanted a one-handed controller. The reason it never really came around was because EyeToy was again still that peripheral model and to release a peripheral for peripheral doesn't really make sense. And a controller is expensive, I mean it has to have wireless, at the time PS2 didn't even have wireless so you want to have something without a wire because you're already standing up so the technical limitations were in the way at that point. So when we analysed all the different things you could do with a controller-plus-camera we found that it's just a lot more stuff. You can do shooting games, you can do real-time strategy games, you can still do the fighting games and the dancing games and the exercise, etc. because we still have the camera in the system.
It's not as advanced a camera as Kinect but it has some benefits. The Kinect camera is only 30 frames per second whereas the Eye has 60, so even though it's not a depth camera we can actually track you at a faster rate. For some game's that's actually more important.
Q: How is Kinect more advanced then?
AM: Well Kinect can sense the distance to an object whereas the Eye has to do that through - Kinect kind of gets that for free, that's part of its output, whereas with the Eye we have to do vision algorithms to get that. So something like Kung Fu Live, so that does background subtraction, so Kinect again gets that for free whereas with the Eye we have to do some algorithms. It's always more robust when you get it in the hardware but the reality is we can still do a lot of these features with just the Eye and if the users are happy with both then we're equivalent in that sense.
Q: When you were first making this were you aware that Kinect was coming out then?
AM: We weren't aware that Kinect was coming out but we had that particular camera and many others in our lab so we knew that tech was around.
Q: Were you slightly annoyed when it did come out?
AM: No! [laughs] because by the time the Kinect came out we were very, very familiar with it and, you know, we thought it was actually kind of funny that EyeToy Kinetic was one of our biggest games and they were called the Kinect and it's like, are they joking? But then we realised that people by then had already sort of forgotten about Kinetic and it's been a long time.
Q: Do you think they were keeping an eye on EyeToy then when they were designing Kinect?
AM: I don't know, I think they were...Well okay there are a couple of games like EyeToy AntiGrav - that's almost identical to Sonic FreeRiders. So that's one. And then Kinetic is pretty much identical to Fitness Evolved. And then I think there was even another... Adventures. We did a dodgeball demo we actually have it online, so a couple of games clearly look influence. I don't know, I'm not going to say "oh they totally took it from us", I don't know, I don't know those engineers. But at the same time I feel like they were definitely aware of it, I'm sure they weren't just like "Oh! We came up with this, look!"
It wasn't like when we saw it we were like "Damn, they did it first!". We kind of knew the problems with [Kinect] so we were actually somewhat relieved because when we saw it was like we know that experience very well so it's very easy, we don't have to do much research, we already knew what the competition was able to do.
Q: What are the problems with Kinect?
AM: We thought that they were just minor, well not so much minor. Marketing-wise they're minor tech problems, technologically-wise they're quite big. The fact that it runs at 30 frames per second instead of 60, that's a common problem with all those cameras. It's actually hard to fix because you have a lot of data to transport. Sort of working with that image is expensive computationally-wise. I think they quoted something like 10-15 per cent of the Xbox resources, plus like 50 megs of memory or something like that. The Move takes less than 1%, and like 1 megabyte. So, you know, that's just a bunch of numbers but to developers that means like Killzone 3 can just put in Move and not have to worry about it, whereas something like Kinect you have to make significant game changes to actually fit that into your game. So that's a big plus for Move I think 'cause a lot of people can just try it out and put it in.
Another issue is resolution; it's a 320x240 camera as far as I've heard and the out-to is 640x480 so neither of those are particularly hot resolutions but you can take what you can get. I mean, a lot of webcams now are 720p, etc. but the reality is those cameras are much more expensive and they're running again at lower frame-rates. So when you do a bunch of this maths, like, the resolution I think is too low, I think the frame-rate is too low, and I think some materials are still a problem. So like, some jeans are a problem. You get these things called infra-red black objects, so for example you're wearing a black shirt so the camera when it looks at you it sees black because no light is being reflected back at it. So infra-red is just another band of light and there are objects that are black in the infra-red spectrum. They're not the same objects that are black right now but for example, like, leather tends to have I think - it's newer or older leather - one of those in infra-red black and some denim jeans are infra-red black. I think those really shiny ones? And some are reflective so either you get things that are just missing from the image or you get things that are shining brightly and are hard to understand.
So an easy way to test it is if you look at any of those hacked Kinect videos which show the raw output, and if you pay attention closely - if you see a glass table - that'll usually be missing or there will be things that are kind of missing and you have to work around that. So that's the issues that they have. We felt that those are a different set of issues, they're not necessarily better or worse. That would be nice if those went away.
Q: Do you think that something like Wii Motion Plus is better at tracking than Kinect is?
AM: Yes. Some stuff I think the Wii Motion Plus is quite a bit better. I think for sword games for example Motion Plus behaves quite a bit better than Kinect. Wii also has a pointer so for shooting games I think it's quite a bit better.
Q: Does the current line-up of games that are out for Move sufficiently show what Move can do?
AM: I think it's pretty good. I think there's still a lot more we can do. But I think they do a pretty good job showing the different kinds of things we can do. So, like, Start the Party is a good augmented reality game. Sports Champions is a solid sports title. The Fight, The Shoot is a really good shooting game. Time Crisis. So that kind of hits the genres, and then R.U.S.E. Does RTS, and then Under Siege and things like that. There's a lot of things that you haven't seen yet, so like for example there's modelling stuff and multi-touch stuff where you can create windows (with the Move controller). You can also use the Move as a camera to look around 3D space. So these kind of auxiliary uses, I think not many games have explored them yet. But the basics got covered by the line-up pretty well and then you can imagine those improving because it's of course first generation and then there's a lot of these kind of other neat tricks that we can do that nobody's really done yet.