Movement wars: the future of gaming

With the dust settling on last months E3 we thought we would look into our magic ball, and answer the main underlying question. Who will win the “movement wars.” The big three are looking to the casual market and are staking their future on new-fangled movement controls.

Motion-Gaming

We’re going to wade through the PR rhetoric to give you a real taste of what to expect in the coming months.

All three console giants had a impressive E3 with major announcements on new hardware and games that will be ready in time for Christmas (hopefully) and we’ve dubbed it the “movement wars”.

Microsoft splashed the cash, with their Cirque De Soleil show, which tried to capture the imagination of the gaming fraternity, with a fancy stage show to show off the magic of Kinect. Sadly it left a sour taste in our mouth.

The Pre-E3 event came across more than a little bit stage-managed. After all if Kinect is a natural, visceral and fun experience, why would it be necessary to have actors on stage – trying to interpret how fun it is? If it’s that good, the stage show wasn’t necessary to convey this. Normal people having fun would have captured this so much better.

Many of the sceptics were still left with many unanswered questions, is there lag? How much will all this movement fun cost? Is it just for my Mum & Dad? And sadly we still can’t answer these.

We’ve trawled all four corners of the Internet to try determine the press reaction and we’ve read some interesting thoughts. One this is for sure, Microsoft can’t just aim at the causal market and forget about the people who actually own the Xbox at the moment, who in general are the hardcore variety.

Microsoft has certainly taken the biggest risk with their controller-free ethos. I for one am totally convinced. And really keen to try it out and hope it lives up to the massive hype. And If Microsoft sticks to Kinect Arcade games, that won’t cost the world, they could be onto a winner. And they’re best at micro transactions. After announcing that we spend over a billion dollars over Xbox Live content every year.

Nintendo were the first console to target the casual gamers and have had movement controls for a while now. So they left their big E3 announcement to the new 3DS – quite clearly the most technologically advanced handheld that they have ever created and it stole the show.

After all 3D images without glasses, is a man on the moon moment for Nintendo. Especially in light of their shunning of HD gaming with the Wii. I have no doubt that the new 3DS will be the must have gadget this Christmas, if it is out by them. Nintendo have cornered the casual market and that’s a given.

But the question to ask is the casual market worth more than the hardcore one? Obviously Microsoft think it is and have staked a big bet that they can corner both markets – even if they’re poles apart.

Sony made fun of both Nintendo and Microsoft event with cheap shots at their future plans – Sony feel that realism through Move and 3D is the future. But with their Move controller they have cynically copied the Wii remote and this is obvious to any gamer, casual or hardcore.

At least Microsoft and Nintendo are trying to push the boundaries of technology and hardware. Sony have just re-hashed the wand and 3D – marketing as the future of gaming, but it’s common knowledge that 3D is just the same as what we were getting in the early 90?s. 80?s styled glasses in all.

One thing to take from E3 is are the game companies really giving us what we want? Nintendo certainly are – they have stuck to the fun casual market since day 1 and they must be applauded for this. But Sony and Microsoft have been scrapping over the hardcore market for the last 3 years with neither able to call a victory.

So it would seem that they are both looking to steal Nintendo’s monopoly of the casual gamers. However it just looks a little late and cynical.

We will know more in the next 6 months, but the lines have been draw in the sand and the “movement wars” are going to be the most exciting time to be a gamers and that can’t be a bad thing. Who do you think will come out tops? Leave us your thoughts below…

Microsoft Courier ‘digital journal’ rumour round-up

With the iPad lumbering over the hill to general release and hundreds of other other tablets looming on the horizon, we’ve been eagerly anticipating seeing some more details of the Microsoft Courier concept that appeared back in September on Gizmodo.

This time it’s Engadget who’ve gained some information from a “trusted source”, and it bodes well for Courier becoming an actual physical product, as opposed to some abstract videos on the internet.

First up is the news that Courier’s guts will be based around Nvidia’s Tegra 2 platform, which will give it plenty of grunt with a suitably customised OS. There was speculation that Microsoft’s tablet might use Intel’s Atom processor and be based on Windows 7, but Mary Branscombe of Techradar noted back in the autumn that is was “more likely that a real Courier would use processors designed for smartphones and MIDs, like Qualcomm’s 1GHz Snapdragon”. This was a pretty good guess, as before Tegra 2 was announced in January, Snapdragon was the most powerful ARM processor around.

Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet first suggested that Courier would be based on Windows 7, so it’s hard to say if Foley’s source was just mistaken or if – as Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo suggests – there was actually a switch to CE from 7. In any case, it makes sense to use CE, as it already runs on ARM chips and serves well as the basis for both the Zune HD software and Windows Phone 7 Series.

The main thing about the Courier concepts we’re seeing is the pen-based input. The iPad’s focus has always been to get your grubby mitts all over it. Courier seems a little more measured in its approach. You use your fingers to move about between applications, but the stylus is the key interface. It can be used to write, draw or even cut out parts of web pages and photos. If the iPad is a media consumer’s device, this is a jotter’s dream. When I was at college and uni, I wrote notes over every bit of paper that made the mistake of straying onto my desk. Being able to keep all those notes in a computer, where they’re even searchable, would have been pretty hard to resist.

Going by Engadget’s stated five inches by seven inches when closed, and less than an inch thick, Courier would appear to be more or less the same size as Nintendo’s DSi XL, but with more screen space.

Of course, this is all still just wishful thinking. We’ve got a nice UI concept (that still seems like it’ll need some work before it can work in reality – the videos are slick and controlled, but there’s a lot of information missing that you’d want in real world use), some possible hardware, and even a rough size, but no definite release or even confirmation of its existence from Microsoft.

Engadget says Courier will be out later this year, but Gizmodo has apparently heard that we won’t see it in 2010. The problem we face then, is one of practicality. Microsoft’s concept looks amazing, but that just talk when you’ll be able to go into a shop and buy an iPad in a month or two. There’s no denying that the productivity possibilities offered by Courier blow the iPad out of the water in places, but look at this video:

Even before it’s released, iPad app makers are making up huge ground on Courier’s features. If Microsoft wait too long, this stunning concept is in danger of becoming ordinary.

HTC & LG to be first to ship WM7 phones

Many of us had written off Microsoft in the mobile phone market, but last week Microsoft unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a new operating system and a fresh approach to the mobile platform that could — for the first time in a very long time — give Apple and Google something to worry about.

Gone is the infuriating menu system, the uninspiring design, the endless bugs; the new-look Windows Phone makes all of that seem like a bad dream.

The new Windows Phone interface draws heavily on that of the Zune, the Microsoft personal media player that has never made it to this side of the Atlantic, but is present on the Xbox360. The new Windows Phone interface has big, bold, over-sized graphics that jump out of the screen and dominate the page, and the whole navigation system feels fresh and lively.

Contacts are cleverly arranged with a one-click access and are arranged in order of “importance”, from those friends and family you interact with most appearing further up the page, and those you contact infrequently pushed down the virtual pecking order

It’s a dynamic user experience that will change over time, in real time, depending on the ebb and flow of your daily life. There’s even a “What’s New” section, which pulls in social-networking updates from your contacts, straight from sites such as Facebook. At the moment there’s no Twitter support yet — a glaring omission — but expect this to be rectified by the time the first Windows Phones launch at the end of the year.

Pictures are cleverly handled too, in their own virtual gallery with plenty of linking to and from photo-sharing and social-networking profiles. The Music + Video hub is where users will go to sync songs and movie files, while the Games hub is going to excite a lot of people — it syncs your Xbox Live gaming profile with the phone, complete with avatar and gaming points.

Microsoft recognises that mobile gaming has been one of the iPhone’s biggest successes, so expect to see Windows Phone becoming the closest thing we’re going to get to a handheld Xbox 360.

Microsoft is keen to balance the demands of users’ business and personal lives with the Windows Mobile OS, so it has an Office hub, that’s synced to the cloud, and can be used to open and edit documents. There’s push email support too, of course, through Microsoft Exchange.

Microsoft is expected to launch their new OS later this year and HTC and LG are reportedly going to be the first manufactures to take advantage of the new OS.