Sony’s E3 announcement of motion-sensitive capability for their PlayStation 3 controller took everyone by surprise. The biggest surprise, however, was that the developers of Warhawk had only two weeks to implement motion control into their demo. The idea that Sony would keep their own developers in the dark about such a crucial new feature caused many to wonder if the electronics giant was flailing around looking for a winning strategy.
Now, in an interview at IGN, Sony Santa Monica Studios Game Director Brian Upton has revealed a little more information. According to Upton, his development team, Incognito, has “secretly been working with Sony on the tilt technology for a while, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks before E3 that they received a working controller.”
The question that comes to this reporter’s mind is: how long is “a little while”? Is it before or after Nintendo announced their motion-sensitive controller in September of last year? And if a “little while” was that long, why did it take until a few weeks before E3 to get a working controller to developers?
As we have argued before, the answer to the second question may be found by taking a closer look at Sony’s legal battles with Immersion over their patent for “rumble” technology in game controllers. Other companies, such as Microsoft, settled with Immersion and continue to provide rumble functionality in their game consoles. Sony decided to play tough with the little company, but the company failed to defend itself against infringement charges and has already lost one of two pending appeals, making it seem likely that Sony will eventually have to open its pocketbook and write a substantial check to Immersion.
Sony’s official policy is that rumble was removed from the PS3 controller because it interferes with the motion sensors. This statement doesn’t stand up for a number of reasons. For one, Nintendo has demonstrated their motion-sensitive controllers that include rumble technology. Even if Sony couldn’t manage to make both work simultaneously, it would be easy enough (from an engineering standpoint, that is) to automatically turn the motion sensors off while the controller is rumbling. A more likely answer is that Sony was hoping to include rumble right up until the last minute, pending a successful appeal. However, having suffered a tremendous legal defeat instead, it appears as though the company has decided that Immersion’s involvement with the PlayStation brand is finished.
One important thing to remember is that although both the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii can claim “motion sensor ability” as a bullet point on their spec sheets, the two systems are really not very similar. The Wii features absolute position sensing via a control strip of three LEDs arranged below the television, whereas the PS3’s controller merely senses relative motion, primarily involving tilting over the three axes of motion. Games written specifically for the Wii’s controller will not be able to be ported to the PS3 without significant modification.