As it states in the Geneva Convention, probably, you can’t put a motion controller on shop shelves without at least 487 mini-game compilations to sit next to it. So it was with the Wii, and so it shall be when PlayStation Move and Project Natal launch later this year.
But at a press event in London last week, Sony was keen to point out that its new toy isn’t just there to act as a virtual table tennis bat or cheerleading pom-pom. You’ll also be able to use Move to play serious games, such as the next instalment in tactical shooter series SOCOM.
We got to try it out at GDC, as you’ll know if you read our hands-on preview. And just last week, we sat down with European SOCOM producer Elliott Martin to find out more about how the game works with Move – and whether SOCOM buffs care anyway. Here’s what he had to say.
Eurogamer: What made you think PlayStation Move technology would be a good fit for SOCOM?
Elliott Martin: When production began on the new SOCOM it wasn’t being made as a Move title. Then momentum around Move picked up and Zipper Interactive was asked to try it out. Initially they thought it would be quite a difficult process, perhaps involving lots of redesigns, but they pretty much plugged it in and it worked from the get-go. They were pleasantly surprised.
As you know, games like SOCOM are very hardcore. It’s difficult for some people to pick up that kind of game because of the two sticks, having to move your character and control your viewpoint and so on. We’ve found the Move removes that barrier and allows people to interface with the game in a much more natural, intuitive way.
Demoing the game, I’ve noticed people get into it much quicker. That means it’s not just restricted to the hardcore market – the hope is it will broaden the audience for SOCOM.
Eurogamer: How does Move work with SOCOM, exactly?
Elliott Martin: Traditionally your weapon reticule would be fixed in the centre of the screen and you’d be moving your whole viewpoint. With Move your reticule is loose, and that’s what you’re moving around the screen. The game’s intelligent enough to understand that, so when you move to the extremities of the screen it will pan in that direction.
That leaves your other hand free to move your character around with the sub-controller. The effect is like a light gun, but unlike on-rails light-gun games, you have the freedom to move where you want.
Eurogamer: When you say “light-gun” I immediately think of Duck Hunt… Isn’t that kind of gameplay a bit dated?
Elliott Martin: I use that as an example of how it will appear on the screen. That’s not the same as saying that’s how the game is played. I don’t think it is dated. You’re right, it’s something we’ve seen before, but with the Move it’s a very different proposition.
It’s not limited to what you’re doing with the reticule on the screen – it’s also the technology inside the controller, which allows you a great degree of precision, and can measure the speed with which it’s being moved and its orientation. These are all things that competing platforms can’t necessarily do all in one package.
Zipper has been playing with the idea of using gestures to control some of the in-game functions. Just to give you an example, maybe throwing a grenade instead of pressing a button to throw a grenade… That’s not to say that feature is in the code, but having the Move implementation up and running so quickly allows Zipper to experiment and see where the technology leads them.
So there’s a lot more to it. It’s not just moving your sight, aiming and firing.
Eurogamer: There have been shooting games on the Wii where you point the remote to aim the reticule and move around with the nunchuk, but you couldn’t really describe them as killer apps… What makes you think SOCOM and Move will be different?
Elliott Martin: Aside from the Move support, SOCOM is taking a new approach and trying to provide a more cinematic experience for the player. There’s a strong narrative running through the game, you have a main protagonist, he is supported by special forces soldiers, there’s a bad guy… It’s all set up for that kind of Hollywood, Uncharted-like execution.
You can play the game without ever touching the Move. It supports dualshock and traditional SOCOM fans who prefer that can use that. But adding Move removes some of the entry barriers. The precision of the aiming, the accuracy of the way it tracks is, I think, unprecedented. It allows for very fine aiming control so people find they can target things quickly and efficiently, which gives an intense feeling to the gameplay.
Eurogamer: If it’s much easier to aim with the Move, how do you make the game work when played with a DualShock? Won’t it be much harder?
Elliott Martin: At the moment it’s still early in the development process so a lot of those questions remain unanswered. A lot of that is down to balancing, tuning and deciding where things are perhaps easier or harder or where it might break the design of the levels.
Generally, we find playing with the DualShock doesn’t necessarily make it harder – it’s just some people will prefer that pace or that style. For example, if you want to play it more tactically you’re not relying on being able to target someone and shoot quickly, and do that with multiple enemies. DualShock is perfectly fine for that style.
The Move implementation isn’t being looked at as a core feature of SOCOM – it’s just an additional feature. The game isn’t being made for Move, Move is being integrated into the game. You can play the game from start to finish with either controller. You can take a very arcade approach where you’re shooting everything in sight and charging through the level, or you can slow it down and do it the more tactical way, using the Move to paint paths through the level for your support team and so on. There’s lots of variety.
Eurogamer: How will it work in multiplayer? Can one person use the Move while another uses a regular DualShock?
Elliott Martin: I don’t know if we’ve announced those kind of details yet. Those are good questions and they are things the team is perfectly aware of. They are in the process of implementing Move support into the game, and of looking into questions like that.
Eurogamer: What has been the reaction from the SOCOM fanbase to the implementation of Move?
Elliott Martin: Um… I think from my experience, from what I’ve seen, SOCOM fans are very protective of the SOCOM game.
Eurogamer: Do you mean they’ve been calling you names on the internet? Because you have my sympathy.
Elliott Martin: Haha! I think I’ve escaped the brunt of that personally, but they’re very protective. They have a very specific idea of what they want SOCOM to be and anything which deviates from that worries them.
There’s nothing wrong with their reaction but this is Zipper Interactive, this is the creator of the franchise, they know very well what SOCOM is and they know very well what the community wants. They’re going to do their best to deliver something that’s new and fresh, but that stays true to its roots.
Eurogamer: I interviewed the producer of the new Castlevania game the other day and asked him if he’d put Move or Natal tech into his game. He said no – not because he doesn’t think it’s good tech, but because he doesn’t think hardcore gamers want it. What would you say to that?
Elliott Martin: I think it’s a very subjective thing. I would consider myself a hardcore gamer, so I feel I can have an opinion on this, but I’ve seen games in development which would be considered hardcore and which make very good use of the Move implementation – SOCOM being just one of them.
It doesn’t ruin the experience, that’s the important thing. It may not be the exact experience certain people want but that’s why we’re being very careful to not lock it down. We’re trying to preserve the different playing methods to appease everyone.
Eurogamer: So for those of us who want to just sit on the sofa and twiddle our thumbs of a Friday night, rather than standing up and waggling…
Elliott Martin: It’s funny, when I look at people demonstrating other Move games it’s all arms flailing, and then I’m just sat there, moving one hand, all very casual and relaxed. You could equally imagine being at home on the sofa in the same position – you don’t need to wave it around, it’s just a tracking device.
Eurogamer: It’s not a lightsaber.
Elliott Martin: No, exactly.
Eurogamer: It’s a light-up ping pong ball on a magic wand.
Elliott Martin: Yeah. And the sensitivity is determined by the calibration you give it, so you can be in a range of situations in your living room and still set up the game to play it how you want.
Eurogamer: So you can adjust the sensitivity of the Move controller?
Elliott Martin: Not directly on the controller, but in the software. For example, when you calibrate the controller in SOCOM, you basically have to define the screen area you’re mapping the control to. If you do very small movements the game will amplify that, so that any movement will be a very sudden, fast movement.
If when calibrating you do very exaggerated movements, like if you have a massive telly, then a smaller movement is a much smaller movement on-screen. So it’s a very dynamic mapping in that respect, and it’s just about setting up what you’re comfortable with.
Elliott Martin is the European producer of SOCOM 4. A release date for the game has yet to be announced.