Should Nintendo take credit for motion control in gaming?

Nintendo 'flattered' by Project Natal and 3D motion wand - but who's the real daddy?

Project Natal is being billed as Microsoft's answer to the Nintendo Wii -- but it shares more in common with the Sony Eye Toy.

Project Natal is being billed as Microsoft's answer to the Nintendo Wii -- but it shares more in common with the Sony Eye Toy.

What came first, the motion controller or the Nintendo Wii? That is the age-old question. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, it was the latter that laid gaming's golden egg, and not the other way around.

When quizzed by BBC News about Microsoft and Sony's E3 motion control demos, the legendary game producer gave the following backhanded compliment:

"The fact that both [Sony and Microsoft] are taking advantage of motion control, and getting [players] to control the game by moving their body shows that they have looked at what we have done with Wii... They are moving in the same direction. To that end we are very flattered."

"Flattered" seems to be disingenuous shorthand for "we think you're a copy cat." It's the same word Nintendo invoked back in September 2008, when Microsoft's New Xbox Experience launched with Mii-like avatars. But this time, we think the boast is completely unfounded.

We’ve been accused of unfairly dissing Nintendo in the past (check out the rage-filled comments on our article "How Nintendo Killed Hardcore Gaming") — but we merely call 'em as we see 'em. Can Nintendo really take all the credit for motion control in gaming? Do Project Natal and the PlayStation 3D motion wand truly owe their existence to the Wii? No matter how ‘flattered’ Nintendo feels, we're not so sure that one begat the other; especially in regards to Project Natal.

While the Wii remote unquestionably helped to popularise motion control in gaming, it wasn't the first peripheral to meet success in this area. That honour goes to the Sony Eye Toy, which made its debut back in 2003; almost half a decade before people started trashing their homes with nunchucks. To date, the little-camera-that-could has sold 10 million units worldwide — respectable numbers considering it's an optional accessory that only works with a handful of games. It also demonstrated the appeal of motion control to casual gamers long before Wii Sports entered the fray.

Regardless of where your loyalties lie, it cannot be denied that Microsoft's Project Natal has a lot more in common with the Eye Toy than the Wii remote. Both use motion-sensing cameras that do not require handheld controllers. They say that flattery will get you nowhere, and Microsoft seems to agree — Project Natal bears almost no resemblance to Nintendo's white pretender, despite what Shigeru claims. If anybody should be flattered, its Dr. Richard Marks, who devised the original Eye Toy prototype.

So credit where credit's due: the Eye Toy was first, this side of the century, to raise the motion-control flag. Consequently, we don’t think Nintendo has earned the right to be ‘flattered’ by its rivals' latest innovation. On the other hand, the company deserves plaudits for raising the bar above the Eye Toy’s humble beginnings. Also for getting players who never thought they'd pick up a controller to behave in ways that would otherwise require half a dozen rum and cokes and the sloppy waning hours of a wedding reception. Not that's what we call unflattering!

Original reporting by Matt Peckham.

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