SPOnG: Let's move onto talk about the Fusion technology - you say in your press announcement that 'It combines patent-pending ultrasonic and RF technologies with 3-axis accelerometers to track the precise absolute position and orientation in 3D space of almost any wireless accessory such as golf clubs, baseball bats, tennis racquets, and bowling balls'. Can you expand on this for us please? How would you describe the technology to a non-technical gamer, for example?
“Basically, the really clever bit is the ultrasonics. Anyone who's seen the original (wired) Gametrak will know that it can track a point in 3D space with great accuracy and speed, anywhere in a big area around the unit. That, for us, is the Holy Grail of motion sensing. Doing it without the wires is incredibly difficult - we have some of the cleverest hardware and software engineers in the world, and it took us more than two years to crack it. We could have settled for a 'second best' solution, but I'm incredibly chuffed that we stuck to our guns to be the only people to deliver true 3D wireless motion sensing.
“The way it works is simple in theory, but very difficult in practice. Basically, if you have a point in 3D space, and you know the distance from that point to three other known points, you can 'triangulate' (maths talk for 'work out') a 3D position – i.e. where the object actually is. We can work out the distance from the transmitter (what you hold in your hand) to each of four sensors (on the base unit) by measuring how long it takes to send a sound wave from the transmitter to each receiver.
“By working out the time taken, and multiplying it by the speed of sound, we get a distance. Three distance measurements gives us a triangle, and hence a 3D position. We use four sensors as it improves accuracy - it gives us four triangles rather than one to help determine our 3D position. Kind of like Minority Report
, only with four little ultrasonic speaker things rather than three unconscious psychics! That's the theory.
“Actually, there are 26 claims in the Fusion patents - mainly they deal with all the stuff like interference, reflections off walls and furniture, dealing with any size room, even dealing with the fact that the speed of sound changes constantly with air temperature and pressure! All these things combine to make ultrasonic position sensing really hard to do - we almost gave up ourselves several times and had about five or six 'Eureka!' moments which allowed us to get there in the end. What we have now is a totally stable, fast, low-cost but highly accurate system which will work anywhere.”
SPOnG: One thing that you haven’t said too much about is the specific software which will make use of Fusion. What games are currently in development for the system?
“We will launch around 20 games over a four-year period ourselves. The first three will be coming Christmas 2007. About 70% of our titles will be sports - tennis, bowling, baseball, basketball, golf, football etc, but we're also looking at dancing, adventure and action games. A lot of the games will come with free accessories (e.g. tennis racquet head) that plug into the transmitter unit to improve the gaming experience. We've also been showing the technology to major developers and publishers, and a lot of them are asking us to license the technology to them to let them make their own games for the system. That is a huge deal for us - I expect we'll see as many games again from third parties, so there'll be a lot of support for the system.
SPOnG: Nintendo’s initial response (as well as those of its legions of fans) has been to dismiss Fusion as a serious contender. According to all of them Fusion, “...won’t have the software support that the Wii has.” Can you comment on this? Do you see Fusion as a potential ‘Wii-Killer’ in the long run or do you see it complementing Wii in some way?
“I think my last answer deals with that really. Software support from both ourselves and our partners will be fantastic. One aspect that is interesting to some publishers is the possibility of creating cross-platform games with motion sensing - so making a game compatible with Wii, but enhanced for systems supporting Fusion.
“Some have suggested that a cross-platform Wii/360/PS3 game is likely to be tricky because, in terms of graphical and processing power, the Wii is obviously not up there with the other 'next-gen' consoles - not that horsepower is the most important factor - the DS proves it's about imagination, not brute force.
“I can imagine, though, a situation where there are cross-platform PS2/Wii games. Obviously, there are 100 million PS2s out there, and I'm sure many of those owners would love to see some innovative games brought to their platform, without the need to go out and buy a whole new system. On the true next-gen consoles, Fusion will really shine. Personally, I want all the great graphics and polish of a next-gen game AND true 3D motion sensing, which we can deliver with Fusion on next-gen machines.”
SPOnG: Which third-party publishers are you discussing developing Fusion-based PS3 and Xbox 360 game with?
“I can't comment on individual discussions as they're confidential, however, we're talking to most of the major players.”
SPOnG: We’ve played Wii Play on Wii recently, and didn’t get on with some of the mini-games, as the controls were balanced all wrong – they were either way too sensitive on the one hand or a bit ‘pot luck’ on the other. With this in mind can you tell us how you (or other developers) can balance motion-sensing control using Fusion in order to avoid the trap of being excessively under or over-sensitive?
“In our case, with Fusion, we can totally replicate the experience of tennis, golf, bowling etc - as we know where the club/racquet/ball is - so it's pretty straightforward to make it act like the real thing. For us, the challenge is actually to take something which behaves totally realistically, but make it accessible to everyone. For example, our golf game needs to be playable by pro golfers as well as those who've never even picked up a club. Getting that balance between realism and accessibility is the key to making true motion-tracking games work properly.
“In our existing Real World Golf
game, we created a system where you could choose 'Amateur' clubs, which felt great and were very forgiving - not much hook or slice even if you played a shot which, in real life, would be a disaster - but they didn't have as much range as the more realistic 'Professional' clubs.
“Getting this right is really a question of making sure the game is tested by people of all abilities and ages, and making sure that, if someone is struggling, you work out why...and deal with it.
“With the Wii controller, I imagine that, when you are playing sections of the game which don't have you pointing directly at the screen, the system will struggle to get much meaningful data from you. It will therefore 'cheat'; basically make a best guess as to what it thinks you are trying to do at any given time. Much of the time, it will succeed and you'll think it's doing what you told it, but, sometimes, it won't and you'll lose that sense of immersion.“
SPOnG: The ping pong game in Wii Play was particularly disappointing. Especially as one of our favourite next gen sports games is Rockstar’s Table Tennis. Have you been speaking to Rockstar about developing a table tennis game using Fusion-powered motion-sensing bats? Or do you have any other ping pong games of your own planned?
“Our tennis demo is already amazing - we only spent a few weeks on the software to make a tech demo of a tennis game, and it already beats any tennis game on the market in terms of sheer playability and fun. The tennis game we launch for Christmas 2007 will be the best tennis game ever, no doubt about it!”
Thanks Harry, even though you ‘batted’ away that last table tennis question by choosing to answer with a plug for your tennis game instead!
SPOnG’s going to be keeping a close eye on In2Games and the development of its Fusion-powered games. We will be sure to bring you full preview and review coverage on all Fusion titles. We’ll also bring you regular In2Games/Fusion news updates. We know you expect and demand nothing less.