If everything goes according to plan, Microsoft's response to Nintendo's Wii will appear before the end of the year, a developer who has been briefed on the project told MTV News. The Xbox 360 manufacturer has been working on its own version of the motion-controlled Wii remote since last summer, the developer said.
Since Nintendo's Wii became a global sensation and Sony launched a PS3 controller that is also motion-sensitive, rumors have reverberated through the gaming industry that Microsoft would create a motion-controller of its own.
While nothing has been officially announced, MTV News' source was able to provide us with details on one such 360 controller in the making: a controller designed to do all the Wii remote does, and more. Our source chose to remain anonymous in the interest of not compromising business relationships, but MTV News has confirmed Microsoft's active interest in developing a motion-sensitive controller with other industry sources.
The project has been in active development at Microsoft since last August, the source said. Rare, the Microsoft-owned studio behind Xbox 360's launch first-person shooter "Perfect Dark Zero" and the upcoming installment of the "Banjo-Kazooie" franchise, has been tasked with creating a unified interface and look for the controller. Rare has had trouble hitting its deadlines, according to the source.
When MTV News contacted Microsoft for confirmation, a spokesperson said that "Microsoft does not comment on rumors and speculation."
Our development source sketched out a reproduction of the last prototype he'd seen, although the final product — if it is indeed released — may vary from this design. A key difference between the Wii remote and the prototype is the lack of a companion controller to be placed in the other hand, like Wii's Nunchuck.
The controller itself isn't much different in functionality or design from Nintendo's Wii remote, but comes with four face buttons, an analog stick and microphone. There are also plans for the controller to interact with the Xbox Live Vision Camera, the source said.
Microsoft's controller isn't just a response to "Wii Sports"; it's slightly more ambitious. "They want the usual assortment of 'Halo'/ 'Gears'/ 'Forza'/ whatever, just in waggle form," our source told us. Such idea-generation has not gone smoothly. "The whole thing is a colossal clusterf---," the source said. "[Microsoft] marketing just want it so they can match the Wii point for point. The biggest parts of their marketing materials outline how easy it would be for third parties to port their Wii games to the 360."
In addition to designing the interface for the controller, Rare has also fleshed out Microsoft's take on Nintendo's Mii avatar concept, the source said. Microsoft's Miis are designed to be associated with any game that incorporates the controller and create a standard "look" for the games. The avatars aren't tied to a controller when in use, as Xbox Live profiles currently are.
The avatars are more detailed than what Nintendo has allowed (i.e. they have limbs), the source said, but pushing the avatars into every controller title means they "dictate the entire look and feel of every game they're in, so they have to be generic as all hell."
Rare's difficulty in hitting development milestones has produced problems, however. "Microsoft is trying to decide how to get something out by the end of the year," said MTV News' source.
While MTV News' source presented full details of the project, several developers, speaking on background, could only confirm rumors that a planned motion-controlled Xbox 360 controller is in the works. If the project is more than a prototype initiative, it's been kept quiet from some major developers.
Microsoft has previously maintained a public message that motion controllers are a compelling idea, but avoided saying they would be moving into the space themselves.
"There's room for innovation here, but moving that controller around — it's something that's not mainstream for most games," Microsoft chief Bill Gates told MTV News in May 2006. "People aren't that good at totally standing still. Even pilots actually sit in a chair when they do their flying. So there's a lot to be learned about these controllers."
Last year, former Xbox executive Peter Moore was more upbeat about the prospects, but equally coy, in a February 2007 interview with GameInformer.com. "Since the day I saw Iwata-san [Nintendo president Satoru Iwata] pull the [Wii remote] controller out from under his podium a few years ago at [the Tokyo Game Show], I've always realized that was the right thing for Nintendo to have to do for what they needed to do to be successful in this next generation," Moore said. "And it was always going to be a challenge for us. So, we have plans. This does not come as a surprise."
MTV News' source maintained that development kits for Microsoft's new controller have been distributed to certain developers. If the project comes to fruition, and when Microsoft will actually reveal its plans, remain to be seen.
For more from the world of games, check out our Multiplayer blog, updated several times daily.