May 9, 2007 - Video game peripherals are generally an afterthought. You've probably bought cable extensions, memory expansion devices, or aftermarket controllers. It's all in the name of convenience and customizing your gaming experience, but peripherals are rarely integral to it. Not so with Sony's EyeToy for the PS2 and PS3.
The EyeToy is basically a webcam with a brain. The device captures the user's image and incorporates their movements into gameplay. It's not a new idea, as anyone familiar with the Game Boy Camera or Dreameye for the Sega Dreamcast will tell you. It's the brainchild of designer Richard Marks, not to be confused with Richard Marx, soft rock balladeer and mullet conservationist. Sony unveiled an early prototype of the device in 2002 which included a handful a games utilizing the camera's motion-capture technology. Public response was strong enough that Sony developed the technology and released the original EyeToy in 2003. The EyeToy received a lot of attention upon its initial release and hype has somewhat cooled in recent years. The EyeToy remains very popular in Europe and a new incarnation of the EyeToy and games for the PS3 are on the market.
Using the EyeToy is as simple as ever. It plugs directly into the console's USB port and can be set up either just below or on top of the television screen. The camera itself has a simple focus and platform which are adjusted so that the player's image is centered onscreen. Light is very important in capturing the image. Too much light and the player will wash out, too little and the camera can't generate an image. A little red light on the unit will blink to indicate if light levels are too low. A distance of about six feet is required to properly situate the player's image on the screen. A video tutorial on Sony's web site warns that it is possible to cheat by standing right in front of the camera, but where is the fun in that? When it's time to stop playing, the user just places a hand over the lens and it shuts down. Once the image is captured, it's on to the actual gameplay. It's a very simple process and is focused on making the EyeToy as user-friendly as possible.
The EyeToy was initially released with a series of demo games which illustrated various ways to use the device. It was called EyeToy: Play, and it included a variety of games ranging from the live-action Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game, Boxing Chump, to the window-washing sim, Wishi Washi. It was all awfully cute, but drew a surprising variety of gamers and sold quite well. EyeToy: Play was developed by SCE Studios London along with the European hit, EyeToy: Groove. Groove takes the rhythmic elements of EyeToy gameplay and sets them to popular dance tracks, ranging from Earth, Wind & Fire to Good Charlotte. The dance-heavy title even had a calorie-counter which estimated the number of calories the player was burning. Shades of the Wii, no?
The PS3 version of the EyeToy steps up the technology significantly. The built-in microphone now has noise-suppression technology which can isolate background interference. It's perfectly tailored for the PS3's XMB video chat system. Press from Sony indicates that the improved microphone can be used in place of a Bluetooth headset to play games like Resistance: Fall of Man. The resolution is better too, maxing out at 640x480 and 60fps. That's about twice the framerate of conventional video. It even has a function where it can run at 120fps for high-speed motion capture situations. Just as the PS2 evolved into the PS3, the EyeToy for the PS3 represents an evolution from the PS2 model. Don't fret, PS2 owners - the new EyeToy has a conversion chip which makes it backwards-compatible with the PS2. It's basically the same old EyeToy, just bigger and badder.
Disappointing PS3 sales coupled with the runaway success of the Wii seem to have renewed Sony's interest in this particular peripheral. Like a lot of novel peripherals, the EyeToy has not been able to generate a lot of enthusiasm from game developers. About 30 games have been released for the EyeToy in the last four years. This is typical and understandable too, considering the EyeToy is not particularly malleable in terms of gameplay. It operates largely on a series of simple, two-dimensional, spatial relationships. If the player moves their hand over a simulated cymbal, the cymbal makes a loud crash. Unlike the Wii, which incorporates movement on more than one axis and expands control with the Nunchuk, there's just not many places a developer could take EyeToy content. Yet, the simplicity of the device remains its biggest strength.
Years before the Wii proved a console regarded as "cute" and as a "toy" could generate immense revenue, the EyeToy was leading the way in incorporating the player's movement into the gaming experience. One might reasonably assume that if the Wii had not come along and shattered sales records, the EyeToy might not have made it to its current PS3 incarnation. As limited as its format and game selection are, it has proven tremendously popular among a variety of gamers and especially in children and other people who have never experienced Nintendo thumb.
There is a singular appeal to seeing oneself on a TV screen, especially in a lighthearted and playful format as the EyeToy represents. Couple that with the fun of cutting loose and shaking around while playing the games, and the EyeToy is a peripheral worth keeping around.
Look for the all-new PS3 Eye Toy this summer!
CCC Freelance Writer