EyeToy: what is it?

The EyeToy is a nifty piece of fun for the PS2 games console. The most obvious part of the EyeToy system is a simple video camera with built-in microphone that converts the PS2 into a funny, fun console and brings tears of laughter to the players.

It is the software that makes the gadget so nifty. Plug the camera into the PS2's USB slot, insert the game disk and you can throw away the hand-held controller. The software has a rudimentary image-recognition system that sees any movement on the camera and relates it to the game. You play the games by waving your arms, kicking your feet and swinging your hips to interact with objects in the game.

You even select the various game options from the disk by waving a hand over the on-screen icon. Literally, once the disk is in and the webcam connected, there is no need for the hand-held controller at all.

Thus, depending on the game, you can fight screen-based Ninjutsu using kick-boxing-style moves, or dance to the rhythm while watching yourself on camera. Or wipe the windows clean, or take part in a hoverboard simulator. Or go through an exercise routine directed by an on-screen trainer. Or play in the world air guitar championships. All without holding a controller, or trying to remember combinations of square-square-triangle-circle. All intuitive, easy and fast to learn. Add a barrel-load of laughs for the fun of it.

While all EyeToy software contains the image-recognition capability, the game package is no different from any other PS2 game: it comprises just a disk (see list below), so that the full EyeToy package contains a webcam and a game disk. In some cases you can buy the game disk separately from the camera, but I get the feeling Sony wants all PS2 owners to have an EyeToy camera attached to their console so the prices are reasonable. A combined camera and game are around $30 or so.

One of the key things about EyeToy games is that you move your body. While not especially demanding in the early levels, all the games require you to move limbs and extremities in response to game action to increase your score. As you move up through the levels, the speeds increase until the exertion required to complete each successive level is quite considerable. You can easily work upa sweat, but all the time having so much fun you never really want to stop.

The camera is a compact, but otherwise fairly standard 640 x 480 webcam with integrated wide-field microphone and USB connector. The webcam's physical packaging is designed to match the appearance of the PS2 box -- either platinum-coloured or black-coloured with ridges on the surface.

Sony invented the EyeToy and the name and name and concept still belong to Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE)

EyeToy: why, exactly?

Sony has been trying to bring the Playstation console to a broader market than the young men who dominate sales at present. In particular, the the company has touted the idea of "Exertainment" to introduce more women to the PS2 and to show the console as not just a shoot 'em up killing machine, but as a fun, friendly way to relax either with friends or when alone.

In July 2003 (Europe) and on 4 Nov., 2003 (USA) Sony introduced the EyeToy alongside the game disk, EyeToy: Play. This disk featured a number of mini-games that together re-wrote the rule book on console-based games. European sales in the first four months exceeded a million units. The company followed that success with a planned programme of launches designed first to introduce the device as something fun that a mother or young child might bring out at informal gatherings. Subsequent launches showed these new users that the combination of PS2 and webcam could offer a great deal more than just simple fun. Among the new generation of non-aggressive; non-adrenaline games is a virtual personal trainer "game" that can provide effective feedback on how well your are doing at each specific exercise, yet without the expense of equipment, or the need to go to a gym.

A Sony marketing type explained the "Exertainment" concept embodied in the EyeToy: Kinetic game, saying the user follows a computer-generated trainer, who leads them through a programmed exercise routine and added, "A by-product is that they'll experience first hand the PlayStation2 console that's already in the house, previously used by their husbands, brothers, or male friends only. They might cross over to other games and become dedicated users."

In practice, the EyeToy: Kinetic game uses the PS2's internal clock and the player is supposed to play the game according to a 12-week schedule designed to improve fitness. The software offers four different training "zones". Each emphasises a different kind of training regime: Cardio, combat, toning and Mind & Body. A typical workout lasts about 30 minutes. Beware: the game is designed to make the user's CGI trainer angry if the user misses a scheduled session.

To underline the idea of bringing the PS2 to a broader audience, Sony ensured the device can be used to make free videophone calls. Like all the well-established consoles, the PS2 originated as a stand-alone unit with games designed for single-player operation -- or multiple players taking turns, which amounts to the same thing. But in the early 2000s, Sony developed the idea of online competitive gaming where many players interact in a computer-controlled environment, all linked by internet technologies. In the original PS2 you had to buy a separate network adaptor, but in the slimline PS2 units launched in the second half of 2004, the adaptor was built-in and you only had to link the RJ-45 on the back to a similar socket on your router to get online.

So, for those who already had the console linked to their home-based broadband internet, the Eyetoy brings video-phone technology to the PS2. Plug in the Eyetoy, set up the lighting and Presto!, you have an audio-video link to anyone else with a similar setup. The idea was great, but I suspect the growth of PC-based video messaging killed it off as a big driver of sales. It's much easier to set up MSN and link a webcam than it is to go through the cumbersome registration process required to get a PS2 to connect to the web.

Combining the image-recognition software with the webcam brought many other possibilities to the PS2, and Sony developers brought out -- and continue to bring out -- more and more new ideas that are designed to appeal to many new, non-traditional market segments. Karaoke, dance; exercise and more.

The main theme linking these EyeToy-friendly games is that they can involve a lot of people playing or talking at the same time, and tend to be focussed around fun and laughter, rather than aggression and violence.

All the early games and still most Eyetoy games take the video feed from the camera and project it directly onto the screen. But in a few games, including EyeToy: Antigrav, the software is a little more sophisticated. Instead of using the live feed, the software generates a CGI character and employs the input from the camera to move the character according to the player's movements.

As a strategy, it worked. Sony sold over 2.5 million EyeToy: Play games in the first seven months after its European launch. By Sony's own standards, these units went primarily to non-traditional gamers: mothers, children, the old, the very young.

EyeToy: the experience

It's surprisingly good. Great fun. The mini-games are all fairly lightweight and probably wouldn't thrill a dedicated gamer, but I'm not one of those and neither is anyone else in the family. You can have a lot of fun with this thing, albeit for a short time. The games are simple and fairly easy to master, but it's good clean fun every time. We've bought a couple of cameras. Most of the time they are hooked up to PCs as webcams, but to use one with the PS2 it's a simple matter to unplug it from the PC, and plug it into the PS2.

It can be quite fiddly to get the focus and the lighting exactly right, and this has caused much comment on the discussion boards but once that is done the image recognition works pretty well. Small children are prone to getting a bit too close to the camera, which makes it easier to get high scores. You might call that a weakness in the system, but I guess this is all about having fun, rather than trying to beat the internal high score.

It's quite easy to set up the EyeToy camera as a webcam on a PC (see link below), though Sony does not publish drivers for the camera. Instead there are drivers available on the web that allow you to use the camera with MSN, Skype or other communication packages.

EyeToy: the games

The first package was brought out in 2003 and was called EyeToy: Play. It featured 12 relatively simple games including Kung Foo and Wishi Washi referred to above. Thereafter, Sony has been bringing out games at a rate of one every couple of months. new developments include EyeToy Cameo in which the camera can be used to capture a 3-D image of the player's head that can be used to personalise one or more of the characters in more conventional games. The following list of EyeToy games comes courtesy of Wiki

Sources and further reading

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