Playing “Just Dance 2017” with kids, and fixing detection issues
I’m deviating from the topic of hacking today to explain how I went on a quest to play “Just Dance 2017” with my 5 year old son.
Recently I’ve been trying to get my son and I to play video games that are a bit more than just “button mashing”. I’ve been looking for rich couch-co op experiences where the screen and the controllers are just one aspect of the gaming experience. Think of it as my way of telling his mother that not all video games are just brainless entertainment.
It’s in that context that I recently bought Just Dance 2017 on Amazon. As the name implies, and for those of you who don’t know this popular franchise, Just Dance is a game where you dance in front of your TV to try and mimic the choreography on the screen, for popular songs. It’s a modern rhythm game that is reminiscent of Dance Dance Revolution, or to some extent things like Guitar Hero. For me, it’s a sneaky way to get my kids and myself to do a bit of exercise even when we don’t want to get out and would rather be playing video games.
I purchased the game for the PS4, aware of some complains from parents that young kids do not get properly recognized by the PS4 camera, but in general ignoring those comments.
I shouldn’t have.
Comments about the difficulty for the game to detect kids were generally true: getting the PS4 camera to recognize my 5 year old was terrible hit and miss, and overall very frustrating for both of us. In a typical game, it would take 3 to 5 minutes of adjustments (camera, room light, “please climb on that chair for the camera to see you”) before the camera would finally catch my son’s presence. That’s 5 minutes of setup for a 3 minutes game session. To add insult to the injury, in general, detection would then drop him regularly in the middle of a song.
Fixing Kids detection in Just Dance 2017 with the PS4 camera
Honestly, things aren’t that bad with the PS4 Camera if you follow the instructions from ubisoft, as well as advice that can be found in some Amazon comments. Try to do as many of the following things as possible to improve detection of your little ones in the game.
- Play in a well lit room, ideally with natural light
- Avoid having lights behind you or on the side, ideally light should come from behind the TV
- Place the Camera above the TV, higher seems to perform best
- Have you and your kids wear bright clothes, different from your background: Bright orange tshirt = good. White tshirt on white background: not so great.
- Long sleeves and long trousers are apparently better
- Make sure the camera finds your kids before you. It helps a lot to have your kid stand on a chair for detection (they can, and should, get off the chair once the camera has detected them). Once your kid(s) has been found, grown ups can show up. (Interestingly, some people are recommending the exact opposite… there’s clearly some impact of having people being found in different sequence)
- In general, avoid noise: at some point our 2 year old daughter was playing in the general area that the camera could detect. The camera categorized that movement as “noise” and I assume it calibrated itself to assume a very noisy environment. Because of that, our 5 year old could not be detected. As soon as we moved our daughter out of the camera’s field of view, our son was detected properly.
Ultimately, though, I have to be brutally honest: if you don’t have the right lighting in the room, it will be a lot of pain. The problem is that once our son played a few tracks and got better at the game, he became quite frustrated at the camera missing its moves. Detection was ok, but not great, and after a few games he really became competitive, wanted to collect “more gems” and got angry at those things. The camera will be great for a party with children who have never played the game and don’t care too much about the score, but for us after a few sessions this clearly showed its limits.
Playing Just Dance 2017 with kids. Which is better, the camera, the PlayStation Move, or the smartphones?
Just Dance 2017 offers three kind of controls on the PS4: the PS4 camera, which I discussed above and has some limits when you play in a not well-lit room with kids, Smartphones which have the benefit of not requiring any additional hardware, and PlayStation Move controllers. An important limitation of the game is that you cannot mix several types of controllers: everyone plays with the camera, or the smartphones, or PS Move. You can’t have one player with PS Move while another uses their phone, for example.
Having hit the limits of the PS4 Camera, I looked into the two other solutions. You can use your smartphone as a movement detector for Just Dance 2017. This is pretty good for grown ups as most of your friends probably have a phone, so if you have friends come over, up to 6 of you can dance pretty much anywhere in the room without any additional hardware. I tried it, confirming what other people have been saying: it works great.
The only worry is that you’re dancing pretty energetically while holding a $500 piece of hardware in your hands, with no straps whatsoever. Probably ok for grownups, not so much with kids. Would you trust your 5 year old with your High end Android phone, asking him to shake his hands as they do on the screen? I did. Turns out my kid was the one who was worried, and it ruined the fun for him. He didn’t understand why he had to dance with this gigantic thing in his hands and just stopped entirely, asking me to go back to the camera instead.
That was only the first part of that experiment. In parallel, I was looking for cheap smartphones that would work with Just Dance 2017. My threshold was simple: a new PS4 Move controller costs about $50 (more on that below), so I was looking for a solution that had to be cheaper than that.
I’m dumb and didn’t think too long about what it takes for a phone to be a “legit” controller for Just Dance 2017. So I bought the cheapest Android phone I could find on Amazon, $10 at the time.
Turns out, when Ubisoft tell you “turn any smartphone into a controller for Just Dance 2017”, they actually imply you need a smartphone with an accelerometer. Which I confirmed by looking at the manifest of the Just Dance Android app. Duh.
<uses-feature android:name="android.hardware.sensor.accelerometer" android:required="true"/>
(By the way, this and the fact that the device cannot be a tablet – which is not a real hardware requirement, just a security reason: Ubisoft don’t want you to start shaking your hands while you’re holding a 10” device, so that part can probably be bypassed by sideloading the app on a tablet if you really want to try – are the only strong hardware requirements I could find in the App’s Manifest)
My cheap-o android phone did not have a gyroscope or an accelerometer. Even sideloading the app did not work, obviously. Surprisingly, the problem wasn’t even the lack of accelerometer: the phone was never even able to connect to the PS4.
So, at the end of the day, the cheapest phones that can be used as controllers for Just Dance 2017 need to have an accelerometer. In that category, the best price is probably the Moto G offered on Amazon. In general you won’t find many phones below $100 that have a (working!) accelerometer.
So, clearly, using Just Dance 2017 with a smartphone is extremely convenient for people who already have the required phones, but it gets expensive if that means getting phones solely for the purpose of using the app.
Getting cheap Playstation Move controllers
Since getting smartphones for the kids to play Just Dance 2017 turned out to not be a cheap option, I turned again to the Playstation move controllers.
There’s a “not-really-a-secret but-people-seem-to-be-confused” thing with Playstation Move controllers: there’s a wide belief that the PS3 Move controllers and the PS4 Move controllers are not the same thing. As such, it’s easy to find a strong variation in prices for Move controllers. You can find them for as cheap as $10 used, or up to $50 a piece if you go with the new 2-pack that is currently the one that mos people buy.
There are several reasons this confusion has been going on: The new 2-pack which is advertised heavily by Sony and retailers for playstation VR. It doesn’t say anywhere that this is PS4 only, but neither does it say that this is the same old thing that used to work on PS3. Additionally, it is somewhat known that the PS3 camera doesn’t work on the PS4. Since PS3 Move bundles typically include a PS3 camera in addition to the controller, it is easy to think that maybe the Move controller is also PS3 specific, and not forward compatible with the PS4.
I can confirm this belief is false: PS3 Move controllers work on the PS4, and, from what I can tell, are simply the exact same thing as the PS4 Move controllers. So, you can buy yourself a modern “2-pack” PS Move controllers, or be a bit smarter and buy them individually for $38 each (price at the time of writing). (However you’ll also need a PS4 camera to use PS3 Move controllers on the PS4. Do you follow?)
$38 still felt a bit expensive: Ideally I’d need 3 of those, so that whole “Just Dance 2017” experiment started to become a lot above my price point. Thankfully, there are other ways to get Playstation Move controllers. I turned to craigslist, eBay, and Amazon 3rd party “used” offers to find good deals. My first good catch came in the shape of someone selling a PS3 bundle (PS3 + Games + 2 sixaxis + 2 move controllers + 1 move remote control) for about $100. I bought the whole thing, and proceeded to resell everything but the move controllers. I managed to resell the PS3 + the sixaxis controllers + 7 games for $95. Meaning I paid $5 for my 2 move controllers + the remote control. Not bad, although I wouldn’t do it again as reselling those things individually took a month, so I ended up paying much more than $5 if I include my time.
My point though is that if you’re willing to barter/hustle a little bit, these controllers can be found for reasonably cheap, sold mostly by people who used to own them with a PS3, and haven’t yet caught up on the fact that these have increased in price now that they’re becoming more popular with Playstation VR.
In addition to my 2 controllers acquired on craigslist, I started tracking some of the old PS3 Move bundles on Amazon. After a few days, the “Book of spells” wonderbook bundle for PS3 showed up for me at a price of $25 from the Amazon warehouse deals. For $22, I got myself a Move controller + a PS3 camera and a PS3 game I had always wanted to try. Given that the camera can be found for $5, and the game for about $10 nowadays, I estimate that I paid $7 for the Move controller. Here again, there is a bit of arbitrage going on as not all sellers on eBay or Amazon realize that the controller included in this bundles can be worth at least $25, even if used.
As a result, I have paid a total of about $12 for 3 move controllers, or $4 each. A great deal, but it required a lot of effort, and honestly at some point I was only doing it just so that I could report in this blog article.
Having played Just Dance 2017 with the PS Move controllers, I can definitely say that this is the best solution to play with young kids. They are easy to hold in their hands (by opposition to the smartphones solution, which is by far the best for grown ups), and the kids just love the bright colors coming from those weird PS Move bulbs. I can confirm they catch movement accurately, much more accurately than the camera alone. And while I’m at it, yes, if you want to use the PS Move controllers with Just Dance 2017, you will also need a PS4 camera. I already owned one so I didn’t include it in my cost.
You can get PS Move controllers on eBay or craigslist for as low a $15 if you look, even lower if you hustle a bit like I did: look for people trying to get rid of some old PS3 gear that you can either use or resell.
If you do not want or cannot pay for more hardware solutions like the PS Move controllers, then your next best bet is to try with the PS4 camera, bright color clothes, and well lit room, as described above. I didn’t find, sadly, a miracle solution to fix the kids detection issues for Just Dance 2017 on PS4.