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A New Way to Play: Immersion Gaming Tech

Monday, July 12th, 2010 | Article by Chuck Boston

Now what would a good game be without a good means to play it?  Okay, now that I’ve quieted the room, pay close attention because the way we play games is about to change.  There were quite a few new peripherals and some astonishing new technologies showcased at this year’s E3 that will take immersive gaming to a whole new level.  Are you ready to feel the games you play?! I definitely am!

The Forcetek XIO

Forcetek brings us the XIO™ (pronounced zee-o) virtual gaming system, which uses advanced exoskeletal technology to provide the player with different responses based on body position, speed of movement, and other sensed data. Strap yourself in because your about to feel what you’re playing.

The device senses your movements and records them every ten thousandth of a second. It then translates this data into virtual in-game actions. This technology was first used with the army, and was designed to hone specialized skills through simulated war. The system does this by reinforcing correct form. It allows you to feel the natural resistance when a motion is executed correctly, but if your form is off, the resistance is not applied. Therefore, after a certain number of well-performed motions you will feel the correct way to accomplish your task.

During the demo I had the chance to shoot some hoops and feel the weight and resistance of the ball. As I put up the shots, if my form was correct they went in (90% of the time ;) ), and if my form was incorrect, I missed. The sensitivity in movement can be adjusted to suit the level of training; so for all the beginners, feel free to take baby steps.  There is also going to be a system in place that evaluates each player’s range of motion, which will even out the playing field between little Timmy and Uncle John by equalizing the difference in reach.

The demo consisted of preset resistances set to the easiest level, so the full experience is yet to be revealed. During the demo I did notice that some movements of mine could be faked to make it think I was actually shooting the ball when I was merely making the motion with my arms down.  However, I was informed that because the current software involved such sophistication, all the movement data was limited to make the demo beginner friendly.  Forcetek tells us that the arm devices will be available later this year. Additionally, they are working with the Army to refine the technology behind a full body suit whose accoutrements will be attachable.  So, look forward to building up your Forctek Xio suit when it becomes available as long as you have the pocketbook to cover it–perhaps we can even look forward to game-themed customizable suits (Master Chief anyone?). With the precision that Forcetek is offering, which is pretty darn high, you can expect the price tag to be high as well.  Xio will be for those who really want that immersive feeling of what’s really going on in their games.

Future games available for the Xio system will be those specifically designed for it, but we did get to test Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare; so hopefully blockbuster titles as such will stick on Forcetek’s list.  Forcetek does mention that it is talking with undisclosed software developers about goals of expanding what will be available on the Xio system.  We can’t wait to be able give this new tech a try when it becomes commercially available. Until then check out Xio here.

Novint Falcon

Novint brings another great immersion gaming system where the player can really feel the game that he or she is playing.  The Falcon is a force feedback game controller that allows full three-dimensional game control.  I played a demo where I took the controls and interacted with virtual objects that felt as though I was really touching them.  The device has three arms, controlled by three cables within them, which can react to your hands movements with up to 2 lbs of force.

This kind of technology lets you play games in an entirely different way.  The sensory feeling is so high fidelity that I felt what ice really feels like when sliding my hand across a surface. I also pushed into a ball of molasses, and felt the grip of a sandpapered surface. Even in racing games, driving across a boarded bridge-way felt as though I was really on that bridge as the planks rattled beneath my… hand.  Despite being as blown away as I was, the controller itself still has future iterations we can hopefully look forward to.  The main grip is the size of a golfball, which was somewhat awkward to hold onto and left me wanting to grip more.  It does however have an interchangeable  pistol grip, which you can purchase separately, that makes FPS games quite amazing.  As it applies force back to your hands, the range of motion is limited to up and down, left and right, and thus lacks rotational force feedback. I found myself slightly limited in the FPS demos when I felt the urge to rotate around to engage my assailants- which I felt the direction from which they were coming( pretty incredible).

The technology behind it falls in the field of haptics, which refers to the sense of touch in the same way graphics refers to our sense of sight.  The technology was originally developed to train doctors in complex medical procedures to give them the hands on feeling of what certain operations felt like. Now that same level of detail is put into games where you really become the character that you are playing and really feel what that character is feeling.  If you’ve ever played a FPS, taken a hit, and wondered where it was coming from, then this is definitely a controller for you.  After having tested one of their shooters with the attachable pistol grip, I was quite astonished. I felt where my enemies were attacking me from, the kickback from my weapons, and even the reload. Considering how little is currently out there in haptics, Novint is definitely pioneering a new and interesting concept into gaming.  This great controller is available for purchase through thier website.

These are all really great peripheral gaming technologies and each is very exciting when you consider the direction into which each is capable of evolving games.  It also makes me just as intrigued when considering all the different applications for such haptics technology.  Most entertainment artists of this generation may well know how art has definitely been shifting towards the digital side but there is still the digital vs traditional tug of war going on.  The technologies that we have seen here only create wonders of how this may be applied to the future of 3D and CG art creation.  Just imagine to someday feel as though you were sculpting for real in a 3D application.  What Eagle 3, Forcetek, and Novint are doing here is quite remarkable and we will be sure to keep up on how this amazing technology develops over the years.

Related Links

Novint

Forcetek XIO

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