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Imagine a future where you play a first-person shooter with nothing more than a twitch of your finger. How about an exercise app that calculates precise muscle movement via magnetized bracelets? That future is coming -- faster than you think.
These devices are one to three years away, according to tech companies on the leading edge of motion gaming for PCs. Right now, a bevy of very smart PhDs, and the 17-year-old game testers who work for them, are dreaming up the next wave of motion gaming controllers. Rings, gloves (that solves the sweaty hands problem), bracelets and anklets are some of the new gadgets that are in store for PC gamers who are already craving the next wave of immersive digital experiences.
“I think it’s going to explode with sensing technologies,” says Jason Jerald, chief scientist for Digital ArtForms, maker of InDex, a 3D design and build game. “We’re going to hit on some pretty cool interfaces because of all the minds working on it.”
Mainstream motion gaming devices -- such as the PlayStation Move, Microsoft Kinect and the Nintendo Wii -- use gyroscopes or cameras to track users’ movement. But as games grow more sophisticated, the limits of these now-common consumer devices are starting to show.
While gyroscopes perform well tracking gamers’ stops, starts and other types of movement, they lack precision and don’t offer sophisticated gamers the measure of control they seek. Camera-based systems can fail if they lose line of sight to the mounted receiver. That’s where magnets come in.
Devices like the Razer Hydra, which has been on the market for several months now, create a weak magnetic field via a base unit. That allows the system to pinpoint two handheld controllers moving within the field to within 1 millimeter and one degree of accuracy, says Jeff Bellinghausen, CTO and chief architect of Sixense, maker of the Hydra. In his view, devices like this allow highly competitive gamers to use all of their motor skills to interact with the digital environment.
“There’s a lot of jumping around the living room (in gaming), and that market is well-served,” says Bellinghausen. “The PC is all about precision. Having two controllers makes it even more interesting. It’s an ambidextrous function, like in the real world where we use both hands.”
Another difference between PC and console gaming is that with PCs, it’s easier to get under the hood and tinker with those APIs. Sixense gives gamers with some measure of skill access to its Hydra software development kit (SDK), which is available for download via Steam (for its registered users) and Sixense’s forums.
The gaming community has since added Hydra compatibility to more than 180 titles using this DIY method, and more sophisticated games with mass appeal are being added every day. Hydra-ready games hitting the market include Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2. At the higher levels of development are the puzzle game Portal 2, which was closely marketed with the Hydra at launch, and a 3D building game, InDex, which was developed from the ground up exclusively for motion control.
In the near future, the precision motion game InDex plans to offer pre-built objects and building-block kits that users can interact with, as well as collaboration and sharing among users logging in to the game from various locations around the world.
Unlike chasing zombies for fun and profit, InDex’s game design is much more aligned with educational and training purposes. That’s perfectly suited to Digital ArtForms’ background in medical, military and architectural 3D software. Motion gaming opens up new horizons for teaching kids a lesson, so to speak.
Schooled ’em, indeed.
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