james debate
james debate

Thursday 10 July 2008

Every so often a major innovation in videogame controls comes along. First there was the eightway stick invented by nintendo. Then there was the 360 degree analog stick invented by nintendo, and then more recently there was the wii remote... also invented by nintendo. However now something has come along which is (yes youre reading this correctly) NOT invented by nintendo. I have seen it, I have tested it, and now I can give you the low down on why this gadget is awesome.

It may look an awful lot like one of the robotic enemies in half life 2, but the mechanics and design behind this controller push the envelope of originality. This is the first consumer 3d-touch force feedback controller. I'll explain what this means in more detail shortly.

One uses this control pad by holding the ball (and this can be detached and replaced by things like pistol grips if you so chose) and whilst holding this the user can move up and down, left and right, in and out, along every axis in 3 dimensions. Try to imagine using this mechanic to control, for example, a first person shooter, able to move around and move the camera at the same time with one hand, allowing for much simpler and natural feeling control. The real innovation comes with the force feedback part of the gadget. A demo that was used to display this technology shows a hand that can be moved in 3 dimensions through space, and a series of differently textured spheres, for example sand, water, solid, and jelly-like, which the hand can move through. As you do this, the controller feeds back with appropriate and highly convincing levels of resistance, so that it actually feels like youre moving through the aforementioned textures. It is all done very convincingly, and it will be interesting to see what ways this can be effectively used in games. The technology is impressive, and the ergonomics are tight, and that is the most crucial thing about this control pad.

For examples of how this can be used, further mini games were shown; including archery, which allowed users to feel the resistance as they pull back on the bow string, and the snap of release; a hammer swing game that allows you to feel weight and momentum; and a racing game offering a sensation of speed and centrifugal force that was, as above, highly convincing.

The best demonstration of how awesome this thing can be was with a specially designed mod for the game half life 2 that was on display. Every gun had it's own unique kick, and the gravity gun, which in game is used to lift up various objects with realistic physics, to the point where lifting a car actually takes some arm muscle. It all serves to give a bit more of a tactile experience to the user and certainly makes this gadget worth a look-in when it is released at the end of the year.

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