Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mini-Article: Touch screens, motion controls... What's next?

In 2004, Nintendo hit us with one of the biggest developments in gaming in years: Touchscreens. Two years later, we're really playing with power, using motion controls to do our bidding. But what control interface could possibly one-up this?

I've seen some ideas floating about, one of which is incredibly absurd, yet strangely interesting. This concept, called the Virtus Sphere, has the player running around in a giant hamster ball. No, really. A person dons a virtual reality visor, grabs a light gun, and hops in. Interesting, but incredibly impractical. I wouldn't want to have been a hamster-er, guinea pig on this one.

Hamster hamster hamster hamster

And then we have the prospect of taking the Wii remote and cutting out the middleman. In other words, no remote, and controlling the game with our hands. It sure sounds like a good idea. Just wave your hand to manipulate your environment. Close your fingers to grab something. Ball up your hand into a fist and make a punching motion to sock it to 'em. It all sounds good in theory, but then again, so did the Powerglove.

"I love the Powerglove. It's so bad." (Perhaps "bad" wasn't the best word to use...)

Of course, after that, we have the science fiction idea of controlling a game with one's mind. A little cybernetic implant here, some cranial modification there, and you instantly become the ultimate game controller. To take it a step further, the game could be displayed on a virtual reality visor, or even beamed directly to the player's optic nerve. Of course, this, like the above idea, has a couple of kinks in it. Firstly, if something happens while the player is in-game, they may not be able to react properly. House on fire? Sorry, can't help. Too busy grinding my level 70 Tauren.

The only step from here is a full-blown, straight-from-Star-Trek holodeck. In a holodeck such as the one from The Next Generation, the player actually enters the game, becoming part of a huge, fully-interactive holographic environment. Every projection reacts to the player as if it were a solid object, allowing for otherwise unmatched possibilities. The player could actually climb virtual stairs as if they were real, touch objects as if they were actually part of their world, and walk through a park as if it were a real place, feeling the virtual wind on their face. This is the ultimate level of player integration, but, again, it has it's downsides. If the power were to go out when the player is standing at a high elevation, they would plummet down and hit the real, solid floor. Not exactly safe. And then there's the matter of the program going haywire and hurting the user... It wouldn't be a pretty sight. And how impractical is devoting an entire room to a holodeck? Yipes.

Imagine playing Metroid Prime 3 in one of these babies.

As for now, I think we'll have to make do with what we have. Sure, the hamster ball and Powerglove-like interface have their perks, but the downsides overshadow them. Cybernetic implants and Holodecks are even more flawed, and even dangerous. So unless they think of some way to make this all safe and practical, we won't be seeing much of a departure from the Wii remote for quite some time to come.

Feel free to discuss this in the comment section, or in this forum thread.

The Duck Has Spoken.

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