Video games have come a long way since the days of Computer Space, Pong and Donkey Kong. Storylines have become richer and more compelling, the leap from two to three-dimensional environments marked the beginnings of open world gameplay and now we've got virtual reality promising to take things to yet another level. Film producer-turned-hardware developer Matt Long is determined to play a part in this continued evolution of gaming technology by bringing physical resistance and force into the mix with his Realm System.
"It is going to be the first time that a player's force or energy expenditure has been able to be a factor in determining the outcome of a screen-based game," Long tells Gizmag. "Having force as a part of gaming is a brand new concept, it will be interesting to see how quickly gamers adopt it."
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Any advances that prove effective in making gaming more realistic in exciting and intuitive ways are sure to win their share of fans. The Wii's wireless motion-controlled remotes were testament to that, bringing millions to their feet to awkwardly jab, swing and swipe their way through virtual bouts in tennis, golf and boxing. But Long says his technology is more than simply an extension of motion tracking gameplay as we now know it, lauding its potential to open up all kinds of possibilities.
"If you are swinging a bat in baseball, you can choose to use a little bit of force to bunt the ball, or you could use a lot of force to smash it out of the park," he explains. "The same thing would apply in boxing. You can throw a light punch to tap somebody on the nose, or you could throw a big punch and knock the opponent out."
Long is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for his Realm system, which is made up of two hand controllers, a belt and three pairs of straps, each of varying resistance. The controllers come equipped with inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensors that track the position, speed and direction of hand and body movements.
These controllers are connected to the belt via the straps, which are of low, medium and hard resistance, allowing the user to vary the load depending on the application. So if you were playing tennis, for example, then this may be best simulated using a lower resistance strap, while if you were using it to chop wood with a virtual axe, then more resistance might be more appropriate. The level of resistance in the straps won't change while playing, however, and will need to be physically swapped in and out in as you change games.
All the while, the system uses an algorithm to calculate biometric information, such as force, power and energy expenditure. Further to being factored into your success in the game, such as whether you struck the enemy with enough force or hit a home run rather than scuffed the ball along the ground, this information also offers potential as a fitness tracking solution.
"There are obvious applications in health and fitness for the technology, but I believe the best and brightest minds in development are in the gaming world," says Long. "That's where our energy and focus is right now, to convince the gaming world that this is a cool evolutionary step and then those other sectors will follow."
At this stage, the system can be used with Kinect on Xbox One, a regular webcam, smartphone and tablet cameras, and virtual reality headset Oculus Rift.
Long and his team have developed six games for the Realm System to kick things off. Titles include VR Boxing, Tennis, Wood Chop and Zombie Sushi, which encourages players to wield swords, axes and bats to survive the apocalypse. While limited in depth, Long hopes that the games will be enough to capture the imaginations of gamers, while sparking those of developers looking for new challenges.
"The next step is to have your energy as a factor in the game," Long says. "In a shooter game, for example, you can only hold a rifle for so long before you need to lower it. You can't keep your arms up forever. This is the kind of thinking that could be designed into the game. There's some incredibly creative brains out there in the developer community that will dream up applications well beyond what we are capable of."
The crowdfunding campaign for the Realm System starts today. Long is looking to raise AUD$160,000 (US$125,300) to fund the first run of developer kits. Pledges of AUD$259 (US$200) will put you in line for one of the systems (games included), with shipping estimated for September 2015 if all goes to plan.
You can check out the pitch video below.
Source: The Realm System