Nintendo took a big risk introducing the Wii's motion-based controls in 2006, but once word spread that Wii Sports was the best thing since sliced bread, sales of Nintendo's innovative hardware skyrocketed. The financial success of Nintendo's experiment inspired the likes of Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's PlayStation Move, although neither was able to match the Wii's acceptance rate within the gaming and mainstream community. Nintendo followed up the Wii Remote with the Wii U's GamePad, and though it's too early to judge its success, the latest sales figures aren't pretty. To Nintendo's credit, it struck gold with the Wii, setting the bar for lucrative innovation incredibly high as a result.
Keep smiling, boys.
Everyone's seemingly squirming under the pressure to introduce the next great leap in interactivity, but a handful of engineers and developers have already made serious headway towards reinventing the way we'll play games in the years to come. Here are five of the most promising and revolutionary technologies that may one day find their way into our PCs, consoles, and mobile devices.
Leap Motion Controllerwww.leapmotion.com
The Leap Motion Controller may share a few similarities with Microsoft's Kinect, but its form factor and approach to gesture controls are quite different. It's small, reasonably priced at $69.99 and designed to track minute finger or stylus movements at a threshold of .01 millimeters. Though the Kinect is capable of tracking your entire body, its strict lighting and relative-orientation requirements are a major turnoff for most customers, and in turn, developers. Leap Motion's tech eliminates these barriers, and while it may only capture hand/finger movements in its current form, that in itself is an invaluable capability rife with potential. Most Leap Motion demos take place at a desk in front of a PC monitor, but there's no reason the designers couldn't simply extend the cable or implement wireless functionality to adapt it to consoles and coffee tables.
Eye Tribe's goal is to integrate hands-free controls into devices such as cell phones, tablets, and feasibly, gaming devices like the 3DS or Vita. While tracking retina movements isn't groundbreaking in itself, it has generally been too expensive for consumers and too large for manufacturers to embed in their products. Eye Tribe was more than happy to upend these notions at CES 2013, demoing its external and embedded retina-tracking solutions running on Windows 8 tablets. In the video above, CNET's Bridget Carey takes on Fruit Ninja, deftly slicing citrus and berry alike. Retina tracking may not be suitable for every type of game, but once the tech establishes itself as a must-have bullet point for hardware manufacturers, it's only a matter of time before we start to see new game types and mechanics designed around its unusual functionality.
We may never gain telekinetic powers in real life, but if InteraXon manages to deliver on its promises, we may be able to interact with software using our thoughts in the near future. The Muse, InteraXon's brain-wave-sensing headband, is leading the way for consumer-grade thought-controlled interfaces, which may one day find their way into the realm of gaming peripherals. Nintendo dabbled in biosensors with the Japanese-only Tetris 64, a Nintendo 64 game, but its pulse-sensing accessory failed to leave a mark and was left to wallow in obscurity. InteraXon's focus on brain-wave sensors expands the possibilities beyond passive heart-rate monitoring, allowing you to directly control software by focusing your thoughts. Beyond the example shown in the Zenbound demo, thought control will let people, especially those with physical disabilities, interact with software in ways many of us have never imagined.
Head-mounted displays have come and gone over the years, promising a future where virtual reality will actually be relevant outside of events like CES and the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The latest, Palmer Lucky's Oculus Rift, stands a better chance than most thanks to his experience researching and developing HMDs for the US military. At 110 degrees, the Rift totes the widest diagonal field of view for an HMD to date. Its accelerometers, gyroscopes, and pair of low-latency, stereoscopic 3D displays convincingly re-create your movements almost as fast as you can make them. With developer kits potentially shipping in late spring, the Rift may finally bring VR to the masses as soon as 2014.
Microsoft quietly revealed a trailer for a new project during CES that maps the geography of your living room and projects games onto the surface of your walls and furniture surrounding your TV, mixing real and virtual environments in an entirely new way. Whether the IllumiRoom is simulating snow or extending your view of the battlefield, it will open new avenues of expression for developers and artists. The teaser video was created without the use of special effects, illustrating the already impressive capabilities of the WIP technology that may find itself bundled with your new Xbox in the near future.
Most of the above products are still a ways off from reaching the market, but if all goes to plan, the majority of them should be released during the next console generation. What's most interesting is that all but one are coming from private companies without ties to Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony. Can innovations in the PC space lure console owners away from their allegiances? Only time will tell, but if the Wii was any indication, new technologies can be unexpectedly lucrative and motivating when paired with the right software. Anyone up for a game of Oculus Sports?