Generation: Gamerz HAPTX and the Novint Falcon – GC Leipzig Follow Up

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While at GC Leipzig I had an interesting 30 minute discussion with Erik Forsström, Software Engineer with reachin Technologies AB makers of the HAPTX middleware solution. Haptic is defined as "relating to or based on the sense of touch" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and HAPTX is a possible solution that will bring that realistic sense of touch to gaming.

The HAPTX middleware integrates seamlessly with with next-gen game and
physics engines. It bring a new dimension to the gaming
experience by letting the gamer feel wind, gravity, shock waves, recoils,
the weight of objects, to mention a few examples. When coupled with the Novint Falcon , a three-dimensional full force feedback mouse, HAPTX allows you to game like you have never done before.

While chatting with Erik I was able to check out the results of it on the game Penumbra: Overture,  a first person adventure game which focuses on story, immersion and puzzles. The game is played from a first person viewpoint, Penumbra is very different from other adventure games. The environment is 3D and the game has been HAPTX enables which means the player can actually physically feel the game including touching objects and feeling their weights.

It was extremely cool. When I picked up an object, the like the seabag, those big green bags you see sailors and Navy personnel with in old films, it felt heavy! Throwing it with the Falcon was not exactly like real life but it required something of an actual throwing motion and when you released the button the weight was also released from the controller. Also with the technology you can run your hand along surface let your hand fall off the edge. You can feel the lip of say a barrel lid and move your hand over the edge. Of course you are holding a controller so it is not 100% like real life but it definitely added a new dimension to the game. 

The transformation of Penumbra: Overture took four weeks to complete, with just one developer working on it at Frictional Games. It's an amazing change that pulls you into the game. But as Erik and I spoke I wasn't sure how this would work for other, more faster-paced games. Quake 4So I asked him. Since we were in a private room he was able to show me the Quake 4 proof-of-concept that they did. They had enabled it with the HAPTX technology and after a brief tutorial he let me play. At first I thought it would be too strange and I wouldn't be able to function properly but I adjusted within 30 seconds and was off and running. There are some amazing things in it that are missing from most games. Things like recoil from the weapons. Recoil that drives the gun upwards forcing you to hold it on target and adjust it constantly. The guns actually have weight and not just a standard weight, each one has a different weight to it. So it takes varying amounts of pressure to lift each weapon and fire. 

It is hard to describe in words but after only playing several minutes of Quake 4 I was hopped up on adrenaline and the hair on my forearms was standing on end. My body had actually responded to playing the game more than it had ever done to any game in the past.

Aside from that, when one looks at the controller it is hard to imagine using it for hours on end, but really I don't think it would be a problem. I think you could, when positioned correctly, use this mouse and never go back to a standard mouse, at least for gaming. There is no mental overhead that needs to be done, or at least very little. I was too busy running around and shooting things to even notice my hand was positioned differently than it normally would be. The game was so engrossing I almost forgot about everything else happening around me. This could possibly be the next revolution in gaming.

Imagine an RTS where you feel the weight of the unit when you place it. Imagine zooming in between trees in a 3D mode to strategically place your troops. Think of a god game where you can feel the land and deform it with your hand or knock over trees or destroy villages with a sweeping gesture. I believe all this and more is possible with this. I even think these two technologies could be incorporated into a 3D operating system. An operating system that you could spin and move and stack applications like building blocks. No more task bar to hide applications. You could simply put them in a back corner of your operating system and let them gather dust while they run.Novint Falcon Each icon could be a fully 3D object that you could pick up and move and zoom in and out on. I know it all sounds crazy but I can see it in my mind's eye. Many sci-fi and anime shows have shown 3D OSs in the past and now I think they could become reality.

The handle on the Falcon is basically just a ball with buttons. But it pops off with the flick of a switch and could be replaced with any number of control grips, like the handle of a sword or and grip of a gun or a joystick for flight control. The possibilities are endless.

The Novint Falcon was released in the US in June 2007 with a retail price of $180 but it comes packaged with a set of 24 mini-games that help you get used to using the device and look like fun actually. It should be available 'in a few months' according to Erik. If you don't think there's enough motivation for shelling out the cash, there's even a Half-Life 2 mod that integrates the haptic features into the game. Games that are enabled will have a switch that will allow you to switch from standard mouse to 3D mouse so you could have multiple devices attached to your PC and switch between them as needed.

I can see the future and it is haptic. 


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