Imagine standing in front of your TV and interacting with its content just with your gestures, imagine participating live in a quiz show through your television with your voice and video inputs. Imagine surfing in the open sea but not getting wet. Sounds like the future? Well it’s not.
This time at E3, Microsoft took the center stage with the announcement of its new "controller-free” gaming and entertainment experience code named “Project Natal”. Project Natal enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need to touch a game controller through a natural user interface using gestures, spoken commands or presented objects and images. This brought attention to a silent revolution that has been taking place in user interfaces and specifically gaming interfaces in consoles, PC’s and arcade machines.
A screen shot from the Project Natal Demo
This momentum was kicked off with the tic-tac-toe game on computers way back in 1952, followed by a series of popular arcade games such as Space Invaders, Battlezone and Pac-man which were followed with equally popular PC versions. These brought in controllers such as a track ball and joystick. Consoles were introduced by players such as Magnavox, Nintendo and Atari in the 1970’s which introduced the concept of a remote controlled game pad.
Early examples of Atari and Nintendo Gaming Consoles (image source www.thegameconsole.com)
These got further improved with the launch of the Playstation and Xbox platform and Gaming PC’s, turning from wired to wireless, incorporating force feedback and motion control. These controllers also evolved into specialized form factors such as steering wheels, pedals and other game genre specific modifications. All these controllers made their appearance on both PC’s and Consoles.
2005 brought in a brand new gaming innovation on Play station. The game was known as Guitar Hero, it allowed a player to strum a real guitar and a likeness on screen would do exactly the same. This brought in a change in thinking amongst game developers; why not use the whole human body as a game controller? Innovations such as the dance pad followed.
Guitar Hero Controller in the shape of a Guitar
(image source www.guitarhero.com)
Then in 2006 Nintendo announced the launch of its 6th generation console “The Wii”, on the face it looked like just another console release, the graphics were nothing to write home about and the games available on the platform were limited. The product was a runaway hit shipping around 50 million units to date.
Nintendo Wii controller and console (image source www.thegameconsole.com)
What was the differentiator? It was the Wii Remote. Nintendo used motion control to help create almost a real life user experience especially on sports games, keeping the game play simple and uncomplicated. This caught the imagination of the larger user base which was shying away from video games due to their complexity.
Today motion control technology is at the cutting edge of all user interface designs be it phones such as the iPhone or gaming controllers or specialized interfaces for the physically challenged. For example computers which can be controlled through eye or limb movements, keystroke selections which can be made by blowing with your mouth. User Interfaces are also be developed which can even be controlled through brain pulses.
This blog kicks off a series where I will be writing about one such technology innovation which proved to be a game changer for that industry. I would like to elicit your comments and inputs to make this more comprehensive