Gaming goes high tech

Gaming technology often drives innovation across all computing fields. When Nintendo spent 22 billion yen (about €163million) on research and development way back in 2005, the fruits of that research produced the Wii, which has sold 27 million units worldwide. But what technology can we expect in the consoles and PCs of tomorrow? Read on to find out more about 3D goggles that place you inside your game, headphones that replicate a surround-sound environment and even gaming networks that try to predict what you're going to do next...

Controllers of the future

If you want an idea of how PC technology will change over the next 10 years, look closely at innovations concerning game controllers. Why? The first point of contact with a PC is always the controller (keyboard, joystick), and if that experience is exceptional, the memory processing power, multi-threaded computing and high-end software will also work better for the end user.

Think of the mouse: it changed every computing paradigm when Douglas Engelbart invented it in 1970. Even data centres have had to go through a radical transformation in the past 20 years as the mouse has become the dominant method of computer control, so much so that – in the next 20 years – a data centre will become like a remote power plant that mouse-wielding network administrators control from afar.

Look to games first

So what will be the new paradigm-altering controllers? They're mostly found in gaming. The Nintendo Wii remote is one contender, although it has some limitations. Most of the games on the Wii have radically simplified graphics because the Pixart motion-tracking technology is not capable of precise movement – it's not necessarily because Nintendo decided to eschew graphics realism. The PS3 has some new innovations, such as the controller's motion-sensing ability, but it can be difficult to use in certain games, such as Lair and Warhawk.

Novint Technologies has designed the Novint Falcon to showcase how a 3D controller can move in any direction and change PC gaming for the better. Before we mention the benefits, we should be clear: this technology is in its infancy. It's often difficult to move in 3D space and keep your bearings. Graphically, the games that come with the controller are subpar (think a technology showcase similar to Nvidia demos), especially in terms of gameplay and graphics.

Only when we tested several third-party commercial games – such as Half- Life 2: Episode 2 – using a free Novint driver did we see the potential of this technology. The device moves in a four by four by four inch space and has two pounds of resistance. You can feel the weight of the shotgun that you're using to mow down an alien Strider on a rampage.

From games to everyday computing

However, how could the device work for general computing? In science, the free-form movement encourages experimentation. Imagine taking a tour of the 3D world in Google Earth. A mouse only moves in straight and diagonal lines, so a 3D controller means you don't need to constantly adjust your position to move in a free-form fashion. "I think all of gaming, PC or console, is going to move towards 3D interaction like the Wii or the Novint Falcon," says Tom Anderson, CEO of Novint. "When you combine advanced 3D touch like that of the Novint Falcon with 3D stereo displays and 3D sound, you'll have a very compelling gaming experience."

Logitech-owned 3Dconnexion offers the SpaceExplorer 3D controller, which has similar potential to the Novint Falcon. The device feels rugged and metallic: you can immerse yourself into a gaming environment without wondering whether it will fall off the table. There are six movement types – left or right pan, up and down zoom and left or right rotate. We reprogrammed the buttons for greater freedom of movement before trying it out in Halo 2. The mouse worked well for driving vehicles in the game as it gave a better sense of momentum.