The purpose of an input device on a games machine is to allow the user to control the on-screen action. The holy grail for such a device is remove the "middle man" almost entirely, leaving you feeling as if you are truly a part of the digital world without any complex devices to distract you. And what better way to get closer to this vision than to use completely natural real-world hand gestures?
In the past decade or so, several companies have developed micro-machines that use gyration technology based on the science behind a gyroscope. Let's do a quick refresher to see how that works exactly. The idea behind a gyroscope is that if you spin something really fast then it will have equal amounts of pressure on all sides (virtually) and therefore can stay balanced. So imagine balancing a disc on the middle of your finger. If you were to press down on one of the sides it would surely fall off. However, now imagine that you are spinning this disc at a very high velocity. When you go to apply pressure to one side of the disc, your finger would be virtually drawing a circle almost instantly around the disc. Since the force is not being applied in any one area of the disc more than any other, the disc remains flat. The phenomenon has led us to develop sophisticated sensors that can be used to sense movement and angles. Such technology has been built into things like airplanes, which feature more than 11 of these gyroscopes for their compass and auto-pilot. The important thing to note here is that gyroscopes prove handy in motion sensors because they will face one direction constantly (almost like the needle of a compass).
In September of 2001 Gyration Inc., a leading manufacturer of efficient gyroscope sensors, announced a deal with Nintendo. The details of the deal were straightforward - Nintendo was to invest an undisclosed amount of money into the company in return for the use of the Gyration technology. Some interesting things were said around that time:
"Gyration intends to be the first company to produce game controllers enhanced with gyroscopic motion-sensors, which have a tenfold performance increase over accelerometer tilt sensors and add the ability to sense yaw as well as pitch. A gyro-equipped, motion-sensing controller provides a natural method of game control that draws the player into the game and makes game play more enjoyable. The motion sensor can take the place of a typical thumb pressure pad allowing one-handed game play, or can be integrated into a two-handed controller to add a dimension to game playing not possible with traditional game controllers." - Gyration Inc.
"Unlike accelerometers used by all other motion game manufactures, gyros can track the yaw axis motion that is critical for intuitive game control. Yaw axis tracking allows users to naturally point and move objects left and right much the way screen objects move on their TVS without having to tilt the game controller." -Marc Harris, Gyration Inc.
Essentially the player, by using natural gestures both horizontally and vertically, can interact with the game he/she is playing in a more natural way. However, to do so you would need a completely revolutionary design to compliment the idea. Two such ideas are the "glove" and the "handle." Imagine if you will, a glove not unlike those used in the film Minority Report to control computers. A simple device that would allow for you to move your hand freely while giving extra commands by doing such things as clenching your fist or pointing a finger. Moving your hand through the air could translate to movement of objects on screen. The "handle" on the other hand, would probably more down to earth. It could be like the handle of a light saber with a button on top as well as next to the middle and trigger fingers. It could be held upright like a gun for a bevy of titles and could even be held sideways to simulate holding the top of a steering wheel. The common thread here is that you must be able to move the controller freely in the air while still allowing for some other input commands via buttons, finger movements, etc. Now let's see what kind of benefits the innovative hardware could deliver in the way of software design:
First, place yourself in Metroid Prime (MP:Evolution, if you will.) To look around and aim you are now holding your arm/hand like Samus holds her canon on screen. You would be able to control the aiming simply by moving your arm as she does. Imagine playing multiplayer with friends where your accuracy is now almost real-world in that you're wielding a virtual gun when playing.
Next, imagine Super Mario Revolution. Mario can ride on top of a unicycle and hold a balance beam in the hopes that he doesn't fall off. As you tilt the controller, Mario himself also leans in the direction you point and subsequently starts rolling there. If that weren't enough, you will have to lift the controller vertically to make Mario lift the balance stick over his head so he can get it over top of a large block. This setup would take the idea behind such games as Super Monkey Ball and make it even more fun to control and bring back some of that feeling that people had when first messing around outside Peach's castle in Super Mario 64.
Your next outing with Link could be just as entertaining. Wield your sword using the handle controller and make gestures to swing it in the game. Hold up your arm with the bow and take aim in the real world to hit a target. Controlling Link's movements, like Super Mario Revolution, could be as easy as simply tilting the controller slightly in any direction. Tilt it a little and you will walk, tilt a lot and he will sprint.
Something else to consider is not a controller at all, but rather an output device. Virtual Reality headsets can be used with gyroscopes to sense where the player is looking with natural head motions. Ever get angry at the camera in a game? For the two of you who didn't raise your hand, the exit is located down the hall and to the left. With a gyroscope-enhanced headset you could kiss the days of messy cameras goodbye. Just move your head realistically to see what your surroundings are. In fact, if you want to play a bit of fantasy here you could go for the one-two punch with a headset-controller combo. This would essentially be a high form of VR. While looking around you could move your hand(s) in the virtual world realistically to interact with objects, control the character, or even just move a cursor with ease.
If we had to bet, we wouldn't put money on the full VR combination of gyroscope headset and controller. If this does come to pass, you can color us beyond impressed (especially if the cost can stay down.) Instead, we feel there is a great chance that gyroscope sensors work their way into Nintendo's next machine somehow. Not only did Nintendo take an active interest in Gyration's technology, but they have also been voicing their concern about complex games almost on a weekly basis. This would be hardware advancing gameplay in the purest of senses. The pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together. Only time will tell if it comes to fruition.