Eye-tracking technology could make future games more immersive than ever
One of the best things about a truly great video game is that it sucks you into its world, making you believe what you are moving through and experiencing is really real. But typically, our inputs into games are limited to controllers, joysticks and keyboards – with the occasional video tracking seen in Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect systems.
So what if you can personally interact and influence your character’s actions? A new technology from Swedish firm Tobii Tech is hoping to revolutionise gaming through new eye-tracking systems, and TechWeekEurope was invited along to try it out.
Tobii’s EyeX technology, currently being bundled with SteelSeries Sentry as the world’s first gaming eye tracker, attaches to your PC via USB 3.0 and magnetic strips, and is easy to set up for use by going through a series of tracking exercises.
The tracker (pictured above) uses three illuminators and a camera to send a picture stream of a user’s eyes which are then used to calculate a vector of how these are observing the screen and therefore work out where a user is looking.
“We have a technology that’s low-cost enough for the early adopters,” says Oscar Werner, Tobii Tech president, “but it works for just about anybody.” Alongside SteelSeries, the company is also working with laptop manufacturers to get its technology embedded in upcoming devices, although Werner couldn’t say exactly who.
We were shown two demos of the technology; the most impressive of which was with the new Assassins’ Creed: Rogue game (pictured right). Players control central character Shay, using a traditional gamepad, but are able to direct his view depending on where they look at the screen.
So, as the player looks to the left of screen, Shay will look to the left of his environment and the scene camera will pan to accommodate the exploration of this new visual territory creating what its inventors say is an “Infinite Screen” experience.
Whatever direction the player looks, Shay’s view goes that way – and the faster you look, the faster the game’s view switches with your gaze.
This can even be done whilst moving at slow or high speeds, allowing for quick turns and changes in direction, which can be a life-saver when trying to outrun enemies. And if a mistake is made, players can use the joystick traditionally used to direct viewpoints to override the eye movement, meaning you are always in control.
A separate demo of another game let Werner demonstrate another use for EyeX – ‘multi-dimensional movement’. Controlling our hero character, we were able to move him in one direction whilst firing missiles off at a completely different angle, defined by the direction of our sight. This let us take down enemies approaching from a number of directions, and enables a more realistic method of control, much how a human being would naturally act (only without the missiles and enemies).
“This is what you would do as a human – if you were interested in something over in a different direction, you would look at it,” says Werner.
Tobii is also making its technology available to developers through a dev kit, which is on sale for $95, and which it hopes will make more and more people sit up and take notice of what it says is a very developer-driven concept.
Outside of gaming, the company, which has been operating for fifteen years, also sees the technology behind EyeX as having several real-world implications.
“We have a big business unit for healthcare – people with disabilities,” says Werner, “they get medical-class devices made by the government so they can either communicate or access a computer which is 100 percent hands-free.”
Tobii’s technology was also responsible for kicking off the Ice Bucket Challenge, which began with an ALS sufferer using one of their devices, which are also ideal for spinal injury victims, Werner adds.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue ships in March, with the first 5,000 customers who sign up to purchase Sentry receiving a free copy.
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