If you’ve been following the latest gaming news, then you’ve heard a lot about wearable hardware. What is wearable hardware, you say? Well, essentially it’s a device that you wear to enhance your gaming experience (i.e. VR headsets). With so many patents flying around lately, it seems like everyone is getting in on the action. However, as cool as the technology sounds, it’s hard to get images of the Virtual Boy out of my head. Are these projects doomed before they even launch, or will they integrate themselves into gaming permanently? Ultimately, that will depend on the price, the practicality of the devices, the level of immersion, and the titles available.
With consoles reaching prices of $600, it’s hard to sell someone on a non-essential add-on that tacks on a few more hundred bucks. To put this in perspective, Sony’s first wearable headset (the HMZ-T1) launched with a $799 price tag. So don’t expect its gaming follow-up, the HMZ-T2 to magically be reasonably priced—or necessary for that matter. It’s risky, in a shattered economy, to ask gamers to take a leap of faith into a technology that may prove to be as useless as The Power Glove (no matter how much I love it).
There would have to be a strong title showing—far beyond the massive launch window—to warrant the price. In addition, live demos such as the ones set up by Sony at The Tokyo Gameshow would need to be widespread. Word of mouth is stronger than a YouTube video showcasing the VR headset from all angles. I mean, let’s face it, for $799 you could buy thirteen $60 games and let’s not imagine how many used games you could buy with that money.
Microsoft recently filed a patent for a “Wearable Electromyography-Based Controller,” which would measure the wearer’s muscle output to communicate with games. The patent even has a diagram of a figure wearing an armband with sensor nodes. Another diagram shows sensor nodes on the head, chest, and legs. The question then becomes will gamers find it worth it to literally “suit up” every time they want to play.
In the case of gaming headsets, you have to wonder if extended use will cause neck, back and/or eye strain. The possible health risks associated with this new technology have yet to be fully discovered. Earlier headsets were reported to cause headaches and the 3D aspect has been known to cause nausea. It all boils down to if all of this extra gear—and possible discomfort—is worth it. Well, that depends largely on the games.
When the Kinect initially launched, I found the technology to be groundbreaking. However, I wasn’t sure how well it would implement itself into gaming. It had all of the potential in the world, but only had two worthwhile titles to show for it—Dance Central and Child of Eden. Two decent titles and a slew of mediocre ones aren’t enough to warrant the $149 price tag of the Kinect. For wearable hardware to be worth anything at all, the right games have to be there.
Imagine playing a game like Skyrim while wearing Microsoft’s node controller. Now, pair this node controller with their other patent for a 3D environment that is literally projected around your room—just picture the holodeck from Star Trek—and you’ve got yourself one hell of an adventure. RPGs, which rely so heavily on you being a part of the story, would benefit from this technology. However, on the flipside, imagine playing a fighting game like Tekken Tag Tournament 2. You immediately take away the skill set that makes the game both fun and challenging. Wearing a VR headset would be pointless for a platformer game, but great for racing games like Gran Turismo 5. The potential for this new onslaught of technology is there, but without the proper games they will end up like the Virtual Boy.
With each console generation, comes new technology that’s intended to immerse players in their virtual worlds more than ever before. The processing speed gets faster, the graphics get better, and the sound crisper. Despite all of this, the player can still get distracted by the real world—phone calls, sirens, roommates, etc. With wearable hardware, these distractions are kept to a minimum. Someone would literally have to shake the player to get their attention as they wear a gaming headset.
In addition, with wearable hardware, glitches within the game would be even more jarring and annoying. It’s hard to enjoy your stay in a virtual world if stepping in a pool of water crashes the game. If Bethesda can’t get Skyrim right on PS3, then I dread how a similar title might perform using this new hardware. We have a tendency to create new technology faster than we can come up with ideas on how to implement it. With each technological leap we make in gaming, the more pressure we put on developers to find a way to make their game work on the new hardware. If, after “suiting up” for a gaming session, the game is unplayable it’s unlikely that the player will find suiting up again worth it.
Is wearable technology the future? Of course it is! Though its entry into gaming may be rocky, it will definitely make an impact in other aspects of our lives. Technology evolves; if it stayed the same, we wouldn’t have titles like Uncharted or Max Payne 3. People have a natural tendency to resist change. When I was a kid, I thought Sega had the best graphics in the universe and thought the same of the NES before that. Then my mind literally exploded when I first laid eyes on the Nintendo 64. Once the kinks are ironed out, I fully expect my mind to be blown again once this wearable technology stuff is perfected. Does that mean I’m going to throw out my controller for good? Heavens no! There’s room for both in my nerdy lair. Though, I may have to move to a larger place to support the whole “holodeck experience.”
Where do you think gaming technology is heading? Is it moving too fast or too slow? What would you like to see in the future?