Motion Input - DancingLately we’ve seen several new input methods arriving, all vying for a piece of the consumer’s wallet. They all promise new and more intuitive ways of communicating with machines, but sometimes the real world experience falls short or lacks enough obvious uses to pull consumer interest. That’s where indie game developers play an important role, and can make or break a new device or ecosystem.

Devices and ecosystems are inseparably intertwined, just look at Ouya’s Free the Games Fund, or  Apple’s App Store, or the Google Play Store, Xbox LIVE, Playstation Store . . . you get the idea. All of them connected to (a) device(s)  and all of them are working to make their ecosystems easier to use or more accessible for indie developers. Why? Because consumers are thirsty for novel content that  pokes at their curiosity and tempts them to leave this reality behind. Some want to obsessively pursue an emotional high through your game’s constructed (and fun!) goals.But once a manufacturer has built an ecosystem and reached a saturation point where it’s difficult to attract new gamers or convince existing gamers to buy more, then they innovate. They innovate by offering new ways of interacting with digital content, hoping that novelty will convince consumers to buy their device and commit to their ecosystem instead of staying with the familiar. Let’s look at a few examples.

Leap Motion

The Leap Motion is arriving in homes now that pre-ordered it, and it claims a high degree of accuracy in terms of capturing individual finger movements. I pre-ordered the unit and have used it several times now, initially with great excitement. The demo animations that introduce you to the device, and the small set of levels for Cut the Rope were a lot of fun. Some things are standing in the way of this device finding success though.

  1. In order to use compatible apps you have to install a separate marketplace. I’m started to feel exhausted with the number of marketplaces I already participate in and wonder if Leap would have benefited from working with Apple to carve out a section somehow in their App store (I’ve only used it on a Mac so far).
  2. The games I tried initially often presented unclear goals. In one example it looked like I was supposed to be creating some sort of rhythmic counterpoint to an enemy, but I wasn’t sure if that was the goal, and I was only willing to put in so much effort figuring out a new game (this is an important lesson for all of us!)
  3. From a productivity standpoint, the Leap Motion fell flat for me. There’s an application you can install that allows you to move the mouse cursor and click throughout Mac OS, but I found clicking on buttons and icons difficult because of the forward motion required to register a click. It was also jumpy about my hand passing beyond a specific point in space where it assumed I wanted a click versus just moving the mouse. And, surrounding lighting seemed to affect it a lot, a bright light or shadow covering part of the Leap Motion caused it to lose accuracy.

In its defense though, the Leap Motion controller has potential to unlock the imagination, and the Cut the Rope implementation I played was really fun. The company behind Leap Motion seems focused right now on building out games, and if it succeeds in attracted enough developers =], it may become a compelling marketplace to sell games in.

Facial Mapping

Stepping away from end consumers for a moment and focusing on developers, some innovators at the Siggraph conference in late July demoed a device that maps facial expressions from actors onto characters within a game. Talk about time savings! With functioning device like that in our hands, building out complex character reactions to in-game stimuli becomes a lot easier.

It also has eventual potential in scanning a gamer’s facial expression. Imagine a dialog between an avatar in game and a gamer, if the gamer frowns or crinkles his/her forehead then the avatar may react differently.

Check out the facial mapping device and more over at Technology Review.

In Closing

At SYNTH7 we’re still investigating which devices and markets we want to invest in most. Coupling a dynamite game with a new input device can create novelty, but we’re also focused on connecting with players where they want to spend time. Steam, Android, iOS, Xbox, and Playstation are primarily where we’re looking now.