E3: New video games controllers offer new ways to play

Dave Lee takes a look at the new upgraded Kinect

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Bad news, humans - now even your thumbs are on their way to becoming obsolete.

Sure, since the start of gaming, they have done the job, but in this next-generation world, they're just not up to it anymore.

Instead, you'll soon be able to control video games using your heart, or your muscles, or even your feet - so long as you're wearing some low-friction socks (but more on that later).

Microsoft has faced a tough time at this year's E3 trade show, with the gaming community generally agreeing that Sony's PlayStation press conference won out, and that the Xbox One has a mountain to climb if it is to win the next-gen console battle.

But despite the Xbox costing more than the PS4, it is perhaps the Kinect that could prove to be Microsoft's secret weapon, a built-in feature that just about manages to justify the extra £80.

E3, Los Angeles Players have been busy examining many different devices at this year's's E3

It's a lot smarter than before.

"Kinect's really about what's going on in the room," said Scott Evans, group programme manager for Kinect.

"Who the people are - what they're doing, what they're saying. We can use that understanding of what's going on in the room to really enhance the gaming experience."

Kinect has been around since 2010, but among the hardcore it's often seen as a gimmick - a tool for playing dancing games rather than first-person shooters.

But for some, the newly improved Kinect is as terrifying as it is sophisticated.

Features like the ability to monitor your heart rate by detecting how flushed your skin is suggest that future gaming challenges may not be just about progressing - but keeping cool while you do it.

Start Quote

We put the user in control of how the information is used”

End Quote Scott Evans Microsoft

As next-gen approaches, Microsoft hopes a more subtle integration will please gaming purists.

In one title, the Roman-era Ryse, gamers can shout: "Archers!" as they play, instantly summoning a deluge of arrows against their opponent.

But many are concerned about what else the new Kinect can be used for - after all, it's a device so sophisticated it can spot the identity of people who have walked into the room.

Microsoft's Mr Evans told the BBC that if people were concerned, they could simply turn off those features.

"We put the user in control of how the information is used," he said.

"If they don't want to sign in automatically, if they don't want to share that information, they have those controls."

Dave Lee looks at the Oculus Rift headset

Sony is also offering a camera, but only as an add-on.

The new feature the Japanese company is playing up is the track pad on its DualShock 4 controller.

The touch-sensitive strip can register up to two fingers at a time and can also be clicked like a mouse button.

It allows gamers to enjoy the kind of swiping and pinch-to-zoom interactions common to games on smartphones and tablets.

Demos of how it could be used with the PS4 included rubbing the pad to summon a genie, or swiping backwards and forwards to break free from an enemy - an action that previously involved waggling a joystick.

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It puts your mind and your body into any virtual world you would like to explore”

End Quote Jan Goetgeluk Virtuix

However, developers on the show floor that the BBC spoke to did not seem to be making a big virtue of the feature, at least at this point.

Instinctive smiles

It's a conference cliche to point out that often the most exciting exhibits are away from the main show floor.

But with the Oculus Rift, that was absolutely the case.

The PC-targeted virtual-reality headset, which when placed over the head feels like a cross between a miner's light and snorkel goggles, consists of two small screens placed directly over each eye, creating the illusion of being "in" a game.

Starting off as a Kickstarter project, raising $2.4m, previous iterations of the virtual-reality headset have graced industry show floors before.

But, unlike the model the BBC tried at the Consumer Electronics Show, the latest Oculus Rift was no longer held together with black sticky tape, nor was its demo accompanied by quiet apologies about features that weren't quite ready yet.

Instead, it was a device that had big-name developers on other stands desperate to have a look.

Exclusively at E3, the company launched the high-definition version of the headset, a device that brings a whole new level of realism to their virtual-reality device.

The Omni team demonstrate their treadmill

When testing the technology, the Oculus Rift team discovered some interesting side-effects to the immersive experience they were offering.

"When in virtual reality, you feel really connected to the characters, and it does feel more like real life," said Nate Mitchell, vice president of product.

"When people smile at you, you tend to instinctively smile back because your brain is tricked into thinking that this is a real person.

"You don't glance away when you're talking to someone - because you don't want to be rude!"

As a result, the Oculus Rift team predicted that the ferocious levels of violence and horror seen in today's modern games would need to be dialled down in a virtual-reality world.

Slippery socks

Even further away from the show, in a swanky hotel down the road, was another team experimenting valiantly in virtual reality.

The team behind Omni are a band of enthusiastic individuals that will end up either wildly rich or consigned to history as plucky, but failed, experimentalists.

Their product is essentially a 360-degree treadmill, a futuristic-looking pod that looks like it should probably beam-you-up, but instead acts as a platform to run about in in a pair of specially made, friction-less socks.

The Omni takes the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to another level.

While the Oculus on its own allows you to look up, down and around, the Omni gives you the chance to run around.

"It puts your mind and your body into any virtual world you would like to explore," says Jan Goetgeluk from Virtuix, the maker of the system.

"It's a mind-blowing experience. If you can just wander around, look around you but also just walk, run, jump in that world - for your brain, you're in a different place.

"It's the next step, I think, in virtual reality."

Read more of the BBC's E3 coverage.

Flagship consoles compared

Device Vital information Controllers

Sony PlayStation 4

PS4

• Release date: End of 2013

• CPU: AMD x86 Jaguar 1.6GHZ 8-Core

• GPU: AMD next-generation Radeon-based graphics engine

• RAM: 8GB using "super-fast" GDDR5 chips

• Hard drive: 500GB • Blu-ray drive • Cost: £349; $399; 399 euros

• Wireless controller DualShock 4 with a touch display - thumb pad - on the front, and a headphone jack

• Mono headset • Does not require internet connection to work

• PS4 Eye: Separately sold add-on, with two 1280x800-pixel, wide-angle, high-sensitivity cameras and four microphones • PS4 Eye allows for facial recognition at sign in and accurate differentiating between players and background objects

Microsoft Xbox One

Xbox One

• Release date: November 2013 in UK

• CPU: 8 Core x86 AMD

• GPU: AMD GCN architecture with 12 compute units • RAM: To be confirmed, but reports suggest 8GB using DDR3 chips • Hard drive: 500 GB • Blu-ray drive • Cost: £429; $499; 499 euros

• Controller with impulse triggers for precise fingertip feedback, D-pad and thumbsticks • Kinect camera allowing for voice and motion control • Smartglass wireless tech that allows players to send video from tablet or phone to TV • Needs internet connection to work

Nintendo Wii U

Wii U

• Released: 18 November 2012

• CPU: IBM Power-based multi-core microprocessor • GPU: AMD Radeon™-based High Definition • Internal flash memory: 8GB • Cost: £250; $299.99; 399.99 euros

• Two Wii U GamePad controllers

• Possibility to connect up to four Wii Remote (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers at once

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