Summary: Controlling PC games has almost always involved using a mouse and keyboard. Some companies have tried to create PC-specific controllers (remember the Fragmaster and SpaceOrb 360?) while others have tried to improve the mouse and/or the keyboard. Now a company called Novint is developing a unique PC game controller called the Falcon that they claim will add something that has never really been tried before; simulated touch. FiringSquad got a chance to ask some questions to Novint's Vice President of Marketing Antonia Chappell to find out more about their plans for the Falcon.
Controlling PC games has almost always involved using a mouse and keyboard. Some companies have tried to create PC-specific controllers (remember the Fragmaster and SpaceOrb 360?) while others have tried to improve the mouse and/or the keyboard. Now a company called Novint is developing a unique PC game controller called the Falcon that they claim will add something that has never really been tried before; simulated touch. FiringSquad got a chance to ask some questions to Novint's Vice President of Marketing Antonia Chappell to find out more about their plans for the Falcon.
FiringSquad: First how did Novint come to be formed?
Antonia Chappell: Tom Anderson, our President and CEO was working at Sandia National Laboratories, leading their development of some of the first 3D touch applications in the world. Tom recognized the tremendous commercial potential for the technology Sandia was working on and, in 2000, started Novint, securing an unprecedented, exclusive license to over five years of the lab’s ground-breaking research.
FiringSquad: How did the idea for the Falcon come about?
Antonia Chappell: Novint’s vision has always been to create a new category of touch products for the consumer market, but the price of 3D touch hardware has been a significant gating factor. Commercial haptic devices cost thousands of dollars and we knew that to create something compelling for consumers we would need to overcome this issue. The Novint Falcon emerged from our desire to build a device that would eliminate the price barrier without sacrificing performance, and from the ongoing efforts of our team.
Antonia Chappell: First and foremost, the Falcon adds high-fidelity 3D touch to gaming, allowing players to feel weight, dimension, texture, dynamics, and force feedback from their interactions. It also overcomes the limitations of the mouse and keyboard, providing players with three degrees of freedom: left-right, forward-backward, and up and down. This means that a player can control a game more naturally and intuitively – feeling a character’s actions instead of controlling a game through mouse-clicks or button pushing. Consider your life without a sense of touch. To date, games have utilized increasingly sophisticated graphics and sound design, but none have incorporated realistic interactive 3D touch...until now. We believe the introduction of 3D touch will fundamentally change gaming. As an example, think back to the early nineties when games were predominantly 2D side-scrollers. After 3D graphics were introduced, within a relatively short time, the majority of games transitioned to 3D graphics. We believe our technology represents a similar innovation.
FiringSquad: How difficult was it to develop a controller that would allow people to feel like they are touching things on screen?
Antonia Chappell: This has been an incredible effort that has involved the talent and effort of many people over the last several years. Our engineering team, lead by our CTO, Walter Aviles, and our hardware group, lead by General Manager, Jack Harrod, were challenged not only to develop a low-cost device that performed comparably to expensive commercial controllers, but also had to address many other issues that are inherent in the development of consumer products, such as the robustness needed for a gaming product. As a start-up company, Novint has relied on the dedicated efforts of a small core team and has worked closely with our partners Force Dimension and Lunar Design to deliver the first 3D touch controller that will break the price barrier and be accessible to consumers.
SIDEBAR: .The SpaceOrb 360, an alternate PC game controller, still has its fans who create patches to make it work with current games.
FiringSquad: Can you give us an example of how the Falcon could be used in a game?
Antonia Chappell: One of the most obvious improvements will result in games that currently use the mouse or keyboard to suggest interactions, but are limited by their lack of touch feedback. The Falcon will eliminate the need for meters and mouse clicks in games like basketball, golf, and bowling, and let you truly feel your character’s actions in RPGs or FPSs. For example, you’ll feel the weight of a basketball as you shoot it towards the hoop, or feel the momentum and impact as you swing a virtual golf club and strike the ball. In other game genres you’ll feel the recoil of your weapon or the clash as you connect with an opponent’s sword. Even simple game environments become more compelling when you’re able to touch and interact with them, creating new opportunities for challenge and gameplay.
FiringSquad: What sort of games is Novint developing for using the Falcon?
FiringSquad: Is the company considering contacting game developers to see if the Falcon can be adapted or added to games?
Antonia Chappell: Novint is very invested in working with third-party developers to create touch-enabled games and we intend to license our technology to increase the availability of content. We are launching a program to help developers and publishers add 3D touch to both new and existing content and will work closely with them to make the process simple and cost-effective. Our technology gives developers new creative and revenue opportunities and will help distinguish their products in an increasingly crowded market.
FiringSquad: What is the current status of the Falcon and when will it be released?
Antonia Chappell: We have recently completed a beautiful new industrial design for the Novint Falcon which significantly decreases the overall size of the device. We also added a quick disconnect handle, which enables players to select a handle for a specific game experience. We plan to introduce the Falcon in 2007, which gives us time to increase the number of touch-enabled games available at launch.
FiringSquad: What other product ideas does Novint have at the moment?
Antonia Chappell: We believe that our patented technology has broad and profound applications in both commercial and consumer markets. In addition to gaming, the Falcon represents a revolutionary new interface for computing in general. Our CEO actually named the device the ‘Falcon’ because it is the predator of the mouse.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Novint and the Falcon controller?
Antonia Chappell: We’d like to encourage game developers to embrace this new technology and to take some creative risks. We believe strongly that gamers want continued innovation in games and that they will value and support 3D touch products. As game budgets increase and fewer titles succeed in a crowded market, we believe our technology provides a cost-effective differentiator that improves the player experience, creates new opportunities for developers, and delivers the ‘Wow’ factor that many feel is currently lacking in the industry.
We’d like to thank Novint’s Antonia Chappell for answering our questions about the Falcon. It’s certainly an interesting concept, and we look forward to hearing more about Novint’s plans for the Falcon and upcoming touch-enabled titles in 2007. For more info on the Novint Falcon, visit their official site here
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