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CES 08: Gadgets, Bumblebee, and Fatal1ty

by Nick Breckon, Jan 08, 2008 9:43am PST
Related Topics – CES 08

Exploring CES is a lot like fishing. You spend a lot of time waiting. The food is bad. Most of what you catch is boring.

Robotic vacuum cleaners. 3D goggle gimmicks. Expensive stereos ruined by impossible acoustics. More TVs than you would ever care to look at in one day. Yes, CES has all this junk and more, ready and waiting for you to toss back into the over-saturated pond of electronic spawn.

That being said, what follows below is the result of my first catch. It's a smattering of games, gadgets, and some truly useless, expensive machinery. Enjoy!

RIP HD DVD

There it stood above the South Hall, like a towering mausoleum. Draped in black, the mourning had already begun.

After the announcement that Warner Bros. had turned coat and shifted to Blu-ray exclusivity, the HD DVD camp simply canceled their pre-CES press event. They had been suddenly trumped, and a format contest that seemed destined to become a war of attrition now seems over after a single, powerful shot.

Exhibitors remained defiant, touting the advantage of HD DVD, because, hey, it plays DVDs, too. Or something.

Meanwhile the vultures circled on the fringes, whispering of its impending death throes.

"HD DVD is sunk," said one attendee to his friend, passing by me on his way to brighter booths.

Indeed.

TN Games FPS Gaming Vest

Most of the gaming-related stuff on display at CES is in the realm of hardware. An endless display of peripheral paraphernalia is lining the walls and tables amongst the various booths, some more interesting than the vast majority of others.

I met TN Games lead engineer Baltazar Soto (who I can't help but think of as "that Baltar guy") during a lunch break at last year's GDC. He was there showing off a prototype of a force-feedback vest, originally designed for use in long-distance medical examination. The concept was to create some kind of feedback system that would enable doctors to remotely perform medical examinations on patients--specifically prison inmates, guys who may not be the friendliest . Out of this was born the 3rd Space Vest, a kevlar-like contraption that has now been adapted to less life-saving use as it waits for FDA approval.

In the gaming arena, the 3rd Space Vest offers a significantly advantageous type of feedback relative to traditional "rumble" vests. It uses compresses air to blast you across eight specific points of contact, kicking you in the stomach after a gut shot, or jolting your mid-section after a long fall.

Last year at GDC, I wasn't technically an employee of Shacknews, so I didn't feel especially compelled to suit up in this bullet-wound simulator. Let me tell you something: I am no lover of pain. Paintball to me is a savage sport, played only be those silly enough to venture outside to play shooting games. Real combat is not something I would ever want to experience, and I live my life content in the idea that any sane military recruiter feels the same way.

Unfortunately, as a fully paid guinea pig of Shacknews Ltd., I now have no excuse. While a TN scientist strapped me into the vest, as well as the newly-created helmet prototype, I silently cursed the deficient upbringing that lead me to this day.

And then I got shot.

Holy hell, I said, my speech muffled by the cursed chin-strap. Imagine one of those blood pressure arm straps that doctors pump with those little black squeeze-balls. Now imagine one strapped around your head like a tire, and imagine that tire inflated instantly at 200 psi--then rapidly deflated.

My hat size shrunk by a size or two, I was slow in getting my bearings. I was playing a Quake-like game that TN had knocked up to demo the vest, a simple corridor shooter with plenty of chain guns and rocket launchers to provide a nice kick-back. But I wasn't worried about that at first. I was worried about my health.

As I began to strafe about, looking for health, I got shot again--this time in my stomach, like a rough poke from two fingers straight to the spleen. It's not outright painful, but it's not enjoyable, either. After another few hits, I was gritting my teeth, Neo in the hallway, taking it in the gut and wanting nothing but to kill the bastard who was in front of me. Then another jab to the chest. Then a boot to the head. And then, I was dead.

After taking a beating for a few more minutes, I was conflicted. On the one hand, the vest certainly succeeds in providing point-based feedback unlike any other device. On the other, I just don't like getting shot. Maybe there are a whole horde of twisted, masochistic gamers out there who would enjoy getting poked and prodded in the comfort of their own home for hours on end. I'm just not sure I have the guts, or the skull strength.

The vest comes bundled with Call of Duty 2, but since its November release, TN Games has enabled support for 10 popular shooters--such as Crysis, Doom 3, Quake titles, and others--via a beta driver. The thing runs $169, and is available now, with the helmet add-on to be released in the future.

Keep reading for more CES goodies, including the Sandio 3D Mouse, fancy computers, OLED TVs, a Rolly, Bumblebee, and Fata1ity.

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Sandio 3D Mouse

This is basically a standard mouse, but with the addition of three sizable analog sticks on the left, right, and top of the peripheral. The top analog is used for pitching a camera, while the sides are intended for rotating, translating, or Z-axis movement.

In other words, you can not only rotate a cube in 3D space without the use of the keyboard, but you can also move it side to side and pull it backwards and forwards, without clicking a single button. Google Earth was one immediately applicable application demonstrated, with all panning, zooming, and rotating achieved through use of the analog sticks.

Luckily it's not just about geometrical shapes. I got my hands on one and immediately fired up an RTS battle in Medieval II: Total War. While arrow or WASD keys are usually necessary to pan the camera around, now it would be possible to free those up for other commands, with all camera controls relegated to the mouse.

At least in theory. Designed by a Japanese team that clearly possesses greater dexterity than I, this mouse is a steep challenge for a simple Western gamer with a slow learning curve. It took me quite a while to even carry out basic, coordinated camera moves, and I was so set in my usual control mentality that I never did master it.

Sandio says you could potentially use the analog sticks for movement in something like an MMO, which is true, but I have to question whether it would be easier, or faster, than using a normal WASD setup. We only have so many fingers, and dealing with three additional analog sticks--in addition to a left button, right button, mouse wheel, and two side buttons--is just something I don't want to do.

Or need to do, for that matter. For RTS gamers especially, it seems an overly-complex device. Mouse technology will surely evolve, but not by transplanting bits of controllers on top of an existing design. As it stands, at $79.99, this FrankenMouse seems extremely unnecessary--and not in a warm Virtual Boy sort of way, but in the worst plastic Wii racquet peripheral sort of way.

Fancy Computers

Microsoft is glamming it up this year with a gallery of fashionable computers and laptops. We have the pink fufu laptop for the Maarten Goldstein demographic, the sleek, sexy Gateway for the traveling journalist, and the decapitated laptop for horror fans.

I'm not sure I'd place any of these on the level of art, but it's nice to see the PC realm vying for design awards along with Apple.

Sony OLED TVs

While Sony has almost no PlayStation 3s at the show, it does have the next generation of fancy, slim TVs. The company is showing off its OLED displays, ultra-thin panels running on LED lighting technology.

This tasty display is a 27" prototype. Measuring a mere 10 millimeters thick, it runs at a full 1080p resolution, boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and looks absolutely gorgeous for it. The rest are smaller variants already on sale in Japan, no less stunning in motion. Unfortunately, at a price of almost $2,000 US for 11 inches of TV, they're still a tiny bit expensive.

Sony Rolly

These guys are little rolling robots that flip their mechanical appendages to and fro, in time with music that it plays from two speakers on each end. You can store MP3, AAC, or ATRAC formatted songs on the unit's 2GB of internal memory, and each song can be manually choreographed with specific dance moves.

And that's it, really. It flaps its wings around a bit, spins on its wheels, and costs over $300 US.

I'm not sure who is crazy enough to buy one of these, but we'll find out when they hit this spring.

Bumblebee

There were a lot of impressive displays vying for the attention of press and businessmen alike, but none stood taller than this scale replica of Bumblebee from Transformers.

Of course, it's saying something about the futility of advertising when I can't remember what company brought this guy in as their robotic billboard, but it made a nice landmark at least.

Fatal1ty

While not technically a gadget, the cool-as-ice Fatal1ty was on the show floor as well, shilling for Creative while trouncing would-be competitors. The poor saps were brought on stage one after another to the face the famed FPS champion in Quake combat, and even with his shooting disabled while playing a keytar, he still managed to evade their fire long enough to score melee hits.

By the way, I'm not sure what Fatal1ty has around his neck there, but for some reason, I couldn't stop thinking of the Time Traveler.




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