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Persuasive Games: Texture
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Persuasive Games: Texture

May 7, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Force Feedback

In such cases, the player still does not feel the texture of the road or the brush of the grasses when he plays, but only the cold plastic of the controller. Unlike painting and sculpture (which forbid touch) and music (which cannot accommodate it), video games require user participation.

Even though image and sound comprise much of their raw output, touch is an undeniable factor of gameplay.

Force feedback, motion simulation, and vibration have been built into expensive flight and military training simulators for decades.

By the 1980s, some of this technology made its way into the arcade. 1988's driving sim Hard Drivin' featured force feedback steering, which resisted player rotation at higher speeds and rumbled on collision.

Tactile computer interfaces, or haptics, became a consumer industry by the early 1990s, with companies like Immersion developing cheaper, simpler sensors and motors that allowed such devices to be integrated into objects other than the expensive, awkward gloves and vests of dedicated virtual reality labs.

Thanks to the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak add-on, we usually call haptic feedback in video games "rumble." Rumble allows games to create tactile sensations in addition to visual and aural ones. Cars can now seem to bump with the changing texture of asphalt, gravel, dirt.

Technically, rumble in contemporary game systems is more or less all alike: motors spin one or more unevenly molded weights in a housing within the body of a controller.

But despite the simplicity of rumble, its effects are quite varied: the pulse of a heartbeat signifies health and instills fear in Silent Hill; a tackle in Madden NFL registers physically as well as visually; the tremor of a gunshot in Call of Duty alerts the player to unseen dangers from behind or above; the vibration of the steering wheel in Gran Turismo communicates the force of cornering around a hairpin at speed.

The subtle signal of a motor signals the cursor entering a button in the Wii Sports menu screen; a jolt to the hand in MVP Baseball alerts the player to an opponent stealing base; a spin of the the rumble pak in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time signifies the loose feel beneath Link's feet when a treasure is buried beneath the ground he stands upon.

In general, the use of rumble is of two kinds: the first (as the name of the company that licenses the technology suggests) is increased immersion. Rumble is supposed to make the player feel more a part of the game in titles like Madden or Silent Hill. The second is better feedback. In Wii Sports and Ocarina of Time, rumble helps the player orient himself toward certain interface or gameplay goals.

Despite the utility of rumble in these cases, there is something missing. Rumble infrequently communicates texture in the way that paint, food, or even 3D bump mapping does: the texture always has purpose, never just aesthetics.

Put differently, rumble is an instrumental kind of texturing: it makes the environment tactile only to allow the user to make better progress within it. Even 3D rendered texture is not so brazen about its focus on function: one can comfortably look in simple admiration at the walls and floorboards of a room in Half-Life 2.

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