Sunday, 26 April 2009

Games and brains

Well, for the past month I have certainly failed at the ‘regular’ criteria of maintaining a regular blog. Not that I am turning this in to an irregular piece of written mind explosion, but the frequency of my contributions has been abysmal. Hopefully this is about to change.

As I sometimes make all too painfully aware, I am very often the ‘intimate shower friend’ to university deadlines which can get the better of me and cramp my extra writing. The latest project has been the most fun though, as I wrote and designed a games magazine. Not that I can post all the articles I have written here due to university assessment reasons, but I can certainly expand on them.

One such article was about controlling games with electronic impulses that are picked up by sensors on a headset that is placed (funnily enough) upon your head. The particular device looked at is called the Neural Impulse Actuator, but there are others in development. Rather than being a very stylish hat, it allows a lot of common game commands to be executed with a spark from your brain, rather than a button press or jaunty Wii wiggle.

It works by detecting electrical potentials at the forehead which can originate from anywhere, such as your brain or muscles, and then digitising this information to be applied on screen. It is not quite the mind control you may fantasise it might be however.

It is not a case of thinking ‘walk forward’ and then your character doing so, but rather intensely staring at the screen until something happens. It can take somewhere between five and twenty minutes, but eventually the character in the game might inexplicable jut forward. It is then a case of trying to do it again until you can work out what it is that you did to make that happen. Eventually you will find a few of these inputs and you will be well on your way.

This might mean that for the first few minutes of play you may appear to be stumbling around drunk, but I have been assured that within twenty minutes you can learn to have decent control over your actions.

Whilst controlling games solely with the power of your mind is interesting, I think the best idea to come of this will be using something like the Neural Impulse Actuator to complement a game pad or mouse and keyboard. Being able to map ten simple functions to the headset and leave the rest at your finger tips will make games with a lot of different hotkeys, such as flight simulators, a lot easier and intuitive to control.

Instead of having to scroll through a mouse wheel to bring up items and weapons, why not map the item short cut directly to your brain? This would be incredibly useful in a game such as Left 4 Dead, when scrolling to get to a med pack or pain pills can cost you valuable seconds when trying not to be ripped apart and bludgeoned to death with your own leg.

The technology is still quite young and only just reaching the market now, but in the future it could possibly become another widely accepted input device that is expected to be alongside a mouse and keyboard. This definitely sounds like it will offer more to gaming than things such as touch screen technology. Just imagine some of the other things you can do whilst gaming hands free? *Insert smutty joke*