I had the opportunity to meet with the crew of Mad Catz (you know, the memory card and peripheral company) to discuss their upcoming products. There's a lot of what you'd expect such as Batman controllers and Sony PlayStation Portable storage cases, but there is something new and innovative coming from the company. I had the chance to try out the new 3D analog controller. This is not a standard controller with sticks and buttons and so forth. Imagine playing a fighting game where in order to control the character onscreen you must actually perform the kicks and punches yourself. While lots of companies have tried this before, Mad Catz seems to understand how to make it work.
Basically the controller is a set of gloves. They are two thin fabric gloves that are attached to one very thin wire each. The wires meet at a small base station on the ground. The player stands with one foot on each side of the station and as hands (or feet) are moved, the base determines the speed and angles of the wires. That information is then passed to the game. For example, the golf game demo I played allowed me to actually swing a golf club in the press room. My onscreen golfer matched my movements and I was able to drive the ball a hundred yards. Or, playing terribly, I could just tap the ball lightly and bounce it a few yards ahead. It's very authentic and, if marketed correctly, could be huge. Mad Catz has games planned for golf, baseball, combat fighting, line dancing, and a Star Wars lightsaber simulator.
Got your attention with that one? Here's how the lightsaber works. Using the same technology (no gloves this time) I held a mock lightsaber (just a black resin pole for the tech demo) and could swing it around the room. As I did so I was whacking a practice drone from Star Wars: A New Hope. It dodged some of my more clumsy moves, but was no match for The Force. And speaking of The Force, the developer tells me they plan to implement a single glove aspect that allows players to hold their palm out to use the mystical properties of The Force. Pretty snazzy stuff.
The demos were running on the Sony PlayStation 2 (although there's also a version for the Microsoft Xbox, I believe) and the controller and golf game are already available in Europe for the cost of a little more than a new game. To my knowledge there is not a final name for the North American version of the product, but they are planning a launch for Q3 2005. Keep your eyes on this one because of the potential. We'll be watching their career with great interest.