Several game developer and platform developer-focused companies are sponsoring and supporting the first-ever GXDev “Everyone Creates” LGBTQ-focused game jam. Among them is a Swedish eye tracking hardware and services company, Tobii.
Tobii is the only company at this game jam with a demo table, and one of the supporting companies who demoed on stage too. Still, even without these event-fueled accoutrements, the company’s Tobii EyeX Dev Kit is interesting enough to be a draw even if it were hidden away in a corner.
While Tobii was wrapping up their presence at 2015 CES, Rickard Wallin, a community manager for the company, was at GXDev.
The EyeX hardware is a slender black bar with three sensors that affixes within line-of-sight upon a laptop or monitor. The principle of eye tracking can be applied in numerous applications beyond gaming, but for the purpose of this discussion, it’s a method of immersive interface with the game. Principally, that means the eyes can be used for mouselook, for tracking for targeting, among other purposes within a game. Naturally, at a game jam the hope is that game developers will dream up new ways for Tobii EyeX to be applied within their game. As far as software support goes, developers can integrate the EyeX into C/C++,C#/.NET, and Unity 3D.
I briefly tested the device on Rickard Wallin’s laptop. Starting with calibration, using vision tracking to center and focus on different points, I jumped into the games. A simple Asteroids variant offered me, as a protagonist earth, the chance to fire off some shots at rogue space rocks, UFOs and comets. Focus on the enemy with vision, then fire and forget.
Next up was the Son of Nor demo, adapted for EyeX. In a sentence, the demo feels a little like a combination of the tossing-stuff-like-Darth-Vader feeling from Throw Trucks with Your Mind and the god-like terraforming of Populous. Fun to play, even when getting attacked by desert critters.
Last but surely not the least for me to try was Eyeron Defender, a Dreamhack 2014 prize winner. This game is more than anything else a challenge in mastering multitasking skills, between controlling and guarding your ship and a drone attached by a flexible electrical tether. Enemy fire can be absorbed by the electric line between ship and drone, and fire can be discharged via both vehicles. Juggling offense and defense will take a few minutes to get used to, especially when multiple control schemes, including, of course, vision tracking controls.
A number of attendees checked out the EyeX but only a handful of teams have thus far used this platform to develop their game. A couple factors limiting use by the teams of the EyeX platform did not necessarily involve interest, but that the development platform was for Windows PC-only and required USB 3.0 only (no doubt due to higher bandwidth needs for real-time data transmission). Roughly half of the computers in use by the developers looked to be Macs.
While the developer kit has been available for just shy of a year, Wallins said, the exclusive retail version, the SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker has only been out on the market for about a week. The developer version is priced at $139, or less with discounts, and the SteelSeries retail version prices out at $199.99.
Beyond GXDev, Tobii is lined up to be at GDC 2015, complete with what Wallin predicts will be exciting news from the company for gamers and game developers.