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When Looks Can Kill: Eye Tracking Technology in Gaming

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Takeway: Developments in gaming using eye tracking technology creates a more intuitive and immersive gaming experience.

It has been a whole new ballgame for gamers since the Kinect for Xbox 360 was released. Controller-free gaming is what Microsoft called it, as the games console responded to full body movements. With the Kinect, you can project your own dance moves to a virtual persona onscreen or practice your boxing moves in a fight against a virtual Manny Pacquiao. However, there was one thing that was still lacking in the Kinect to make it a total body experience—the power of the gaze.

We know that eye-tracking tech is already being used in testing web usability and in creating intelligent lock systems on phones, like the Samsung Galaxy SIII’s Smart Stay feature which keeps the phone unlocked while the phone’s camera senses the human eye watching it. But it can also be used in the virtual world of games. With Sony just filing for a US patent for an Interface Using Eye Tracking Contact Lenses, we can expect a whole new slew of games using eye-tracking tech in the future. Here are some developments we’ve seen in this field so far:

Sit, Stare, and Score

Two guys are sitting on a mat watching a screen with bright colored balls in varying sizes. The balls move as if on a slow game of pingpong and in different directions. You would wonder what they would find interesting about this; the display is not even appealing—just balls floating around on the screen. This is until you learn that these guys are actually controlling a game with just their eyes. They are Lars Marcus Vedeler and Theo Tveteras, and this is a three-week project they developed at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO). The idea, says Tveteras, is to use the eyes to move the balls onscreen. The objective is simple: score by focusing on a ball and forcing it to one side of the screen. Tveteras explains that balls have different values and properties; some are light and others are heavy, some can also be time-based “superballs” and let you win the game. Your scorebar fills up with color once you achieve your goal.  You can watch the awesome summary video on Vimeo:

EyeAsteroids – a guaranteed eye-catcher

You can’t mention eye tracking without mentioning Tobii, a name that is almost synonymous with innovations in eye-tracking technology. The company has been working with eye-tracking solutions to revolutionize research and communication. Their technologies have proven helpful for scientists, researchers, businesses, and even people with special needs. Using gaze interaction, Tobii created EyeAsteroids, which the company pitches as “the first and only purely eye-controlled arcade game in the world.” Gameplay is actually simple and easy: aim and shoot at the enemy to save the earth.  What makes it interesting, though, is that you use only your eyes, making it seem as if the game is reading your mind. Set your sights on the EyeAsteroids movie:

At present, Tobii is still working its way towards developing eye-tracking technology in games. Using an eye controlled concept laptop built by Lenovo, Tobii demonstrated its latest eye-tracking device at CeBIT last March 2012. The device was an improved variation of a device unveiled at CES 2011. In addition, Tobii is also collaborating with 3D manufacturers to create a glasses-free 3D experience.

EyeShoot in the Dark – low-light and low-cost gaming

This game is a result of a low-cost eye tracker project developed by De Montfort University in collaboration with gaming company Sleepy Dog. Three different games were produced, one of which is eyeShoot in the Dark. The game places you in a dark village, while a torch shines at wherever you’re looking at. The mouse is used to fire at flying bats onscreen. From this YouTube video, you can see that this is another simple yet addictive game. Developers used their own Snap Clutch software framework and apEye Game SDK. This project was supported by the European Regional Development Agency Innovation Fellowship Scheme and was shortlisted in the consumer category of the Engineer Awards 2011.

Valve shows off more complex gameplay using eye tracking tech

In the “Biofeedback in Gameplay” talk, Valve showed off how a 10,000 dollars’ worth of eye-tracking tech can enhance gameplay.  The company demonstrated the technology using Portal 2 where your view during the game will be controlled by where you look in real life. Here’s the video from PCGamer:

Eye-tracking technology is fascinating, not only because it gives you a novel gaming experience, but also because it opens up virtual worlds to people with severe motor disabilities. You can also see that it posts some interesting potential for businesses and other organizations; imagine how much more interactive your exhibits and displays will be with eye-tracking technology. While still relatively new in the world of gaming, eye-tracking technology is an exciting prospect that can change the way we play into something more intuitive and immersive.