While motion controllers are nothing new in the gaming world, one Australian start-up wants to add resistance and force to make the experience even more "immersive".
The Realm System by Realm -- to give it its full name -- is a combination of motion-sensing handheld controllers and elastic resistance bands. The controllers slip over your hands, while the bands tether the controllers to a belt around your waist. This means that when your arms move while playing a motion-controlled game, you get a sense of force and resistance that other motion controllers haven't been able to offer.
Realm refers to the controllers as IMUs -- inertial measurement units -- and says that they'll be sensitive enough to accurately track position, speed and direction of movement. In combination with the bands and "a unique algorithm," the Realm system can accurately measure force and power and extrapolate that into calorific expenditure. Essentially, it's about getting a workout while you game.
The Realm system will ship with six games designed to show off its capabilities when it eventually launches: Zombie Sushi, VR Boxing, Tennis, Realm Fitness, Squat Box and Wood Chop. I tried out two of them: the VR Boxing game, which does what it says on the tin, and the machete-swinging Zombie Sushi.
The hardware I used looked a little more 'prototype' than the intended final designs will, but still had the basic structure of the handheld motion sensors that strap on to your palm, connected to the resistance bands anchored to the belt.
The games were running on a Windows PC with the motion-tracking Microsoft Kinect camera attached. The team assured me that Realm is already compatible with the Oculus VR headset , but alas, I didn't get a spin on that this time around.
Zombie Sushi was up first. It's a first-person game where a horde of zombies shambles towards me while I hack and slash with a pair of machetes. And die. I die a lot, which is greeted with a great deal of good-natured ribbing from the Realm team.
The game shows off the sensitivity of the controller -- as I rotate my wrists the blades move side-to-side in perfect sync. But the bands actually throw a spanner in the mix. When I hold the machete above my head and strike down, you'd anticipate using more force on the downswing, obviously. But the band actually makes it harder to raise your hand up, while actually helping you swing back down thanks to the elasticity. It's still a workout, but one that feels a little unnatural based on the visuals provided.
VR Boxing, on the other hand, is exactly what I'd hoped for, with the bands providing the perfect resistance when punching. The Kinect allows me to duck and weave out of my opponent's way and in no time I worked up a serious sweat while delivering jabs, crosses and the occasional uppercut.
Finally, I was shown the muscular modelling: a skeletal version of me that moved in time as I raised and lowered my arms, red highlights appearing to show exactly which muscles were being used and with how much force.
It's this dedicated fitness tracking -- and the potential applications in medicine and physical rehabilitation for Realm -- that are close to the heart of the team.
The Realm system concept had its genesis in the work of Professor Iain Spears at Teesside University in the UK, who saw the device as a method of combating health issues such as diabetes and obesity.
Fellow Teesside alumnus Dr Pierre Lagadec -- who did his PhD in Sports Science -- is the co-inventor of Realm and now resides in Australia, working along with co-founder Matt Long and head of operations Andrew "Macca" McLean in a converted garage in the Sydney suburb of Paddington.
It's early days for the Realm system. At the time of writing, there were 26 days remaining on the Kickstarter, aiming for AU$160,000 (about $12,500 or £8,150) to get Realm developer hardware and software development kits in the hands of devs around the world.
The team told me they were preparing to show off their product at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco in early March, and it will be interesting to see what sort of response they get.
From my limited hands-on time, I'm very curious see what the right games developer could with Realm, but I'm equally keen to explore the fitness applications. Whether Realm's future lies in gaming, health or a combination of the two, it's a product worth keeping an eye on.