I saw an interesting post at VentureBeat yesterday. Ubisoft's upcoming release of the PC version of Assassin’s Creed® Rogue will support Tobii Tech's eye tracking technology via the SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker.
The Sentry Eye Tracker is a $200 device that attaches to your monitor (it looks like you position it on the bottom bezel) and tracks your eyes using three microprojectors. Tobii says this is the first time a AAA game has incorporated eye tracking into gameplay.
Tobii says that players get an "infinite screen" via eye-tracking:
With traditional keyboard and mouse inputs intact, players using the Sentry with Assassin’s Creed® Rogue will experience true gaming immersion when their gaze and that of Shay Patrick Cormac, the game’s protagonist, are one and the same. For example, as the player looks to the left of screen, Shay Patrick Cormac will look to the left of his environment and the scene camera will pan to accommodate the exploration of this new visual territory creating an “Infinite Screen” experience. No longer will PC players be restricted to the size of their screen to orient Shay Patrick Cormac’s field of view and further explore the environment; the game auto-pans intuitively and in harmony with the player. Players can revert to their traditional mouse control by simply grabbing it. Assassin’s Creed® Rogue will also pause and resume automatically if the player looks away from the screen and back again, preventing disruptions in gameplay.
I'm curious to see how this works, though I'm not sure I'm $200 worth of curious. When I'm gaming on my PC generally I have one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse. From the description above it seems like the eye-tracking software and the mouse will constantly be competing for control of the display. Maybe you bind functions that would normally be on mouse buttons to keys so you can leave the mouse untouched most of the time?
Still its nice to see someone trying to do something relatively new in terms of controlling games. I say relatively new because although this may be the first AAA game that supports eye tracking technology, there are already games that support head tracking tech, which to someone like me who has never used either, sounds like it'd be a very similar experience.
I have a friend who really enjoys Elite: Dangerous (a game about flying spaceships around the universe) and he uses a TrackIR for head tracking. Using the TrackIR he can gaze around the cockpit of his ship and he says it's really helpful in a dogfight because he can keep the enemy in sight just by looking at it.
TrackIR is cheaper ($100-$150 depending on the version) than the Sentry Eye Tracker but it does require you to wear a reflective device on a hat, or you can purchase a $35 gizmo that clips onto your headset.
Without experiencing both technologies side by side it's hard to say which is better. The bigger issue on the horizon is that (I suspect) we're going to see a number of competing tracking products with proprietary software driving them. Most of us aren't going to want to buy several devices, and most game developers aren't going to want to support a bunch of different hardware that all do similar things.
I suspect we're going to have to ride out a period of confusion until someone comes up with some kind of standard SDK that different tracking systems can all use. Are any of my readers old enough to remember when certain games only supported specific sound or 3D video cards? It was really frustrating when a game you wanted to play didn't support the hardware you'd decided on. I'm not looking forward to returning to those kinds of problems.