Is immersion, and are haptics, still relevant?
Sony has recently revealed their new controller... and it looks like they've replaced the usual rumble pad with actual haptics and force feedback. In their blog post, Sony detailed the "variety of powerful sensations" haptic feedback can bring to gameplay, like "the slow grittiness of driving a car through mud." Haptic feedback is the same technology behind the Nintendo Switch's HD rumble and we know the Xbox Series X controller will make use of it as well.
Probably the most famous haptic controller in this community will be the Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2, which hasn't been available commercially since 2003. This controller is now much sought after by a relatively small group of people, and although haptic feedback is not widely supported, it is still incorporated into some of the more detailed flight sims even after 20 years.
So what were some of the features that this provided? It's been a long time since I let mine go, but I do remember the demos which were part of the joysticks toolkit. This allowed you to feel simulated experiences such as a something similar to dragging a pencil over corrugated cardboard (intermittent resistance), feeling a difficult spot within the joysticks range of motion, resistance in one direction, etc. It might be nostalgia, but I definitely recall being impressed by these demonstrations. I was even more impressed when I fired it up in my first flight simulation haptic experience. I had never had the experience of fighting the winds before and it was obviously something that Microsoft had spend time refining.
So why, if this controller was as legendary as its fans would tell you, did it die off? Patents. The company Immersion Technology had developed the technology and owned the patents to it, and Microsoft and Sony were not paying to license the patents. It would be easy to see this is a patent troll manoeuvre, however the truth is that without these licenses, innovations would probably be fewer and far between. There were a number of court cases, Microsoft settled early paying a dividend and purchasing a portion of the company. Sony were more resistant. The court cases went on for a number of years, during which they were appealing a court decision that would have ceased production of the PlayStation line until the patented technology was removed. Eventually it all closed down and while it never really made any big headlines, even those outlets following the situation lost interest. No console had haptic feedback, favouring the rumble technology instead, and immersion continued to produce technology aimed towards industrial production and military products.
Now we're caught up in the timeline, what is the latest development? The patents for a number of applications for haptic technology, including those used in the Sidewinder FF, have finally expired after being extended by the holding company. Those die hard fans have been theorising about a resurgence of this niche technology. However there has largely been radio silence on the subject. Theory-crafting was simply that. Until the consoles announced that they were going to be providing their own haptics.
This changes the lay of the land. As any good PC gamer knows (even if they may not like it) a large portion of the industry is motivated by console technologies above those on PC. There are always areas which are PC-centric, and the PC is always at the forefront of the technology curve, but frankly consoles and mobiles are where the big money is these days. And you can't argue with profits.
So with this possibly becoming something that will be developed for and supported again, the big question is; Is it still relevant? And how would we want it to be implemented?
This isn't an attempt at an opinion piece, although my opinion will bleed into it. I'm genuinely interested in whether or not this has piqued enough curiosity for people to vote with their wallets. How will people want it to apply to Star Citizen, if it is implemented? Feeling the buffeting of atmosphere and the kiss of the tarmac when flying on atmosphere and landing? Simulating faults in the system making controls sluggish and less responsive? Or perhaps something more in-depth?
Is this even relevant enough for people to notice?
I look forward to your comments, if any.