GDC08: Novint Falcon Haptic Controller Gets A Pistol Grip, Starts To Make Sense

Novint Falcon

By Evan Ackerman

The Novint Falcon haptic controller has been out for a little while now, and from what I’ve seen, many people have a difficult time telling what it is at all, much less how it works or why on earth you’d want one. I may, in fact, have been one of those people. But slap a pistol grip on the thing and wire it up to a quality first-person shooter, and suddenly it all becomes clear. A haptic controller is a controller that provides some form of force feedback to the user: things like the PlayStation DualShock controllers qualify as haptic… drive over something bumpy, for example, and the controller shakes. It’s neat, but it’s one dimensional, in that all you get is different intensities of the same kind of shaking motion. The Falcon takes that concept and makes it three dimensional, allowing feedback to push or pull the controller in any direction. What does that mean? Recoil, baby. Once you’ve tried the Falcon, pretty much any other FPS controller seems tame by comparison. Hands-on impressions, pics, and a vid, all after the jump.

Novint Falcon

So, what does the Falcon do for you, as a rabid hardcore gamer? All kinds of exciting and wonderful things! Firstly, the grip itself is about as gun-like as you could possibly ask for, like this mouse but way better. In its current configuration, it has a single stage trigger and three thumb buttons, although more controls (including perhaps a thumb scroll wheel) may be added before release. The grip is attached to the controller through three arms which provide no noticeable resistance in normal use… You use the pistol grip just like a mouse, pointing it in different directions to look around as you navigate with the keyboard. The cool stuff starts happening when you pull the trigger, and the three arms shove the grip backwards, convincingly simulating recoil. Different weapons provide different forms of recoil, so a shotgun feels completely different to fire than a machine gun does. But it gets better. When you get shot in game, the grip will jerk away from the point of impact, giving you tactile information about where the shots are coming from, as opposed to just some flashing red arc of pain which is the best visual cue most games can offer. Here’s a little video… It may not look like the grip is moving much, but it’s totally convincing:

Here’s the nitty gritty: you can move the grip up to 4″ in any direction, the controller can provide up to 2 pounds of force feedback, the spatial resolution is 400 dpi, and the refresh rate is 1000hz. If you move outside of the 4″ limit, the controller will continue panning, so having to recenter the controller doesn’t become an issue. You can switch the pistol grip out for a more traditional ball grip for other applications; the Falcon can simulate texture, weight, shape, movement, etc… So, if something is virtually heavy, the controller will provide resistance, and if something is virtually bumpy, the controller will make tiny little bumping motions as you virtually touch it. Novint has free plugins for a limited assortment of games (including HL2 and Quake 4), and using their software interface, you can adjust the specific feedback parameters for recoil or anything else.

So, it absolutely works, and it’s absolutely awesome, but is it worth the $200ish cost, plus the extra $20 for the pistol grip (available June 15)? It’s one of those things that I can’t recommend you spend a couple hundred bucks on until you’ve tried it, but I do recommend that you go out of your way to get a hands-on demo. You’ll find them at Fry’s and CompUSA. If you’re enough of a fan of FPS games, my guess is you’ll be hooked.

[ Novint Falcon ]

10 thoughts on “GDC08: Novint Falcon Haptic Controller Gets A Pistol Grip, Starts To Make Sense”

  1. evan, thanks for the review- we’ve been following this thing for a little while as a possible interface for something we are working on. now that they have demo units in the wild (i’ve never seen them in person, you’ve inspired me to look more carefully next time i am at fry’s) i guess we can go check it out!

    side, unrelated question- do you think someone using this to play a fps whould eventually get sore/tired from all that fedback recoil? just curious…

  2. Andy- I don’t think so… You can alter the feedback to your taste, and from my 5 minutes of gameplay, it was something I adjusted to rather than fought. I asked one of the guys running the demo machines if the feedback became a problem with multiplayer gaming, since the recoil throws off your aim. He said he usually turns it off for multiplayer, and cranks it way up for single player. But anyway, my guess is that you’re more likely to get a tired wrist from not having a surface to rest it on.

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