The 3d mouse that made waves and stole show awards away from the Wiimote and Sixaxis is finally coming to mass market. The Novint Falcon 3D mouse is essentially a little robot with three arms that tracks your mouse movement with it's arms and simulates gravity, textures, and intertia by applying force feedback to your tugging.
We had the opportunity to drool over it once again at CES, having jumped all over it previously at E3, and it is tighter and more impressive than ever. We were treated to a variety of tech demos where we ran a small pebble over a heavy textured surface and felt the ridges as if it was actually there, or pushed through a gelatenous clump of molasses and felt the pressure release as we ran the pebble all the way through the other side. These kind of experiences could lead to amazing new kinds of gameplay experiences, but unfortunately there isn't any mass market support for the controller yet.
While there is plenty to love, I do have some gripes with it; perhaps moreso with Vtech -- the company that isn't delivering the original intended pricepoint.
The buzz at E3 was that this revolutionary controller was going to be available for less than 100 dollars and that's not happening; not even close. There's a limited edition version which is just under 200 and the retail sells for 50 dollars more. Having spoken with a variety of 3rd party accessory manufacturers at the show, we know that the sweet spot for premium controllers is 30-50 dollars. You don't want gamers deciding whether or not they want a game -- much less a console instead of a controller. This thing almosts costs as much as much as a Wii ... which leads us to believe that it's coming to market before its time.
As as a result, we don't imagine it as the next big massmarket toy. Even perfect force feedback steering wheels engineered ideally for racing games still struggle; this is going to be a tough sell for them. The 3d modelling market may jump on it though. Its a standard usb controller on a 9x9 inch base -- virtually any graphics workstation can utilize this.
In terms of ergonomics, I have my gripes. Your hand suspeded in the air at all times, so after awhile you start getting a bit of forearm burn. I suppose this can be offset if you had an L-shaped desk and could rest your elbow on something, but even then you're still not as comfortable as you would be with a mouse. Despite my brittle bones I was able to throw barrels, grenades, and run around Half-Life 2 quite comfortably with surprising precision. Hardcore gamers will miss the speed and minimal effort you get from a mouse.
Nevertheless, if this is not the future for video game controllers, this could be the future of another multibillion dollar industry that seems to adapt technologies much faster than others.