Motion Control Comes to the PC
PC gaming has long been a mainstay of the gaming scene, if one that’s looking a bit threatened of late. Part of the threat to the market has been the prevalence of new control schemes in recent years, starting with the Wii. Razer, a well known manufacturer of gaming gear like specialty mice, has stepped into the void and developed the Razer Hydra to show off what motion control can be like on PC games.
Razer Hydra Controller
The Hydra controller is similar in concept to the Wii controller, though it features much better button placement, uses two full sized controllers with identical layout, and both controllers feature a D-Pad.
The image above does not lie; it is a wired setup. No wireless control at the moment. In my play testing, I have not found this to be an issue. The controllers attach by wire to a base station; that’s the green glowing orb thing in the middle. The base station doubles as a stand for the controllers.
The controllers are comfortable to hold and usually comfortable to use; certain gesture commands are painfully awkward, but I’ll get into that in the game descriptions below. For the most part, the feel is just right. My biggest complaint is that you do have to stay pretty close to the base station to avoid excessive jittering.
One minor complaint is that at the time of this writing, it’s not possible to reconfigure the control mappings. This is apparently coming soon in an update to the configuration software.
Portal 2’s Hydra Enrichment Center
Razer has gone to a lot of trouble with Valve to create a Hydra-native implementation of Portal 2 for the Hydra. This takes the form of a full version of the game you can get from Steam if you don’t have the game, or an update for your existing game if you already own it.
I spent some time re-immersing myself in GLaDOS’ world to give the Hydra a run, and while initially it felt like the game’s heroine, Chell, had gotten a bit drunk, that quickly passed and I found it a smooth and very natural feeling way to play the game.
The motion control adds some intriguing new play possibilities to Portal 2 as well. The extra control dimensions give your portal gun the ability to manipulate objects at a distance – you can pick up your faithful Companion Cube, and by extending your arm out from your body, move the cube out away from Chell, where with the flick of a wrist it can suddenly become a handy environment manipulator or ad hoc weapon.
Portals themselves can be manipulated in new ways too; holding the trigger on a portal activates a new manipulation mode where portals can slide around walls, and a twist of the wrist lets you rotate it to new orientations.
Portal 2 plays great, with the one exception being the ability to duck – you have to flip the controller down to duck, and the angle required is extreme; I found it actually hurt my wrist a little to maintain it for any time while retaining the ability to use the buttons and D-Pad.
See the video for more!
I haven’t had as much luck with other games. I tried Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2, Half-Life 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Civilization 5, and Defense Grid – The Awakening. L4D, L4D2, HL2 and Fallout all started out okay but for reasons I don’t yet know, lost the ability to sense when I was trying to use the Hydra to move the camera. As you can imagine, this limited my play time considerably.
Civilization 5 seemed to work better, though it’ll take a while to figure out how to use the controls effectively. I think Civilization is just better suited to the keyboard; I certainly wouldn’t blame the Hydra on that, though.
Defense Grid worked quite well with the Hydra, which gives me hope that the shooters will be fantastic experiences on par with Portal 2 once I figure out what’s happened to them.
Over all I’m pretty impressed; it’s a really fun system. The trouble I’ve had with games other than Portal 2 and the lack of control mapping are big, big caution signs though. I’d take it into consideration if you’re looking to pay the $140 US entry fee to motion PC gaming.
I’ll post an update here if and when these issues are addressed.
You can duck by pressing down on the left thumbstick, right thumstick zooms. Similar duck and zoom controls as a FPS on a console controller. There’s also no dpad, just two thumbsticks (one for each controller). The ‘ratchet’ (rotate held object) feature does take a bit to get used to, and isn’t very intuitive in its purpose until you start redirecting thermal beams in the advanced motion pack and is frustrating to use otherwise (there may be a sensitivity setting to overcome this). It does take a while to get used to the additional motion features.
When a supported game is opened, you are asked to point the left then right controller at the base unit and press the trigger to calibrate. It is absolutely crucial to perform the calibration setup procedure while holding the controllers in the same way as your desired default ready position (as if you were not moving, looking straight ahead in game) or you will spin a bit in game in the direction(s) you were off. The controllers do sometimes get out of whack, spacially speaking, but placing them on the base unit in the rest position will reset their spatial orientation. I play it with nvidia 3d vision glasses, and it is a pretty immersive and mindbending experience.