Remember when the Nintendo Wii released, promising a great innovation through motion controlled gaming? Imagine — a video game experience controlled entirely through accurate, precise motion controls. Now do you remember the crushing disappointment that came two days after you bought your Wii and realized you were waving laser pointers at high tech candles? Now you know where my frustration was born and where I’m coming from when I start talking about motion controls and gaming. Trust me when I say the Razer Hydra looks to be exactly what the Nintendo Wii was supposed to be, and on top of that it’s for the PC.
What is the Razer Hydra you ask? It’s basically two nunchuk style controllers with analog sticks and buttons on each piece and a funky base station with a glowing green ball on top. The unique thing about the Hydra is that instead of having gyros and accelerometers inside the controllers, the base station emits a 360 degree magnetic field with a range of 6ft. Using the magnetic field the controllers are able to detect their position, orientation, and motion of each controller in 3D space. We were told it’s accurate to within a few millimeters, allowing the controller to provide true 1:1 translation of your motions into the game. On top of that, thanks to the magnetic field no line of sight is required between the base station and the controllers. You do however have to calibrate the ball on top of the base station to match your axis of play.
Razer was demoing the Hydra with Portal 2 for the PC. From what we observed, the controller seemed extremely accurate and easy to use. The most common problem I have with first person shooters and motion controls is when you try to turn your character to look left, right, up, or down, you need to move your cross-hair to the side of the screen and hope you start turning. When it works “properly”, it’s usually jerky as all hell, feels clumsy, and makes it nearly impossible to aim and turn at the same time. During the demo, I saw none of these motion control hang-ups. The rep easily navigated around the level, shot some portals (accurately), and picked up one of the new cubes in Portal 2 (that redirects lasers) and toasted a bunch of turrets. He also showed us a resizable block that you can stretch, shrink, and rotate, to span a gap in the level. He was able to manipulate the block with ease with the Hydra’s highly accurate motion controls. It all seemed very simple to do and I was honestly quite impressed. Portal is one of the last games I’d ever want to try and play with a controller of any kind but I’d seriously reconsider that opinion now that I’ve seen the Hydra in action.
Razer is working directly with Valve to make sure Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead will have full support for the Hydra. We were also informed that Valve will be releasing two versions of Portal 2. One will be the standard keyboard and mouse version and the other will be a Hydra specific version which will include bonus content. We also discovered that Razer is working on some middle-ware that will allow you to map the Hydra controller to keyboard and mouse events so you can use the Hydra with games that weren’t specifically developed to work with it. The rep we spoke with couldn’t comment on compatibility with Games for Windows Live, but he did say it worked great with games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and others he had tested.
One thing noticeably missing from the Hydra is haptic feedback (vibration). There are no plans at this time to add it, but this one negative point can easily be forgiven if the controller lives up to what we saw in the demo.
Razer hopes to release the wired version of the Hydra in 2011 for less than $100 USD. Release schedule and pricing for a wireless version are TBD.
Photo Credits: Colin Scott-Fleming