Adam Jensen is a security guard whose body is fused with machines that enhance his capabilities: prosthetic arms and legs that make him stronger and faster and eyes that see at night.
He’s the central figure in the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the highly-anticipated next instalment of the Deus Ex franchise, which brings players into the dystopian future where human augmentation is a reality.
But what makes Mankind Divided unique is that it’s not only Jensen’s eyes that are augmented, but also the player’s. It makes this game one of the first big titles to support eye tracking game mechanics.
In the game, players who have an eye tracker can aim with their eyes to fire or punch enemies. Looking at the edges of the screen causes the camera to pan, giving players a natural way of exploring this fantastic universe. Eye tracking also allows the game interface (e.g. health bar) to disappear into the background and only appear when players look at the corresponding area of the screen. This removal of elements that do not belong in the game world can create a more immersive gameplay experience.
Mankind Divided was released in Australia on August 23.
Traditionally, eye trackers have been used to monitor a player’s gaze as a way for the developers to know whether players are looking at the right things at the right times. Now they can also be used as a game controller. Previously confined to research labs, eye trackers once cost tens of thousands of dollars, but can now be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Under the bonnet, these devices are little more than a combination of infra-red LEDs and cameras, but they offer a huge potential for creating novel game experiences.
Our research has been exploring exactly what these experiences can be. In October, we will present a conference paper at the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI Play) where we catalogue the eye-enabled game mechanics that have been explored in industry and academia so far.
We identified five big categories of mechanics.
Navigation (e.g. using your eyes to determine where your character moves to)
Aiming & Shooting (e.g. aiming your weapon with your eyes and shooting by clicking with the mouse)
Selection & Commands (e.g. using your eyes to pick up objects in the game)
Implicit Interaction (e.g. adapting the artificial intelligence of the game depending on where you look), and
Visual Effects (e.g. changing how the game world looks according to how you observe it).
Our research also found the kinds of mechanics that take input from the eyes are evolving with time. In the beginning, due to the high cost of the eye tracking equipment, games often just used the gaze position as a substitute for the mouse.
Now, we are starting to see a second wave of games, where eye tracking is an optional feature, not essential to the core gameplay, but that offer additional features to players who own an eye tracker.
As eye tracking gains popularity, we expect to see a third wave of games in which the eyes play a central role in the game, with mechanics that could not have been achieved with a different body part.
Eye tracking is also particularly interesting for Virtual Reality. Many eye tracking manufacturers already offer ways of incorporating their devices into current VR headsets and the upcoming FOVE VR headset will ship with eye tracking by default.
Recent projects have shown how eye tracking can create a more immersive social VR experience that leverages the non-verbal communicative power of the eyes.
Our eyes offer a very powerful way of interacting with the world around us. Video games offer a fantastic opportunity for exploring these possibilities, pushing the boundaries for what can be achieved with eye tracking.
However, the technology has further applications beyond games. For example, our previous research has explored how gaze can enable seamless interaction with smart watches, with smart homes and for 3D design tasks.
As eye tracking matures, we expect to see a wider range of devices augmented with eye tracking by default.
Samsung has already demonstrated basic eye tracking capabilities in their phones and MSI has recently released a gaming laptop that ships with an integrated Tobii eye tracker. Also, the JINS MEME eye tracking glasses look just like your typical pair of Ray Bans, offering exciting opportunities for tracking the eyes throughout the day.
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