Ultimate Coder 2 week 4 : The UZ Factor

There’s this story in the Bible where the outcome of a battle is being determined by whether or not Moses can keep his arms up in the air. On its face it always struck me as a strange story with what seemed like a trivial task effecting the life or death of thousands.

Until I tried to do it for four minutes.

Four minutes playing Hands Free Stargate Gunship and I was done looking around for Aaron to help lift my hands up to shoot one…more…Jaffa.

As cool as the Microsoft Kinect is, its dirty little problem is that we are all lazy out of shape gamers and I’d rather sit on my couch twitching my thumb to punch my opponent than to – you know – actually swing my fist. The smaller perceptual computing interface is less taxing, I’m sitting down now, but still comes against the same basic problem: my physical body just isn’t used to an interface that requires me to be in motion.

In Stargate Gunship, this showed up first in our experimentation with head tracking. While interesting in theory, we found the reality of aiming with my head to be too taxing and felt unnatural. Swinging my 10-pound, fluid-filled melon left and right for the course of game was a drag. That led us to use one of our hands as a steering input. Similarly, gestures like a trigger pull sound interesting until you try to do it 700 times in a single level and your carpal tunnel sets fire – now firing is “on” or “off” because it’s all my limbs can tolerate. These are improvements, not retreats from ideal design. But they aren’t’ what I expected when we started and the ‘coolness’ was fresh in my mind.

UserLaziness, for the lack of a kinder term, is something we’ll need to face for tools like hands free controls to catch on. Some of this might be nothing more than inertia. If hands-free (meaning hands-up) became normative then the muscles and expectations would develop to support it, at least to a point. But there are physical engineering realities about the amount of energy needed to interact in a certain way and efficiency will always beat ‘cool’…

…in about four minutes…

According to my rigorous testing.

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