Haptic feedback can simulate real-world sensations such as vibrations, force, and movement, which makes the game feel more realistic and immersive.
Let’s be honest, who would not want to dive deep into one’s favorite fictive world? In this context, haptic feedback is the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae. But have you ever thought about how far haptic technology has come in the gaming world? From the early days of just a simple rumble feature in our controllers to the advanced haptic technologies of today, it’s been one wild ride.
However, let’s start from the beginning: Haptic feedback technology in gaming has a long history, dating back to the early days of arcade and console games. In the early stages, haptic feedback was limited to simple vibrations (rumble feature) in game controllers.
One of the earliest examples of haptics in arcade games was in the popular game “Virtua Racing” in the early 90s, which featured a force-feedback steering wheel that would shake and vibrate depending on the in-game action. This feature was also included in other arcade games such as “Daytona USA” and “Sega Rally 2”.
With the release of the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 controller with its iconic rumble pack extension, in the mid-1990s haptic feedback made its breakthrough also in the living room. Games like “GoldenEye 007”, “Half-Life” or “Medal of Honor” used the rumble feature to indicate when the user was shot. Even though simple, it was an effective way to add an extra level of immersion to the gaming experience.
Yet this “wiggling in the hands” is not just an effect. Even today, simple haptic feedback can provide significant gameplay advantages and, in addition to improved immersion, can even provide a decisive advantage in player-versus-player games.
Ready for some gaming nostalgia? Spawn Wave shows in his video what the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak looks like from the inside.
But after haptics were treated comparatively poorly alongside constantly improving audio and graphics quality, haptics has only become a hot topic in recent years, especially with the rise of VR consumer devices or the latest iteration of Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense controller with adaptive triggers.
Today, haptic feedback is once again on everyone’s lips and at the top of the priority list for both manufacturers and gamers. Therefore, let’s take a small panoramic view of how the haptics market has evolved and what technologies are available today.
Haptic feedback technologies in gaming include a variety of electromagnetic, piezoelectric, kinesthetic, surface and other haptic actuators. What you probably associate most with gaming are so-called eccentric rotating mass actuators (ERM), electromagnetic haptic actuators that were used primarily in the first generations of game console controllers and provide strong (but not particularly defined) rumble feedback. Today, in contrast, linear resonant actuators (LRA) or voice coils (VCM), offering higher efficiency and at the same time more realistic haptic sensations, are used in more recent gaming controllers, but also in most smartphones.
While early gaming controllers utilized some single ERM actuators to allow the device as a whole to vibrate, bHaptics, for example, uses up to 40 of these haptic actuators, distributed over a large area in their haptic VR vests, to create a full-body tactile experience in virtual reality. Meanwhile, Paris-based startup Actronica is integrating up to 20 voice coil actuators into their Skinetic vests, promising more defined, comprehensive haptic feedback.
To get a better sense of how these two vest technologies feel, check out YouTuber Matteo311, who was able to test both vests in person:
Perhaps the most discussed haptics gaming technology in recent years, however, is Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense controller. The device not only relies on voice coil actuators but the adaptive triggers are also powered by an additional DC motor. This transmits additional active haptic feedback like increased resistance or actively pushing against the finger, using a gear mechanism.
But by no means this is not the only innovative approach to creating an even more realistic tactile experience. In the field of virtual reality in particular, there are regular appearances of innovative approaches combining both new and conventional technologies for a more impressive haptic experience. For example, VR Haptic Gloves use not only motors, pulling wires between the hand and the fingertips but also inflatable air chambers or contracting membranes based on SMA (Shape Memory Alloy) to simulate traction and pressure. Learn more about SMA, MR Fluid, and other smart materials here.
You might be wondering: how hard can it be to make decent haptics? And does it really need all this effort? Unfortunately, the sense of touch is far more complex than our visual and auditory senses, so creating lifelike haptic sensations is not as easy as it might sound.
It is almost impossible to determine the exact number of touch sensory cells in the entire human body. 3,000 touch receptors, just in the fingertip (learn more), or around 4 million touch receptors distributed over the entire human body (learn more) – This almost unimaginable number of touch sensory cells in our skin, the largest human sensory organ, allow us to perceive physical sensations, changes in pressure, temperature, pain, acceleration, movement, and body position.
Haptic feedback technologies in gaming try to activate these touch receptors by simulating real-world sensations. If these stimuli are convincing enough, our brain makes us feel more connected to the virtual world.
But even though haptics has a decades-long history in gaming, the complexity of the sense of touch still poses major challenges for game and hardware manufacturers. The sheer number of sensory cells makes it all the more difficult to convince the brain of the reality of the virtual world’s haptic impulses. Therefore, the combination of different haptic feedback technologies in particular offers great potential for creating an even more immersive gaming experience.
For this reason, we have noted an increasing desire for compatibility between different actuators, particularly in the games industry, over the past few years. And only if haptics providers work together, hardware manufacturers and game developers can deeply integrate the haptic experience into their virtual worlds.
Overall, haptic feedback is making gaming more immersive and realistic than ever before, allowing us to not just hear and see the action, but to feel it too. And as technology continues to advance, we can expect even more exciting innovations. We are eagerly waiting to see whether and when the next haptic gaming innovation, be it something similar to haptic gloves, wrist bands, or vests, or indeed a completely different technology will make it from a niche to the broad consumer market.
So next time you’re playing your favorite game, take a moment to appreciate the haptic feedback features that are already integrated to enrich your experience and get ready to feel the future of gaming.
Do you want to learn more about our latest haptic innovation in the consumer market? Discover the Razer Naga V2 Pro with HyperScroll Pro Wheel and haptics powered by XeelTech.
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Describing haptic feedback/in Blog, Haptics Wiki/by Louis Hoffmann
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