I finally got a chance to play with the Novint Falcon
this week. I've never had a chance to go check out the device, even after Ben tried to drag me over to see the device at CES two years ago. The device itself looks an alien egg with three tentacles protruding from it. The tentacles meet at a small triangular plate with a hole and a quick release tab. It's into this hole that you plug in either systems standard orb control knob or Novints upcoming pistol grip controller.
I have to warn you that using the Falcon
will forever spoil you on using mice in first person shooters. It's just a different level of immersion as the Falcon
just doesn't provide force-feedback when you are firing a gun (that would be too easy), rather the device lets you know when you are being shot (and where it's coming from) as well as when you are bumping against a wall (helpful when you're in the midst of a tactical retreat and backing your way through a structure. What's great about the Falcon is that these aren't over the top vibrations but rather subtle force that you feel in the controller.
The pistol grip felt fairly solid in my hand and there were three buttons lined up on the left side of the the grip, just within reach of the thumb. The control feels solid in your hand and the buttons take a little getting used to as I kept accidentally hitting the top one with my thumb until I figured out what was going on. The grip does take a few minutes to get used to as you now have to think about how to aim in a vertical space rather than in a horizontal one. The pre-production model on display at the show also had a lot of play in the trigger which took some getting used to. Hopefully this is something that will get fixed with the production models.
Novint allowed me to play a little bit of Battlefield 2 and Half Life 2 in their booth to show off what the controller could do. After a few quick deaths I finally got the hang of the controller and began to realize what a different experience it is not just in the feedback but how much more realistic it is to aim a weapon this way. It just feels more natural. Of course it also screws with your aim a bit as the recoil makes precise aim a bit dodgy.
Up next was Half Life 2 and for this one the pistol grip controller was replaced with standard orb controller that originally shipped with the Falcon. Switching grips is just a matter of pressing a quick release tab at the bottom of the Falcon and pulling out the old grip and replacing it with the new one.
I have to admit that I groaned a bit as he fired up the boat level from the game. I wasn't sure why the weakest level of my favorite game was going to be show off until I actually played it. The boat mission with the Falcon
is a completely different experience as even the most subtle bounces and bumps are transferred to the controller. It's an amazing increase in how you experience the game as you have to work a bit more to keep control of the boat. After the short boat trip I worked my way through a small group of combine troops with ease. Twitch monkeys will be glad to know you can really jack up the sensitivity of the controller.
After playing with the Falcon
I realized how great the device is for adding that next level of immersion into the game. It's just feels more visceral and more real when you're playing and it's an incredible experience. I don't think we'll see these showing up at pro gamer tournaments any time soon as that extra vibration puts you at a disadvantage over to non-Falcon
users. That said for non-competitive type events the Falcon represents another level of gaming and a really unique experience.