- Tobii Gaming
- November 28, 2017 | 5 min
Tobii Eye Tracking Enhances Over 100 Games, from Asteroids to Assassins
Article by Matt Cabral
Imagine playing a video game that allowed you to blast Earth-bound asteroids from the atmosphere simply by looking at them. Using your eyes to target and destroy flying space rocks surely sounds like science fiction, or at the very least, a cool gaming concept from our own future.
As early adopters of Tobii Tech’s eye-tracking technology are well aware, however, this experience has already been available to gamers for years. In fact, for those who got the opportunity to play Tobii’s very first game, Eye Asteroids, when it debuted at Dave and Buster’s Times Square location in 2011, the tech might even seem a bit dated.
In six short years — and over 100 games — Tobii has not only evolved that original ocular innovation, but also added a number of new ways to play games with your eyes. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins, users can target objects, much as they could in that asteroid-blasting arcade game, but that integration only scratches the surface of the seven ways you can control Ubisoft’s game with a gaze.
Fans can aim their assassin’s bow, tag and lock onto enemies, interact with loot and other objects, enjoy a wider, more immersive field of view, and experience situational dynamic lighting simply by moving their eyes. Gaze at the game’s gorgeous sun and you might even instinctively squint, as the technology responds with a realism-ratcheting lens flare effect.
Of course, to the creative folks behind the tech, using your eyes as a pointer is the most natural thing in the world. “If you stare into the sun, you’re going to get blinded.”, Anders Olsson, Tobii’s Software Partners VP, says matter-of-factly, referring to Origins’ cool eye-tracking feature. Where gamers have been conditioned to click a mouse button or controller input to interact with virtual objects, Olsson sees this as an unnecessary step. “It’s not natural to do something twice when you should only have to do it once.”
Tobii Tech’s president, Oscar Werner, takes this sentiment a step further, suggesting the ability to use your eyes in this way isn’t so much a futuristic concept, but an organic one we’ve all enjoyed since birth. “We’re bringing it back to what you’ve done in the real world forever; you’re naturally using your eyes every day for pointing.”
The Path to 100 Games
While the team at Tobii sees their tech as a totally natural way to interact with games, the ability to pick your next unsuspecting assassination target with a look wasn’t perfected over night. In fact, while the company’s eye-tracking technology was first used in Ubisoft’s throat-slitting series in 2015’s Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, its integration only supported two features, the ability to pause the game and direct the protagonist’s movement with your gaze.
Before even teaching Ubisoft’s cloaked killers those tricks, however, Tobii had to prove the tech’s potential to prospective partners. Eye Asteroids played a significant role in that venture, not only serving as a proof of concept, but going above and beyond by seemingly bringing science fiction to the real world. The impressive prototype saw a number of indie studios embrace eye-tracking to help differentiate their titles. One such early adopter, Stillalive Studios, incorporated the tech to let armchair spell-casters aim with their eyes and terraform their surroundings.
While Stillalive and a number of other smaller studios were leveraging the eye-powered innovation in their games, hardware makers also began to take notice of the tech’s value. A partnership between Tobii and SteelSeries saw the first consumer PC gaming eye-tracker released in 2015, and fruitful collaborations with MSI, Acer, and Alienware soon followed, leading to the tech being built into monitors and laptops.
Despite the early success, Tobii was primarily generating gaming buzz among a smaller group of enthusiasts. That began to change, however, when Elite Dangerous’ passionate fan-base began using the tech to become more immersed in their favorite space sim. “The community really picked it up and engaged with it…it was the first game to do that.” recalls Olsson.
Of course, acclaim also comes with criticism, and few groups are more vocal — for better or worse — than gamers. Tobii learned early on that shooting objects with your eyes, as in Eye Asteroids, would likely alienate the precision-obsessed mouse-and-keyboard crowd. The idea of essentially emulating Superman’s heat vision powers was shelved in favor of more additive integrations. The tech became a favorite in flight and space sims, like Elite Dangerous, because it didn’t replace their existing controls, but rather complemented their established modalities; for the first time, players could gaze freely from the cockpit, turning their heads to the stars without altering their craft’s course.
For Werner and his team, the distinction between replacing and complementing established gaming functions is an important one. In fact, Werner concedes without hesitation that “eye-tracking isn’t as precise as a mouse.” He enthusiastically follows that with, “But that’s not the point. It’s giving users an additional form of interaction…it’s making it closer to real life.”
100 Games is Just the Beginning
As Tobii surpasses its 100-game goal — and discerning fans demand more sophisticated integrations — the company continues to tweak and refine existing uses, while also finding brand new ways to immerse players in their favorite virtual worlds. Their substantial growth has seen Tobii leave its comfort zone, enhancing experiences for fans of all genres, from simulations and role-playing games to first-person shooters and racers. Today, the tech can not only be enjoyed in dozens of ambitious indie titles, but also in AAA blockbusters from the likes of Ubisoft and Square Enix.
While eye tracking can make a zombie threat more aggressive with a simple stare, or allow a virtual sunset to be enjoyed as it would in the real world, Tobii’s not about to rest on their successes. “What we build today will look ancient two years from now,” says Werner. Olsson echoes that sentiment, concluding with an ambitious plan for the future: “There’s a lot more that’s going to happen in the coming years, in terms of creating deeper experiences and really digging even deeper into what gamers want.”
With a diverse library of over 100 games already in the bag, and a fresh focus on adapting their tech to virtual and augmented reality experiences, it looks like we’ll be hearing — and seeing — a lot more from Tobii Tech in the years ahead.
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