In gaming, there are lots of different ways to convey information. Some of the most obvious are visual or audio. We see or hear different audio or visual cues, and we use that to alter our performance accordingly. Or, maybe we’ll see these sorts of responses and know that we are doing well or poorly, then adjust accordingly. But, that isn’t the only way to get a response. Haptic feedback has gotten more and more important over the years, especially as of late.
Things kicked off early in the 1970s. Sega had its Moto-Cross arcade include vibration as a function to help people get a sense of what was going on. But, when it came to at home devices or ones we might get to use on a daily basis, people had to wait until 1997. That year, both Nintendo and Sony offered new ways to get into the game. The Nintendo 64 had an optional Rumble Pak for its controllers, while the first DualShock controllers offered a vibration function for different sensations as you played.
In 2017, some of the most major controller haptic feedback announcements were announced. Nintendo’s Joy-Con controllers were intended to offer something of a revolution. Each has HD Rumble, designed to send off more specific and nuanced signals to help people play games. 1-2 Switch was designed around the feature, with some of its minigames requiring a person to pay close attention to the sorts of vibrations and their intensity to play. Ball Count has you judge vibrations to determine how many balls are in the controller, while Sneaky Dice has you play Liar’s Dice and shake them with the Joy-Con. Likewise, some Super Mario Party minigames also rely heavily on HD Rumble, with minigames like Rumble Fishing helping you decide when to fish. Even Golf Story makes good use of it, when you are deciding when to hit and put.
This can lead to unconventional haptic feedback uses. Rez is a notorious one. Both its original and more modern incarnations had their own haptic feedback devices to offer some sort of response to activities on screen through vibration and effects. The original Rez, released in 2002, had a device called a Trance Vibrator. It was a little peripheral that was a box that plugged into a PS2 and could be placed anywhere. As you went through and performed certain actions, it would have varying degrees of feedback. When Rez Infinite came out, there was an even larger way to get a response. A full synesthesia suit could be used with it. This meant all sorts of feedback absolutely everywhere.
Of course, this also has led to more, let’s say inventive, outcomes. For example, adult toy manufacturers have gotten in on the haptic feedback concept. One such example involves a company called Motorbunny. It has a product people can ride on top of. It ended up creating Fappy Bunny, a Flappy Bird sort of mobile game that connects to the toy to produce results. We also have companies attempting to put haptic feedback into devices where you might not expect them. Razer is one. It has Razer Nari Ultimates, which are headphones that have a way of providing feedback. When you have them on and are playing or listening to certain games, THX Spatial Audio and Intelligent Haptics both work together to make sure you aren’t just hearing things, but also feeling them.
Haptic feedback is here to stay, and it seems each generation is going to provide the opportunity to do more with the technology. Since showing up in the 1970s, it’s only come further when providing new ways to provide feedback on how we play. Nintendo seems to be trying to see how accurate it can be to help with actual gameplay performance. Other companies are trying to see how creative or weird it can get when applied to certain games or situations. We’ll have to see how far it will go once it begins being integrated further with VR and future systems.