The arrival of virtual reality on the gaming scene has opened up a world of new experiences, but shooting robots with your eyeballs is one that even the most VR-hyped of us struggled to predict.
But that was exactly what happened in my demo of the FOVE 0 headset at a recent event in San Francisco, while playing the Project Falcon shooter from British studio Rewind. Instead of using a controller to line up my machine gun fire I only had to stare at each enemy. My eyes were the targeting device and I was a kind of modern day Medusa, murdering with a glance. FOVE's slick, white headset has eye-tracking built around the lenses inside and software that quickly interprets movement. It's available for pre-order now priced at $599 and will be released in early 2017.
Is this the future of shooters in virtual reality? In a word, no.
After a while, having to think about where to move my eyes was tiring and sometimes I wanted to look away from the thing I was shooting – it's pretty standard in any combat game to scan the surroundings for your next target while still finishing off your first with a few more rounds. There also seemed to be a slight lag that would be death to any hardcore shooter player, though I was told that my penchant for thick mascara and black eyeliner could potentially confuse the eye-tracking software. "This is why diversity matters," quipped the guy taking me through the demo.
What was more interesting were the social and technical implications of the technology. Another demo I was shown involved negotiating with a terrorist across a table. Too much eye contact and he’d get mad, ditto if you looked away too much. He wanted to know which of his men was a mole and if you looked at a photo of that person you’d give them away. It was basic but seemed promising for social virtual reality applications, even for spicing up cutscenes. Maybe if you stare off into the middle distance enough that NPC will get the point that you couldn’t give a shit about the history of his village?
"At FOVE, we’re particularly interested in how eye-tracking is going to make character and story interaction more immersive and meaningful," said 29-year-old CEO and co-founder Yuka Kojima, a former game producer at Sony Interactive Entertainment. "Think back to some your favorite moments in story-based games and what it would have been like to lock eyes with a character, just before you charged into battle and finished that final boss? The emotional potential is what excites us the most."
She also suggested there was potential for survival horror – imagine enemies that only move when you blink – sports and RPGs where you could potentially read enemy's minds by staring into their eyes.
It seems unlikely that people who already have one of the three currently-available headsets out there right now - an Oculus, Vive or PSVR – are going to supplement or replace it with a FOVE 0, but it seems likely that someone will acquire the technology for one of the next wave of premium headsets. That's a while off though, so it seems like we’re going to have to keep relying on our trigger fingers for now.