The Electronic Entertainment Exposition (E3) is meant to be all about the latest games for consoles and PCs. But for all the excitement created by new games like Mario Sunshine, Star Wars Galaxies, The Legend of Zelda and Doom III, some of the coolest items on display at the huge show were gadgets designed to make the gaming experience ever more realistic.
To this end, manufacturers rolled out an endless array of controllers, memory cards, simulation devices, control sticks, and even a robot that can be taught to get you a beer automatically so you don't have to pause your game.
The robot, ER1, made by Evolution Robotics of Pasadena, California, is actually little more than a specially designed chassis complete with mechanical arms and skate wheels. This unlikely looking machine contains a slot for a laptop that contains the software to program the robot's movements.
Though the company calls the US$500 kit "the first personal robot system for consumers," most people will find it easier to get their own beer rather than spending hours programming the robot to do so.
Another cool toy is the "Personal Simulator" a rocking and rolling chair that adds motion and real surround sound to the home gaming experience. Compatible with PCs, game consoles and even interactive television, the PS will hit world markets by year end and will sell for less than US$1,000.
Another hot product division is the category of wireless controllers, that allow players to roam free while playing video games. This is especially useful for those with big screen television because most controllers come with only about 3m of cord, meaning that players often have to sit too close.
Nintendo introduced the Wavebird, a wireless controller for its Gamecube, while 3rd party companies like Saitek, Logitech and Spike II introduced controllers for the X-Box and Playstation II.
But for many gamers even the best standard form of controllers is not good enough. If they are playing a flight simulation game they want a plane's control. Likewise they want a high end steering wheel if they are in a racing car game, or even a snowboard or skateboard platform for games of that ilk.
These are also coming onto the market in ever greater numbers. Companies like Thrustmaster even had a motorbike set-up for freestyle biking games and a soccer mat which allows players to actually kick things while playing ever more popular soccer games. These are similar to the new electronic dance mats that allows players to stomp in beat to new dance competition games, including the new Britney Spears Dance Beat.
Among the more exotic control systems was an offering by Essential Reality. This New York-based company showed off a virtual reality glove that slips effortlessly over your hand and can be used as a PC mouse or as a video game controller. Another innovative approach is the Cymouse which is a head-worn 3D controller that allows you to navigate games merely by head movement.
British company Evomouse took a different approach. It mounted what looks like a conventional mouse on a spring loaded platform that offers surprisingly easy and sensitive control with hardly any movement.
Japanese company Twiglight Express meanwhile showed off a stepping machine that connects to a computer and allows users to join an Internet sports gym where mileage is tracked and people can choose different environment to walk in.
Yet it was Spanish company Championet that offered the wackiest input device. The "E-club Virtual Golf System" consists of a pad of Astroturf connected to a sensor, a few foam golf balls, and magnetic sensors that can be connected to your clubs. Compatible with all computerized golf games, the kit, which will go on sale soon for about US$500, allows players to really hit the ball and then translates the data from the shot onto the computer.
Though the company insists the foam balls will never break anything, users should be wary of swinging their golf clubs too vigorously indoors, especially if they are lucky enough to own a NEXTV from Viewsonic. This beautiful monitor functions as an all-in- one high definition TV and computer screen with stunning clarity.
It can be hooked up to a new line of speakers from Altec Lansing specially designed to work with console systems, or with any of the afore-mentioned gadgets for a high tech set up that will be the envy of your friends. The only problem: You'll probably never want to leave the house.
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