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E3 show: Games get real with tactile tools

Future of gaming is all touchy-feely

Devices that promise to make gameplay more comfortable by replacing standard controllers and keyboards make a regular appearance at the E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo) show in Los Angeles. The best actually make gaming more fun. This year's crop of teeth rattling, motion-sensing, Matrix-mimicking devices feel even more real.

It's not just that you can feel the onscreen action. Some of the products shown as prototypes at previous shows are on display in their final form here at this week's event, prior to their commercial release.

Most notable is Essential Reality's P5 glove controller. In the works for years, the P5 will finally reach store shelves in August. At around £100 plus VAT it's not for the casual gamer, but serious PC or console game fans will certainly want to try the futuristic-looking device. The lightweight glove of the two-piece peripheral slips over your hand and communicates with an infrared USB base that tracks your hand movements in six different directions.

At launch, the glove will ship with up to three P5-optimised games in the box, although its developers say it offers basic functionality with all PC games. Essential Reality is working with game developers to retrofit older games and plan future ones for optimum performance with the glove on both consoles and PCs, according to a spokesperson.

The device has a geek chic look about it, but that aesthetic is pretty well shot once you start to use it. After all, it's hard to look cool when you're waving maniacally at your digital enemies.

Another product shown at last year's E3 and now ready to ship is Maui Innovative Peripherals’ CyMouse. The $180 (around £123 plus VAT) product, available through Maui's website, includes a lightweight headpiece and an infrared USB base. You can program the unit to perform macros plus keystroke and mouse-click combinations, but the CyMouse will not replace the mouse, says a company executive.

Since PC games are keyboard-based users have considerably more ways to manipulate the action than with a console. But mastering all those spread-out keys can be difficult (especially for those with small hands). The £40 (plus VAT) Space Devilfish from Idizm is designed to change that.

The unique hourglass-shaped device, scheduled for release in July, offers large keys in a palm-sized configuration. Built-in wrist support and retractable stabilisers that let you rest it on your leg make it relatively comfortable to use. Add force-feedback features and complete programmability and you may find yourself giving your keyboard the cold shoulder the next time you sit down for some action.

Thrustmaster has its own keyboard replacement on the floor this year, too. Called the Tacticalboard, the company expects to ship it this spring with a price tag of around £50 plus VAT.

Made up of five zones, the Tacticalboard has 13 buttons in the Action zone, 7 in the Thumb zone and 22 on two levels in the Command zone. The fourth zone is the gel wrist rest, while the fifth is the Chatterbox zone that, with the bundled software, lets you talk to your online opponents.

Finally, a Nyko Technologies product addresses a problem common with gamers who play for hours on end — sweaty palms.

The AirFlo gamepad-style controller has a CPU fan in the unit that delivers a perspiration-busting flow of cool air to combatant's hands. The unit's fan runs at two speeds and also has built-in force feedback. Expect to pay around £30 for them when they come out for Xbox and GameCube later in the year.


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