Sixense was back at CES this year, showing off its TrueMotion-powered gaming wands. While a partnership with computer gaming peripheral maker Razer was announced at last year's CES, the fruit of that partnership was on display this year, with a brand name (meet the Razer Hydra), some industrial design, and some new Valve-created content for the hardware in the form of custom Portal 2 tech.
During our hands-off tour of the still-prototype hardware, we were consistently impressed with the controller's accuracy. Imagine dual-wielding two PlayStation Move controllers except – in place of the relatively cumbersome process of requiring a PlayStation Eye to track a glowing sphere to position the controllers in 3D space – the Hydra uses a small base station that creates an electromagnetic field with a radius of about six feet. That's it. That base station serves double duty as a stand to rest the presently wired controllers on. Worry not, wire-haters, a wireless model is in the works but, much like Razer's other hardware, it's going to perfect the technology with a wired release first before chasing the wireless solution.
While there's no release date or price yet, we were told to expect them early this year which, considering it will be released in a special bundle with the April-releasedPortal 2 packed in makes sense. As for price, Razer's targeting a sub-$100 tag or, roughly what two PlayStation Move controllers would run you. That Portal 2 bundle will include a special version of the game, that includes not only native support for the Hydra controllers, but new maps and puzzle mechanics built exclusively for Hydra. In our brief tour, we saw "scalable cubes" which can be stretched along the x-axis. Stretch one side, rotate, stretch another side, rotate again. In one puzzle, a scalable cube was stretched into a bridge; in another, it was stretched on all sides until it was large enough (the mass increases as well, conservation of mass be damned!) to shatter a glass floor below.
In order to manipulate the cubes, you enter 1:1 mode by pressing '1' on the right stick, which locks free-look on the right controller and remaps it to control the object. You can then rotate, move, and place the object with an impressive amount of accuracy. Remember that PlayStation Move multitouch demo from the Engadget Show? Adjusting the size of a scalable cube is pretty much that. You're also able to rotate and reposition portals. Instead of simply reshooting a portal to another position, you can grab it, move it, and even twist it. The exit velocity of anything thrown into a portal will carry through, meaning some Hydra-based puzzles may take advantage of your ability to twist and re-align portals.
While Valve's Left 4 Dead 2 was shown off last year with 1:1 sword controls, the Sixense rep we spoke with couldn't confirm if that would ever be released. He did, however, share a video of Call of Duty: Black Ops being played with Sixense, using the Sixense MotionCreator tool, which remaps traditional keyboard/mouse controls to the twin motion sticks. You can also see apps like Boxee being controlled with Sixense, though with a 6' radius, you may need to park that electromagnetic base station on your coffee table for proper couch navigation. Since that range is wholly dependent on the size of the electromagnetic coil and power provided to it, it's possible we may see a larger range if consumer demand is there. Also not included in this launch release: Mac support. With Razer working to make its entire product line compatible with Apple's OS, we'd imagine some consumer demand there would go a long way.
In short, Sixense technology and the Razer Hydra product are very impressive. If you're not inclined to believe us, that's fine, but we'd also point out the tacit endorsement of Valve, not only one of the most talented FPS developers in the industry but one of PC gaming's most successful and influential supporters.