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CES Is In The Game With Gaming TechZone

The next round of console wars has begun, as rivals Microsoft and Sony continue the never-ending battle for domination in the electronic entertainment space. It’s been less than two months since the November launch of Sony’s PlayStation3, and both companies will be showing off the latest games for their video game systems during International CES this week.

Microsoft will also be introducing the latest consumer version of its Windows operating system in the coming weeks, and a major component of Windows Vista will be gaming. This will include new features and online options, which will be also unveiled at CES.

“Microsoft is working with major publishers and developers to make Games for Windows titles easier, safer and more fun to play, especially on Windows Vista,” said Rich Wickham, director of Games for Windows business for Microsoft Interactive Entertainment. “This will include titles bearing the Games for Windows brand, which Wickham explains will support numerous user-friendly features, including easier installation, population in the Games Explorer and full support of parental controls.”

He added, “We’re also working with publishers to develop a standardized back-of-the-box format that will quickly and clearly tell consumers recommended system requirements as well as special features supported, including online play through our Live service, native 64-bit support and multi-core CPU compatibility. Consumers saw the first games carrying the Games for Windows brand this past September, and will begin seeing consistent back-of-box system specification on Games for Windows titles early in 2007.”

Gaming won’t be limited to the Microsoft and Sony booths, either. Video games are getting a significant presence on the show floor. A special Gaming TechZone is occupying 4,800 square feet of exhibit space, where attendees can see the latest in gaming products from a range of companies.

This year’s efforts are meant to provide a more concentrated exhibit area for gaming-specific companies than in years past. The exhibitors will be showcasing hardware, software and even some cutting-edge gaming technology.

This includes Novint Technologies, a developer of commercial touch applications that add realistic 3D touch to computing. “Novint is excited to be participating in the new Gaming TechZone at CES,” said Antonia Chappell, marketing VP for Novint Technologies. “This will be our first time exhibiting at the show and we feel it is an important part of our launch strategy, especially with the changes that have occurred with E3 [the Electronic Entertainment Expo]. CES presents a great opportunity for us to introduce our products and technology to an international audience, and we’re glad they’ve decided to put more emphasis on gaming products.”

Novint will be introducing a controller that makes 3D touch not only possible, but ostensibly practical for gaming. This includes the Novint Falcon, a device that should retail for $100 later this year, and will let user actions replace the traditional mouse clicks. As with many 3D touch controllers, it is designed to let players feel the weight, shape and even texture and 3D motion of objects that they see in a game. The Falcon, which was selected as an Innovations Award Honoree, will be displayed in the Novint booth.

Visitors to the Gaming TechZone will also get to take control, as Wolf King will be showing off their latest gaming interface, the Commando, a universal gaming keyboard that will be available later in the first quarter of this year. Pricing is to be determined, but based on past devices it should be under the $40 price point. Wolf King is also unveiling a new editor of last year’s Warrior keyboard. Designed with action games, including first-person shooters in mind, the game controller is being bundled with Valve’s Counter-Strike Source and features the branding from the popular shooter series. It will be released this year for $39.99, just $5 more than the basic Warrior package. A so far unannounced bundle will also be unveiled during the show.

One trend that has been extremely popular in the electronic entertainment space is the online multiplayer worlds. They allow players to socialize with other gamers around the world, and to take part in adventures that normally can be experienced in the real world. The problem is that other than a user’s fingers, there’s not much of a workout to be had, even if the online persona is a well-toned warrior or superhero.

3D Innovations hopes to change this and get gamers as fit as their characters with Island Worlds. Part of its goal is to incorporate fitness equipment into the experience, whether this is including an off-the-shelf dance pad, or using a conversion kit to use a stationary bicycle. Additionally, 3D Innovations hopes to provide better communication, such as offering the ability to add voice-chat technology to the virtual worlds.

And if consumers don’t have a device to use already, the company will also be showing off their PCGamerBike, which is an exercise bike that can be used to interact with nearly any PC game. Two models will be on display, including a mini bike, which essentially adds pedals for users to use during the game, as well as a full recumbent bicycle. The bike, which was developed in response to customer feedback, was designed to offer gamers the ability to get in shape during their playtime, said Kevin Colbun, development manager at 3D Innovations. “It’s no secret that playing video games for an extended period of time can be unhealthy for you. It is sitting still for hours at a time.”

It is never too early for companies to show off their latest software titles, and this year at CES several companies are taking the time to offer a sneak peek at what will be played later in 2007. And this year might just be the year when mobile phone titles make their mark.

Gameloft will be on hand to show some of its upcoming titles, including TV tie-ins for the hit shows “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” as well as a new Rayman title, a tennis game and an action title called Gangster.

“Gameloft will be partnering with Qualcomm to showcase our games in their booth,” said a Gameloft spokesperson. “In the past, we have never exhibited at this show, so we’re looking forward to kicking off the New Year at CES. With E3 being dramatically scaled back, CES has become the one of the only conferences that attracts consumer and enthusiasts from all over the nation.”