Immersion, Apple bring force feedback gaming to Mac OS X

Immersion Corp. -- the premier developer of force-feedback technology on the PC -- has partnered with Apple to bring their "TouchSense" technology to the Macintosh. Recently MacCentral spoke with Immersion Vice President of Technology Adoption Dean Chang.

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With TouchSense supported on the Mac, gamers are now able to use game controllers that shake, rattle and roll in time with the explosions on the screen.

Chang said that the technology, called haptics, brings a part of the brain into the computer-using experience that usually lies dormant: your sense of touch. With Immersion's technology, you feel rumbles and shakes from your game controller. Depending on how the technology is implemented, it's also possible to simulate textures and other more delicate sensations.

Force feedback applications

Although games are the most obvious market for force feedback, they're not the only one. Chang said that Immersion's technology is being used increasingly in other areas, too: force feedback simulations help train medical students in endoscopy or vascular surgery, for example, and force feedback also has applications in 3D design and visualization in the CAD/CAM market.

Educational software is another area where force feedback is becoming increasingly important. Chang explained that The Learning Co. supports force feedback in several of its titles now, and other developers are following suit. There's also been intense interest from educational software publishers to see this technology supported on the Mac, because of the Mac's historic strength in education.

Games, however, are where force feedback has taken the greatest hold. Immersion reports that there are now more than 100 force feedback peripherals available for PCs and video game consoles, and more than 500 game titles that support the technology.

A long row to hoe

Immersion and Apple's efforts actually go back several years. When Apple's Game Sprockets technology was still in development, technical notes on Apple's Web site indicated that force feedback would be supported. Efforts to bring this technology to market were soon put to pasture when Apple focused its development efforts on Mac OS X, and the decision was made to stop work on InputSprocket.

"Apple has always been committed to making this happen," confirmed Chang, who said Apple and Immersion have shared a mutual interest for more than the last four years. Chang added that now is the right time to introduce force feedback technology on the Macintosh.

The technology is supported through an Application Programming Interface, or API, available to Macintosh software developers. The API can be used in games or other applications where force feedback support is valuable. All Mac users need is Mac OS X 10.2.3 or higher and a compatible controller and game. Fortunately, most of the PC-compatible force feedback controllers on the market are based on Immersion's technology: Just look for the Immersion TouchSense Technology logo on the box.

Support for Immersion's force feedback controllers is widespread on Windows, thanks to Microsoft's inclusion of a force feedback API in its DirectX suite, which Immersion helped to develop back in the late 1990s. DirectX is used by Windows game developers to simplify many aspects of their games' creation, including 3D rendering, networking, and game controller support.

Committed for the long haul

Initially, only three games showcase the new technology on the Macintosh: Feral Interactive's F1 Championship Season 2000 (distributed in North America by MacPlay; NASCAR Racing 2002 Season from Aspyr Media, and Aspyr's forthcoming game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. The list is short, said Chang, because the developers behind these PC game conversions were seeded with development versions of the API prior to its more widespread release.

"There will definitely be future games supporting this," said Chang.

Chang told MacCentral that Immersion would make tools and other technology available to Mac developers to make it easier for them to implement force feedback support in their software. "Our Web site contains tips and tricks and other content that are all platform-independent, and we're evolving platform-specific tools to speed the process, also."

What's more, Chang reports that adding force feedback to a Mac game conversion whose PC counterpart already supports force feedback is "very straightforward and easy."

Right off the bat, Apple has blessed a number of different controllers to work with the Macintosh and force-feedback compatible games, according to Immersion. The list includes Logitech's MOMO Force, MOMO Racing, Formula Force GP, Force 3D and Strike Force 3D controllers, Saitek's Cyborg 3D force feedback stick and R440 force feedback wheel, Gravis' Eliminator Force Feedback game pad, and certain Thrustmaster products.

Chang said that any controller that indicates it supports Immersion TouchSense technology should work, however. Immersion also expects some force feedback game controller makers to produce Mac-packaged versions of their products.

Chang said that Immersion Corp. is looking forward to a long relationship with Apple. The company also plans to exhibit in the developer's area during next month's Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, Calif.

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