The concept of light guns for games is something that some of you might remember from playing a long time ago on a console, but still refer as to a fun experience. However this concept has long been gone, due to technological changes and no new suitable games, although there were some tries to revive it. The modern way of doing things is with accelerometers and gyros in the form of so called “air mouse” products that are available by multiple companies. However these usually are either targeted at the business for presentations or for home/multimedia use like for playing back multimedia on your PC while sitting comfortable in your couch. I’ve been working on an idea of mine about a DIY device like an air mouse turned into a more decent gaming type controller for use in stereo 3D as well, but that will take me some more time, and meanwhile a few days ago I’ve found out about Fujitsu’s Air Command Plus. This is an air mouse that has been made especially for gamers, so I took one of these to try out and see how well it will work in different types of games and in stereo 3D mode as well and most of all will it be fun and easy to use…
With light guns we had games that are a bit more static, like for example you get something displayed on the screen with a static scene and moving targets that you need to shoot at. The reason for that was due to the fact that it is hard to operate a controller to move while aiming and shooting at something on the screen with the light gun, but newer games are much more dynamic and this makes it hard to go apply the light gun concept. With light guns you are taking aim through the gun’s iron sights, but with a new shooter you need to move around a big open spaces, interact with different objects and this while shooting at enemies. This calls for a more flexible solution and since you are getting your crosshair on the monitor, you no longer need to take aim with an actual gun. This certainly is not that realistic, or at least not like you should do it in real life, but makes it easier to aim and shoot and in regards with stereo 3D you can actually play without having to close one of your eyes to take aim. The additional flexibility is offered by full freedom of movement for which a multiple sensors are needed to track your hand’s movement and translate it to actual cursor or character movements and/or actions. So a gun type of controller would be suitable for FPS shooters, but what about racing or sport games or if you just want to you the controller as an air mouse in some software in Windows? That is why Fujitsu have thought about making the controller flexible, meaning that you can change its shape depending on what you are using it for. There are two basic positions – straight, similar to that of a Wii remote and a gun type one, however there are multiple modes associated with these two positions of the controller. Like for example having it in straight position you would usually use it as an air mouse in Windows or as a sports controller, again much like you do with Nintendo’s Wii remote. But in gun mode, if you hold it like a gun you can use it as such in FPS shooters, but if you rotate it a bit it becomes a wheel replacement for racing games, and if you tilt it forward it becomes a controller for air simulators.
The software that Fujitsu uses for configuration and control of their Air Command Plus remote uses profiles and it comes with a few of them built in – for some popular games and for some not so popular, but you can also make up your own configurations for different games. You can choose the mode the controller will be used in and map the keys you have on the controller respectively for different functions. Now, as I’ve mentioned the Air Command Plus tracks your hand movement and can translate them into game commands, but aside from that it also has multiple buttons that can be customized for other functions. There is a the all important “trigger” (first mouse key) and another key on top that does what the right mouse button does, these two are very handy and easy to sue, especially in gun mode, and a few more buttons. There is also a directional pad on top that works for movement for example, simulating WASD or the arrow keys, definitely a good idea, but not very handy for some games like shooters for example. The reason for that is that it is quite hard to use the direction controller for movement in a game while at the same time you move your hand to aim and shoot at something, and because of that you usually have to use the keyboard with your other free hand. For other types of games the situation is different as the movement is mapped to the position of the controller like in racing games, so that is not much of a drawback anyway, but a second Wii nunchuk like controller for the movement part would’ve been a great addition for FPS games for example.
With the Air Command Plus controller you get some free sports games that are quite Wii-like and fun to play with the controller, almost like if you played them on Wii. You also get a software that can be used to translate gestures with the air mouse into commands for Windows 7… kind of multi-touch emulation through the remote which may also be interesting for some of you. Of course you get the controller itself, which is wireless and uses two AA batteries for power and a USB stick that serves as a controller to get the commands from the air mouse to the PC wirelessly using a 2.4GHz frequency. According to Fujitsu the max communication range is 10 meters, a distance that would require you to use a big projection screen and that kind of sounds like a very fun idea to try. I’ve had no trouble with the sensitivity of up to 4-5 meters away from the PC and I haven’t tried with more as there was no point going further from the projected screen. When connected to a PC the controller acts more like a mouse, but I’ve seen some games detect it as a joystick/joypad device, so you should have that in mind.
And now back to the actual usability of the device. I’m starting with shooters, where I had to resort to my keyboard for movement and use the Air Command Plus just for aiming and shooting. And it did quite well with that task, provided that I did not have to move and rotate too much in the game, but mostly move straight and aim with not too much movement of the crosshair on the left and right. The problem comes if you have to rotate more by moving the crosshair, usually you do that with a mouse by lifting it and placing it at another position and then continuing to move it to rotate. This action however is hard to be replicated when you are holding a controller that reacts and moves with the movement of your wrist or your whole arm (depending on personal preferences). There is of course a solution that is similar to lifting your mouse and that is to press and hold a special key at the “pistol’s” handle, just below the trigger, marked as button A and then change the Air Command Pro’s position without this actually affecting the cursor position. The after that you release the button and continue to move the crosshair withing the game with your hand’s movement, it works well, but it takes some time to get used to that. So there are some specifics, it is a different and maybe a more natural way of movement, but it does not follow the way things happen in the real world when you are holding a gun, aiming it and shooting. But precisely as you don’t need to aim through the “gun controller”, you don’t actually need to see it, just follow the on-screen crosshair you can use the controller without any issues to play FPS games in stereo 3D mode as well. I should however let you know that it is more tiring as compared to using a mouse, so you will have to take breaks more often to let your hand get some rest. And as for the precision when aiming, if your hand is not shaking after drinking too much coffee or something else, then you should not have trouble getting used to playing shooters like that. Here the gyro helps you with keeping steady the mouse pointer at a fixed position when you are holding your arm steady to aim at something.
As for using the controller for racing and sports games, even air simulators… there the situation is much easier as most of your controls are translated just to the movement of the controller. Aside from sports games where you will probably (not in all of course) just swing or move the controller, holding it with a single hand, with racing and air simulators you will be holding it with both arms, so it is not as tiring. It of course takes some time to get a hand of things, don’t just expect to start NFS and be a driving pro with this controller as opposed to the keyboard. You may also need to play a bit with the sensitivity in some games of the reaction is too slow as compared to the amount of movement you are doing with the controller. What can be a bit more of a challenge and not suitable for gaming with this controller are some third person action games, or fighters or any not so traditional genres of games where a mouse would be much easier and comfortable to be used. The good thing is that there is no need for you to do something special, other than taking some time to adjust and learn to use this new method of control, it can be quite fun once you get the hang of it. And it will work equally well on both non-stereoscopic 3D games as well as when playing games in stereo 3D mode, so no worries about that. It is fun, but don’t expect that using this controller will make things out just the same like in the real world, it offers something different as a control method, but not necessarily a more realistic one, it is more like a more fun one. And I should tell you that if it gets you out from your chair or couch to play a game on a big TV or a projector, no matter if 2D or 3D, then it is really worth it ;)