Tag Archives: Wii Vitality

Wii Vitality still beats for no one


It looks like Nintendo have put the Vitality sensor on an indefinite hold. In answer to a question at a recent shareholder meeting, Nintendo explained that while player physiology opened interesting avenues for play the mechanics they tried didn’t work for everybody, that being 10% of the players they tested. As I posted back in 2011, when Nintendo first raised this issue, the bar Nintendo had set for the percentage of players who could successfully control their physiology was simply too high at 99%.

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Will the Wii Vitality every reach 99% of all customers?

At a recent investor conference, Nintendo was rumoured to of stated that the reason the Wii Vitality has not been released was because it only works for 80% of players and before they release it they want it to work for 99%. If this issue concerns the physiological game mechanic (i.e. only 80% of players can control their physiology according to the requirements of the game mechanic), then the product will be on hold for a very long time.

Note: For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume Nintendo are experimenting with a heartbeat (HR) rate based biofeedback relaxation game which they’ve alluded to previously at E3 2009. However what I’m going to say applies equally to all physiological game mechanics I know of and should be borne in mind when developing your own physiological game.
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Predictions for 2011

Well there goes by another year I don’t get to spend the holidays playing with the Wii Vitality. I’m beginning to think Nintendo have given up on the whole idea of biofeedback adapted gaming given the lack of noise they’ve made since the platforms original announcement in June 2009. I originally bought my Wii on the premise that Nintendo was going to start the ball rolling on integrating biofeedback interfaces into mainstream games, and to that effect have speculated several times on the type of experiences we might see and how they would work (e.g. action games, lie-detection, relaxation and fitness). However it looks like this device will remain vaporware for the foreseeable future. Continue reading

Calm your spirits Kusagari, Red Steel 3 unlikely to use the Wii Vitality

In April there was a rumour going around that the next Red Steel (the third in the series) might support the Wii Vitality. The gameplay in Red Steel is a mixture of first person shooting and first person sword fighting. In the last Red Steel the combat system felt very similar to that of two-player fighting games like Street Fighter as apart from the basic sword fighting techniques you can perform with the Wii controller (e.g. blocking and striking) you could also pull off a range of special moves with different combinations of gestures and key presses. I’m a big fan of the Red Steel franchise and I believe it would be an interesting series to explore biofeedback based gameplay mechanics as both the mythos and the physical skillset being simulated in Red Steel lends itself well to intrinsically interesting physiological manipulations (e.g. as your playing a swordsman, “zen” powers aren’t too much of stretch for your suspension of disbelief). Below I’ve made a couple of suggestions as to what biofeedback based gameplay mechanics you might find in the next Red Steel game if it uses the Wii Vitality: –

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Post E3: Without Vitality we draw upon Innergy

Well that was a disappointment. In the end Nintendo decided against demonstrating the Wii Vitality at this year’s E3. A representative of the company stated that the Vitality was a no-show because Nintendo did not believe the event was a suitable environment for the product. Disappointing but given their press event was jam packed with a number of AAA games and a new portable it was understandable. However with the Vitality aimed for a late 2010 release it doesn’t give Nintendo much time to create a buzz around a product that frankly has none. In actuality I was surprised that Nintendo didn’t use their recent endorsement deal with the American Heart Association to hype Vitality pre E3. While the product is currently being marketed towards mental health (i.e. stress management), rather than physical health which the AHA endorsement concerns, Nintendo could of easily used the event as part of a broader health platform and so make better use of the publicity the endorsement deal attracted.
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Pre-E3: Thoughts on the Wii Vitality

With only hours left until Nintendo’s E3 press event I’ve once again been pondering what we’ll see from the Wii Vitality. At last year’s E3 the device’s announcement didn’t exactly wow the audience. It’s not surprising as Nintendo didn’t provide a demonstration of the device which might have bought gamers into the concept.  Nintendo have remained tight lipped ever since revealing absolutely nothing about what we might expect from the device.  Over the past year it has been suggested the Vitality will be used to monitor the scare factor in games, alter game difficulty, be used as an input for relaxation and exercise games as well as in lie-detection of which I discussed one particular method of implementation here.

Implementing these types of games are indeed possible using physiological measures and you can see versions of these games in the biofeedback and academic game communities for example: –

  1. The Journey to Wild Divine: series of relaxation mini-games controlled using heartbeat rate and skin conductance.
  2. A Fitness Game Reflecting Heart Rate:  boxing game which adapts the gameplay in order to move you towards a target heartbeat rate. Enemy characters require a different physical movement to destroy them, depending on the player’s current heartbeat rate and the goal an appropriate enemy will be selected.
  3. Fairies: target acquisition game which alters the player’s perception of the games difficulty according to the player’s level of arousal as denoted by heartbeat rate.

There are many ways you can use physiological data in gameplay, it’s all a question of how you make the input meaningful for the player (e.g. if the player’s relaxation level is used to switch between character states, those states have to be somewhat representative of the change, so if the player is controlling an avatar with a pyrotechnic ability then a shift from a relaxed state to an agitated state could be used to trigger their fire ability and vice versa, this would be a meaningful relationship).

The problem I have with the Vitality is in their choice of sensor:  a finger based pulse oximeter.  A pulse oximeter uses infra-red to track the changes in the volume of blood in the extremities and from this derive heartbeat rate. If you want to support a wide selection of different play styles (e.g. relaxation, exercise, affective) a finger based sensor would not have been my first choice considering the following issues: –

  1. A finger based sensor limits the player’s freedom of movement. Any physical activity will move the sensor from its recording position and may even possibly become disconnected, both events of which will create data errors. And depending on how responsive the game is to the player’s physiology it can easily lead to erroneous game behaviour.  This will limit how the data can be used in a given context (e.g. a game responsive to emotional physiological responses is not suited to a game involving gestures, this example is more prelevant for the Wii as the system sells itself on physical interaction as the standard input method).  Also the physicality of the sensor attachment to the player’s finger restricts player movement so physical actions may become uncomfortable (e.g. imagine playing Red Steel with a cable attached to your finger). This is not to say games involving physical actions will be taboo using the Vitality (e.g. a calorie counter in an exercise game), it just makes it harder.
  2. With a finger based sensor use of the second Nunchuk is liable to become awkward possibly eliminating it as an input device.

Ideally Nintendo should have gone with either an earlobe based pulse oximeter thereby freeing up the hands (though physical actions still have to be limited as that sensor is not the most secure under intense movement) or ideally a chest-strap*. A chest-strap sensor provides the most secure method of measuring a player’s heartbeat rate as the centre of the body is pretty stable under movement, this is especially true from my perspective given I’ve been wearing one for the last several months collecting data.

At this point these issues are pretty much moot (more like irritations in my noggin I can’t dispell) as I suspect Nintendo will launch the system with a series of relaxation games which the Vitality is clearly geared for**. Or perhaps a lie-detection game as I’ve talked about before.

* The problem inherent in using a chest-strap is in how the player may perceive it invading their personal space.  The chest-strap is an up-and-close personal wearable device, and I imagine given the new wireless heart monitor EA Sports Active 2.0 is using (an armband based heart monitor), there development staff thought so too. The finger attachment does not invade the player’s space so there is no unease in wearing the device.  Having just seen EA’s E3 press conference, the Vitality is already looking obsolete.

**The sensor used by The Journey to Wild Divine has been used in a multitude of different game genres, my favourite being the Half-Life 2 mod Please Don’t Feed the BioZombies. However the sensor is used in conjunction with a mouse and keyboard and this setup doesn’t suffer from player movement to the same degree the Vitality will given the nature of the input device doesn’t require much. Also unlike Vitality a mouse and keyboard is placed on a flat providing support for the hand the sensor is on.

Did you steal my power-up? Be honest, remember your avatar sweats when you do

Thursday the Herald Sun (via GamePolitics) reported on the possibility of lie detection games being supported by the new Wii Vitality Sensor. While I’ve not seen any reports that the Vitality sensor measures skin conductance (i.e. level of sweat on the inner surface of the fingers) as claimed in the article*, it did get me thinking whether or not lie detection could be a fun game mechanic.

Basics of Lie Detection

Lie detection is based on the premise that when a person lies it elicits a physiological response which can be discriminated from the truth. In a polygraph test  (a type of lie detection test) this premise is used to ascertain whether a person is answering a question truthfully or not using a range of autonomic measures such as pulse rate (i.e. like Vitality supports), skin conductance and blood pressure. In a typical polygraph test an investigator begins by asking a subject a few sample questions for which the truth is already known. This allows them to build a baseline for physiological activity representative of a question answered truthfully. Next the investigator will ask questions for which the truth is not known and via their physiological responses the investigator will infer whether they have lied or not. Obviously this all assumes that lying has its own physiological discriminates. To my knowledge it doesn’t, least not the autonomic measures commonly used in a polygraph test. For more information I suggest consulting The Polygraph and Lie Detection (National Academy Press)**.

Anyways back to whether lie detection can be a fun game mechanic. I’m going to walk you through the design of an example lie detection game and discuss the various issues and its potential for play along the way.
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