[[Change the Way You Play]]
eDimensional President, Michael Epstein, was good enough to answer a few questions for MegaGames readers and to discuss his views on the future of PC gaming and the products that will immerse players further into the gaming experience in the future.
One of the basic rules of life is that those unwilling to risk failure are unlikely to discover success and although the gaming industry was built on this concept, modern business models fail to consider anything short of a "sure thing".
As gaming has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, the companies willing to take risks in order to enhance the gaming experience have become an almost extinct species. A small number of companies however, have persisted in examining the gaming experience in its entirety in order to improve the way video games are perceived by the gamer. Love them or hate them those companies exemplify the spirit that got gaming to the dizzying heights of today and the products that come out of these companies will be exploited tomorrow by those unwilling to take the risks today.
One such company has created 3D visuals for games, motion tracking and voice recognition as well as force-feedback headsets. You may love one of their products and hate another but whatever your personal tastes, eDimensional has created a reputation for itself as an innovative force in the industry.
MegaGames had the chance to ask eDimensional President, Michael Epstein, his views on the industry, the future of PC gaming and even on the Nintendo Revolution controller. Is gaming doomed to be controlled by the 2-3 major console manufacturing companies and the even fewer big publishers? Or is there hope for more diversity and 3rd party hardware and software that will enhance the way gamers interact with the virtual world created by developers?
[[The Gamer's Opinion]]
MG If we could start with a short introduction of yourself and your role within eDimensional.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. My name is Michael Epstein and I'm the President of eDimensional. My responsibilities include overseeing our development of new products, our overall sales and distribution operations and working with our various sales and business partners. I also like to speak with customers directly so sometimes I'll even be answering your phone calls and emails.
MG 3D, motion tracking, force feedback… the list goes on; how is the decision made to create a new eDimensional product? Is the gaming community consulted in any part of the process?
We generally look for innovative concepts that can be applied to gaming in order to create a unique and more realistic gaming experience. We absolutely pay very close attention to customer feedback and suggestions. All of us here including me personally spend a tremendous amount of time browsing websites and forums to keep up to date with what is going on in the hard-core gaming world as well as the needs that are not being addressed. We have a number of very talented engineers on our team that are constantly working on new product ideas. Many of us are in fact hard core gamers ourselves, so we're constantly testing our theories to see which ones will fly.
MG: The list of products eDimensional makes is not, by any stretch, conventional, how do you go about implementing your ideas and what are the risks involved?
We don't have all of the resources as a company like Logitech or MadCatz, plus our products are more unique so there is always some element of risk when we launch something new. We've been fortunate to have great support from the gaming community with each of our products. They are generally considered the best in their respective areas (3D, head tracking, etc.) and we always try to develop the best quality products for our target gaming consumer while still being very affordable. Before we start developing a product, we try to identify a need that is not being addressed. We get general feedback from a number of experts in related fields such as voice recognition as well as professional gaming clans, publishers, and our own engineers. Ultimately, it has to conceptually be something we truly believe in, which has been a successful strategy for us so far.
MG: Do you work with game developers in order to come up with ideas and also enhance support for your products? Is that a possibility?
Yes, we've sent many of our products to various developers who take them into consideration when developing new titles. Some choose to integrate our products directly into the game. The TrackIR for example has numerous "TrackIR Enhanced" titles which are supported directly by the developers for optimal functionality. While we would love every game to be designed specifically for use with our products, we also realize that is not practical or likely. So we try to design all of our products with the inherent capability for nearly universal game support that is not dependent on integrated support within the game code. For example with Voice Buddy, we did the legwork and pre-programmed over 60 voice profiles into the software, then in version 3.0 created a wizard that also allows you to create your own voice commands for new games on your own with no programming required.
MG: Considering voice recognition has proved a tricky process to master (its use in cars is a glowing example), how well does Voice Buddy perform and what do you think are the benefits to the gaming experience?
That's a common question. Voice Buddy is one of the first and only voice recognition platforms that requires virtually no training and is extremely accurate. How do we do that? Well the difference between Voice Buddy and a dictation product such as Dragon which you use for word processing is that we have a more finite vocabulary. Voice Buddy has a limited set of words from which to discern the word you are speaking. Dragon on the other hand, by nature needs to be able to interpret virtually any word within the English language. When you add a new command to Voice Buddy, it will automatically start listening for it when you speak it and the number of commands you can add is limitless. Even so, with the thousands of commands we have pre-programmed as well as any number of new commands you could possibly add, still won't come close to the millions of possible words that potentially exist.
With Voice Buddy, you can switch weapons, issue squad commands, save games, and have access to a wide variety of controls without having to take your hands off the primary controls. If that's a keyboard, that means you can maintain WASD control without having to move your hand and peck at an F12 quick-save option, or if you are in a racing sim not have to toggle buttons on a wheel or keys for a pit stop. We don't want to replace your primary input device, but by giving you access to any number of commands by voice you can explore more of your game and perform better without having to be double-jointed in your hands to issue fast multi-key combos.
The eDimensional AudioFX, described as home theater for your head
MG: On the same note how does the interaction with the AudioFX gaming headset work and how does that improve the overall gaming experience?
I use the AudioFX every day and I wouldn't play a game or even listen to music without it. Imagine having the home theater subwoofer bass sensation in a headset. It provides a tactile experience that is unlike anything you could experience from sound alone. In addition, the vibration or "force-feedback" effect is directional, meaning if footsteps are approaching you from the left, you could actually feel them to your left side. In addition, you would probably feel them approaching before you actually see or hear them since the transducers in the headset can pick up bass sounds that the human ear might not or might be missed in the heat of action. Not only do you benefit from having this additional sensory cue, but in general being out on the battlefield and feeling the explosions all around you just makes the game so much more fun. Of course we also made sure to include a noise-canceling mic for online chat and we've recently been honored as the first and only official Teamspeak certified headset.
MG: Are all PC games supported by Voice Buddy?
We built in profiles for over 60 of the most popular games and give you free updates of any new game profiles for life. As we spoke about earlier, version 3.0 gives you the capability to add your own voice commands without any programming, so even if we didn't do a profile almost all games can be Voice Buddy enabled.
MG: What products is Edimensional currently working on?
While the nature of our products is generally so unique that we can't tip our hand just yet, we're constantly working on enhancements to our product line as well as new concepts altogether. We'd love to see our VirtualFX fully supporting projection and plasma screens. Companies have demonstrated a strong demand for high-performance gaming mice and other ubiquitous peripherals, so we're always considering ways to enhance those products even further.
MG: As the gaming industry progresses into the, so-called, next-generation and beyond, where do you see it going? Holographic projectors, full interactivity, the current trend for visor displays; do you see eDimensional involved in any way?
It's easy to see that new software and peripherals are driven by the unrelenting desire for the most realistic gaming experience possible. From improving the 3D graphics to peripherals such as the Eye Toy and even DDR, the user is supposed to feel more immersed in the action and even take part in it. We have had this same premise in mind since we began over 5 years ago, trying to create ways to immerse the user in the game and provide realistic sensations that go beyond a standard mouse, keyboard and monitor. This continues to be our goal and as games themselves become more realistic; our products become even more compelling. Yet we still have many new opportunities to develop cutting-edge applications and expand upon existing concepts. While our glasses provide an amazing 3D sensation, there are some interesting advancements with regards to holographic displays. While those are still quite a ways away for the average consumer, you can be sure we will be at the forefront of these new technologies.
[[PC Gaming and the Revolution Controller]]
MG: Nintendo's Revolution seems an interesting proposition for console gaming, can you see a similar controller developed for PC?
Absolutely. The TrackIR has made much of this capability already possible, but with the Revolution controller all game developers have to make a cognizant choice to develop games around that control concept. There are even a number of other peripherals on the console market that provide motion tracking capabilities and have been for some time, but they are limited to specific titles developed in conjunction with the device. The interesting thing about the Revolution controller is that essentially if you are developing a top tier title for the console, you now must utilize this new form of control. This forces developers to invest in this capability and while in the past often a console title would port over from the PC, perhaps we might start to see titles more receptive to TrackIR functionality start to make their way to the PC so that developers can see additional ROI.
Look around, you're being tracked by TrackIR 3
MG: Where do you see eDimensional in 2006? Will the company focus on consoles (as almost everyone seems to be doing) or is there hope yet for PC gamers?
We believe that the PC market is still alive and kicking. We are dedicated to enhancing the PC gaming experience and I don't see that changing any time soon. While the console market seems to have a bit more sex appeal and press coverage lately, especially with all of the new consoles coming out in the next 12-18 months, it's easy for some people to overlook the strong lineup of PC titles. However, even Microsoft admitted that they have been neglecting the PC gaming market and have made a strong commitment to reviving some of that support with Windows Vista. While we hope to cater to the needs of the console gamers as well as we've started to do with our VirtualFX 3D Converter for game consoles, we will continue to roll out new products for hopefully multiple platforms.
MG: Finally, what games is the eDimensional team currently enjoying?
A lot of people think we just play games all day over here. Unfortunately that's not always the case, but playing a wide variety of games is an integral part of our business. I'm not very good at most of them! I personally really like the Battlefield series and Unreal Tournament 2K4. We have some guys that are exceptional flight simmers, but personally I have a hard time getting off the runway. We have just about every popular and not so popular title in the office and a number of gaming "test" stations, so there's always some sort of gaming going on. While it may not be all fun and games, I can't think of a much better job and I'm sure our employees would agree.