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Tobii gives developers eye tracking game design tips

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Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Carl Korobkin and Fredrik Lindh from Tobii Technology held a panel on the right and wrong ways to use eye tracking in games, centered around promotion of Tobii's "Rex" eye tracking peripheral.

Lindh began the presentation by talking about what he considered the wrong ways to the technology. He cited "active" interfaces posing problems, noting that when players feel like they're forced to look at something or look around a lot, they tend to feel tired. Similarly, he said, it's easy to determine where someone is looking but difficult to know when to interact with that thing — if a game requires a player to stare at something for an extended period to select it, they become uncomfortable.

He noted that eye tracking as a replacement for mouse cursor movement is a challenge because of the lack of precision currently available, and that in general the less game designers can force a player to do something that doesn't come naturally, the better.

Lindh recommended developers focus on designs that allow players to look around the screen as they normally would. He showed an asteroid-shooting demonstration, which Polygon covered at CES earlier this year, as an example of a game where players are always going to be looking where they want to interact.

In a demonstration of a murder mystery, the murderer started sweating when the player looked at him.

He went on to list examples of ways he thinks eye tracking can be used effectively in games. In Dead Space, he said, players could look at an icon then press a button to select it instead of scrolling through a menu of choices. In StarCraft, players could hold down a button then look around the screen to move their camera perspective. In Metal Gear Solid, players could get caught for looking at Meryl inappropriately, like they have with the camera angle serving as the player's eyes in the past.

He stressed the potential of these ideas relating to character interactions focused on eye contact, showing a demonstration of a murder mystery where the murderer started sweating when the player looked at him. And, Lindh says, it's in subtle ways like this that eye tracking technology holds a lot of potential, since it avoids a lot of the quick consistent eye movements that players might expect from the technology.

Tobii's Rex peripheral will be available for Windows later this year. Korobkin says the company's plan is to evolve the Rex software development kit soon, adding support for platforms other than Windows, with further plans to integrate its technology into laptops, tablets and phones by 2015.