E3 2012: Video game design blows minds with Sphero

You may expect that the Electronic Entertainment Expo would have some innovative ways of playing video games, but this one may just have you wondering what they’re teaching video game schools in general. Sure C++ and user interface would be taught in video game school, but many are left wondering what classes developers took to come up with the Sphero. Fewer products at this year’s E3 in Los Angeles are as truly novel as this one, one of the newest and perhaps oddest ways to play video games ever envisioned.

The three-inch white sphere is rather unobtrusive and unsurprising at first glance. Built with gyros and accelerometers as well as an array of LED lights, Sphero is a decidedly unique device, acting as both a video game controller and as the modern day successor to the RC helicopter.

Once removed from its cable-free induction charging station, Sphero is turned on by shaking it twice. Then, using an iPhone or Android smartphone as a bluetooth controller, the ball is rolled around by either dragging your fingers across the screen, or by using your phones internal accelerometer to tilt your phone in the direction you want it to travel. After a short calibration, the ball is then ready to move around at an impressive speed of three feet per second. The controls are surprisingly responsive and operate over 50 feet away from you, allowing for extreme precision when navigating around a living room obstacle course or just annoying your cat.

While fun, the concept of using a smartphone to control an RC toy or television isn’t new, as the AR Drone Quadricopter has now been around for a couple of years. But what makes the toy so interesting is its potential as a controller for games, acting as the smartphone equivalent of a WiiMote. In Last Fish, for example, the player controls a fish that attempts to eat as many white food particles while avoiding black “goo” spots and other fish by twisting, tilting and turning the ball in hand. Sphero Golf, on the other hand, turns Sphero into a golf ball with your phone acting as the club. Depending on how well you managed to put, the ball will roll about in the direction you just swung.

The selection of apps and games may be small at present time with only ten games currently offered, but Sphero’s developers, Orbotix, are seeking to change that. Recognizing that the best way to make Sphero a viable gaming device, Orbotix is hoping to expand their game catalogue by allowing for third-party game development and, more importantly, by delivering the tools for making apps into the hands of the consumers themselves. In what they are calling the Sphero Hack Tour, Orbotix is visiting seven cities across the country in 2012 and offering up to $12000 for the best third-party app per city.

After launching the product five months ago, Sphero has seen an increase in media attention, from its use as a prop on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” to a demo by President Obama which has been posted on YouTube. While the president said the device was “terrific,
the publicity did come at a slight expense after the POTUS steered Sphero into a crowd and was snatched up by an observer.

Sphero is currently priced at $129 on their website or Brookstone retailers.

By: Tyler Mangrum

Written by Drew Hendricks

Drew Hendricks is an SEO and Social Media specialist living in Seattle, Washington. Drew writes words that people enjoy reading every moment they are awake.
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