Interview with Tom Anderson of Novint

by Greg King on May 22, 2007 in Editorials & Interviews

Over the past few years, one of the most interesting pieces of hardware that we have looked at has been the Falcon from Novint. Originally seen at the 2006 GDC in San Jose, the Falcon instantly grabbed our attention with not only its unique design, but more importantly, the features that made it unquestionably original.

Interview Cont.

TG: On the Novint webpage, it’s stated that there will be drivers available for “mega-hit” games. Aside from Half Life 2, are there any other major games that you have in mind that you feel the gaming community would like to see the Falcon support?

TA: At this time, I can’t comment on any plans that we have with any developers but I can say that we are working with them.

TG: Most games currently seem to be meant for quick fixes… the in and out in 15-20 minutes type games. Do you have plans for any more elaborate quest type games?

TA: Yes. At this point, the initial response from our demonstrations at CES, E3 and GDC have been overwhelmingly in favor of the shooter genre. This doesn’t mean however that the games other than shooters can’t be made to take advantage of the Falcon and what it can do. We feel that many genres will benefit even more than FPS games, with the Novint Falcon. Like you mentioned, quest games would be a good fit with the Falcon or any game that gives the player a weapon such as a sword or bow and arrow. Another avenue we would like to take is the sports genre.

TG: Outside of internal development, who else has shown a keen interest in developing games that focus on the Falcon.

TA: Novint didn’t start out to produce the Falcon. Prior to the Falcon’s development, we were strictly a software company that provided the programs that ran medical simulations. Without mentioning names, we worked on a project with a large medical company to produce a medical needle simulation.

Other industrial areas that have shown great interest have been the military, the oil and gas companies, automotive companies as well as architecture firms. Another use has been in the development of virtual toys for children.

As far as games are concerned, that is really our main focus, and we have been in contact with many different developers and publishers, but we can’t mention any names at this time.

TG: We spoke at the GDC as well as at CES last January. It seemed that every time we came by, your booth was far and away the most popular in that area. With that much public interest in mind, where has the majority of your buzz been coming from? We spoke earlier about how the pre-orders have been exhausted but where did this interest originate from. Was it trade shows or were other channels used to spread the word.

TA: Outside of word of mouth and the conventions, we haven’t done a lot of advertisement or marketing as of yet. We have talked with retailers about providing those who are interested in the Falcon, a convenient way to purchase it and as the product becomes available, we will ramp up the advertising and marketing then.

TG: Do you have any other unrelated products currently in development?

TA: Outside of the Falcon and related software, we do not. As stated earlier, we are now primarily half hardware and half software. Before the Falcon project was started, we were strictly software and with our experience in that area, we felt the time was right to bring the Falcon to life. Right now, our main focus is on making the Falcon better each day.

TG: Finally, Newton’s Monkey Business reminds me greatly of what Nintendo did with the Wii on launch day… a suite of small games that are there primarily to show off just what the Falcon is capable of while being completely entertaining along the way. Is this a fair comparison and if so, in what direction would you like the see the game development for the Falcon go?

TA: That’s a fair comparison in some ways. Like Nintendo, we are using Newton’s Monkey Business as a showcasing piece. We feel that with the many different mini-games in NMB, the Falcon and its advantages over an everyday game pad or mouse. With Half Life 2, there is a certain established audience.

With NMB, the games will appeal to not only a younger audience but to an older generation as well. While the approach is similar, the Falcon adds a sense of accuracy to gaming that the Wii just can’t deliver on. For example, in Wii tennis, when the ball comes towards your character, you simply swing the controller to return the ball.

With the Falcon, we have a similar game but instead of tennis, it’s a table tennis game. With each hit, you can feel the ball make contact with the paddle. Over time, as the player get more and more accustomed to the way the hits feel, muscle memory is used and the swings become a much more fluid motion.

We keep track of the position of the paddle to sub-millimeter resolution with a detailed sense of touch, which will allow gaming unlike anything people have tried before. With the other games of NMB, the gaming suite is comprised of 24 games, all made by an assortment of different developers so each game will feel and act differently dependant on the motions used to play the game.

What We Think

There you have it. As I read back over the interview, memories of playing around with the Falcon at the GDC and CES were at the forefront of my thoughts. As exciting as the Falcon sounds on paper, it’s one of those things that really can’t be summed up in words. It’s good to see that Novint’s initial supply has already been depleted and while that’s good for publicity, a steady stream of products need to continue to come it in order to keep up with the apparent demand.

Thinking for a while, the Falcon reminds me a lot of the PhysX card from Ageia. It’s a hardware that absolutely has to have software in order for it to even be relevant. Novint has one up on Ageia with the easily modded source engine and Half Life 2. As we continued with small talk, we talked about the community that will be a large part of the Falcons success.

There will be online leader boards and the games can be played online against competitors across the globe. For those who want to pick and choose their games, there will an online store that will allow you to do just that… get the games that you want while leaving the others behind.

When the subject of warranties was brought up, it was explained to me that the Falcon comes with a 30 day money back guarantee on top of a 90 day warranty. This is honestly one area that could be improved on but Mr. Anderson quickly assured me that they Falcons are a durable breed. Having used the same unites in many different scenarios like tech conventions or the impromptu showing in an airport, the hardware has been proven sound.

One thing however that I think would help ease the minds of the concerned is perhaps a longer warranty that might be purchased. As an ex- R/C car and truck racer, I know all to well the disposition of servos. More often than not, they work just as they should, but there are some, just as in any large group of mechanical parts, that don’t seem to be as stout as one would like.

In the grand scheme of things, 3 months isn’t that long of a time. Without having one personally, I can’t take it apart and inspect it so for now, we will have to take Tom at his word. Having dealt with the Falcon first hand though, the Falcon did seem durable and I have no reason to doubt his claims.

As the June 18th launch date nears, I know that I am growing more and more anxious to get my hands on my own Falcon. Do I think that this is for everyone? No… not at all. However, with that said, the Falcon is one of those things that anyone who is interested should experience at least once.

While most people would never use it, they should sit down with it if possible, if only to save us writers the exhaustive task of explaining how it feels and works in words. We look forward to the Falcon’s launch and are curious as how well it will sell. If early orders are any indication, Novint has a hit on their hands. We will keep you updated on any news that comes out from Novint in the future.

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