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1995-2000
GamesFirst! Magazine

Spike Wireless Set to Transform Gaming

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August 9, 2001

 

At E3 2000 Airplay left us impressed. Their demo of wireless RF controllers inspired dreams of gaming without a tether. Finally, we hoped that videogames would truly enter the future. High polygon counts and SurroundSound audio is an expected evolution for gaming, but we know that the next major breakthrough for any technology is to go wireless. Wireless phones, wireless Internet, and wireless gaming is the horizon we can now envision clearly, and the folks who brought us Airplay, Eleven Engineering, have made things a little bit clearer.

neotrans160.gif (7551 bytes)Eleven Engineering is a Canadian company that has been working on wireless RF technology for the past several years. They developed, manufactured, released, distributed, and promoted their first product, Airplay, all by themselves, making them suitably punk for us. Seizing on a good idea, they chose the DIY route, and it worked. The Airplay controller for PlayStation was an almost perfect creation, and far outpaced any wireless controller to come before it. But Eleven Engineering wasn’t content to just continue with their smallish penetration in the market. Maybe they realized that if they kept doing what they were doing, they would eventually lose out to the might of larger companies who could copy their product. Maybe they just have a bent for total industry domination. That’s the road their heading down with their latest project, Spike.

Riddle me this, dear reader: Bluetooth technology allows wireless communication that is reliable and robust over huge distances. It’s ideal for cell phones and maintaining your laptop Internet connection, not to mention static applications such as remote cameras in non-wired environments. The performance of Bluetooth is great, but the cost has been prohibitive, resulting in a very slow trickle of the technology into affordable applications. So while Bluetooth is great, it’s also very expensive, and simple questions of practicality come into play: Why do you need a wireless method of information transfer that will reach for miles and miles when you’re just sitting ten feet away from your console system? Or why would you need all the power of Bluetooth, when the computers on your home network are all within 50 feet of each other? The answer is simple: You don’t.

Spike is a new wireless protocol involving specific, custom hardware, that does not provide the range of a Bluetooth device, but comes at a much lower cost. Eleven Engineering feels that this better level of cost-efficiency, coupled with the high reliability of Spike, will make it ideal for home or local area wireless solutions. And they’re right as far as we can tell.

To prove themselves, and, we suspect, remaining true to their roots as gamers, Eleven Engineering is first incorporating Spike into gaming applications, namely wireless controllers. This makes sense for one big reason: Gaming offers you no chance to screw up. There is no way to look the other direction when your wireless controller makes you walk your character off a ledge or blow that final boss battle. Bugs like these will elicit immediate retribution on the part of the gaming community. Game controllers require constant communication with the console or PC – signals controlling force feedback stream constantly to the controller, while joystick movements and button taps flow interminably back to the system. Without completely reliable two-way communication, a controller cannot function. This is very different than the reliability that is required with a TV remote. The reason we’ve been able to tolerate infra-red remote controls for so long is that they are much simpler – there is no need for a constant connection, and the information only flows from the remote to the receiver. If Spike can conquer the videogaming world, then other home wireless applications should fall like so many lined up dominoes.

Spike could make a strong opening salvo as early as this fall, although product launches in early next year are more likely. Eleven Engineering has negotiations in progress with all the major third-party peripherals manufacturers, although the biggest news right now is RCA’s interest in the technology to form a foundation of their new line of controllers. Spike controllers will be released for every console platform and PCs. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s how things will work:

multitype-01.jpg (4893 bytes)Getting your system all Spiked out will require the purchase of a transceiver and at least one controller. You will be able to get a OneX or QuadX transceiver; the former supports a single controller (ideal for PCs), while the latter supports up to four controllers (say goodbye to your multi-tap). Once you’ve purchased the transceiver, any Spike enabled controller can be used with it. That means you’ll be able to get your Spike light gun and fishing controller out whenever you need to, but that’s not the exciting news. Spike will allow you to use any system’s controller with any other system. You like those Dual Shock 2 controllers, right? Of course you do. So why not use your Spike enabled DS2 controller on your Xbox? Or your GameCube? The Spike transceiver automatically takes care of key-mapping to allow you to use any Spike enabled controller from any gaming system on any other gaming system. That means you can hone your skills on whatever comfy controller design you like best, and you won’t have to switch up your style because your buddy has a different system.

multitype2-01.jpg (5744 bytes)This is a major breakthrough for several reasons. The biggest is just a cost factor. Controllers cost a lot of money. It’s frustrating to not be able to enjoy a full-on four player brawl because you don’t have enough controllers. And with the proliferation of new systems this year, gamers are going to make tough choices about what system they want to deck out. Do you get four controllers for your Xbox, PS2, or GameCube? Getting controllers for each would equal the cost of buying a new TV or that DTS receiver you’ve been wanting. However, if you, and your buddies, each had only one Spike enabled controller, the problem would be solved. This kind of cross-platform compatibility is welcomed, especially in a market that is growing beyond system exclusivity every day. With Sony’s recent talk about the PS3, and how they plan to let all companies (even Microsoft and Nintendo) release games for the system, it just becomes more apparent that titles will be available for every platform at ever-increasing rates. Already we’ve seen dozens and dozens of titles come out for every platform. Multi-platform game releases have also allowed game publishers to recoup their investments in games easier, which in turn allows publishers to invest more money in game development. Cross-platform compatibility is a sign of the times, and indicative of the gaming world we hope to see develop.

mult-quadX-ops-01.jpg (5425 bytes)In addition to the handiness of allowing for universally compatible controllers, Spike gives us wireless gaming. Using RF technology (that’s radio waves for the non-techies out there), it is unblockable, except by maybe lead shielding. That’s critical to maintaining communication between the game system and controller. The signal is strong for 30 feet, giving gamers an unprecedented break from either sitting on the floor or dragging their system halfway across the living room. That might also prevent your buddy from stepping on the unit when he makes that mad dash for more Mountain Dew and Doritos. In addition to supporting four players on one transceiver, Spike also allows up to 16 controllers to be used in the same vicinity with no interference. Given that Halo will allow you to play four on four matches, you could have 15 of your closest friends, four TVs, and four Xbox systems in your living room at once, and nobody would have to trip over a cord. If I had a nickel for every time I have 16 gamers playing at once in my house, I’d be a poor, poor man. But the point here is that Spike makes it possible, and possibility is good.

quadxtrans.gif (5811 bytes)The one problem with the Airplay was the antenna on the transceiver. It was a limp piece of wire that had to be taped or pinned to my entertainment center in order to work. It wasn’t pretty, but it did work well. Spike solves that problem with much more robust transceivers that have better antennas built in. There will be no futzing around with the antenna in order to secure your connection.

We’re excited about the potential of Spike, and the reputation of Eleven Engineering, their dedication to the product, and their hard-working DIY ethic should only help seal the new protocol’s success. Once the technology is ironed out to gaming standards, it will begin to migrate to many other home and local area applications. Spike could work in a USB hub, allowing not only simple plug-and-play connections, but wireless devices. With the power built into game systems of today, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that in a year or two we’ll be using the Xbox or PS2 for more than simple gaming, and Spike technology will be there to help us network. Nobody can predict exactly what kinds of products and peripherals will pick up on Spike, but Eleven Engineering and the crew have already done their job. They’ve offered us a whole world of possibility, and that’s all we can really ask for.

Shawn Rider

 

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