If you were one of the many console gamers to live through the rise of the modern first-person shooter, enabled primarily by the Call Of Duty franchise, the subject of modified controllers is something you'll know all too well.
Creative types would forge new buttons into the back or sides of regular controllers, bending the usual limitations of handheld devices and making movements like changing weapons and performing melee attacks unconscionably fast. It was one of the first and only times that modding controllers was just part of the regular console conversation, instead of being one solely reserved for hardcore PC gamers.
And now, tucked in the south-west of Germany, in Karlsruhe, startup CapLab is looking to help gamers find a new, more polished way to control the action more efficiently.
Coming from the same folks behind German online gaming giant Gameforge, the Bcon (pronounced 'beacon') is a new, motion-tracking wearable that straps around your foot and lets users tap into personalised shortcuts that supplement the controller or usual mouse and keyboard setup. The device is currently doing the rounds on Kickstarter and hunting a $50,000 goal, with potential backers able to get involved for $79 ahead of shipments this December.
"The Bcon has been in development for around two years now. Before that, I was running Gameforge for around 10 years. But after doing that for so long, I went on gardening leave and thought about the next step I could take," CapLab CEO Carsten van Husen tells us.
"Even though most wearables focus on sensors, we felt that there's so much more we can do in the space. That's why we decided to explore the possibility of a wearable controller, instead of just something that takes passive tracking information.
"And from there, we started looking at some of the problems with traditional control in games. There are all sorts of elaborate controls that use gesture control and all this kind of thing, but we found that you only need small movements in order to really just complement your controller or keyboard."
The result of trial-and-error and brainstorming was Bcon, a controller that the company's testing showed can improve a gamer's speed by 17%, their precision by 23% and even reduce errors by 15%.
But, even despite the impressive showing in its own testing, Van Husen insists the aim isn't to replace gamers' usual setup. Instead, the hope is that the Bcon can help become an additional piece of the armoury, alongside the mouse and keyboard.
"If we're talking about PC gamers who have healthy hands, specifically, they're going to have one on the mouse and one on the keyboard — we don't want to mess with that, we want to supplement it. After all, while some mouses are great at giving you all these different options, there's only so much it can handle," he said.
As co-founder Peter Stein added, the concept really boils down to being able to do more at the same time.
Gaming from the feet… and the head?
But, as any gamer knows, adding a new dimension to the experience can often prove problematic at first. When you've pressed the same button to throw a grenade 3,000 times, it's not easy to just forget that with the promise of a quicker piece of kit. So, just how long does it take to be able to take advantage?
"There is a learning curve, and it's something we've managed to measure through testing," says Stein. "We wouldn't advise anyone jumps into ranked matches the first time they use it, of course.
"Muscle memory is a funny thing, and it's not easy to just change that behaviour sometimes. With that said, for some, we've established that you'll only need two or three hours of use before it starts to become a natural part of that rotation."
Once gamers are equipped with the Bcon, there are four moves to learn in order to access up to 24 additional hot keys. By lifting their heel or toes, or tilting their foot to the left or right, this translates into real-time movement.
And the device tracks movements with a velocity of 1,000 measurements per second, and is also capable of recognising changes at up to 2,000 degrees per second for responsiveness and accuracy. Cleverly, it's also able to recognise the difference between genuine movements and general fidgeting.
As the founders told us, though, while the focus is gaming, that's not the sole way to make use of the Bcon. If you're navigating the likes of creative software and want a quicker way of highlighting tools, or simply want a different way to scroll through menus, the device can also be programmed to do this.
Naturally, the Bcon also opens the door to gamers who may not physically be able to game with their hands. As the video below shows, the wearable can even be placed on the head and help the likes of paraplegics who would otherwise not be able to game.
As with any crowdfunding camapign, there's an element of risk attached to backing the Bcon. However, there are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what the CapLab team is building here.
Van Husen tells us that 30 prototypes are currently working steadily, while German YouTubers and Twitch streamers are also using the device on a regular basis. And not only does that show it's already out in the field proving it can perform what it sets out to, the company also notes that it's already lined up the electronics company in Germany who will manufacture the device, as well as the team who will perform the injection die casting of the socket and cases.
As we mentioned earlier, there's no doubt a learning curve involved with adding another element to your gaming setup, but there's some serious potential here. And the fact that it's not just geared to hardcore gamers looking for an edge is refreshing – there are genuinely cases where this can open up gaming to those who couldn't previously.
Whether you're one of them, or you're just willing to take a chance on an innovation that can potentially give you a competitive edge, the Bcon appears to be a project worth exploring further.
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