Valve Wanna Make You Sweat Til You Can’t Sweat No More

By Alec Meer on May 7th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

They do something

We’re waiting for you, Valve. In the sweat chamber. Show us what your mad wearable computing tech can do, instead of all this teasing. Latest report is that they’ve come up with kit which can measure assorted bodily responses, including heart rate, facial expression, brain waves, eye movement, pupil dilation, body temperature and, indeed, sweatability. Based on how you appear to be feeling, the game will alter factors such as difficulty and intensity to suit.

Speaking to VentureBeat, Valve’s in-house psychology guy Mike Ambinder claimed that “One thing we are very interested in is the notion of biofeedback and how it can be applied to game design. There is potential on both sides of the equation, both for using physiological signals to quantify an emotional state while people are playing the game.”

They’ve had a working version of this in Left 4 Dead, wherein their sensors measured player’s physical state while attempting to kill 100 infected within four minutes. If they seemed agitated or excited, according to their sweat levels and other factors, the game would speed up and give them lest time to complete their micro-genocide within.

They’ve also got eye-tracking working in Portal 2 – I wonder if we’re in for a (heh) head-to-head battle between competing techs in that regard, what with Oculus Rift inbound, TrackIR already about and someone no doubt planning to do clever things with Google Glass. Those aren’t eye-trackers, of course, but I imagine they strive to achieve a similar effect with a fair bit more movement. Additionally, Valve’s tech can apparently independently respond to where the eyes are looking and what direction the head turns in.

Here’s Ambinder having a chat about all this stuff:

Is our dark future, then, sitting motionless in our chairs with a pair of Goggles clamped to our faces while our eyes and pores direct what we see and how we move? Blink to jump, make your forehead sticky to shoot, being a bowel movement to exit to deskop? By next June every single human being on the planet will look like those blobby people in Wall-E. MARK MY WORDS.

More seriously, the main challenge I see for wearable computing is the hassle of strapping assorted sensors and cameras to our bodies. Grabbing a quick half hour of gaming before dinner isn’t going to be quite so appealing if you have to perform a sort of Batman dress-up first. I’ll be very interested to see how all this stuff is actually packaged once it’s made public.

Valve’s tech will also be looking into our big brown eyes, presumably. If someone can overlay Gabe Newell’s face onto this singer, that would be great:

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69 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    c-Row says:

    If they seemed agitated or excited, according to their sweat levels and other factors, the game would speed up and give them lest time to complete their micro-genocide within.

    So rather than Easy/Normal/Hard, future games will offer Skinny/Normal/Obese as difficulty options?

    • TomA says:

      Well said haha, either that or nobody can play a game on regular difficulty during a heatwave.

      • C0llic says:

        If you watch the video, he does say the ph level of your sweat not the quantity, as a way of presumably measuring the players adrenaline or nervousness; i think he said the word ‘arousal’ whatever that means. So the amount of sweat, or temperature in the room shouldnt have an impact on what they are measuring.

        • Captain Joyless says:

          “whatever that means” ??? ‘arousal’ is a neuropsychological phenomenon. It is not some wishy-washy designer speak.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arousal

        • wr0ng1 says:

          The pH *content* (meaning ionic strength I’m guessing) being the determinant of conductivity across the skin. It’s micro changes in conductivity which are measured, not the specific type of mood.
          Adrenaline content etc… are far too complex to measure using basic equipment. Minor changes in skin conductivity are easy however and sudden changes can be separated from overall changes caused by temperature, a shown in the graph in the document linked below.

        • TomA says:

          So when you’re aroused it gets harder? The game of course.

          • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

            You’re the winner! Hooray! Congratulation!

  2. Mustard Wrap says:

    From this point onward, the measure of a player’s skill will be based on the temperature of the room he/she plays in.

    • wr0ng1 says:

      In this thread, no one understands how environmental controls and equipment calibration works.

      • Premium User Badge

        Cinek says:

        Or simply: Authors of this dumb idea forgot that each person sweats differently in different temperatures, and there are more factors to sweating than just stress level and ambient temperature.

      • Jams O'Donnell says:

        Calibration is the biggest factor in my skepticism about this. I’m sure Valve have considered it in great detail, but I can’t see how it will work for enough of a majority of people in enough of a majority of situations to be reliable.

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          Onanism will in future be known as calibration!

        • crunchyfrog555 says:

          Agreed.

          Plus, as a disabled gamer, I roll my eyes whenever I see developments like this – not because I don’t believe them, but I wonder if they’ll forget the 20% of all gamers who have some sort of disability that affects their gameplay again.

          Naturally, such a group has a bloody large range of varying problems, but thankfully the vast majority can be helped in games by the implementation of a few simple things (which are often overlooked, and which we continually have to fight for – such as PROPER closed captions, colour-blind options, control configurations, etc).

          So, when I see things like this, and they say that they’ve covered the amount of sweat variation because they equate things like pH value, I immediately think of my tablets which have caused me to sweat a little, but more importantly have CHANGED the sweat, amongst other things.

          So, is this going to be another gaming fad which won’t include us? I’d like to believe Valve are communicative with these things, but I’ve known from first-hand experience that they will happily ignore you if they really don’t want to include you.

          it’s a shame – games should be for all. Hope I’m wrong.

      • Mustard Wrap says:

        Actually, I do understand thermometers and I have adjusted my gamma before. Twas jest, my friend.

        • wr0ng1 says:

          Wasn’t just you, some posts above were pretty scathing also.
          Galvanic skin response, which is what I assume they are doing for monitoring sweat is used in lie detector tests and doesn’t monitor general sweating but small rapid changes in sweat brought about by changes in emotional state.

          I imagine if they were using kit to monitor temperature, they’d keep a steady reading of ambient room temp and the kit would probably be calibrated by randomised visual and audio stimuli when setting up the equipment and perhaps more often if people feel the response is a bit off.

          I’ve run neuroscience lab demonstrations on how to use relatively simple equipment to get read-outs on subtle changes in emotional state and while it isn’t accurate enough to say, tell what someone is thinking or feeling precisely, I imagine if it’s done correctly, it would work really well as a feedback mechanism for gaming. I just think that using it to modulate difficulty is a really unimaginative use for it. I’d far rather see something like Call of Cthulhu’s sanity / fear mechanisms tied into it. Or in-game characters responding to your actual changes in mood. Or using it to change the game’s music, colour saturation etc..

          That could have some really funny results. Imagine a game of something like Skyrim, you’re walking through a field, watching butterflies swoop about, check your map to see how far away your objective is, start moving towards a thistle plant to harvest it, suddenly realise that you forgot to pay your utility bil…combat music kicks in.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            Thank the lord for Direct Debit!

            This whole area though undoubtedly scientifically interesting is just a gimmick. Game play has suffered enough recently with the graphical development sponge. Another frankly useless feature soaking up the development budget isn’t really a good thing :-(

            Just make a good game and people are generally happy! I’m sure this can be proven with galvanic skin response data!

          • C0llic says:

            Hasn’t anyone actually watched the video? He isn’t talkng about how sweaty you are but the chemical content of said sweat. In other words, how nervous or anxious are you, not is it warm out.

          • wr0ng1 says:

            Sure it’s a gimmick, but that’s not to say it might not accidentally be amazing.

          • wr0ng1 says:

            @C0llic – galvanic skin response (GSR) measures conductivity across the skin, which he refers to when he mentions pH content of sweat. So it’s not the chemical content being measured, just the electrical properties of the skin in response to chemical content. Because no way is anyone going to be able to afford to strap on a mass spectrometer to enhance their gaming experience.

            GSR responds to emotional state and can be separated from normal sweating in response to heat.

            [EDIT] A quick look at the slideshow linked below (http://bit.ly/18Suy8n) confirms that it is skin conductivity. They’re essentially using a rudimentary lie detector test setup, with added face & eye analysis. I’m sure it’ll be ages in the making, but used well, this kind of thing could become standard along with things like kinect as just an extension of input. Can’t see it hitting the market for a while though.

          • finbikkifin says:

            Because no way is anyone going to be able to afford to strap on a mass spectrometer to enhance their gaming experience.

            Then why the hell did I go to all that trouble just to nick a GC-MS from the labs? Bloody Valve, getting my hopes up.

  3. honuk says:

    The only reason for any of this is to eliminate their extensive focus group testing. For Valve, a game’s quality is based on how smoothly players are able to coast through it. If the game is programed to adjust on the fly (and plenty of games do this, they just do it va the more “pedestrian” method of responding to player failure and success), then everyone is coasting at just the right pace. I’d rather not.

    • SgtDante says:

      o I dunno, personally I think that this is a pretty good idea, the games are always /just/ challenging enough to; if you pardon the expression, make you sweat. Rather than having a one size fits all easy/medium/hard setting (for example my friends and I playing Xcom, I play on normal and he plays on Hard and we both feel the challenge to be about right.) You would instead have a much more tailored approach. I’d much rather have a suit made to measure rather than just pick a 38Long off the rack, so why not with videogames too?

      My only issue is what bodily reactions would they intend to change what features? I mean if you’re sweating a bit and your eyes are all over the place I’d think that was a queue to slow things down a little, but sure that their eggheads have it all figured out, or are figuring it out, or something, I’m no boffin.

      • crunchyfrog555 says:

        The only thing that bother me about this is that games (not Valve’s thankfully) can often be VERY amiss with difficulty or have ridiculous and out-of-place difficulty spikes.

        Again, as a disabled gamer, I’m often forced to play games on an easy setting nowadays. Plus, as many disabled gamers are in a far worse situation than I, we’re continually battling to get certain things implemented in games which should be standard (such as the closed captions, difficulty sliders, customised controls, plug-ins, etc, I mentioned in a post above).

        I have little faith that, if this went across the board as it were, that many developers simply wouldn’t grasp the nettle properly, based on the simple fact that they can’t get difficulty right NOW.

      • zal says:

        They should have this with books too, A lot of great works of literature would be a lot better if you didn’t have to learn new vocabulary or try to understand difficult metaphors… with eye tracking and sweat monitoring, books could instantly tell you were stuck on a phrase and trying to pick something up and just replace the phrase with 3rd grade level english.

        Words like “determined” and “infallible” keeping you from getting through Catch 22? Not in the future!

    • Eldiran says:

      This isn’t really related to focus testing that much. The easiest thing to balance is how many enemies to put in a map. The main things they test for are how much players understand or enjoy the mechanics/level/characters/plot.

    • aiusepsi says:

      What Valve does isn’t focus testing. Focus testing is putting people in a room and then asking them questions about what they think. This is rightly derided because if you listen to what a focus group wants, you can end up with something very generic. You can end up being led by outside opinions; creating Brown Shooter 5 because that’s what your focus group says they want.

      What Valve does is the opposite way round. They create something on a hunch that it’ll be fun (a game mechanic, a character, a level, whatever) then have people play with it, and see if those people have fun doing so. Valve’s method is essentially experimental. They are just finding out the answer to a simple question: do people have fun playing our game?

      If someone doesn’t have fun, they analyse why, come up with a hypothesis and possible solutions, try out the solutions, and repeat.

      The only criticism of that process you can make is that it means Valve doesn’t release games that it has empirical evidence aren’t fun to play.

  4. Premium User Badge

    FunnyB says:

    I saw this news on Eurogamer shortly before appearing here and I’m still wondering, why would they increase the tension if someone is already getting excited, and if someone was just playing “normally” nothing would happen. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  5. LordMidas says:

    Will it take keyboard mashing rage into account?

  6. trooperwally says:

    Presumably this tech could be used to notify me when I need to take a drink? The number of times I’ve gone to bed feeling dizzy and headachy after a long stint of Planetside 2, at least some of that is because I’m totally incapable of being aware of my own need for water.

    • MrLakestream says:

      Gurl I Vanu make you sweat

    • Dowr says:

      For long play sessions, I usually prepare 3 x 1 liter bottles of fizzy water. Yes, not spring water, but FIZZY.

  7. Prime says:

    Lately, it feels like Valve want to do everything except make games.

    • bstard says:

      Yeh, Left4dead was terribly boring, why even bother thse gadgets. That steambox has been know to have killed people by boredom. Where’s our HL3 gdit?

    • HadToLogin says:

      Well, unlike other companies they don’t have to. Just like MS doesn’t need exclusives for X360 to get money – there’s enough dumb people paying those few bucks every month for something they should have for free.

    • cowardly says:

      Fair enough, though, this stuff is interesting! I don’t know what this will actually output, but their publications are very interesting to read, and even if the end result is not something widely used in the near future, it’s this kind of experimentation that help us create new forms of play, and of technology in general.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Valve are now so immersed in pet projects that I’m honestly amazed they get anything of real substance done anymore.

  8. sonson says:

    “MY EYES. THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING”

    • roryok says:

      UP AND AT THEM.

    • DarkMalice says:

      “I have purchased the Springfield YMCA. I plan to tear it down and turn the land into a nature preserve. There, I will hunt the deadliest game of all… man.”

    • ShanDaMan says:

      Only Fallout Boy can save me now!

    • Leramar says:

      Now, that’s real acid so I want to see goggles people!
      Real acid?

  9. frightlever says:

    No more Xbox for you, Abe Sapien.

  10. Leaufai says:

    This is one of the things that something like Kinect could actually be very useful for. Using its face/eye tracking qualities to read the players’ facial expressions and adjust the game accordingly. Just music alone could benefit greatly from this. If the player goes from stress out to relieved, the music could mix into something louder and bombastic. If he suddenly looks worried or scared though, the changes into something gloomy or it might just fall silent all together.

  11. soldant says:

    Hopefully they can integrate this into a controller, because I don’t really want to hook myself up to a pulse oximeter or a 3 lead ECG monitor. An Occulus Rift will be enough stuff attached to my person without extra stuff.

  12. Lobotomist says:

    I still dont understand how does the song about anal sex, figures in all this ?

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      The upcoming patented Valve Probe I guess

  13. aiusepsi says:

    Ambinder has been doing this sort of stuff (and publishing about it too, see: http://valvesoftware.com/publications/2011/ValveBiofeedback-Ambinder.pdf) for a long while now, so it’s bit odd people are suddenly picking up on it now.

  14. Snids says:

    Me: *…affixes last of the ECG pads then engages Oculus Rift, boots Left4Dead2, starts game*

    Her (from upstairs): “Loooove, could you bring up the phone/dog/reading glasses/dog/tea?”

  15. MeestaNob says:

    Holy shit, just make Half Life 3.

    • frelled says:

      +1 this. I am starting to lose faith that they even know how to finish the current storyline. Nothing kills my loyalty more than selling me an unfinished story.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      This. Very much

  16. staberas says:

    I expect the suit their making,is that it just converts your body sweat & piss into mountain dew (or whatever horrible beverage your country produce)

  17. Sardonic says:

    I remember when Valve still made games.

    Those were good times.

  18. Wang Tang says:

    They wouldn’t need biofeedback for me in L4D2. They could just take the noise level from my microphone as I scream in horror over mumble to my friends as I’m overrun by zombies. They could also count the amount of swear words per minute.

  19. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    When the software analysed the guy in the vids(Mike Ambinder) eye response it raised the question of why he was born on a Wednesday looking both ways for the end of the week!

  20. Calabi says:

    Are they going to become scientists all of a sudden? Because this sort of thing isnt fully understood by scientists yet. How people respond to stimulus, and what those stimulus’s mean.

    It seems a bit ridiculous to me, adding a layer of complexity to things that isnt needed and wont help anyone.

    • finbikkifin says:

      In Portal 2, Chell escaped. Now GLaDOS needs a new subject for her testing… and congratulations, [player name], you have been chosen!

  21. KilgoreTrout_XL says:

    I could give Valve some biofeedback on some things.

    yeah i said it.

  22. Tretiak says:

    Episode 3.

  23. xaphoo says:

    I think Valve is surely jumping over some sharks.