There have been several inventions in the last decade that help increase immersion levels in video games. Motion controls, 3D, Augmented Reality, touch inputs, and gyroscope have all changed the way we game. Some are preference and others never took off with the mainstream or were too expensive to become a widespread phenomenon but its impossible to say they don’t change anything.
Starting since the NES peripherals have been created to immerse the gamer better than the default controller would. The Zapper was probably the first peripheral, assuming you don’t count arcade specific controls, and started the idea that controllers could be made for certain games. Generic ideas such as racing wheels, light guns, dance pads, flight sticks, and fight sticks can be used across most games in a genre but some games even got their own controller. Steel Battalion is probably the most well known controller, and my personal favorite, that had and required over 40 buttons, 2 joysticks, and 3 foot pedals. Today, entire roll cages are created for racing games that even use hydraulics to simulate the curves of the track and dips of hard braking.
Late 2004 we were introduced to a world crafted by the Nintendo DS. While PDAs and mobile PCs employed touch controls and had games on them, the DS really showcased what ingenious game mechanics can come from touch inputs. Elite Beat Agents(or OSU! Tatakae! Ouendan! depending on musical tastes or country) is a beautiful example of adapting a well known genre to a touch input. Current phones owe a lot to Nintendo who showcased, with their large sales of the DS, that even casual gamers would love to carry touch games with them. The DS also employed dual screen gaming. Simple tasks like inventory management could be handled without even pausing but the true potential of this can been seen in the oft-underrated title The World Ends With You. Battles are controlled in two dimensions at the same time where you control one character per screen in real time. The top screen is controlled with the face buttons and the bottom with touch.
It looks complicated, and it definitely had a learning curve to it but it is one of the most rewarding combat engines to master. The dual screen gaming has influenced all three current gen consoles which use tablets/handhelds to replicate the effect. The PS3 can use the Vita as a second screen and Microsoft Glass has the capability with the X360 though I don’t believe any games utilize either of these options yet.
In 2006 Nintendo, again, brought innovation with motion controls in the form of the Wii. The Wii sparked a huge turn in gaming that lead to the PlayStation Move and the Xbox Kinect, although the Kinect is huge leap ahead of the other two despite its flaws as a gaming input device. Even though the Wii saw great success the Move and Kinect failed to reach a large install base and motion gaming seems to be in a decline.
The next big jump was 3D gaming. Development of this started over a decade ago with the VirtualBoy. Massive headaches and poor games gave 3D a bad name for a long time. With 3D televsions become more affordable 3D gaming can finally become something of a main selling point with games. While still being a matter of preference it is one step closer to Star Trek’s holodeck. Despite the shaky reception to 3D games Nintendo decided it was good enough for the successor to the DS and implemented glasses free 3D with the 3DS.
3D is leading up to virtual reality but there is one intermediate step before that, Augmented Reality(AR). The 3DS, Vita, and smart phones all have games that utilize this. Any game that uses your real environment as the background, or uses items in your environment in the game is employing the concept of AR. Ghost Camera, Reality Fighters, and Droid Assault are all examples of AR games. While not being 3D games, they do represent an important step towards virtual reality: the meshing of reality and the game.
All of this has lead to one idea: total immersion virtual reality. 3D has been combined with head tracking, both of these married into a comfortable headpiece called the Oculus Rift. This device is not officially sold yet but developer kits have been sent out to people who reached a certain pledge level during the Kickstarter. This is a real device that works above expectations…today, right now. Some owners have even used this in tandem with 8 way treadmills, allowing them to walk, or run in place, and others have gone so far as to add peripherals, such as gun controllers, to have a full FPS simulation.
Remember, not only only does this track your head movement, but the screen in the headpiece is in 3D(hence why we see 2 displays in the recorded video, one for each eye)! The only aspect I wish had been implemented in this exercise is motion control for the gun. As it stands you have to move your head to move the crosshair, but lets say you could setup the Sony Sharpshooter with this setup and allow free gun control ala Killzone 3(or any Wii FPS) and we would have a 100% perfect simulation.
All of these innovations have come about in just the last two and a half decades. They say technology gets better exponentially with time so imagine what we will have in just another decade.