Everything Else is Child's Play
July 26, 2019 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Take an $8800, NASA-approved interface glove (GECO) running on $250,000 worth of computer hardware, then replicate the performance in a consumer-grade toy with parts costing less than $26 (commercial). The twist? “We had about nine months to get it done,” Chris Gentile, one of the engineers behind Mattel’s fondly-remembered (clip from The Wizard) but ineffectual Power Glove (playing Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!), tells mental_floss. An Oral History of Nintendo's Power Glove (2017) Another video: the gaming historian spends a half hour to tell the story.
posted by filthy light thief (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
For more details on the NASA-approved Glove-Enabled Computer Operations (GECO), here's a 30 page PDF, from the NASA Technical Reports Server, documenting GECO in 2013.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 AM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

So I'm reading that oral history, thinking, "Wow, I had no idea that VR was even a thing people were talking about while I was playing E.T. and Yar's Revenge on my neighbor's Atari, tech was way farther along than I realized," then I get to this line:

Once we were running, I designed an ultrasonic tracking device so we knew where the glove was in five dimensions.

posted by solotoro at 8:43 AM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Up-down, left-right, forward-back, moon-house, Jupiter-Mars.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:49 AM on July 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Six quantities are required to define the position and orientation of an object in three-dimensional space. Three for X, Y, and Z position, one for left-right heading, one for up-down altitude, and one for left-right roll. The power glove would not have been able to report altitude with only two transmitters on the glove.
posted by Hatashran at 9:27 AM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

That sixth dimension is where the remaining 258,774 dollars went.
posted by nikaspark at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was amazed when my parents bought one of these for me. We weren't well off by any definition, but they must have scrimped and saved and laid away to put it under the Christmas tree. I remember it worked pretty well for one game we rented, a simple "grab a ball and throw it" version of arkanoid, maybe?

It was garbage for just about everything else, though. I tried it with Super Mario Bros. like the manual said. You were supposed to hold your hand flat and tilt it to move Mario left and right, then move up quickly to jump. What it actually did was make Mario run to the right no matter what, to his death, occasionally acknowledging your input with a lagged, ill-timed jump.

Then after a few minutes my shoulder started hurting and I switched back to a controller. I'm sure I sold it in the mid 90s for $5 at a yard sale.
posted by skullhead at 10:04 AM on July 26, 2019

one game we rented, a simple "grab a ball and throw it" version of arkanoid

Super Glove Ball, the only game designed with the Power Glove in mind.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:15 AM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

This was one of the few gimmicky controllers of the time that I never actually tried. I did use the Turbo Touch 360 that was sort of a proto-Steam Controller, as well as all the different light guns.

In retrospect, it's interesting how the Power Glove anticipated both the positives and negatives of the later, far more successful Wiimote.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:19 AM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

The power glove would not have been able to report altitude with only two transmitters on the glove.

Altitude or attitude? Z should cover the vertical position in space, but it would also need the tilt up/down rotation dimension.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:06 AM on July 26, 2019

Might as well drop this here: Last year Twitch streamer Grand Poo Bear beat Super Mario Bros. 3 in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 43 seconds using only the Power Glove. And yes, that is with using two warp whistles to get to World 8 as quickly as possible. For comparison, GPB's record for beating the game the same way with a regular controller is 14 minutes, 47 seconds.

He is in fact the only documented player to ever beat the entire game with a Power Glove, making him de facto world record holder.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

skullhead: Then after a few minutes my shoulder started hurting and I switched back to a controller.

You had experienced gorilla arm (The Jargon File):
The side-effect that destroyed touch-screens as a mainstream input technology despite a promising start in the early 1980s. It seems the designers of all those spiffy touch-menu systems failed to notice that humans aren't designed to hold their arms in front of their faces making small motions. After more than a very few selections, the arm begins to feel sore, cramped, and oversized — the operator looks like a gorilla while using the touch screen and feels like one afterwards. This is now considered a classic cautionary tale to human-factors designers; “Remember the gorilla arm!” is shorthand for “How is this going to fly in real use?”.
I think the Wiimotes addressed this by 1) making this a feature available to games from the beginning, instead of kludging the controller to work with existing games, and 2) most games make you move your arms more, and don't ask you to stand with your arm(s) sticking out for too long.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


The piezo tweeters on the glove listened to an L-shaped bracket with cheap mikes at the vertex and on each end.

You can extract roll and heading from the relative moving positions of the tweeters, not so much for pitch.

(I have 3, one gimicked up with an ardunio running bluetooth and position sensors)
posted by djrock3k at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

piezo tweeters

Yo dawg, I heard you liked subtweeting
so I hooked a Power Glove up to Twitter so you can subtweet while you subtweet
posted by oulipian at 1:35 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had a power glove back when they were new. One could simply use the face buttons rather than bother with plugging in another controller for the games that were terrible with it. Or use the D-pad for movement and the pinch gestures for A/B.

Point is, it was far better than anyone gives it credit for, even taking into account the severe lack of games that used it to its potential.

The Super Scope for the SNES, on the other hand.. One can only spend so much on batteries to play whack-a-mole.
posted by wierdo at 6:54 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

That was my only Christmas Present one year. I felt completely ripped off and I still have a sour taste in my mouth that Nintendo would release a product that they knew didn't work.

It isn't too late to refund my 80 dollars.
posted by andryeevna at 6:55 AM on July 27, 2019

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