Skip to main content

I controlled Assassin’s Creed with my eyes and it was cool as hell

steelseries sentry preview with assassins creed rogue tobii 02
Image used with permission by copyright holder
I haven’t been this excited about new tech in a long time. But that’s bound to happen when you find yourself controlling a game as complex as Assassin’s Creed: Rogue using nothing more than your eyeballs.

My assassin is standing on a windswept beach. The view is a familiar one, an invisible camera floating behind him and just above his shoulder. Somewhere off in the distance are bad dudes that need to be stabbed, but the assassin I’m in control of is staring out to sea. My eyes drift off to the left edge of the screen and the camera rotates in response. It’s slow at first, a gentle pan that responds to the direction of my gaze. But as I reach the edge of the display the pan picks up speed, eventually whipping around to show me the dense jungle that hides my foes.

Later, I find myself perched on the edge of a cliff. Peering downward — again, using my eyes and not the control stick — the camera tilts to show a gang of armed ruffians waiting at the base of the cliff. They don’t know I’m there. I lock my eyes on one of them, centering the camera’s field of view on the fresh target, and press a button. My assassin leaps into action, soaring off the edge of the cliff as he plunges down to stab his unsuspecting target. I’ve played tons of Assassin’s Creed games before, but never like this. Never with a Sentry tracking my eyeballs.

005-SteelSeries-press_sentry
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Sentry looks like a Wii sensor bar at first glance. It’s a bit bulkier, and it’s got three very obvious sensors on either end and in the middle. But much like Nintendo’s IR motion sensor, the long, thin device is meant to sit either above or below your display of choice. The Sentry is a collaborative effort, bringing together the gaming knowhow of peripheral and accessories maker SteelSeries with the robust eye-tracking technology that Tobii Technology’s been perfecting since its founding in 2001.

Get your weekly teardown of the tech behind PC gaming
Check your inbox!

I’ve been fortunate to spend a fair bit of time chatting with Tobii and checking out the tech since 2015 dawned, and the company quietly attended CES in January. Much of the tech world is still holding its breath for virtual reality to shake out, and a sensor that tracks your eye movements isn’t as immediately sexy as the idea of plunging users into virtual landscapes. But the Sentry has one thing in common with nascent VR experiences: Sampling it just one time amounts to an eye-opening experience. No pun intended.

In our time meeting with Tobii at CES, we got a better sense of what the SteelSeries Sentry aims to be. It’s actually a three-pronged approach to usability. The most obvious is its potential as an input device. We already know that SteelSeries and Tobii are partnered with Ubisoft for Rogue, which will support Sentry eye-tracking when it comes to Windows on March 10. Other announcements are coming too. We should note that with the Sentry, your eyes don’t take complete control of a game, but they can complement existing gamepad or mouse/keyboard options.

Then there’s the analytics, which taps into Tobii’s background outside of games. The company’s eye-tracking technology already had a range of applications before the Sentry came along. It can be used to assist those with special needs. Or track eye movements in research settings. Tobii makes special glasses fitted with micro-sized versions of the sensors that power the Sentry. They capture live video of what the wearer sees and overlay the footage with indicators that show where the eyes are focused at any given moment.

Enter the Sentry’s Game Analyzer software. Whenever you play one of its supported games — only Dota 2 and StarCraft II for now, but more are coming — the app works in concert with Game Analyzer to not just record where your attention is going during a play session, but what that means in the context of the specific game. The software keeps track of how much time you spend staring at the minimap during a play session, for example. It collects all of this data and presents it with filterable graphs and charts, giving serious players a chance to develop a better sense of how they spend their time in-game.

The third prong of the Sentry’s featureset applies to streamers working in their broadcast setting. The same sensors that track your eye movements can be set up to spit out a visual overlay that a stream’s viewers can see. It’s nothing fancy; just a transparent white circle that moves around the field of view in response to the player’s eye movements. The Game Analyzer software handle metrics, but the streaming interface is a neat feature that gives viewers online a glimpse into a particular player’s moment-to-moment process.

Think about that for a second. We watch people play games all the time in this day and age. The popularity of platforms like Twitch makes it easy. But how many times have you watching a video of some pro Call of Duty player and wondered “How the hell do they do that?” The Sentry’s stream overlay doesn’t necessarily answer that question, but it brings you that much closer to understanding how the mind of a serious player processes information on a moment-to-moment basis.

Assassins Creed Rogue Tobii 01
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s something really cool about that, I think. Complexity is a huge barrier to entry for a lot of would-be fans of video games these days. On some level, developing dexterity and muscle memory with popular gamepads is responsible. But the games themselves have so many different things going on, so many systems that need to be juggled and tracked in real time, that it’s daunting for someone who’s only ever known games like Tetris and Angry Birds. So I love the idea of a device that gives all comers a firsthand look into the mind of a player.

And that doesn’t even account for the Sentry’s usability as an input device. In the case of Rogue, it’s a substitute for the standard camera controls. Focus your attention on the edge of the screen, and the camera rotates in that direction. It’s not immediately intuitive if you’re used to playing on a twin-stick controller; inevitably, your right thumb drifts back to the stick to move the camera around. What I found after a brief session was that I’d use a little of both, peering around the environment with my eyes and using the stick more reflexively, typically in combat.

But I’ve been a regular gamer for most of my 37 years on this planet. I grew up using joysticks and mouse/keyboards to play games, at home and in the arcades. Playing most games at this point is reflexive for me. But I’ve also noticed that newcomers to games are often tripped up when it comes to navigating around a three-dimensional space. There’s a disconnect; they have a hard time grasping the fact that one stick controls their virtual person and the other, their virtual camera. I really dig how Sentry stands to ease that transition.

We’ll have a review unit in hand soon, so stay tuned for more detailed impressions after I’ve spent some quality time with it.

Editors' Recommendations

Adam Rosenberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends…
Save $400 on this (upgradeable) gaming PC with an RTX 4060
ibuypower tma7n4601 gaming desktop deal walmart february 2024 pc

Gamers who are on the hunt for gaming PC deals should check out the iBuyPower TMA7N4601 gaming desktop, which is available from Walmart for a discounted price of $899. You can keep the savings of $401 on its original price of $1,300 to eventually buy better components for the machine, though it may be a while before you need to make any upgrades. You're going to have to be quick if you're interested in taking advantage of this bargain though, as we're not sure how much time is remaining before the gaming desktop's price goes back to normal.

Why you should buy the iBuyPower TMA7N4601 gaming desktop
The iBuyPower TMA7N4601 gaming desktop is an excellent choice if you want a machine that will be able to run the best PC games. It's powered by the AMD Ryzen 7 5700 processor, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 graphics card, and 16GB of RAM that our guide on how much RAM do you need says is a good starting point for gaming. When the time comes that you need to upgrade its components -- probably after a few years -- you can easily access its interiors so you can make the swaps yourself.

Read more
It’s time to revisit Pokémon X and Y before its too late
Key art for Pokémon X and Y.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to revisit Pokémon X and Y, the announcement of Pokémon Legends: Z-A just gifted you a perfect excuse to do so.

Released for Nintendo 3DS in 2013, Pokémon X and Y are important but quiet entries in the RPG series. They were forward-looking games that brought the series into full 3D and took significant steps in making Pokémon even more approachable and easy to play online. A lot of problems more hardcore fans have, like the games being too casual-focused or having a bevy of technical issues, also got their start here. That makes Pokémon X and Y fascinating games to revisit -- and I recommend you do so soon.

Read more
Best Buy’s deal of the day is a starter gaming laptop for $700
A man playing on the Acer Nitro 5 gaming laptop.

You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get into PC gaming because there are gaming laptop deals like Best Buy's offer for the Acer Nitro 5. The starter gaming laptop, which is already relatively affordable at its original price of $950, is currently even cheaper at just $700. You'll be able to use the $250 in savings on video games and gaming accessories, but you'll have to act fast if you want it because we're not sure how much time is remaining before the bargain disappears, and once that happens, we don't know when you'll get another chance at it.

Why you should buy the Acer Nitro 5 gaming laptop
The Acer Nitro 5 is equipped with the 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics card, and 16GB of RAM. It's not going to challenge the performance of the top-of-the-line models of the best gaming laptops, but it's going to be more than enough to play the best PC games. Some of the more demanding titles may force you to choose low graphics settings, but that's a fine trade-off for a gaming laptop that you can get for less than $1,000.

Read more