To a complete outsider, the notion of creating a documentary about a failed video game peripheral from 30 years ago might seem pointless, if not downright silly. But the Power Glove is so much more than a device which simply struggled to find its audience and meekly withdrew into the night; it has become an iconic piece of gaming history, and filmmakers Adam Ward, Andrew Austin and Paula Kosowski have perfectly encapsulated that in The Power of Glove, an hour-long movie which charts the origins of the controller – as well as the reasons for its abject failure and the cause of its fame in modern times.
Kickstarted a few years ago, the film has been shown at various festivals all over the world and hits iTunes, Steam, Vimeo On Demand and DVD today. Over the course of its relatively lean run-time, it discusses the birth of virtual reality control interfaces, the rise and fall of Mattel's video game ambitions and – of course – how a project initially designed to create music turned into one of the most famous video game hardware bombs of all time.
Throughout the film, interviews with the people who made it happen deliver detail and anecdotes that draw you right into the story – the inclusion of both video and still imagery from the period only serves to increase this immersion. We hear from the enigmatic Novak, who created Super Glove Ball, the Power Glove's killer app (which, ironically, wasn't available at launch due to Mattel wanting to rush the product to market). Power Glove template designer Darin Barri – who had to make sure that all 250 (then) current NES titles would work with the device – also gives his memories, which include a rather frosty meeting with Nintendo just prior to release where the company said it was withdrawing its coveted Seal of Approval from the Power Glove due to comfort and usability concerns.
What makes this film stand out is these interviews; the filmmakers allow the people who were there to tell the story, which gives us a truly accurate view of what it must have been like to be part of this groundbreaking project. The Power Glove's genesis was in the world of technology and science, not video games; Mattel's executives were, however, taken with the notion of motion-controlled games and ran with the idea, pumping a considerable amount of cash into a project which it hoped would give it a route back into the industry it had left following the crash of '83 and the death of its Intellivision console.
The team behind the device faced the challenge of taking a state-of-the-art data glove that cost $10,000 and shrinking it down to a consumer-level product which could retail at a reasonable price. To do this, ultrasonic technology was used to tell the NES console what the Power Glove was doing – an ingenious solution which sadly added a lot of latency to the input.
While the talented individuals behind the controller had cooked up a product which could do what was wanted at a low price – and created one of the first consumer-level 'virtual' interfaces ever – Mattel failed to ensure that there was any unique software available, which meant the Power Glove ended up being a pretty painful and frustrating means of playing existing NES games. Had the product launched alongside titles which truly harnessed its potential, the future could have been much different.
Outside of explaining its development and ultimate failure, The Power of Glove dives into why the product is so well-remembered today. Isaiah "Triforce" Johnson – a Nintendo fan and eSports advocate who turned the Power Glove into a fashion accessory – is interviewed, as is Todd Holland, the director of the cult 1989 movie, The Wizard, which features gives the Power Glove a starring role in a particularly infamous scene. Musician Side Brain – who uses the device to create freeform tunes – also appears, and there's a brief section which discusses how hackers are using the Power Glove in unique ways today.
Even if you've never heard of the Power Glove before, we'd recommend you check out The Power of Glove. It's hard to imagine any other peripheral of this type getting similar treatment – Mattel's controller was very much of its time; it may not have worked all that well, but it looked cool and was even in a Hollywood movie (albeit one that failed at the box office and has only in the past decade or so gained a cult following). Noble failures always seem to capture the imagination, and thanks to Ward, Austin and Kosowski, we now have the definitive record of how the Power Glove crashed and burned – and became an icon in the process.