When Facebook’s virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift, launches in early 2016, it will come with an Xbox One gamepad: A standard game controller. But gamepads are a poor solution for interacting in virtual reality.
If you’re “in” the game, you don’t want to interact with the world by pushing buttons on a game controller. You want to reach out and touch the world, to push and grab and punch and whatever else you’d do if you were there in real life. And that’s where motion controls come in.
Sony’s got a set of wand-like controllers called PlayStation Move. HTC and Valve have a similar solution. And Facebook’s Oculus VR unveiled its own solution during a San Francisco press event last Friday, dubbed “Oculus Touch.” This is what they look like:
I spent some time with Oculus VR’s motion controllers at E3 2015, the video game industry’s annual trade show. To test them out, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey grabbed his own pair and headed into a room adjacent to my own. I was then handed a set of Oculus Touch controllers and put inside the latest version of the Oculus Rift VR headset.
Looking across the void, I saw Palmer — only he wasn’t himself. He was a floating virtual head and a set of hands, and he was able to communicate with me via a set of headphones connected to a mic near his own headset. I immediately felt like Keanu Reeves’ memorable character Neo from “The Matrix” when he enters the staging area with Lawrence Fishburne’s Morpheus character.
As he desired, Palmer was able to instantly transport us from a 3D white space to outer space, or under water, or a variety of other environments. Which environment he chose affected how objects behaved in the virtual world, which was absolutely unreal. At his whim, he could smash a virtual orb and we were suddenly somewhere totally different.
Suddenly we were in space, and I was casually picking up and throwing virtual objects toward distant planets. Then we were in water.
Though it doesn’t feel exactly like using your hands to pick something up in real life, using Oculus Touch to pick up virtual objects is intuitive. Buttons stand in for physical feedback; gripping your hand on the controller and thusly clicking in a button is satisfying close to the act of normally closing your hand around an object in real life.
Is there a disconnect? Sure. Is it significantly better than the button-pushing of video games of the past? Yes!
There’s no footage of Oculus’ toy box environment available, but the video above helps explain the madness experienced. I cannot wait for other people to try this so that I sound less crazy, and you’ll be able to sooner than later. Soon after the Oculus Rift headset launches in early 2016, the Oculus Touch controllers will become available. And then we’ll all be casually slipping into “The Matrix” from the comfort of our own homes.
Video Produced By Corey Protin.
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