There’s nothing like using really good virtual reality. Well, ok, that’s not true — really good virtual reality feels like real life, so real life is pretty close. But real life has limitations that VR can eliminate. Like physics!
With the launch of the first-ever consumer version of the Oculus Rift on Monday, the world now has access to high-end VR at home. Here’s everything you get in the box for $600:
That’s the Rift headset itself and the Oculus camera — the meat and potatoes of the Oculus Rift package. Place the camera on a flat surface facing you, put the headset on your head, and you’re in. That’s it!
And then, after shutting your eyes away inside of a VR headset, you’re left scrambling for one of the other two things in the box: an Xbox One gamepad or the Oculus remote. These objects, while logical in normal reality, don’t make much sense in VR.
I play video games all the time and I write about them for my job, so I have a bones-deep knowledge of where every button is on the Xbox One gamepad. Did you know the button that used to be called “start” on the Xbox gamepad is now called the “menu” button? I did! Because I write about video games for a living and also play them a lot.
I am an outlier.
The average, dare I say normal, person doesn’t know where the Xbox One’s A button is without looking at the gamepad. And that’s a pretty big problem when you’re wearing a VR headset that covers your eyes.
I was reminded of this recently when we put a gaggle of Business Insider / Tech Insider staffers in the Oculus Rift for a video. The idea was to see how non-gamers and people who hadn’t used VR before would respond to using the Rift. The responses varied pretty dramatically.
Some folks had a decent working knowledge of using a gamepad from friends’ houses, or cultural osmosis, or from their own history with games (the Xbox One gamepad isn’t all that different from, say, a PlayStation 2 gamepad).
Others had zero working knowledge of video game controllers. Business Insider personal finance editor Libby Kane said, “I don’t know anything about how this works,” as she was handed the gamepad.
Here she is holding it — keep in mind she was handed the gamepad while her eyes were completely covered by a VR headset:
That she is holding the controller sideways is perfectly valid for someone who both can’t see the gamepad and has no working knowledge of how to use it. If you’d never used a keyboard and you were handed it while blindfolded, you’d be just as confused.
There are kind of a lot of things going on here. Four buttons, all the same shape. Two thumbsticks that can also be pushed in, two small buttons with indiscernible symbols (which you can’t even see from within a VR headset), a D-pad, a big, squishy Xbox button, two triggers, and two “bumpers” over those triggers. That’s eight-plus potential means of interacting with the gamepad.
And all you’re supposed to do is “press A,” right?
It’s not all gloom and doom. There are a few solutions to such an issue.
One potential solution is for games to outright show you an image of an Xbox One gamepad and indicate which button to press. Unfortunately, since the gamepad doesn’t have any trackable sensors in it, there’s no way for it to show up in VR — the Oculus camera can’t “see” it, in so many words. The Rift headset is covered in sensors (hidden by a thin layer of cloth) that enable the camera to see it and track its position. The Xbox One gamepad is not.
As a result, even if game makers modelled the gamepad in-game, they couldn’t accurately represent the gamepad’s space in reality within the game. Simply put: if you moved the gamepad in real life, it wouldn’t move in the VR game you’re playing.
Another, better solution, is motion-based control. Remember the Nintendo Wii? That’s motion control, except it’s really rudimentary motion control. The Oculus Touch controllers (above) are surprisingly accurate.
Don’t just take my word for it — though I have used them, and they are quite impressive — check out this amazing demo:
Oculus Touch, however, doesn’t come out until this fall. So if you’re using the Rift anytime between now and then, here’s hoping you know your way around an Xbox One gamepad. (The Rift’s competition, HTC Vive, comes with two motion controllers packed in. It also costs $200 more than the Rift.)
Perhaps you’ve gotten this far and still think I’m crazy. That’s fair, but I’d suggest checking out our video of non-gamers using the Rift for even more evidence to my point:
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