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Preview: Stompz

The Oculus Rift isn’t the only virtual reality (VR) headset coming to market. Indeed, it’s not even looking to be the only one we’ll see on store shelves this year, but it is the front runner; the golden ticket. With that comes an expectation of what VR will become for many sectors which is dictated by the achievements made at Oculus VR. With the team behind the Oculus Rift making it clear that they are intending to develop a close relationship with the ‘sit down’ VR experience many are taking their cues from this design decision. Stompz is one product that intends to do just that.

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VRFocus recently met with Matthew Carrell, the creator of Stompz, and talked about the device and it’s consumer market goals. As a low cost motion-control device many will see Stompz as a viable alternative to the Omni or Vortualizer positional devices, and in that belief they’d be right. You can see the full interview here, but that’s not what this article is about. Instead, this article will be looking at what the device can deliver and just how practical it will be; there’s much more involved in a videogame than just taking a few paces every now-and-then of course, and not every title will be suited to the unique experience that Stompz.

The prototype is a small PCB no bigger than a watchface attached to a velcro strap. the device is very lightweight and easy to prepare; much more so than the likes of the PrioVR or even the Oculus Rift itself one might argue. The player must simply place the PCB facing outwards and secure the velcro around their leg, ensuring that the left and right versions are presented on the corresponding appendage. Stompz is a completely wireless device that connects to a USB dongle. VRFocus wasn’t privy to the detailing of the receiver during our time with the peripheral however we are assured that it too is a compact and lightweight product.

In-game the use of Stompz is wonderfully simple. Tapping your left foot strafes left, right foot for right and alternate to move forward. The player can turn by looking in a direction and thusly their feet will follow. Simple, effective and not at all as objectionable as some of the video footage might have you believe. Stompz is accessible in that it’s easy to use and easy to install, but what’s more impressive is that it’s use isn’t as obtrusive as it may first appear. Despite the name the player does not need to literally ‘stomp’ their feet, instead simply raising the heel two inches from the floor is enough for a movement to be registered and subsequently executed as an in-game action.

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Many have suggested that the potential for Stompz is limited by it’s physical demands, and they’d be right. It’s unlikely that players would want to invest several hours marching from mountain range to small dwelling in a The Elder Scrolls title, or that a Battlefield videogame would be designed to cater for the weaknesses realism offers against playing with a manufactured direct-input device such as an analog stick. However, there are many titles in which Stompz would find a happy home: the slow paced exploration of a Resident Evil videogame or the limited duration of a Left 4 Dead campaign, for example, would provide a perfect standard for comfort and execution.

There’s still plenty of work to be done with Stompz – not in the least it’s presentation – but even in this early form it provides an enticing glimpse of what motion-control can truly be. It’s not just a tennis match with your grandmother but likewise it doesn’t have to be a four-hour venture through swamplands battling with skeletons and other unearthly creatures; there is room in between, and it’s this ground that Stompz is set to capture. Developer Matthew Carrell hopes to bring Stompz to the foreground of VR later this year with a crowd-funding campaign that will lead to a marketable product, and VRFocus will keep you updated every stomp of the way.