Preview: Virtuix Omni
75 lbs of steel, plastic and rubber. A new pair of shoes, a harness and enough space in your living room to house a medium size arcade cabinet. Virtuix’s Omni isn’t the kind of device one would buy on a whim, nor is it a standard motion-controller. The Omni is designed to bring us one step closer to the virtual reality (VR) experience we’ve all dreamed of and, with a little practice, it takes a giant leap forward for immersion.
Acclimatising to the demands of the Omni is no easy task. Indeed, Virtuix themselves use a third-party videogame, Gold Rush, as a short practice run before allowing people to experience Omni at it’s fullest. Once the player has donned the infamous Omni shoes and mounted themselves in the Omni itself – without the harness in this instance – they must simply walk forward to collect gold and gems littered across a simple linear runway. Learning to adjust to walk flat-footed rather than the natural heel-to-toe isn’t as easy as it may seem and most will develop an awareness of their gate more keenly than everyday life would present. As the player progresses the levels offered by Gold Rush become more complicated; throwing sideways movement, timing and stalls into the mix. It’s an immediate and instinctive way of tutoring the player of the requirements that the Omni has in order to gain the fullest experience: just like using an analog stick or Wii Remote for the first time, the player has to draw a mental line as to where it’s extremities lie.
Once the player has gained their bearings they are offered the real Omni experience. Virtuix have developed their own videogame designed specifically for use with the Omni, replete with harness, model gun and Oculus Rift. TraVR is a good looking first-person shooter (FPS) that crosses science-fiction with suspense-horror, as the player moves slowly along dimly lit corridors with their partner. Cheap jump thrills suggest this to be a low-rent experience, but in truth this first taste of TraVR is simply throwing everything at the player. It has to be a convincing taste of what a full-blown Omni experience can be and for that it’s well built.
The player moves on and the videogame progresses from slow-pace to running to sprinting. It takes a little more time to become faithfully invested in the harness: you will not fall, but it doesn’t feel that way. The constant disconnect of becoming unbalanced is a worry that isn’t easy to abandon, but does come with time. Suspension-of-disbelief is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for VR and there are many trials it will have to overcome to get there. Simulator sickness is one, motion-control is another; Omni is closer to achieving this goal than any other walking peripheral VRFocus has been invited to experience first-hand despite these awkward barriers for entry.
The model gun is not motion-controlled at this point so shooting is a simple case of lining up the centre of your vision on the enemy and pulling the trigger, but it remains an effective representation nonetheless. One would hope that, down the line, Virtuix intend to bring this closer to a real instance. Once having surpassed the hurdles of flat-foot walking and faith in the harness the Omni is as close to movement interpretation as you can currently get within virtual worlds, it can’t be too much to wish that other aspects of the experience follow suit.