Remember the music genre? Though it may feel it, it wasn’t too long ago that everyone was excited to fill their bedrooms with plastic instruments to accommodate for the annual releases that eventually all but murdered the movement. Now many of us have small collections of fake guitars and drum sets shamefully nestled away in corners and attics, destined for distant future car boot sales and charity shop trade-ins. It’s a sorry sight, and we’d hate to see the same thing happen to virtual reality (VR).
That’s not to say that VR is going to go the way of Guitar Hero and Rock Band; there’s little doubt at this point that the technology will see at least some degree of success. But right now the gold rush that has a range of starts ups and developers striving to become the must have peripheral for the Oculus Rift is starting to get a little overwhelming.
Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has himself said that input is ‘the next big obstacle’ for VR. It’s an issue we’re yet to crack. Yes, we can replicate the sights and sounds of VR, but locomotion continues to be an issue. As a result a range of third-party hardware has sprung up. Off of the top of our heads we can think of YEI Technology’s PrioVR full body motion capture suit, Sixense’s STEM motion controller, Virtuix’s Omni motion platform, Cyberith’s Virtualizer locomotion device and Survios’ VR platform as some of the frontrunners gunning to be the definitive companion to the Oculus Rift.
This article isn’t questioning the validity on any of those company’s technologies; each has its own set of pros and cons. But the sheer number of contenders right now threatens to fragment the incoming slew of VR supported videogames. What if a title supports the Omni but doesn’t include compatibility with the Virtualizer? They’re similar products made by different companies; can they exist in the same space? Will consumers have to risk a large amount of money betting on perhaps the wrong platform?
The industry needs to decide on the best means of input and fast. Otherwise we might be facing a confusing launch period in which the first wave of VR titles offer varying amounts of compatibility for varying types of devices, and the last thing anyone wants is to have a huge multi-directional paperweight sitting in their living room,or a high-tech motion suit hanging up in the wardrobe.
Of course, not each and every device will have to go. Co-existence is perfectly achievable, just not with as many peripherals that are currently eyeing our wallets. The smaller, less expensive methods do seem to offer more of a ray of hope. Matthew Carrel’s Stompz, for example, is looking to be a lower-cost, convenient solution to VR input. It’s an angle that might just prove to be a secret weapon against the bigger companies currently in the running.
Other answers, much to the dismay of these companies, may come from Oculus VR itself. It’s been suggested that the company is looking into its own form of input with the Oculus Rift, perhaps in the realms of hand-tracking. If the consumer version of the headset launched with an effective means of input then it could well spell doom for these other technologies that hoped to thrive on the device. Perhaps Oculus VR itself, now armed with the financial might of Facebook, could elect one of these devices an automatic winner by acquiring their work.
Over on the PlayStation 4 side, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) is left with its own problems with its Project Morpheus headset. None of the above peripherals have committed to the console. The company itself has promoted its PlayStation Move motion controllers as input devices, but without analogue sticks for direct control, they can only go so far. How will the company deal with its own VR problems?
Again, this isn’t an article aimed at choosing the winner itself, rather highlighting the need for one to be picked. It’s clear that VR isn’t best experienced with a traditional controller. A solution needs to be found, and it needs to happen before we have a battle on our hands in which consumers can only lose.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.