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Hands-On with Roto VR in Alien: Isolation

Oculus VR has already stated that its input solution for its Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) likely won’t be included in the first consumer version of the kit. In fact, the company has even suggested that using a traditional gamepad may well be the control standard for the first iteration of its device. Gamepads have served players well for decades now, but there are obvious limitations to pairing them with VR experiences. Roto VR, now in Kickstarter, looks to combat at least some of these issues in providing an intriguing seated solution for turning a player’s body to reflect in-game movement.

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Roto VR’s basic concept is sound. Sitting on a swivel chair either of their own choosing or provided by the company itself, players place their feet on a platform. Then, rather than moving the right stick on a gamepad to turn the camera in a first-person videogame, users instead twist their feet on the platform in the desired direction to physically face their destination. When used with the Oculus Rift a ‘tangle-free’ adapter can be incorporated in order to avoid the kit’s wires tugging at the head as users twist. The intended result is a more intuitive, immersive solution for turning the player’s body.

VRFocus was able to sample Roto VR with The Creative Assembly’s popular survival experience, Alien: Isolation, running the same Oculus Rift demo that was seen on multiple occasions throughout 2014. This particular demo helpfully starts off with a safe room of sorts, allowing players to acclimatise both to VR and, in this instance, the new form of input. The instinct to reach out for the right thumb stick is immediately apparent, but can be ignored by temporarily tucking the thumb under the Xbox gamepad being used.

The first few minutes of using Roto VR can feel like a bizarre Teacup ride of sorts. Twisting the chair to face the right direction is initially more amusing than it is immersive; not necessarily adding to the fabled feeling of presence but providing an entertaining new way to interact with videogames.

It’s when the doors open to the lair of the deadly xenomorph that stalks the player when Roto VR starts to feel more intuitive. In a room that’s immediately stripped of the leisurely pace, the foot platform becomes something of a lifeline. Desperately scrambling through corridors and doorways it becomes clear that this is an engaging solution for giving the body a clear definition of direction, breaking down what has until now been an irritating but tolerable situation with gamepads. As protagonist Amanda Ripley darts into a small room it’s easy to find yourself naturally turning to avoid a table sitting in the middle and heading straight for the exit.

The feeling of turning itself gives a gravitational pull of sorts to the action. This in turn gives movements a clear sense of weight. It’s undeniably engaging once mastered, adding another layer to the many that VR demands for complete immersion,

This is an experience that feels more natural the more it’s used. And, available at a base-level for £199 GBP on Kickstarter, it looks to be cheaper than other large input platforms such as the Virtuix Omni while only taking up the space of a chair you may well already possess.

Roto VR’s main issues concern competition. There’s no denying that the kit presents an intuitive and entertaining solution to turning in VR, but the technology has been somewhat caught out by the announcement of the HTC Vive last week. With a HMD that now offers reliable user-tracking, it’s hard to see the kit finding a long-term position within the industry. This might be an ideal solution for the first consumer Oculus Rift and mobile-based HMDs, but once these devices start to follow in Valve’s footsteps, a majority of VR experiences simply won’t be asking players to sit down anymore.

Of course, there are certain genres and vidoegames that will naturally suit a seated position and Roto VR looks to be a perfect complement to such experiences. While on-foot first-person titles may have a limited lifespan on the device, vehicle-based experiences might well thrive on it. With that in mind, Roto VR is certainly worth consideration for VR enthusiasts.