Oculus Touch: One Year On

It's been a year of highs and lows, with the motion controllers certainly making their mark.

Today sees the last of the major virtual reality (VR) anniversary celebrations take place in the form of Oculus’ motion controllers, Oculus Touch. And what a year it’s been, with prices slashed left and right, new bundles, and the expulsion of the Xbox One controller. With all this in mind VRFocus decided to cast its eye back over the last 12 months as well as ask a few developers what they thought.

When Oculus Rift arrived back in March 2016 it came bundled with a Microsoft Xbox One controller, pointing to a collaborative effort between the two companies which many thought (VRFocus included) would lead to Oculus’ headset providing VR support for the next Xbox (Xbox One X), which hasn’t happened.

Oculus Touch

The Xbox One controller was in fact a stop gap as Oculus prepared its own device, Oculus Touch, so it could better go head-to-head with HTC Vive which came supplied with its Lighthouse Base Stations and motion controllers right out the box. So at the beginning of December 2016, nine months after the launch of Oculus Rift, the headset finally got it own interactive controllers.

Just like the launch of the headset it wasn’t exactly plain sailing for Oculus Touch. Originally priced at $199 USD, the controllers had plenty of content available, whether it was new or previously released adding a controller update. The issue came when the company chose to half the price of the controllers three months after release – which naturally displeased early adoptors. This resulted in Oculus giving away $50 of store credit to appease consumers.

Then in July came the big deal, $399 for the Oculus Rift with Touch, massively undercutting PC rival HTC Vive, bringing the price more inline with PlayStation VR, the high-end market leader. Initially a summer promotion, this deal would not only go on to become permanent, it would also see the expulsion of the Xbox One controller in favour of Oculus Touch.

Whilst this was all happening over the first six months, Oculus looked to further improve Oculus Touch, namely its 360-degree tracking. At launch the controllers were really only designed for a two-sensor, front facing layout, giving a 180-degree area in front of you to work in. Inventive players found that you could use a two-sensor setup with them diagonally across from one another (a la HTC Vive) for a basic 360 experience. As Oculus worked out some of the roomscale tracking bugs it recommended that three sensors where used for the best tracking solution. Two sensors will still work – only two are supplied in the bundle – for roomscale, but VRFocus has found that extra one to be mighty useful.

And that’s a brief history of Oculus Touch since launch. This month will see even greater Oculus Home integration when Rift Core 2.0 arrives but what about those hard working developers creating amazing immersive content, what do they think of Oculus Touch? VRFocus spoke to a couple via email to find out:

Oculus Touch is one year old, what were your first reactions to the controller?

John Pearl, Design Director at Gunfire Games: “The controllers themselves were super comfortable and felt very natural in my hands, even in the early prototype phase. I think the first Oculus Touch game I played was an early build of Dead and Buried. It was such an amazing experience to see my hands represented in VR.  The tracking and the positioning relative to my actual hand locations felt so spot on it was kind shocking.

Chad Dezern, Studio Director of Insomniac Games: The controller instantly captured my imagination. I’ll never forget trying out the Toybox demo at E3 in 2015—it was amazing to look down at my hands, and watch my fingers and thumbs move along with button inputs I didn’t even realize I was making. Simple things—picking up a toy robot, stacking a block, bouncing a ball—felt weighty and natural, and the whole experience imprinted on my memory. Seriously, I had dreams about it. Shortly after that, several Insomniacs compared notes. We knew immediately that we wanted to make a game about casting spells with your bare hands. That’s how The Unspoken came about.

Has Oculus Touch changed the way you view VR and what experiences are possible?

Pearl: “When we made Chronos, it was built for a gamepad because that was the control option available at the Rift launch.  This meant it relied on a somewhat established, familiar control scheme. With Touch, it’s wide open, uncharted territory.  There are no rigid standards in place or years of focus testing and feedback dictating the optimal assignments of buttons.  It’s really a time for invention and discovery. It also allows for a deeper level of immersion. For example, a player needs to interact with a large switch to turn off the power to a generator.  In a traditional game, a B prompt would pop up and the character would play a canned animation to flip the switch. In VR you can allow the player to flip that switch. That might sound mundane, but the level of immersion that presents the player is profoundly deeper than traditional games. This really propagates into all player interactions, big and small.”

Dezern: “Yes. Touch removes the abstraction of the controller. The player feels a deeper connection to the experience, because mechanics are built around actions that are second nature. The headset surrounds the player with the world, and Touch provides an intuitive way to navigate it. That has influenced our game design process; we’re a lot more tuned in to the information that we’re pushing to the player second-to-second. We take great pains to respect the player’s focus.

“For The Unspoken, we used grounded interfaces to set up the player’s inventory; you pick up physical objects and slot them into the same space where you’ll pick them up later. So you’re teaching the player where to look in “real” space. That’s all in the service of making it feel special when you cast a spell; the physically accurate world grounds the magical world.”

What have you most enjoyed playing with Oculus Touch? (Other games, aspects of your own games, or both.)

Pearl: “I really enjoyed playing Robo Recall. The gunplay was really polished. I also enjoyed playing Dead and Buried in Co-Op horde mode after we had shipped it.  It was exciting to see people interacting in the world and figuring out things like enemy patterns and boss behaviors.  Lastly, playing From Other Suns with random people has been a lot of fun.  Working on the game, we developed a lot of optimal strategies for how to handle missions.  It’s really been awesome to see how different people handle the same events.”

Dezern: “It’s inspiring to see so many novel solutions in the Store, and so many fun experiences. I sculpted a robot with Medium, then scaled it up with both of my hands to make it 10-stories tall. I floated around in zero gravity in Lone Echo, then propelled myself forward with my android hands. And I dropped my army into position in Brass Tactics, then pushed myself across the table to watch it surround my enemy’s fortress. That’s just scratching the surface.

“For The Unspoken, it’s been a blast to watch our community grow so proficient at the game. Our high-level players have a fine-tuned sense of perception and timing that seems positively supernatural. Matches are fun to watch as a result; you feel the momentum shifts of competitive play, and the tension of high stakes.

“At the same time, I’m glad that–beginning December 14–new players can play through the full single-player mode in The Unspoken: Acolytes update to hone their skills, while they learn the secret history of spell-casting duels in Chicago!”

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