Last week was Oculus Quest’s first birthday and as part of the celebrations, Facebook officially brought hand tracking out of the ‘Experimental Features’ section as it looks to foster widespread adoption. Developers have been able to play with the option for several months now and the roll-out saw two titles add the feature – The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets and Waltz of the Wizard – while a third called Elixir provides a hand tracking demo. With The Line arriving this week to add to the roster, it’s easier to see the benefit of the technology and the challenges still ahead to make this a viable control scheme.
Hand tracking is nothing new, with companies like Ultraleap (formerly Leap Motion) having been in this corner of the market for a number of years. But with native integration of hand tracking into Oculus Quest thanks to its four cameras that step towards consumer adoption felt a little closer when the announcement was made during Oculus Connect 6 (OC6) in 2019.
However, from the four titles which support hand tracking, there’s a noticeable difference between those that have added it and those which support it natively.
The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets
A short but sweet puzzle experience from Fast Travel Games, VRFocus enjoyed playing The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets, with its stop-motion graphics and storybook nature. Being able to spin the floating 3D worlds, interacting with miniature trains and treasure chests, solving puzzles to find the pets seemed an ideal fit for hand tracking.
Currently, the tech doesn’t do so well with fast movement – wave your hands around and you’ll see why – so the slower nature of this videogame plays right into this. It’s a simple case of raising your hand and then using a pinching gesture to spin the island or using the same motion to grab an object like the hair dryer.
The problem was that these actions weren’t always consistent. Trying to spin the level sometimes took several attempts or even both hands. It did seem like the system would get confused as to which hand was in control, if the other was relaxed and not being used at that particular moment.
There were also issues with collecting some of the more ingrained coins deep in the islands, as if the digital hand was being obstructed. What this created was frustration, where originally there was none. The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets loses a lot of its smooth gameplay experience with hand tracking (maybe there’s too much going on?) better suited to Oculus Touch controllers.
On the other hand (pun intended), Magnopus’ Elixir shows how a title natively designed for hand tracking works very well. This is a basic demo where you can change the design of your hands by grabbing or touching various objects located around a small alchemy lab. Pop your hand in the cauldron to turn them green or on the hot plate for some flaming hands.
As this is a hand tracking demo there’s not much in the way of gameplay just interacting with a few environmental features. The most interesting part is how Elixir employs movement using hand tracking. This is achieved via teleportation, bringing both hands up to select a floor tile to move to followed by a dual pinch which initiates the action.
It’s ideas like this which will make hand tracking a far more feasible choice when it comes to more expansive adventure titles, imagine Journey of the Gods with hand tracking?
Coming from Brazilian studio ARVORE – the team behind Pixel Ripped 1995 – The Line is due to be released on 28th May and comes with hand tracking as standard. Now, this is in between both aforementioned titles as it’s a short interactive experience whose story follows Pedro and Rosa, two miniature dolls who follow the same path day in and out.
Previously winning Best VR Immersive Experience for Interactive Content at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, The Line encourages roomscale interaction although you can play it seated. Set out like a trainset atop a table, again all the hand interactions are kept simple, turning a handle, pulling a lever, so there’s little to worry about or go wrong.
The Line is a great experience for those who love miniature VR like Ghost Giant – anther one which would suit hand tracking – but do realise this is like a film short, only lasting around 10 minutes. It’s also a perfect intro into VR and hand tracking for those new to both.
Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition
The other main videogame which now comes with hand tracking as an option is Aldin Dynamics’ Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition. This is by far the best example of hand tracking on Oculus Quest when it comes to gameplay and interaction.
As a magical sandbox where you can create spells, uncover puzzles and generally learn to become a powerful sorcerer, Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition plays right into the technology’s wheelhouse. All the hand actions feel as solid as they can be – there are occasional moments where grabbing an item can be a little hit and miss.
Much like Elixir, it’s the movement in Waltz of the Wizard: Extended Edition which shines, just better. The studio recently introduced an update to its Telepath locomotion system to improve its versatility. Now with features like Arc Roll, drawing a path with your finger becomes intuitive, especially in combination with arm swings to increase speed or putting both hands up to stop. Definitely well worth a trial.
VRFocus wasn’t expecting the launch of hand tracking to set the world of VR on fire – and it hasn’t – but there’s enough to be positive about. There are certainly issues on Oculus’ side to be resolved such as both hands disappearing due to occlusion or loss of tracking at full arms stretch – my arms aren’t that long – so there’s still plenty of progress to be made.