It was back in 2018 that VRFocus first got to try a new virtual reality (VR) peripheral called Cybershoes. The premise of the tech is simple, to aid walking in VR without causing motion sickness whilst at the same time providing a compact solution for those without space for a full room-scale setup. Only compatible with PC VR devices it was only a matter of time before the Oculus Quest got a look in, being how its popularity continues to soar. So Cybershoes recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help in that effort and VRFocus has been able to test the new version.
A lot of crowd-funding campaigns are used to help bring an idea to life but thanks to Cybershoes already being on the market, this effort is more about promotion and offering fans a limited time deal, because the prototype already exists! In fact, the Kickstarter has already done so well that at the time of writing is $20,000 over the initial goal of $30,000, testament that this type of device has a place on the market when you don’t have the cash or space for a full-on omni-directional treadmill.
As mentioned, the first encounter with Cybershoes was a couple of years ago and honestly, the pairing with 2016’s DOOM just didn’t work due to how fast and insanely intense its particular gameplay is. Now that wasn’t a proper VR videogame and since then the company has refined its hardware whilst the VR industry has come on leaps and bounds software-wise. So, does this early iteration for Oculus Quest work and what does it bring to the gameplay experience?
The Cybershoes kit for Oculus Quest is made up of three core components, the shoes themselves, a small receiver and a chair/mat combo to make using the shoes that little bit easier. From the outside the Cybershoes don’t look to have changed at all from the original version, they quickly and easily attach to your shoes via a strap and ratchet system which could easily have come from a pair of snowboarding boots. If you’ve not seen them before, the shoes work via a single roller on the underside so with each step you brush your foot along the floor. The movement is natural but it’s not like stepping directly into a VR videogame, there’s an acclimatization period as you ‘learn’ how to walk and how nimble you can be.
Vital to this process is what you’re sat on, hence the chair combo kit. Sitting on a normal chair or the sofa is completely unsuitable as the whole process is about naturally turning and walking, not using features like snap turn. As a large bloke, I don’t find the chair particularly comfortable for longer sessions in VR, always feeling perched on the edge but its height adjustment and lack of jutting obtrusions underneath certainly make the chair ideal for this use case.
Yet it’s the receiver which will catch most of the attention as it sticks right to the front of the Quest. It may ruin the nice lines of the headset but it’s no different to modding the device which plenty of owners like to do. Drawing its power directly from the Quest via the USB-C port the drain didn’t seem too substantial (although further testing is needed to get some accurate figures) plus there’s a nice big square of velcro on the back to pop the receiver on and off between uses. And before you ask, no it’s not heavy, the extra gram or so barely noticeable.
Setup was basically plug and play just as you would do any Bluetooth device, and the recent v23 update for Oculus Quest makes that even smoother. And what better way to test a walking peripheral than to face some undead walkers in VR, using Arizona Sunshine and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.
Cybershoes has collaborated with Vertigo Games so that Arizona Sunshine natively works with the shoes, with a Cybershoes option located inside the settings. Testing them out in the campaign it was nice and easy to wander around. Stepping becomes slightly more methodical as strafing was no longer an option, all movement was shoe-based. What did require a bit of fine-tuning was the speed slider on the receiver. As you’d expect this offers the chance to tailor your walking speed depending on whether you prefer slow and steady or something a little livelier. Having it around the 75% mark offered a good balance.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, on the other hand, provided an even better experience than Arizona Sunshine, even without native support. Turning the vignette off and selecting seated was all that was needed to begin the journey, with bigger strides activating the run mechanic. The slower creep through New Orleans suited the shoes and so would most horror videogames I’d imagine.
The whole point of Cybershoes is to recreate that natural walking action and if you’ve been struggling with locomotion in VR then they could be a viable option. The Oculus Quest version also benefits from the lack of cabling, making the whole Cybershoes experience much more freeing, even if you are seated. A prototype it may be, but Cybershoes for Oculus Quest almost feels like a finished product. It’ll be interesting to see how the system fairs on titles like Population: One which demands quick, accurate actions.