So the much-discussed Oculus Touch has begun to ship, and it carries with it a ton of questions - but just as much potential to change how people game. The hardware is incredibly polished and it only took a few minutes with it to see that there is a world of possibilities out there for those who sign up for virtual reality.
There are so many different trends and frankly, fads, in the entertainment world. I have a 3D television that has very little actual content available for it in the grand scheme of things. I adore my Sega Saturn, but it never rose in popularity equal to Sony's PlayStation offering. Sony however, missed the boat with Move controls early on, which were little more than dressed up Wii controllers. So what will make virtual reality stick? I have a feeling it will because the entire experience is unique and immersive, and while Vive owners have had the fuller experience so far, Oculus' controller offering is the best on the market and absolutely worth having waited for.
Adding a piece of hardware to an existing ecosystem can be a dicey proposition (the Move for PS3, Kinect for Xbox 360, the Sega CD for the Genesis, etc), because you may well fracture your user base. Sure, you might have X number of core units sold, but what percentage of those users have Y peripheral? That is the question developers have to ask themselves when they consider how much of an ROI they expect on their game release. However, as the Vive has shown, motion controls are very important to virtual reality users and the number of Vive compatible games outnumber the Oculus ones by a pretty wide margin on Steam. PC gamers are different than console ones, often willing to sink money into a new mouse, a better monitor or the latest graphics card, so I suspect the motion controls will have a pretty large audience among existing Oculus Rift users. Certainly I anticipate a higher adoption rate than PlayStation VR versus the overall PlayStation 4 ecosystem.
I have little interest in saying one VR solution is better than another - but I personally liked the Oculus headset better than the others and hoped that my personal preferences would pan out to the controllers as well, even if it meant waiting longer to get my hands on them. Being able to use your hands to interact with the virtual environments in a more natural way is clearly the next step. While I have enjoyed a number of VR games so far, the Oculus experience was admittedly an incomplete one. The audio and video were certainly impressive, but there needed to be more.
The setup process is quite easy, especially if you already have an Oculus Rift installed. I fired up the Oculus Home software and it stepped me through the process that only took me about ten minutes. It includes another sensor, just like the one used to track your headset. There is an experimental configuration that allows you to set up a third camera, but I was mostly interested in the basic setup and how it would all work out. You want to set the two sensors up three to six feet apart from one another on either side of my monitor / playing space, creating a sort of cone of optimal tracking. Even then, the 'room scale' is smaller here than with the Vive, but man is it accurate. Once everything is in place, the Oculus Touch remained connected and precise.
The controllers themselves are certainly a little strange to behold initially, but they look and feel great. They have a nice sense of balance but are also very light (despite having a single AA battery requirement for each hand, hidden nicely under a pretty sharp magnetic covering) and cause no more fatigue than any other motion controller I have used over the years. Obviously they track your hand movements, which is key, but in many ways the controllers feel akin to taking an Xbox controller and buzzing it down the middle.
Each controller has a thumb stick and two triggers as well as two primary face buttons and a smaller options/menu button on it. Non-gamers might need a bit of time to acclimate to how they work and the various buttons. When I first showed these to my wife, she was a bit taken aback and remarked that she couldn't operate them. I then put them side-by-side with an Xbox One controller and pointed out the similarities and she then realized she had somewhat jumped the gun with her initial assessment.
The responsiveness goes well beyond just the motion tracking. All of the buttons and triggers work very well and the device has a nifty feature where it can sense if you are touching a button or trigger. The sensors are pretty damned impressive as you notice your cyber-fingers correlating rather well to their real-life placement on the controller. Use a finger to poke at or select something or 'grip' an item if the game calls for it. I was really surprised and very impressed with the level of accuracy represented with these. You don't quite have full finger tracking, but you have thumb, forefinger and then the other three as part of a 'grip'. It's actually incredibly intuitive despite the odd appearance initially.
So while the hardware is spectacular, the games are where things will prove out over time. I have a series of upcoming reviews for a variety of games and I can see application from puzzle-solving to shooters to ratcheting up the tension in a horror game by making you reach out and open the door by the knob rather than simply pressing the A button on a controller. The demo software that kicks off is rather like the Dreamdeck with the initial Oculus Rift launch. It's polished, cute and does a nice job of showing off potential for the system while keeping you in a somewhat limited framework.
The software has you at a desk with a voiceless robot who guides you through some basic controls with visual prompts. You start off closing a cassette deck with a finger and move on to interacting with holographic butterflies. Things really get interesting when you are asked to grip cartridges to insert into a sort of virtual 3D printer that lets you pick up a gun to shoot pellets at targets and more. My personal favorite was a display of rockets that you can pick up with one hand, then use the other to pull a ripcord that fires them up. Then you release the rocket with your initial hand and watch it take off and bounce around the room in entertainingly chaotic fashion. This was the demo moment that really shined for me and allowed me to see just how cool and tactile the hardware can be if the software matches.
Some people might bemoan its odd appearance (admittedly the large plastic rings are a little peculiar but they serve as a great way to set the controllers down) or that they require AA batteries (for all of the posts I have seen complaining about this... why? I'd rather have an external replaceable battery than an internal that forces me to replace the whole unit if it goes bad. Sure, it's a tad heavier, but not noticeably so. I mean, it's a single battery for each hand). Certainly it is not cheap (running $200). All of that being said, if you have already invested in the Oculus Rift, the Oculus Touch is a must-have. It completes the virtual reality package. Of course now the onus is on the game developers, but based on the early returns from the Vive, I expect that the Oculus Touch is going to receive a ton of support right off of the bat.
Article by Nick