My Ramblings on Virtual Reality Input Devices
These are just my ramblings over VR input I have tried with different experiences. It might not be coherent.
I have been working with VR for a long time. I can turn around in my lab and see HMDs ranging from the HTC Vive all the way back to the Oculus DK1. In that time there have been a lot of different attempts at input devices that have either become standard or kinda become forgotten about.
Since our Construction Safety Simulator was greenlit, we have shown it off at several trade shows and in-office demos which have made me realize one thing, the input method REALLY matters. When I watch users interact with the digital objects in our game the first thing that they do is reach out and grab it. This never fails to impress them, it is a simple action that is is so natural that it is a surprise when it just works in a game. This usually is followed up by them throwing the object straight into the car park to see if they can destroy them (they can).
Haptics – Novint Falcon
One of the earliest VR input devices I had the opportunity to work with was the now-dead (I think) Novint Falcon haptic controller. I actually got this from my friend Devin who won it, it was an interesting device that allowed you to interact with the virtual world. It mostly sat dormant until more recently when people realized that you could use it while you sat around in VR. The problem is that the machine is huge and doesn’t lend itself nicely to being moved around for room scale experiences.
The go-to controller for VR has been the XBOX 360 controller for a long time, now it is the XBOX One controller which as luck would have it comes with the Oculus Rift CV1. I was happy to find that since the official input device for controllers on the Oculus was the XBOX One controller, by default the 360 controller continued to work. My home VR set up is literally a DK2 with an older XBOX controller, it works fine and I have been enjoying Chronos and Air Mech on full settings.
Controllers work fine for games, but our focus at Bit Space is on simulations and learning experiences. The controller does not lend itself nicely to this. It is fine if you want to run around in a dungeon but manipulating construction equipment with a controller just isn’t the same.
I’d talk more about the input for the clicker on the Oculus, and the side of the Gear VR helmet but those are not good input devices for anything other than media consumption but they don’t negatively impact your experience.
This brings us back to motion controls, you need 6 degrees of freedom when tracking your hands. Being able to move around but also manipulate objects in virtual reality as you would in the physical world is a huge benefit. There are a few different ways this is being implemented by my favorite is the Vive so far.
New Vive Controllers
At Steam Dev Days 2016 I had the opportunity to talk to Joe Ludwig about the new controllers and even play with them. The new controllers are going to be important for Bit Space because of their implications in serious gaming and simulations.
Since we focus on building interactive learning experiences we want to separate you from the fact you’re in VR as much as possible. Being able to grab objects and move them as if they were actually there is a huge plus.
There are a few recommendations I have when developing your game as to what input you should be using.
- Seated Racing / flying Game – Controller inputs are going to feel fine, I actually find it weird when motion controls are used for this because they usually end up representing your hands, and I can’t actually feel the controls in the cockpit.
- Creative Experience – Obviously motion controls, you need your hands
- Any first person anything – Any shooters, RPG games, puzzle games, use motion controllers.
- Third person platformers – Like Lucky’s Tale, a controller feels really natural for this.
- Any Simulators – Custom controllers are fine but not scalable. Motion controls will be best.
At the end of the day the best input method will be obvious.