VR and Control
Despite the immersive qualities seen in virtual reality, one of the main issues that remains to be solved is control. The goal with any controller is for it to feel natural, smooth, and versatile in the player’s hands. Over time, the player should be able to interact with the environment seamlessly, without any hesitation or need to think about what buttons to press.
The three most popular VR platforms all have their own unique peripherals for control and some are arguably much better than the others. The HTC Vive’s controllers feature 21 sensors in each controller, along with haptic feedback. The Oculus Touch also features haptic feedback and between the two of these controllers, it really comes down to personal preference when deciding which one is superior. The third, and arguably the weakest of the controllers is the PlayStation Move controller. These were originally created for the Playstation Move platform, a competitor to Xbox’s Kinect, and because these weren’t first created with VR in mind, these controllers tend to feel very bulky and unintuitive.
When I’ve tried VR in the past, control has always been one of the factors holding back an almost completely immersive experience. Whether it’s holding something in your hand that feels completely different to whatever you’re holding in the game, or looking down and seeing floating arms that aren’t responding as accurately as you’d want them to, there are definitely a lot of issues that remain when it comes to control in VR. I know from personal experience that if a VR controller becomes frustrating, I resort to a standard controller if possible because it actually feels more natural and responsive to me. I can use a standard Xbox or PlayStation controller without thinking, and virtual reality controllers can feel a bit awkward to me. There are times when motion control feels perfect but for every one of those times, there are a handful of clunky instances.
A new VR development kit, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 Virtual Reality Development Kit, is slated to be available in the second quarter of 2017. This headset is a mobile VR headset and differs from platforms such as the Rift, Vive and PlayStation VR. Unlike the PC and console based platforms, it does not use external tracking devices placed around a room in order to detect movement because it’s a mobile VR platform. Instead, this new VR headset is using technology provided by Leap Motion in order to introduce a new, possibly more immersive method of controlling in VR. Leap Motion is using hand-tracking in order to create of control that doesn’t have to rely on a physically held device. The Leap Motion technology is placed on the front of the VR headset and it has a 180 degree field of view, however, if you turn your head away from your hands, it remembers your hand placement. Even the newest iteration of the Samsung Gear VR is using a physical controller, so this step towards hand-tracking control could be a promising move in a different direction.
The Leap Motion hand-tracking technology has the potential to do away with the clunkiness of physical motion controllers and allow players to fully immerse themselves in whatever environment or situation they’re supposed to be experiencing. It’s the exact method of control people have witnessed in futuristic movies and the idea of it becoming a reality is incredibly exciting. Depending on the accuracy of the gesture tracking, this type of control could prove to have enormous success in a variety of applications even outside of gaming. I can already envision artists creating impressive digital sculptures, paintings, and architecture with the simple movement of their hands. There’s no doubt that Leap Motion’s implementation into VR headsets looks promising, but I do see how there could potentially be some drawbacks when it comes to immersion.
Doing away with a controller adds to immersion, but the absence of holding a physical object also does away with haptic feedback. When first introduced, haptic feedback was seen to many as a gimmick. In the present however, it’s used in almost every physical controller out there. Even smartphones utilize this feature because it successfully confirms whatever input the user is trying to perform. Haptic feedback and vibration helps with the overall feel of performing an action and its absence could be troubling. Another issue I could see arising is the accuracy of the hand-tracking. Controlling without holding a physical object can sometimes feel awkward or unresponsive. I’ve had experiences with Microsoft’s Kinect that have been very frustrating and it really took me out of the experience. However, as long as the tracking is accurate the possibility of this issue will be avoided.
Leap Motion’s hand-tracking technology being implemented into Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 Virtual Reality Development Kit undoubtedly has the potential to reach greatness. I can’t wait to see what’s to come in the future and I’m excited to see how this method of control will be utilized in both games and other applications.