2016 might not have been the year of virtual reality everybody had previously predicted, but it set the stall for future innovations. And unlike failed attempts in the past, this time it does seem that VR is here to stay.
One of the best headsets available is the HTC Vive, the incredibly immersive, fully-tracked device co-developed by Valve and HTC. The only issue is, at around £750/$1125, it’s a heck of an investment – one that’s probably out of the reach of many. And even if you do own one in a household, it’s highly unlikely you’ll own two. Local multiplayer games, therefore, are a no-no.
Or, at least, they used to be.
Thanks to a new accessory unveiled at the CES 2017 consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas, some third-party developers are creating ways and means of getting more than the headset wearer involved in VR worlds.
The HTC Vive Tracker is a small, puck-like device that can be attached to an object or external accessory but will be tracked like the motion controllers that come with the headset. That means it can effectively turn a Bluetooth gun into a fully-tracked controller, or a baseball bat, or even a fire hose.
Developers are then free to integrated it into their games and experiences, giving more potential for interaction and, in the case of Master of Shapes and its room scale VR demo, to introduce another way for additional players to join in the fun.
Its demo in the HTC Vive rooms at CES featured a proof-of-concept shoot-em-up where the main Vive user can blast enemies using a normal Vive controller, while another player could use a gun accessory with an Android phone playing the same game.
In fact, up to four additional players can currently take part, all roaming around in the same physical and virtual areas.
It solves the problem of others sitting around staring blankly at the person playing a VR game. Now they can join in.
It is early days for Master of Shapes and its software, but there is great potential in its ideas.
Another excellent demo we undertook was with TrinityVR and its DiamondFX baseball simulator. The version we played was also early in development, but we got the idea for sure.
It’s a genuine sports simulator and can be quite brutal as you face virtual pitches from some of the world’s best pitchers. And we have to admit that we were pants at it, being both British and not having even played softball for about 30 years, but the feeling of swinging a real bat at practice throws (there’s no way we’d hit a full pitch) showed great potential for both DiamondFX and the HTV Vive Tracker.
Having a tangible object in your hand, the shape and weight of the one in the experience is a literal game-changer. It certainly helps with immersion, even though we were also a little concerned we might clock someone with the bat as we could see our real-world surroundings.
Trinity VR also told us that it could adapt the concept to cricket, licences pending, and when we asked about golf, we were told, “Watch this space!”
Also demonstrated in the Vive rooms were other games and experiences with other Tracker uses, such as the aforementioned firehose, a boxing game using actual gloves with Trackers stuck to them and more.
We didn’t get to try those out due to time constraints but we have no doubt that we’ll start to see these third-party accessories appear on the market later this year. We can’t wait.