The magic Touch?
Oculus’s VR vision has become a reality, but what does the forthcoming Touch controller mean for its future?
What does Oculus Touch mean for virtual reality’s future?
There’s an established ritual to being demoed a Rift game, demanding passivity and obedience. Slip on the headset, then place the hands forward and pause – polite and isolated in darkness – ready for a gamepad to be placed in your grasp. This familiar procedure is already changing, though. The tweak is subtle, but open hands are no longer befitting to the ritual. Oculus Touch may not yet be available publicly, but developers have clearly embraced it. Those waiting hands must now be held flat, fingers tightly bunched, ready for the wrist strap of Palmer Luckey’s hand controller to be slid into place. At GDC this year, it wasn’t the case that Touch controllers represented a rising trend; rather, they were close to the norm.
The reasons behind the shift are manifold, and the impact on the Rift experience is beguiling, whether being wowed by the intensity Touch controllers bring to Epic’s Bullet Train FPS demo, or experiencing the tangibility they engender in Northway Games’ construction-kit puzzler Fantastic Contraption.
Virtual reality always needed a hand-tracking solution, of course, because without it users try to reach out and grab anyway, especially during formative VR experiences. That desire to grasp is an important one to VR’s potential to immerse, and it plays on something defining in the human experience: the opposable thumb.
“After you start working with VR, it becomes really obvious why players want to reach out,” explains Northway Games co-founder Colin Northway. “Our hands are the way we interact with the world. There’s a giant part of the brain dedicated to moving our hands around, controlling things with our hands, using tools and picking things up. Our hands are a big part of what being a human being is. So when you add hands into the mix in VR, even without finger dexterity, it makes you interact with the space in a more normal way, and with less of a divorce from how you interact in the normal world.” If VR’s trump card over traditional screen-based gaming is presence – that extremely powerful feeling that makes the virtual world feel like a reality –
Northway Games co-founders Colin and Sarah Northway