The magic Touch?

Ocu­lus’s VR vi­sion has be­come a re­al­ity, but what does the forth­com­ing Touch con­troller mean for its fu­ture?

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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

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