Cross-Platform Room-Scale VR Games Hit A Wall

by Ian Hamilton • January 15th, 2016

What if I said a room-scale VR game was coming that would be like a mashup between Portal and Metal Gear Solid? You would slink around a room to sneak up on robots and teleport from place to place to escape them. I’m guessing a number of gamers would immediately take a credit card out of their pocket and begin slapping it against their screen, hoping the money would somehow come off the card.

Now suppose a lot of gamers already took a credit card out of their pocket and used it to pre-order a $600 Oculus Rift to enjoy some great sit-down VR expriences like Lucky’s Tale and EVE: Valkyire and that they learned, just a few days later, this incredible game idea, Budget Cuts, would be coming to the competing holodeck-like Vive headset.

Finally, what if a developer behind Budget Cuts said it was unlikely they could release the exact same game for the Rift because “room-scale in Oculus seems to be a low priority” and though room-scale VR is technically possible with Rift, it’s not exactly practical “for the end-user”. I’m guessing these early adopters would be having some mixed feelings right about now.

Now before I spark a religious war in VR there are several things worth noting. First, the initial version of Vive is likely to be more expensive than what ships with the initial Rift. Second, Neat Corporation’s knowledge of how well Oculus Touch would function in a room-scale environment is based on a meeting they said they had with Oculus.

Lastly, Neat Corporation co-founder Joachim Holmer’s Reddit post outlining his thoughts on how Rift and PlayStation VR will compare with Vive for their game idea is nuanced and what I’ve quoted above is just a tiny snippet. So I encourage you to read the post linked above or the entire text of it which is pasted below:

Just thought we’d update you all on this topic, as transparency is pretty neat! It’s a bit lengthy, so I put a TLDR at the end 🙂

After we published the trailer, we started researching how exactly the Rift/Touch room-scale and PSVR stand-up VR works. We had simply, rather naively, assumed that we could support any high-end VR device with tracked controllers.

The bad news:

The more we found out about them, the less likely it seems that we can run the game in its current design for the Touch, and even less so in the PSVR. It’s not that we don’t want to support PSVR and Touch, but that the Touch, and especially PSVR, doesn’t currently seem to support 360° tracking with near-occlusion free interaction, from head to toe, purely from a technical standpoint.

  • PSVR

PSVR has a single camera, so occlusion is a big issue, especially if you’ve turned around, so it’s almost (read more below) out of question immediately.

  • Oculus

Room-scale in Oculus seems to be a low priority, which came as a bit of a surprise for us. You can technically do room-scale in the Rift, but, not practically for the end-user. Multiple cameras need extra USB ports, they would have to be bought separately, and cable up to the computer. In addition, the cameras apparently have quite a low FoV, so there might still be an issue to track objects close to the ground if you want to pick things up in the game (a quite central theme in Budget Cuts). Oculus, sensibly, recommend designing your games so that you don’t need the full 360° tracking, because then you can target all three platforms with ease, and users who only have two cameras and maybe even just one for the Rift will be able to play it. Which makes a lot of sense! It’s definitely the right thing to do if you want to get as many potential players as possible. But in general, it looks pretty grim if we want to port the full Budget Cuts experience.

The good news:

We had a meeting with Oculus today – they sent us a mail a few hours after the trailer went live! (As did Sony, by the way)

I talked about the concerns we have about room-scale, and that we’re worried that even if we were to get a devkit, we might still not be able to target the Touch. With that said, they were super kind to send us a kit regardless, as long as we gave it a try!

So that what we’ll do – Implement Rift/Touch support internally, and then attempt to adjust the design accordingly for the Rift, and maybe even PSVR too.

For example, the limitation of picking up objects from the ground might be solved by allowing you to “beam” up those objects instead. 360° tracking may be worked around by having in-game hints show what your “forward” direction is, and add buttons for portal-turning-on-the-spot in 90 degree increments, or similar.

That being said, we won’t be limiting the Vive version this way. Getting the full experience on at least one platform is more important to us, than consistency between all platforms.

TLDR

  • 360°, head-to-toe 2x2m room-scale tracking in Rift+Touch and PSVR is practically not possible.
  • We had a meeting with Oculus! They were super cool to send us a devkit. We’ll get the game running and then see if it can be redesigned for Touch.
  • We will internally add support for the Rift and play the game, then try to adjust the mechanics accordingly, in order to make it work well with a more restrictive camera setup.
  • If Budget Cuts ends up working on Touch/PSVR, it will not really be the full experience as we have on the Vive.
  • We will keep the Vive version as room-scale and free as it is now, regardless of design changes we may have to do on the other two.

Hope it answered a few questions you might have!

Now will all that said I will leave you with a pair of tweets. The first is from Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey and the second is from Alan Yates, the creator of the Lighthouse tracking technology at Valve which is used to provide the room-scale experience in Vive.

 

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