The Oculus Touch Controllers are a Modern Miracle

December 20, 2016 :: Reading time: 14 minutes, 49 seconds

The Oculus Touch controllers are a gamechanger in an already changed game.

These are my first experiences with them - if you'd like to read about my first impressions of Oculus Rift in general, and find out what's good to play on it from the starter games without Touch, see this post.

Oculus touch packaging

The controllers come in a package as sturdy and stylish (but bulky) as the headset itself. Each controller takes 2 AA batteries, and allegedly lasts for about 9 hours on a single charge. There is no on/off switch - the buttons are capacitive (more on that later), so even with vibration and constant use, they can last a while. It has been over a week of frequent use now, and they are both still in the green - so it's far, far more than 9 hours.

Package contents photo

The package also contains an intro booklet about health and safety, and another sensor for defining the play area, as well as an interesting "guitar attachment" for Rock Band VR, but I have no Rock Band Guitar controller, so I couldn't test that part out (yet).

Everything unpacked

Play Area and Boundaries

The Oculus Touch experience requires you to set the sensors about a meter or two apart, facing straight forward - not at you, like before with a single sensor. This is because two sensors can cover a very wide region, and by making their detection radius overlap, you're always in the most sensitive, most precisely detected area.

Sensor position

This means you need even more room - a 2m x 2m area would be best, because the "Guardian" wireframe you see in-game when you approach your area's limits is quite distracting (but useful - so you don't pound your head into the wall, or fall over a chair). This is probably the biggest hurdle - with such a VR experience, people now effectively need a "game room".

The setup procedure is very simple and much faster than the default headset setup process - I was ready to go in minutes, right after I rearranged my desk slightly.

What's interesting is that when buying Touch games and experiences, the Oculus app will warn you if the game recommends an area larger than what you have defined - that way you can either rearrange your furniture and get some more space out of it, or not buy the game if it's impractical.

Capacitive buttons

One marvel of engineering that I think more controllers should adopt is capacitive buttons - the controllers know even when your fingers are just resting on the buttons (not pressing), and this is what allows you to point, make a fist, and do other fine gestures without triggering in-game actions.

It works flawlessly - they read all input instantly, there is zero noticeable latency, and the precision is out of this world.

Experiences

Here's some of the experiences I've tried so far.

First Contact

★★★★★

When you first configure Oculus Touch, you're taken through a short tutorial showing you how to use the controllers. Since they're kind of hand shaped, it's intuitive and easy to pick up. Immediately afterwards, First Contact, the intro experience, will automatically launch.

First Contact, image by [UploadVR](http://uploadvr.com/oculus-first-contact/)

Image courtesy UploadVR

Just like everything else by Oculus Studios, it's a showcase of the technology's capabilities, and as such both behaves well and looks beautiful. You find yourself in a little retro electronics lab where you use a sci-fi 3D printer to print things a cute little robot gives you, and test them out.

Apart from being able to punch, shove, throw, and juggle things around (bouncy balls, toy cars, soda cans, video casettes...), you also "print" rockets which you wind up and let loose around the room, a laser gun to shoot targets with, a sort of lightsaber-tractorbeam in your finger, and so on. It's an incredibly fluid experience, super fun, and an excellent starter if you're getting someone introduced to VR with Touch.

If this wasn't a default after the installation, I'd recommend it with a 5/5. This is something I have everyone play through when demoing the Touch controllers.

The Climb

★★★★★

The Climb

The Climb is a mountain climbing game in which you use the controllers as hands to grab onto ledges and rocks. It sounds boring but:

  1. It's beautiful to look at stuff when you're hanging onto a mountain
  2. It's really exciting and tactical, you have to think when you climb
  3. It's really active - you end up waving your body and arms around much more than one would think
  4. It includes achievements, leaderboards, avatar customizations, races with other people (or your past score), and more game elements than just climbing
  5. It has a "resolution scale" option which lets you force a higher resolution in-game. What this means is that it partially eliminates the screen door effect's blur at the cost of framerate. However, by locking the framerate at 45, Oculus activates its new AWS and spacewarp technology which basically "fakes" every other frame, making it 90 FPS in reality, and thus not making you motion sick (to not be motion sick it has to be at least 90 FPS). So at fewer frames you get twice the details - and it's totally worth it. Granted, this isn't perfect for super-high-responsiveness games like Elite Dangerous, but it's excellent for steady but tense climbers like these. This game is also the first one to actually tax my beast GPU fully at double resolution scale, so kudos! :)

I can see I'll be enjoying many hours of this game, and it'll definitely be part of the showcase for VR newbies. Definitely recommended: 5/5.

Ripcoil

★★★☆☆

Ripcoil battle - image by [RoadToVR](http://www.roadtovr.com/ripcoil-oculus-touch-rift-fast-locomotion/)

Image courtesy RoadToVR

If you watched the new Tron, you'll remember the disc battles - two opponents opposite one another throwing their data discs at each other as weapons? This is basically it.

Ripcoil is basically 3D Pong which looks really really cool. It's multiplayer only, so you can only play it if you have Touch and if you're willing to duel random people online (or have friends who have it), but it's well executed, if not a bit dull after a while. The graphics are great, the music is cool, and the movement is fine (you tilt to the sides to move left and right - the only degree of motion available to you). Gameplay is very simple - throw the disc and then when it's returned either catch it and rethrow within 3 seconds, or punch it with a powered up punch (you power up by clenching your fist while it's empty).

I didn't spend much time in it because I haven't mastered the controls in practice mode yet, but I'll definitely give it a go. Having experienced other things by now, I'll give this a 3/5 at the moment - but it's free so please do try it out if you get the chance.

Dead and Buried

★★★★☆

Dead and Buried is a multiplayer-only western-themed arcade game where you find yourself in the role of an immortal cowboy. There are several game modes, each supporting 2-4 players, and those include:

  • Horde, where you and your team mates fight off waves of monsters
  • Robbery, where you team vs team go to an objective
  • Quickdraw, where the goal is to be the last man standing in a quickdraw duel, "old western movie" style
  • Shootout, good old fashioned deathmatch
  • Target practice (the only solo mode)

The game is very active - you'll be ducking and squatting a lot, so this is a definite recommendation if you can handle online interactions. The few matches I've played have been very pleasant, a rather well spoken chap was leading us into the horde, but there's always the chance to wind up with a troll.

It's easy to speak to your teammates with the built-in mic on the Oculus headset, and you just press A (unless you set the mic as always on) when you want to speak. Everything is very practical, well made, the theme is grim but comical (think Borderlands). Definitely recommended, 4/5 (one down for lack of single player content).

For a full review you can also read this UploadVR post.

Bullet Train

★★☆☆☆

This is just a short technical demo from Epic, the guys behind Unreal Engine. I found the image quite blurry, possibly because the demo is quite old already, and the gameplay a little lazy - bullet time and teleportation slapped on top of an Unreal title for the sake of VR.

You find yourself in a train station with incoming waves of enemies, and you teleport around the place (fixed 6 or so locations with respawning weapons) to pick up various guns and ammo and shoot the dudes in the face. That's about it. At the end there's a big robot which you kill by throwing its own rockets back at it, as in the video.

Bullet Train is in fact just a 10 minute combat demo game for Robo Recall which will have standard (non-portal-based) teleporation (which is a step up from this game) and an actual story. Bullet Train is nothing to write home about.

2/5.

Superhot

★★★★★

Superhot puts you into the perspective of someone who has to put on a VR headset (yes, a simulation within a simulation) and battle constant waves of enemies coming at you. There's a twist, though - they only move when you do. So looking around, aiming, picking stuff up, moving, all this affects their (and their bullets') speed.

You can use objects around you to throw at them (hit them in the head with an ashtray, block a bullet with a hammer, poke their eyes out with shuriken or knives...), you can mêlée them once they come close enough (axe, hammer, bottle, cup, gun, fist, anything goes), or you can shoot them with the variety of weapons you're given level per level - uzis, shotguns, pistols, grenades, etc.

It's tactical and much more than meets the eye if you watch the video - the physics engine is great, and the game can make you quite active at times when situations are particularly tense. One downside I would mention (depending on how you look at it) is that you need a rather large play area for it - and the Oculus Store will warn you about this if your play area is less than 2m x 1.5m. Keep that in mind before purchasing.

Definitely highly recommended, with an easy 5/5 for execution. One of my favorites.

Arizona Sunshine

★☆☆☆☆

Arizona Sunshine is an exploratory zombie survival game. You move by teleporting around (see below for why) and basically scavenge the surroundings for weapons (well, ammo) to use against the never ending hordes.

It has horde and story mode, solo and co-op, so I assume it can be quite a bit of fun for two people. I only wish it had normal movement instead of teleporting.

I cannot recommend this game for the following reasons:

  • graphics suck, very low-poly, very unrealistic
  • no mêlée. Guns or die. Out of bullets = out of luck
  • various firearms don't really matter. The pistols all use the same ammo, and all have the same effect. You get "advanced" weapons later on, like uzis, but same thing.
  • lots of medkits, but you cannot use them to heal, they're just objects to throw around. Instead, to heal, you find frozen burger patties in fridges and eat them.
  • buggy: zombies can clip through walls and porches
  • when you trigger a horde (always a scripted event which happens when you pick something up, or pull a lever, or press a button), all stairs suddenly stop working. All vantage points and defensible positions immediately become unavailable and you're expected to shoot them all head-on. In other words, any mass horde will lock you into an arena you can only get out of when you kill them all. There is no avoiding zombies in this game, you must kill them all
  • there is a render scale option included to force a higher resolution, as well as a bunch of other options, but I didn't see a difference when changing them.

1/5, do not buy, wish I could get a refund.

Quill

★★★★★

Quill is a 3D drawing app in which the canvas is the world around you. It's rendered beautifully, and features a very straightforward tutorial to get you going. Once you get used to the controls, you can basically perform miracles and design worlds within worlds. Just look at the painting in the video below.

Once you enter some of the pre-painted scenes, you'll be absolutely blown away. Not only are they all stunningly beautiful, but the way you can move through them and zoom in and out at will makes you feel like a god who can inspect the dimension of the mortals below you form every angle.

For the artists among you, I definitely recommend Quill - it's a mesmerizing and charming experience. 5/5

VR Sports Challenge

★★★☆☆

VR Sports Challenge is a set of sport mini-games with a comical side (it doesn't take itself too seriously) which was wonderfully designed by - of course - Oculus studios. They once again use the technology to its full potential, and have you block pucks in hockey games as a goalie, dribble, pass, and dunk as a basketballer, make passes in football, or hit home runs in baseball.

It's a fun game, and even has some added features like franchise management where you score sponsors for the various sports and get fans, but being a total un-fan of sports, I couldn't get into the game all that much. It's a good stretching exercise, but I don't see myself coming back to it often.

3/5

The Unspoken

★★★★☆

The Unspoken is a battle of spellcasters and seems like something Oculus was really designed for. While they're waiting for Harry Potter and Iron Man licenses, Oculus Studios decided to make their own IP and just go with a unique approach - in this one, you're a warlock/witch who can use gestures to cast spell in duels with others of your kind.

This is a tactical multiplayer 1 on 1 RPG where you battle for ranks and build your character, gain items, spells, and gears, and even change the class (anarchist, blackjack, kinetic...)

The graphics are a little low res, I wish I could scale the resolution on it. For that alone I'm giving the game a 4/5, but am still recommending it. This is as close as you'll get to casting real spells!

Teleportation

We can't talk about proper VR gaming, even with the Touch, without mentioning teleportation in games.

If you look at the videos of the above games, you'll notice a common pattern - none have actual movement other than the one meter or so to the side in the playable area. There's a reason for that. Moving with a joystick while not moving in reality makes a lot of people motion sick. There are very few people who can move around in a VR game with a mouse/keyboard/joystick and not feel sick, and I'm lucky enough to be one of them, but there's plenty of folk who just don't do well with "moving while standing still". This is why the game developers went with a method called teleportation, and this exact same method is fascinatingly prevalent in games already.

Basically, you look at the general direction where you want to teleport, then you hold a button and spin the joystick or look again in order to determine the direction you'll be facing after teleportation (helps with cable tangling and 360 turning issues). You can see it in action in Arizona Sunshine above.

This is very lazy, and means that most games will have highly dumbed down opponents since you can't really move around (ideal for zombies!), but it's the only approach we've got right now, other than VR Treadmills.

Note that there is actually a way to play normal games in VR - there's a driver called Vorpx which forces non-VR games into VR mode. It can be a bit blurry at times and strain the eyes, but nothing terrible. In fact, I've been playing Bioshock Infinite like that, and moving in game with mouse/keyboard combo (also using my head to steer/look around) and have had no problems - but a detailed review of Vorpx is yet to come. What I mean is - there is a way to play true FPS games in VR, but you have to be lucky enough to be resistant to this type of motion sickness. I'll always get sick in a car when I'm a passenger, but in VR never.

I hope one day we'll have a decent solution to this VR movement problem that works for everyone - I would very much enjoy playing multiplayer with friends and family.

Conclusion

Oculus Touch moves the immersion barrier quite a bit further, and the competition has a lot of catching up to do. Having tried the Vive's controllers at this year's Reboot Infogamer, I can honestly say the Oculus has HTC beaten in this game - but I look forward to seeing what HTC will come up with to even the playing field.

Whereas consoles like the Nintendo Wii or the Playstation and Xbox with their sensors and multi-person games on one screen had a nice social element for hanging out with the family and playing active games together, Oculus is starting to feel like an elite addon to gaming that's used to enhance the online social experience - and I think that's perfectly fine.

It's a fine-precision, high-entertainment system that's only hindered by the screen door effect, but even this will pass in a year or two, and we'll have true immersion much sooner than expected.

The Oculus Touch controllers are, for every Oculus owner, a must buy because if I lost them now, I'd honestly feel like I have half a product - they're that important.

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