Yesterday at massive tech show CES the makers of the Vive virtual reality headset, HTC, revealed a new tracker accessory that could change the way developers use real world objects in games.
The Vive Tracker has already been sent out to VR developers. Stick it to something in the real world and that item can be tracked and used in your game, similar to the way your VR controllers are now.
HTC's examples of where it could be useful included “multiple rifles built for VR shooters, a baseball bat, a firehose and haptic gloves,” but we spoke to Alex Schwartz from Owlchemy Labs, the studio that made Job Simulator, for an expert’s take. He points out that whenever people talk about VR trackers, the first things people joke about are tracking their dogs and their beer cozies.
“I imagine it in Sports Bar VR, the pool table game, and you just have an actual drink somewhere on the table so you could be there, pick up the drink, drink it. I mean you might have problems with the shape of the Vive and hitting your headset…” he says.
“Gun attachments are the first thing anyone thinks of but other rigid accessories, bats and racquets, people underestimate how much VR will get into training simulation and enterprise stuff. People are going to want to have physical recreations of various real world things. When you’re trying to train someone weight and feel can be really important.” If you're practicing your baseball swing it's no good if your bat feels like it's made of out cheap plastic, for instance.
He says that for him it democratizes the concept of experimenting with hardware in VR, especially with 3D printers becoming more and more common. With a 3D printer template and a tracker people can print out their own accessories and tools for various implementations.
That said, don’t expect to see game developers suddenly making the tracker an essential piece of kit. Schwartz says the user base right now is too small, developers won’t make any money if they make that user base even smaller with a specific piece of technology that only works with one headset. Also don’t get excited about strapping a tracker to your dog just yet, the puck like device works best when attached to something rigid like a bat or a sword, because your game needs to understand how the the thing the tracker is attached to moves in space.
At Owlchemy Labs they’ve been playing around with their tracker, and everyone thinks it’s pretty cool. “It’s just like a regular controller, with all the other junk removed.”
He points out people have already started strapping VR controllers to things for various games, this streamlining just simplifies that process and allows for easier experimentation. It's laying the groundwork today for the killer apps of next year.
“I really like that concept that companies have been smart enough to know that they don’t know everything. They’re building this hardware that enables people to do cool stuff but they haven’t thought of all the cool things that could be done,” he says.
“They’re giving people tools to figure that shit out for them.”