This past week saw the release of EvilMech Runner,
a small experimental survival game that we have mentioned before by estonian developer Filipp Keks, meant to achieve the feeling of natural movement with minimal hardware. This means in-game movement without the use of a gamepad/keyboard/treadmill, using simply the Oculus hardware and clever software. Since my first encounter with the game fell short due to the long que of people wanting to try the demo and me being able to get stuck in a virtual wall, I was exited to fire the game up at home.
Setup: as the readme file suggests, I put the Oculus IR camera about eye level on a tripod and stood (yes, this game is meant to be played while standing) about 1 meters away. I also had a small carpet on the floor to give me some feedback as to where I was located in reality (pro tip for playing alone). There is a need to press the spacebar key multiple times in the beginning. Make sure you press it until you see “RUN!”, otherwise you false-start and miss half the fun (the EvilMech part).
Experience: Two players tried the game, me and the wife. Neither of us fell over, but having your feet wide apart is definitely a smart choice. Some funky graphical glitches aside (water splashes in the ceiling), the experience was quite impressive workout-wise. Quote from one of us: “How am I out of breath in my living room!?”. The main selling point, step detection, worked very well, but of course one could also cheat by just bobbing the head up and down. There was a huge difference in playing styles however – while I managed to stay on the tiny carpet without problems, my other half took a much broader approach and constantly actually ran off in different directions. So, just in case you don’t want to yank your computer off the table, find a running partner to hold you back:)
I also caught up with Filipp Keks (“hopscotch” in estonian, quite approprietly) for some background info.
Where did you get the idea for this kind of solution?
The idea came to my head the first day I received my DK2 back in August. After trying first couple of demos I noticed that the motion tracker range is capable of much more then just “peering around corners” as it was announced. In almost any demo you can actually walk a couple of meters from the initial point. At the same time solutions like [Virtuix] Omni and Cyberith seemed a bit too over-engineered. I also tried to mix gameplay with a standard treadmill, but it limits you by speed and direction, so I rejected the idea and stuck with simple jogging in place. According to some fitness and medical sites I found, jogging in place is also quite healthy and beneficial 🙂 The disadvantage of my solution is that you can not turn back as you would block the tracker camera view. I worked around this problem by making the game forward running, so the player never have to turn back. Later it came out that Oculus developers are moving the same direction as they made the new Crescent Bay prototype with IR sensors visible from behind.
How easy was this approach to implement?
It took me one weekend. Most of the time I spent rewriting a part of the Oculus Unity driver. Version 0.4.2 was quite a mess, now 0.4.3 came out and it looks much nicer and logical. Currently I’ve rewritten the code for the latest SDK. I plan to release my code as open source so others could make more demos with the same type of gameplay.
Will this kind of movement control catch on?
Maybe not exactly – DK2 wasn’t designed for it after all 🙂 But this is definitely the direction where VR will be moving in the near future. Oculus newest Crescent Bay prototype has a wider position tracker range and IR sensors on the back which perfectly suits my idea of gameplay.
Lastly, what are your next plans?
I have plans to experiment with full body motion tracking using something like a Kinect. I also have a couple of ideas how to make the gameplay more interesting and unsusual, so stay tuned.
EEVR will keep a close eye on Filipp! If some of the readers are unable or simply lack the stamina to try EvilMech Runner, here’s the official gameplay clip