Beyond Gamepads: 8 Alternative Control Options for VR

Why use buttons when you can adopt a more realistic control method?

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Virtual reality is still very much in its unrealized infancy, but there are still a handful of inventive new developments in the technology that provide a glimpse of what might be possible in the future. From motion controllers to treadmills built to move in any direction, here are a handful of the most unique and promising VR peripherals both available and on the horizon.

Oculus Touch

The Oculus Touch is the motion controllers used in conjunction with Oculus' headset. 

Oculus Touch is basically the dream of the early days of the Nintendo Wii. Built to frame a user’s hand neatly, the Touch consists of two controllers in each hand with face buttons and trigger bumpers. It’s tracked using infrared LEDs and a wireless sensor, and the motions a player makes in real life are delivered with 1:1 accuracy in-game.

Using this tech brings real-life motions into the game, which in turn affords games and game designers to think beyond mere buttons and analog sticks when developing a project.  

HTC Vive Controllers

Vive's controllers are like Oculus Touch so far as they use similar ideas of motion control to implement interactivity within the game world. However, the Vive offers a few more options not found in the Oculus Touch, including touch-sensitive controls capable of measuring squeezing. They're widely favored, although it should be noted the Vive is significantly more expensive than the Oculus, which may be why its controllers offer a bit more by way of functionality. 

PlayStation Move

The Move controllers have been re-purposed from the PS3 era. 

Remember those old remotes with clown noses that released during the PlayStation 3 era when everyone was chasing the motion-controlled success of the Wii? Yes, the infamous Move controllers are making a comeback as a playable add-on option for exclusively PSVR games, particularly the ones releasing soon on PlayStation 4. The great news here, though, is that you finally have a reason to bust those things out again.

Like the Oculus Touch, the PlayStation Move allows for new options in controls, particularly for games implementing sporty or adventure-driven ideas and mechanics.

PlayStation VR Aim

The Aim is an all-new gun peripheral for PSVR. 

Like the Sharpshooter Move peripheral from the PlayStation 3 days, the PlayStation VR Aim is an all-new piece of tech meant to simulate the feel of a gun in the player’s hands. We saw this used for the all-new Farpoint PSVR demo at E3, giving players a way to feel more absorbed into their environment within a first-person shooter.

It uses the same technology as the Move, albeit with a more streamlined and sleek design than we previously had during the previous console generation. First-person games--particularly shooters--are obvious choices for VR games thanks to the first-person perspective a player adopts, so it makes sense to retool and repurpose technology to create a peripheral aimed exclusively with this in mind.

3D Rudder

The Rudder attempts to solve the awkwardness in navigating virtual worlds using only an analog stick. 

One of the challenges of playing video games in VR is knowing how to manage a player’s movement. It’s possible to use a gamepad to control the basic forward, backward, and sideways movements in a first-person game using the same analog stick input of a console or PC, but doing so robs the experience of the truly natural feel so many want to see translated into their play.

The 3D Rudder aims to fix this issue by providing a peripheral controlled solely by the feet. By placing one’s feet on a circular pad while seated, the 3D Rudder allows for movement in virtually every direction by simply depressing on the foot pedal. It isn’t necessarily the 1:1 feedback of moving feet along a path, but it’s an alternative that offers a bit more realism than pushing on an analog stick.

Virtuix Omni

The Omni treadmill offers 360 degrees of movement. 

Like the 3D Rudder, the Virtuix Omni is a product attempting to solve the issue with movement in a VR game. But, instead of merely being a pedal one controls with their feet, this actually simulates in-game movement on an omni-directional treadmill capable of moving in 360 degrees.

It isn’t without drawbacks, however. The Virtuix Omni is an expensive and large piece of tech, especially for a new gaming format still working to find its feet. By virtue of being a peripheral dependant on the user being active throughout the entire time playing, it also risks causing someone to cut their time with a game short due to fatigue or--in the worst case--injury. Still, it’s by far the most realistic option available at the moment for people who want to truly feel they’re walking and running inside a virtual world.

Reactive Grip Motion Controller

The Reactive Grip makes shooting and first-person interactions feel more believable. 

The Reactive Grip Motion Controller does what other peripherals haven’t yet attempted: it actually gives weight and realistic form to the in-game objects held within a player’s hand.

Using several panels built into the handle, this controller simulates the resistance and pressure appropriate for whatever item is currently being held within the game. The proper amount of tension is felt against the palm when holding a sword, and even basic motions like swinging something in your hand will react with proper pressure being felt through the handle. Basically, it’s taking the ideas of the Oculus Touch and moving them a step forward to actually feel a sense of weight inherent in usable objects held in the player’s hand.

Unlimited Hand

The Unlimited Hand can simulate the "feel" of touch in VR. 

The Unlimited Hand is arguably one of the most promising pieces of tech within the VR space. A sensor worn on the forearm, the UH can detect and emit a number of signals to transfer into the game.

First, it’s capable of finger-tracking, meaning people can move their individual fingers and see those same exact movements replicated in VR.

Even more impressive is the amount of haptic feedback the Unlimited Hand can produce. It is capable of emitting pulses to physically communicate impacts, blows, and even simulating the “feel” of certain objects to give in-game actions a bit more weight and context. Like the Reactive Grip, the Unlimited Hand’s main function is simply to make one’s hands feel more absorbed into the VR space than before, taking us one step further into the VR technology innovation arms race.  

A prototype of the Kinect/Leap motion tech implemented in a headset. 

Developers have also been using the tech found within the Kinect and Leap motion control methods and combined them for the purpose of hand tracking, although this is not widely available as a solid product at this time.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty