Virtual reality headsets have really made a breakthrough, that hints quite clearly: “VR support in games soon will become a common thing.” And what is targeted at the mass audience, will be definitely expanded with a pile of additional bells and whistles.
In the case with the headsets, these are treadmills, that provide a new level of immersion to the virtual reality. After all, one of the main disadvantages of Oculus and Vive is that they cope good enough with the virtualization of visual objects, however, the tactual perception doesn't differ from the common games – finally, a gamer has a common keyboard or a controller in hands.
Now imagine – 100% of visual immersion, an endless battlefield spread in front of the gamer, but instead of a heavy gun, you feel a vibrating controller in hand or even worse – a mouse and a keyboard. After gamers become experienced enough in VR gaming, will arise a question concerning the deeper immersion into far away worlds. One large concept has been picked up by a few developers – how far is it successful, we shall see as considering the main details.
Treadmills for VR: how do they work, why and who needs them
Why do we need treadmills for VR?
So, you have bought a VR headset - happiness, delight, bright emotions is what you are definitely going to feel after 10 minutes of sitting in a chair and enjoying some kind of a preview from developers. Stop your outbreak of euphoria accompanied by tears of happiness and think about a more serious game. Battlefield 4, perfect! Connect to the server and let's join the battle. One step and the second - good. And then suddenly we get a full range of experience from the physical contact, though not with an enemy and the environment of Battlefield, but with the favorite plasma panel, which is unlikely to return to life after such a collision. Annoying, isn't it? And this variant is the most real - often there isn't enough place even to move around.
How do treadmills for VR work?
A gamer safe, and special shoes will provide the most comfortable experience from walking around in virtual worlds. Add to this crouch support (in Virtuix Omni) and get a sufficiently attractive option for shooters and all sorts of "walk simulators." In the racing, and other genres that do not involve much walking, the device becomes less useful: a combination of "wheel + helmet" is still a more acceptable option. Although many will consider even these advantages a luxury, and some just can 't or won't want to kill enemies with a plastic rifle that comes in the set.
The camera orientation is fixed for the treadmill and the helmet at once - but there is one snag. In games where you can turn your head separately from your body the feature will work, but in the majority of modern shooters, it will become another “backstab”. ARMA - you might say. Well, I'll answer that you have never played at this very Arma. Yes, you should turn the head separately there, what discourages many casual gamers, but this is not all. I remember my gaming session - about 70% of the time in the active phase of the fight, I spent by wiping the wrinkles of the surface with my belly. Decided to crouch and you will become an attractive target for a sniper, and in the open field for any dog. Well, during the battle you don't need to walk at all. Yes, the problem of "lying" position can be solved by using a programmable button on the controller, but you must admit — this is not the same.
If consider for a moment, it has potential - for some reason, I remembered a rather definitive Fallout New Vegas and the challenging expansion Dead Money, well, where we ran with a collar-bomb, around a sinister casino, stuffed with traps. So: the engine in the third Fallout is not as good as it may be, let's face it, but by combining it with VR-track, you could get a rather good VR-port. And in the same Dead Money, many with pleasure walked among the traps. Yes, I know, something similar exists, but I remembered Vegas that is well-loved for its atmosphere and the depth of immersion. By the way, the disgusting Fallout 4 has been adapted to one of the models. As you can see, the engine hasn't improved much. But by adding some explosive stuff that one should avoid, we could get a quite exciting 'kill yourself' type of game. A kind of Super Meat Boy with the gamer in the lead role. And many dream of walking around the Skyrim and Morrowind - open world provides such an opportunity. Or smart adventures like The Witness, where during the breaks between tricky puzzles you can be run around the neighborhood area. The potential is huge - the most important thing is to use it wisely.
Who needs treadmills for VR?
And no less the relevant question concerning technology: for whom is it? Even having glanced at the photo of the gadget, it becomes clear that at this stage of development it is available not for everyone. And it's not about the price. The dimensions of such a device differ significantly from the consoles and compact headsets. However, let's not forget that all of the models provided below are the first in the line. Once PC also seemed to be a far-off dream, and now fits into a compact box under the table. So maybe someday a treadmill will smoothly transform into a lighter version, and the device will be publicly available among gamers.
And now let's take a look at the 3 most promising models, being developed for the market.
VR Treadmills Comparison Chart
|Model & VR Support|| |
Virtuix Omni (Oculus Rift, Vive)
These bulky treadmills. A massive basis that responses to steps. The harness allows to crouch, however, how comfortable will it be to sit is such a “chair,” especially when playing some GTA?
For those who have decided to pre-order - the problem of space is not a problem. But the basis of the treadmill looks too solid, especially in comparison with Cyberith.
~$699 for pre-order on the official website. When placing an order, you should specify the shoe size that comes with the set. Also, there are available various accessories and plug-in components for the treadmill from $60 to 80.
Cyberith Virtualizer (Oculus Rift, Vive)
A lighter and more attractive option. The platform here is less bulky, and steps are tracked by motion sensors. Crouching actions can be performed more natural due to the possibility to lean on one knee, without risking to hurt it. The structure itself is more mobile, which makes it more attractive, especially considering its dimensions.
The lighter construction, and what is the most important, the very concept of the treadmill looks more promising. It is smaller, its working principal is based on sliding, not on the movement of the platform - if the concept of the surface will become as easy as common walking, Virtualizer will be head and shoulders above the rest. Moreover, the device does not require special shoes - minus one purchase.
Mass production has not yet been established, the official price is unknown.
KatWalk (Oculus Rift, Vive)
The basis here is a similarity to the Omni, but the main thing here, according to the developers, is the absence of the ring or belt around you waist which restrains a user from the real world. A special fixation is placed in the upper part of the construction and will protect the player from falling.
Process of walking doesn't have a sliding effect, the contact with the surface is mechanical, as in the Omni. For sure you will require additional shoes that are provided in the form of rather weighty boots. Definitely a questionable model, but it received the most substantial funding outside Kickstarter among all the others.
The main risk factor is a massive construction. Virtualizer makes it possible to slide easily, like a surfer, the Omni offers lightweight shoes — here we have a massive construction with the vertical solid panel for fixation.
Perhaps this solution it too doubtful in comparison with the ring frame? For sure, 360 degrees turning may lead to injuries. However, you can use the fixing hook not only to fix yourself but also to attach a special chair for watching movies and non-VR games. And KatWalk is so far the cheapest option.
Mass production has not yet been established, the official price is unknown.
VR Treadmill perspectives in 2016
Three products exist on this rather specific market, but no one hasn't been released yet, so it's quite unwise to criticize harshly at the moment. But already at this stage, it can be said with certainty that the leading concept belongs to Virtualizer. From the very beginning, they forwent the bulky design and additional accessories - and it is right because even the stylus in smartphones (it would seem a good thing) became a burden. And the idea with sliding looks promising due to the absence of massive elements.
In the future, provided that the successful development of technology, will arise a question of making it smaller, slimmer and more compact. And the victory belongs to the model that is not equipped with a bulky, heavy basis. But who knows, maybe the concept provided by Omni and KatWalk, will be accepted by the mass-market customer, and no one will wonder about making the device more compact. And sliding, perhaps will prove itself not so groundbreaking and simply inconvenient compared with normal walking, and even in special boots.
Whet first models will be delivered - once it becomes clear in what direction the development should move. After all the first sales — is first of all the additional funding, and it is what the further development of products require. Only Virtuix Omni can boast - they started the first and gathered the most. KatWalk, the developers of which snapped a million dollars for further development, takes the second place. Virtualizer takes the last place due to the lack of funding outside Kickstarter. Let's see how the tings will be moving.
Playing with VR Treadmill on the early stages will resemble a dense game Pong — a kind of novelty it was, but many continued to dedicate more time to mundane pleasures, like tabletop games. But then home console and PC gaming have flourished! Therefore, the success of the development will depend primarily on the personal interest of game developers.