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Trinity Magnum takes aim at the tricky problem of VR controls

Hayden Dingman | July 22, 2014
The Oculus Rift and a renewed interest in virtual reality has prompted a panic about controls--how do you intuitively and accurately manipulate a game while wearing what's essentially a blindfold?

The Oculus Rift and a renewed interest in virtual reality has prompted a panic about controls — how do you intuitively and accurately manipulate a game while wearing what's essentially a blindfold?

Non-traditional controllers like Virtuix's Omni treadmill and the Razer Hydra are two attempts to answer that question. Now, you can add Trinity VR's Trinity Magnum, which launched a Kickstarter campaign today, to the list.

The Trinity Magnum is — as the name implies — essentially a gun for your virtual reality warfare needs. I've held gun controllers in my hand while demoing other Rift prototypes, but none have been virtual reality-enabled. I could only shoot wherever I aimed my head.

The Magnum is the first custom-made (a.k.a. not just hacked together) device I've used that divorces "where I'm looking" from "where I'm shooting" by allowing the camera and aiming reticule to move separately.

And it works well, for the most part. The gun is tracked by way of an external camera and internal hardware, and you're given full one-to-one movement reproduction. It looks like some sort of futuristic rifle mixed with a PlayStation Move controller. Our demo also used a PlayStation Eye camera, though the creators say the final product is platform agnostic and can use any camera of sufficiently high tracking speed and resolution.

The Magnum has a trigger (naturally), a front analog stick, an analog stick on the rear-top panel, and four buttons. The analog sticks move in a flat plane, rather than tipping over like the balled analog sticks on a standard controller — if you've ever used the PlayStation Vita or Portable, you'll know what I mean. The sticks are uncomfortable, but you get used to the limited range of motion relatively quickly.

I played through one demo that was essentially a static shooting gallery: blow up some gas cans, take out a few targets, and generally get used to the idea of aiming separately from where you're looking. Then I swapped over to a game by PixelRouter, called Z0ne, which was basically a three-dimensional rails shooter — you speed straight ahead while shooting everything in sight and trying to score points by some mysterious mechanic I never fully understood.

Regardless, both demos were impressive showcases for the hardware. It's hard to accurately detect latency when using the now-antiquated first-generation Rift dev kit, but the Magnum seemed responsive. The trigger was a bit stiff, the analog sticks cheap-feeling, the buttons a bit of a stretch to reach, the front end too heavy — but hey, it's a prototype. The potential for a great product is there, and with plans to release for under $100 the Magnum seems a lot more viable for average consumers than the $500 Virtuix Omni or even the $130 Razer Hydra.

 

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