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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?

A problem nobody considers

But is the Trinity Magnum really more viable than its predecessors?

There's an arcade convention in Santa Clara, CA every year called California Extreme. Pinball, classic arcade games, DDR — they've got it all. It's a magical place where you'll see a Defender cabinet next to a Swords of Fury pinball table next to a Street Fighter cabinet, and all set to free play.

And one of the best aspects of California Extreme (and arcades in general) is getting a look at all the crazy control schemes: Tapper/Root Beer Tapper with its keg-tap handles, or Slick Shot with its faux-pool table, or Star Wars with its flight yoke.

The best part of California Extreme, however, is that I don't have to own all these control schemes in my own house. How many of us still have plastic instruments stashed in a closet? Flight sticks? Light guns?

The moment that sticks out to me most from the Trinity Magnum demo is when the creators tried to convince me the device is genre agnostic. It's not just for shooters — it's for everything. But it's shaped like a gun. It has a trigger like a gun. It's not very comfortable to hold in any position except the "This is clearly a gun" position.

TrinityVR knows what the problem is — outside of an incredibly niche audience (myself included, as I stare lovingly at the flight stick next to my desk and my Rock Band drumset) most consumers are not interested in a one-use device, and especially one that costs $100. (400 early Kickstarter backers can snag a Trinity Magnum dev kit for $80.)

It's not that Trinity has made a bad product, with the Magnum. Far from it. The Magnum is more intuitive than a lot of the strange, awkward third-party controllers I've used since the Rift exploded onto the VR scene. It's responsive and solidly built.

Are you willing to own six different controllers for your Rift, though? Or, if you are, is your best friend? Your sibling? Your cousin? Your parent? And with the Magnum requiring a separate SDK and a separate camera than the Rift (at the moment), how many games will wind up with Magnum support? Will it be able to play your favorite game? Will someone go back and allow the reticule to aim a different direction than the camera?

Plus, CNET recently reported that Oculus is working on its own first-party controller — no surprise, after the recent acquisition of Carbon Design, the team that created the widely-acclaimed Xbox 360 controller, and considering that Oculus higher-ups have stressed the importance of inventing solid built-for-VR controls in the past. If the Oculus dev tools integrate support for this first-party controller, and it's something more genre-agnostic, the Magnum is automatically at a disadvantage, even if holding a gun-shaped controller is more immersive for shooting games.


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