Microsoft’s new controllers should help expand VR

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The emergence of virtual reality is already starting to change the gaming industry. We have yet to see any kind of mass migration away from typical consoles and toward VR headsets, but some believe such a migration is coming. Even now VR seems to be growing in popularity by the day. That said, it’s also proving to be more effective in some genres than others, largely because of the tricky demands of motion tracking.

One article looking at the best genres for VR highlighted this by pointing out some of the potential shortcomings of other popular game types. It included first-person shooters, noting that this is already the most popular genre for the first-person perspective that VR is compounding—but also that games allow players to “run around” in “limited space” to achieve movement. There are similar issues with adventure games. As of now, these games tend to look wonderful, and there’s definitely a thrill in first-person immersion, but movement can make them feel stunted or awkward.

It’s often the games that require less movement that are the best on VR, at least at this stage. This is particularly evident in racing games, where the actual person you’re embodying by slapping on a headset doesn’t need to move. You just need to control the vehicle and look around you in all directions. All of which can be achieved in VR as you sit on a couch in your living room. It’s a slightly more natural fit for the new medium at this stage.

Some even simpler, more traditional forms of gaming are also proving to translate well. We’re beginning to see more interest in the introduction and expansion of casino titles on VR. Online casino games hosted by a live professional dealer are on the rise in terms of popularity, and are appreciated by players for their ability to showcase actual casino environments via video feed. It makes you realize just how much casino and other table-based games can thrive in VR, where a player only needs to sit, look around, and play, rather than traverse a huge environment or perform complex motions.

Games with a lot of motion are tricky and less reliable (though certainly there are some terrific exceptions), whereas games with little motion are easier to adapt and are often a more polished. Microsoft is attempting to change this perception by introducing new motion controllers to the VR market. They’re not unlike those that have already existed for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rif, but it’s how they capture it that could be a game changer.

The new controllers will be fully tracked by sensors in the headset with similar capabilities, it was almost necessary to set up a full-fledged virtual reality room in order to pick up your movements. Small towers with sensors would be placed around the area where you play in order to interact with your controllers and translate your movements to the screen. However, no such sensors are needed with these controllers.

That doesn’t necessarily expand the playing field for shooter and adventure games beyond a small area, but it does free you up in terms of your range of motion and the ease with which you can play these games. Microsoft’s new controllers will ship with a $399 Acer headset that’s expected to be ready for the 2017 holiday season, and other Windows-compatible headsets will also work with them.

The controllers could represent a significant development in VR, and might help with the growth and improvement of some of those occasionally problematic genres that people are so eager to play in virtual reality.

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