Multiplayer ‘Siege VR’ Prototype Highlights Solid STEM Tracking Performance


At GDC 2016 we got to take a look at the latest STEM VR controllers from Sixense. With units purportedly on track to begin shipping next month, the company is also committing resources to create a promising cross-platform multiplayer experience called Siege VR which could turn into something much bigger than a mere demo.

Throughout STEM’s unfortunately troubled development timeline, one thing has surprised us: Sixense has always had highly functioning and fairly well polished demo experiences for their motion controllers. That probably comes with the territory; after all, the company designed the tech behind the Razer Hydra which hit the market years ahead of motion input controllers like Oculus Touch and the Vive controllers even having been announced. They also created the Portal 2: In Motion DLC which brought 20 new levels specifically built for motion controllers to the game.

Sixense has been melding VR and motion controls since the DK1 days

So I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising after all that the many little tech demos they’ve made over the years to show off motion input mechanics have felt ahead of their time (see this one from 2014).

With that in mind, it was great news to hear at GDC 2016 last week that the company not only plans to finally ship the first STEM units to backers of their 2013 Kickstarter campaign, but they’re also developing a new game called Siege VR that’s going to have cross-platform support among headsets and motion controllers.

I Don’t Care What Platform It’s on, I Just Want to Play Siege VR

Unlike many of the short STEM experiences we’ve seen from Sixense over the years, Siege VR is more than a demo. What we saw at GDC was a prototype of what the company says will become a full game, which will be free to all backers of the STEM Kickstarter and will also be made available for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR (whether that’s using each platform’s own VR controllers or STEM).

Close Up With 'Rink', Gear VR's Prototype Motion Controller
See Also: Sixense Releases 5 STEM Demos and SDK Compatible with Razer Hydra

Siege VR is a first-person multiplayer castle defense game which (in prototype form) had me and an ally wielding bows side-by-side, trying to stop hordes of enemies from reaching the castle gates. In addition to shooting regular arrows, there are two special arrow types: an explosive arrow (from the quiver seen on the left wall), which when ignited by a nearby torch explodes on impact; and an artillery arrow, which fires a smoke round which designates a target for your friendly catapult to fire upon. The former is great for taking out dangerous groups (including enemy archers who will aim for you directly) and the latter works against enemy catapults. The special arrow types regenerate over time, but you’ll want to use them sparingly, especially as the artillery arrow stockpile is shared between both players.

The game is still very early, but the creators say they’re considering having many more than two players all working together to defend the castle. Perhaps—they conjectured—there would be teammates at more forward towers who could aim back at the castle to prevent enemies from scaling the walls, while the players on the wall itself would be focused on enemies in the field. Maybe—it was suggested—it could be a multi-stage experience where, if the enemies break through the main gate, you and your team fall back to using melee weapons.

Some earlier prototypes included the ability to pour buckets of boiling oil onto would-be castle crashers, though that and some other features were cut for the time being to add a bit of simplicity and polish for the GDC demo.

Manus VR Experiment with Valve's Lighthouse to Track VR Gloves

Between the lot of us excitedly chattering about ‘what about [insert super cool gameplay]? Or how about [more super cool gameplay]?’ it was clear that Siege VR could have legs well beyond a simple demo, and that’s where Sixense says they plan to take it.

Forgetting It’s There is a Good Thing

As I played Siege VR using STEM with a Rift DK2, I got that wonderful feeling of forgetting about the technology and simply having fun playing the game. That means that everything was working together to make a fun and intuitive experience which kept me immersed. When I came out, the top of my mind was filled not with questions about STEM, but about the scope and potential of Siege VR.

STEM motion input controller with three 'Packs'
STEM motion input controller with three tracking modules

STEM itself was integral to getting us to the stage of talking not about limitations, but about possibilities for Siege VR. I’ve used the system at many points along its oft-delayed development, and while it’s always felt good, this time around it felt better than at any point in the past; even after using Touch and Vive controllers all week throughout the rest of GDC.

For me the thing that pushed the needle most significantly was the headtracking performance. STEM has additional tracking modules which can be affixed to head and feet (or elsewhere, up to 10 tracked points). For their demos Sixense often eschews the Rift’s own headtracking in favor of using a STEM tracking module. Having used the Rift plenty, it always felt like there was something a little ‘off’ about the STEM-based headtracking—whether it was latency or positional accuracy, I’m not quite sure. But this time around I actually had to ask to clarify if they were using the Rift’s tracking camera or if it was STEM: it was 100% STEM.

3DRudder VR Controller Priced at $175, Ships in March 2016

I point to headtracking because it’s easier to tell when something isn’t right with your head, compared to your hands; light drift of a few millimeters or inaccuracy on your hands can be very hard to spot. When the placement of your virtual eyes depends entirely on the tracking though, it’s easy to feel when things aren’t working right. So what I’m saying is that because the headtracking was solid, that means the rest of STEM’s tracking is solid too (as there’s no difference in tracking a module on your head vs. a module on your foot).

Particularly in an electromagnetically dense setting—like, say, the middle of the GDC expo floor—which can mess with the magnetically-based tracking, it was impressive that the headtracking felt that good. In fact, Sixense’s booth had a number of STEM basestations scattered about; there was one just a few feet away from the one I was using, and I didn’t spot any interference-based tracking issues despite competing magnetic fields.

Sixense isn’t trying to quarantine itself from the competition either. They had both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (with Vive controllers) in action at their booth, and says their SixenseVR SDK will allow developers to create games that are ready for any motion controllers, not just STEM. The SDK allows for “code-free setup” for humanoid characters in Unity and Unreal Engine, and provides a full body skeletal pose based on sensor data.

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  • Joe Bazaar

    Sounds great, but I wished you would have asked if they actually started the production line yet. Shit’s ALWAYS a month away with these guys.

  • Dotcommer

    Wouldn’t this be funny if everyone ends up buying these to supplement the lack of motion controllers with the Oculus, and then no one ends up buying the actual Oculus touch controllers when they finally come out?

    • Torin Vanderpool

      Yes it would be funny if you were a HTC vive fan wishing poorly upon its competitors lol

    • What’s the deal with all the hate? It doesn’t even make sense. This is all cool stuff. Can’t we just enjoy it?

  • Mateusz

    Even if they somehow manage to create motion controls that are superior to Touch and Vive they’re already too late.

  • Kijutsu

    Most expensive mistake I’ve ever made. Vaporware at its best…

    • Oroku Saki

      until they ship anyway…

  • Matthew Lynch

    I got the STEM with 5 trackers. Anyone want to buy off me when I arrives in late April/May? I will wait to actually receive before committing, but I am taking a list of names of interested parties.

  • I really hope the STEM people read this post, because, at the moment, they are SCREWED, and there’s only one way out. Between the VIVE and the Oculus Touch, their tech is completely superseded. There is no value to it on the PC.

    BUT, there is a HUGE value on the mobile side of things. Right now Mobile VR via Google Cardboard and the Gear VR are in TERRIBLE need of hand and head tracking. If they can adapt their tech for Android, they may have a shot at a big market. It shouldn’t be too hard to do, and it’s an existing market that needs support TODAY.

    • VicoVR

      good point! here is good solution for Mobile VR positional and full body tracking

  • will bell

    I think these peripherals will find great use in that they aren’t limited to hand and head integration. There is so much development variety right now that many developers will be keen on adding foot integration for a myriad of purposes. I imagine something like Audioshield with the ability to kick incoming low spheres (talk about a great workout). It may open up surprising locomotion mechanics as well for those who tire of the current “blink” dynamic. Ultimately, there is so much going on in the landscape right now that there will be plenty of opportunities for good tech to find a home, in current generation or in one of the numerous other systems still in development.

  • John S Johnson

    3 years ago.. count em.. that’s when i payed my money for this elusive vapor hardware. the date has moved so many times it’s ludicrous. I feel taken, cheated and down right disgusted.. every time i see another review of this company showing off what must be the only single piece of this hardware in existence at yet another tech show. Did i think it was super cool back then and just what was needed to pair with the Oculus.. absolutely.. but it’s evident by Oculus and Vive going with their own proprietary solutions that this company missed the boat. Perhaps they should call up Samsung and see if they can get a real company to get their hardware out the door for tracking for mobile vr