‘Ninja Run’ May Be the Craziest VR Locomotion Technique Yet

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This is ‘Ninja Run VR’, and its yet another take on the ever present problem of user locomotion in VR experiences. But, as crazy as the concept looks, there may be some method to its madness.

The question of how best to allow users of VR apps, games and experiences to move around a virtual space is still a hot topic among players and developers. Right now, those titles which require user-controlled movement through a space seem to be settling on some form of VR teleportation – i.e. the point and click approach. But whilst this method is certainly one of the best for avoiding nausea in motion sick prone players, there’s no doubt it lacks the immediacy of linear motion and further more, it can be somewhat laborious to use if you’re wanting to travel large distances.

Now, a developer has come up with a new take on the problem, one that on the surface may well look, well, a little “batshit crazy”. The developer’s name is Sean Hall (whose previous claim to fame is the DIY HoloLens) and his technique is called Shaolinja or ‘Ninja Running’. The technique takes inspiration from a thousand anime and martial arts movies which depict the historical agents of assassination, which often portray the ninja running with arms swept back behind, leaning forward as they go – you can see this demonstrated in the video embedded at the top of this page.

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815766962_preview_ninjarunsocial“In many popular anime and cartoons, characters depicted to be moving very fast are often illustrated with their hands and arms trailing their torso in the direction they are moving,” Hall tells us, “Even though is is unrealistic, it does induce the notion that the person has a super power to move very fast.” Hall’s idea then was to adopt the pose for us in VR. “With my locomotion, the user is allowed the luxury of immersing themselves in a system where they possess that super power. Because moving is tied to muscles and the inner-ear, simulator sickness is profoundly reduced.”

The developer has begun to flesh out his concepts too, this has resulted in a demo experience which adopts the technique. He’s released this demo to the public in order to garner more feedback and to gauge whether other developers working on VR experiences would be interested in incorporating it. You can also download the system as a Unity plugin via the asset store here. The project even has its own landing page on Steam, known as ‘Shaolinja’ right here.

So yes, this new locomotion does seem a little ‘out there’ at first glance, but the more I thought about it, the more I reckon Sean may be onto something. Whether he’ll convince other creators to join him in his experiment remains to be seen, let us know in the comments below if you’re considering taking a look.

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  • I hate teleport and I love your Ninja triangle even without trying it.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      Thank you! The demo experience linked in the article is free, I encourage everyone to try it and let me know what they personally think.

      • Vitor Hugo

        The concept is cool! I like it! But you still not walking or running in real life…
        I presume that you can only go “back and forward” and not be able to perform other actions while running (i.e. shooting).
        But the ninja running position sounds lovely! It’s like you are a proper anime character with super powers!!!

        Keep up the good work mate!

        • Sean Fulton Hall

          True, but it is inspired from more subconscious concepts used in walking and running: leaning forward to keep your balance as you move, as well as using at least *some muscles to do so. Another note is that this mechanic basically turns your torso into a joystick, allowing movement in 360.
          Slaloming trees is very fun, as well as simple racing. Its true purpose in my game demo (for right now, at least) is exploration, evasion, and tactical positioning for some mid-to-close range combat.

          • Paulo Martel

            I can imagine this mechanic working very well on a downhill skiing game, where leaning forward is a natural way for keeping balance (and pressure on the right spot on your skis) and increasing speed through reduced air resistance. Keep up the good work! :)

          • Sean Fulton Hall

            Very much indeed! In fact, for GGJ 2014 my team submitted a game based on my ‘PS3 Move suit’ and using an early prototype of the same mechanic. It was an 80’s pseudo-Tron theme, but “skiing” was the main gameplay focus: http://globalgamejam.org/2014/games/laser-surf Thanks for your support!

        • Sean Fulton Hall

          And thank you for the recognition! It is indeed fun, give it a shot.

        • Sean Fulton Hall

          This early alpha version precludes things like shooting while running, but do not give up hope. I have a few other experimental mechanics that I am researching and ironing out, so hopefully that limitation can be removed. I also hope that others might adopt and improve upon this mechanic in ways that I have not even realized.

  • Mane Fit

    please for the love of god just stop use traditional free motion using the sticks or touch pad (depending which hmd u own) along with teleport and stop with all these craziness

    • Bryan Ischo

      I agree! We do not need innovation! It is a waste of time!

      Also, stop trying to make wireless connectivity for my headset. And please don’t bother wasting all of the time and energy it takes to create new hand tracked controllers. An Xbox controller and a chair along with a first person shooter in VR is all anyone will ever need!

      SMH

      • fred

        It’s not what everyone wants. Personality I hate using xbox controller with vr, I think it’s killing most of the immersion. I also hope to get wireless with the vive, and I wish they come with better solutions than teleport and touchpad movments.

        • I absolutely detest eggbox controllers. I don’t see consoles have ever brought anything good to PC gaming.

        • Sean Fulton Hall

          Agreed. No controllers, and wireless HMD please.

      • victor

        You mean an xbox controller and a chair with first person shooter is all YOU ever never need!
        What a narrow-minded full-of-himself loser you must be.

        • Mane Fit

          Really where did i say xbox control and seated? While i do prefer seated and don’t see room scale as fun i am loving playing Doom 3 seated with my touch controller. As u can see https://youtu.be/-jmFVNPH1Uc this is just too much work to play a video game

          • So what you’re saying is you’re lazy and have to sit as much as you can….

          • Mane Fit

            No i am saying as someone who does fitness for a living i don’t wish to turn the hobby i use to relax into something active plus this just doesn’t look fun

          • looks fun to me. See my perspective is different to yours. I like the option of standing and moving VR combining exercise and play. if I sit for VR it’s for a flight sim or racing sim.

          • Mane Fit

            I love option i am all for it but most vr games don’t give options and that is the problem

          • Serious Sam first encounter!

          • RipVoid

            Some of us like VR to be active.

          • Mane Fit

            cool I am all for to each his own but we need to refine what we have before we expand being active in vr is one of the thing stopping a lot of people from giving it a try. it’s asking a lot of people buy all this, put this on ur face now stand and move around after a long day at work as well as dealing with your kids. now what once seem like a fun idea become dreaded by those who don’t share our excitement for vr. we here seem to forget how small the vr install base is and trying to force people out their comfort zone isn’t going to help grow vr no matter how good a game is. as soon as devs understand this and give more simpler option for locomotion as well as give a seated option vr will stall out at a few million unit sold which isn’t enough to keep it going. so sure do ur experiment but now should be focus on refining the simplest control scheme not adding to it

          • Sean Fulton Hall

            I still encourage trying the free demo. My hope is that it is just active enough to be engaging, but not enough to feel like work.

          • victor

            Thar reply was directed to the op commenter Brian not you

        • Bryan Ischo

          It was sarcasm. Sorry if it wasn’t clearer.

          • victor

            As you can see from different replies from different people, sarcasm is hard to detect on Internet.

          • Texazzpete

            The sarcasm was extremely easy to detect in this case. Blame your lack of perception and move on

          • victor

            Shame on me…and the other five folks repied for not seeing the sarcasm. When will people understand that sarcasm does not work well online! Sarcasm only works in person!

          • NullReference

            It was pretty clear to me, and made me laugh +1.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      I still encourage everyone to try the free demo. It contains a few extra gems, for instance gesture recognition so you can throw fireballs without pressing any buttons. Simply gesture like Ryu or Goku and enjoy a free Hadoken/Kamehameha simulator.

      • Paulo Martel

        Hi Sean,
        any special pre-requisites for running the demo on SteamVR? Thanks!

        • Sean Fulton Hall

          Just to make sure to run SteamVR first! Hold both triggers to activate the ability. Press ‘H’ on the keyboard to host a network game and be able to throw fireballs. Enjoy!

    • Blah blah.

  • This actually grabs my attention, something connected to where you point or look sure is easier to handle for me than anything purely abstract. It doesn’t hurt that I read Naruto for the longest time… downloading the demo now, hopefully it works with OpenVR :P

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      Thank you. The demo is built with Unity SteamVR plugin, so OpenVR is good to go!

  • Net Shaman

    A bit unrealistic ?
    So there is one discipline in where this position is used when taking off: paragliding !
    The best one is that this position is the one for gaining the more speed as possible for a perfect take off and the maximum security for avoiding the glider closing off.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      One of my original names for this mechanic was “Hanglider.” It seems like you were able to conjure up that level of speed by merely assuming the position. It’s more of a super power dynamic, but one that happens to be just powerful enough to merely allow traditional game map design to come back into use for vr.

  • Raphy

    How about doing the opposite, like holding handlebars??? That is etched in the muscle-memory of many people in the world. In this part of the world many can even steer with one arm and shoot with the other, haha

  • awilko

    Nice idea! I’ve found the reverse works also (though at the time I only had leap motion, so ninja running wasnt an option) ie. stretching one or both arms out in front to fly forward is pretty intuitive, plus you can steer a bit with controller direction…

  • RipVoid

    Could this be combined with running in place for slower movement that allowed the hands to be free for other things (shooting)?

  • RipVoid

    For first person sandbox perhaps teleportation for long distance, something like this for medium, walking/running in place for short distance, and roomscale for ummm, roomscale distances?

  • oqvist

    Will try but locomotion is not needed. Just sit down and you get an anchor point. Personally I have developed my VR legs so standing roomscale is not an issue even with motion.
    Why is people prone to motion sickness allowed to totally dominate an entire genre? Gallery shooters is not dominating 2D FPS for one reason alone they are static and people like to move around and explore and see new things. Yet we have about one experience windlands and at most a handful more that let you move around per usual and the rest is gallery shooters that have teleport at best if even that. Or locomotion where I don´t control my own movements fully.

    I just hope the domination of gallery shooters is just because they are so cheap and easy to produce for small teams and cost so little and that in some years we will have proper fps available. I enjoy VR mostly in racing and flight sims where I can move around as freely as always.

    • Mane Fit

      I agree with you. All the gallery shooters make vr feel like a waste of money and ti.e

    • Get Schwifty!

      They dominate because development focuses on the bottom line and right now the VR industry is concerned that people, particularly young ones experiencing motion-sickness induced VR will give it a bad name. The numbers are quite high relatively speaking, one can safely assume that just the problem of walking locomotion translated to VR probably affects minimally 30%-50% of users (I suspect even more). Naturally, they started with teleport to draw the largest potential audience and ensure safety.

      Now, before you object that its “not fair”, consider what I just said about how the industry perceives it. As a result, they are playing it safe, but we are also seeing people move to create alternatives. As everyone, users and VR devs gets experienced it is a natural progression to “open up” to alternatives, like the one described in the article.

      The other point is one of comfort indicators…. this is where Oculus Home definitely was correct in indicating this. I think this approach is terrific; no problem with walking locomotion IF people indicate that it’s a risky for comfort for those who can’t handle it. I also think it would be absurd for developers to not realize they have to support all ranges of folks, from those who have more of an issue to use teleport mechanics to a middle ground with say Ninja-running, to those who can tolerate full walking locomotion.

      I personally complain that the genre of shooters is overdone and dominates; not everyone wants to do nothing but shoot sh*t all day but that’s the majority of what we get because it sells easily. What a terrible waste of VR if you think about all the things you can do with it.

  • Get Schwifty!

    Awesome idea…. would be a nice alternative to have for any game where locomotion is needed really.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      Thank you! I agree it could be used for a lot of game types/themes.

  • sntxrrr

    Cool, I can see how this could be enhanced further by placing a drop-shaped mesh around the player on which you could animate speed-lines. It would make it even more anime but also provide a cage-like reference to further reduce motion sickness. It’s a bit the reverse of space dust in space sims.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      I like it! Great idea.

  • arielwollinger

    480p? in 2016?

  • Anthony Hairgrow

    So I had the opportunity to try this out and I have to say that this is by far the best locomotion system I’ve seen thus far. I too don’t like the teleport method. It’s very point and click. With this, it helps shape the idea of how to traverse large maps. I can see using this for games like Borderlands, GoW, or Skyrim. Once you “ran” to a specific area you still have the ability to walk around in your defined play area. Which is great for moving into and out of battle. I’ll be keeping my eyes on this one. I can’t wait to see how the developer adds combat skills to this.

    • Sean Fulton Hall

      Thank you very much!! I am very encouraged by comments like these; They are what fuel my development. I hope to build more mechanics that work in tandem for my current game (hint: many ninja and element bending mechanics, mostly gesture driven), as well as release them on the asset store as they are tested. My dream is the VRMMORPG where this movement mechanic is present, so that I can explore for miles… just like in Skyrim… but in VR!

  • Sean Fulton Hall

    Also for those of you looking for another video demo: Check out this old footage I was shown. It’s from a separate, unrelated, probably multi-million dollar experiment that didn’t even use actual VR, but they are moving exactly how my system works! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dz4S3s7KXw

    • Anette von Kapri

      Cool stuff! Thanks for referencing my work. I am super excited this is working for unity and consumer VR!

      • Sean Fulton Hall

        No problem! I was so excited to find someone else who has independently come upon the same solution, and with an IEEE write-up no less. I enjoyed the part about increased travel distance and accuracy over other methods. I wonder if the nausea in the cave stemmed at all from using a “lean threshold” rather than a button to initiate movement, or perhaps image projection/distortion issues that may have been present. I hope you try the Unity version and get to provide some very insightful feedback.

        • Anette von Kapri

          Yes, if I remember correctly the nausea was introduced due to latency of the rendering. To travel users had to lean forward which changed their perspective, and the system would not render fast enough to show the change of height. I dont think flying at high speeds affected the nausea so much, since this was the case for all conditions. This latency may not be a problem nowadays anymore though :).
          Does this work with the HTC Vive as well?