This week at CES 2018, Tactical Haptics debuted a new prototype of their haptic VR controller which allows the devices to attach and detach on the fly in several different poses for different types of gameplay. The controllers are being piloted in IMAX’s VR arcade.
For the last several years Tactical Haptics has been developing VR controllers with a unique form of haptic feedback which they call reactive grip. It works by sliding sections along the grip of the controller to simulate torque forces in your hand (the pressure you’d feel while swaying a baseball bat back and forth in your hands). It’s a compelling sensation that goes far beyond mere rumble haptics.
Tactical Haptics is taking the controllers in a bold new direction which allows the them to be reconfigured on the fly to mimic hand poses that are commonly found in VR games, like a steering wheel or gun.
Tactical Haptics founder Will Provancher says the idea was partly inspired by hardcore VR users who were making DIY controller mounts which would hold their Rift or Vive controllers in orientations mimicking the grips of a two-handed weapon for enhanced immersion for VR games that use two-handed guns.
Rather than simply allowing you to change from one pose to another between games, the new Reactive Grip prototype, which connects in several different poses using magnets and guides, actually makes switching from one configuration to another part of the moment-to-moment gameplay.
At CES 2018 the company was showing a demo where players would use the controllers in what I’m calling ‘Independent’, ‘Symmetric’, and ‘Asymmetric’ configurations, and switch between them on the fly. In the demo, when holding the controllers apart from one another (Independent), you see a pistol in one hand and a wand-like tool in the other. When you bring the two controllers together into the Symmetric pose, you see those items turn into a brand new tool: a gravity gun which has grips that match the physical orientation of the controller grips. And when you bring the controllers together into their Asymmetric configuration (a two-handed weapon pose), you see a gun appear in front of you in the game. Switching between these various poses to suit what tool or weapon you need in the moment actually becomes a fun piece of the gameplay.
Though the magnets help guide the controllers together, it would be challenging to do so while blinded by the headset, if not for the smart addition of green indicators that appear in VR as you move the controllers close to each other. These indicators offer a virtual representation of the controllers’ various connecting points, and make it effortless to connect and reconfigure them as you play. After practicing just a few tries I was easily able to disconnect and reconnect in different poses.
Of course, as you’re using the controllers in their different poses, the Reactive Grip haptics adapt their behavior to uniquely suit whatever you might be holding in VR. When I was using the gravity gun tool in the demo (Symmetric pose), I could feel the grips causing a feeling of torque in my hands depending upon the direction I was swinging an object in the game. When I connected the controllers into the Asymmetric pose and fired the two-handed gun, I could feel the controllers kick backwards as if the gun’s recoil was pushing the grips against my hand.