We speak to ‘Teddy’, the developer behind the UDK based and Razer Hydra powered positional tracking demo ‘Hydradeck’ and the new ‘Hydradeck Cover Shooter’.

VR Prospecting

In these early days of the Virtual Reality resurgence, there’s much to be discovered. Developers who break new ground (and most are) and share their work can quickly become minor celebrities on the scene. The developer who goes by the pseudonym ‘Teddy’ is one such example of this.

His UDK (Unreal Development Kit) based Hydradeck demo leveraged the positional power of the Razer Hydra to enhance the players reach into the gameworld. Using a Hydra wand strapped unceremoniously into a bum bag slung about his person, Teddy demonstrated crouching and leaning into the world — adding missing translations not available to the Oculus Developer Kits. It was a great proof of concept, although any application of this new interactive mechanic was limited.

Most recently, Teddy appeared again, this time with a much more compelling demonstration – hist Hydradeck Cover Shooter. Again, the Hydra wand was fastened to his person but this time the 2nd wand’s positional information was mapped to an in-game weapon, which moved in virtual space almost 1:1 with the player’s input. Better still, the positional data was used to add crouch, cover and lean, enabling the player to take cover behind crates and peer out from behind them to take pot shots at distant enemies. Exciting stuff.

Teddy Talks

We reached out to Teddy just after he released his Hydradeck demo in an effort to find out more about Teddy and his plans for the future:

Road to VR: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Teddy: I’m a passionate gamer and developer. I’ve been tinkering with games since the Commodore 64 and have marvelled at their progress from text adventures all the way to the cinematic blockbuster 3D adventures we have today. VR feels like the next big leap forward, so it’s awesome to be able to be here at day 0. I’m so thankful that Team Oculus have kept the whole thing open for anyone to work with, so I’m trying to do the same with my demos.

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Road to VR: Would you consider yourself a VR enthusiast? What was it that hooked you on VR?

Teddy: I first heard about the Oculus on John Carmack’s Twitter feed. I could tell by how excited he was, there must be something great about it. When I thought about the recent developments in motion detection and small HD screens, it just sort of made sense that it could work this time!

Road to VR: What was it that inspired you to retrofit positional tracking? Do you suffer nausea whilst wearing the Rift?

Teddy: After having my rift for a while, I was feeling a little underwhelmed when playing conventional games that had been adapted to the Rift. I found anything that has you sitting in a chair and using a gamepad feels a bit like playing on a 3D IMAX screen because you only really look in one direction. It’s really awesome, but to me it’s not Virtual Reality.

So I made a very conscious decision to move away from traditional control schemes and look for a more natural way of interacting with the world. In doing this, I very quickly learnt how much more immersive the experience is when the environment reacts to all your body movements, and you don’t need to turn using a joystick. It starts to really feel like you’re there, which is the powerful kind of VR experience I was hoping for.

I’m very fortunate to not suffer from any simulator sickness at all, but I’d say roughly 20% of my friends seem to get some form of it when trying the Rift. It seems to be a pretty significant amount of people, so I think it’s pretty important to look for ways around it (like motion controls) until we can find a way to cure it (like galvanic vestibular stimulation).

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Road to VR:  How did you approach the problem of positional tracking? What was your thought process?

Teddy: I initially tried attaching the Hydra to the Rift, but it felt really weird to steer with your head. So I came up with the idea (as a few people have) to attach it to your chest. This allows you to walk in one direction while still being able to look around. Once I figured this part out, the rest was pretty easy.

There were a few minor issues such as what to do when the player tries to step through a wall. I ended up detaching the camera from the body at this point, so you can look through collision objects but can’t walk through them. Another lesson was for any joystick walking movement, to ensure its has a very slow acceleration and moves at a mild pace otherwise it can cause a little unsteadiness.

Road to VR:  What was it like working with the Razer Hydra? Were there any challenges hooking them into UDK?

Teddy: I started with Cymatic Bruce’s instructions, which used MannyLectro’s Hydra integration. They did all the hard work for me, so it was dead simple to get it all running.

Road to VR: One of the criticisms of the Hydra is it’s tendency to drift over time. Did you find this a significant issue?

Teddy: Not nearly as much as the Oculus Rift’s drift! The main problem is UDK is still using the old v0.1 Oculus SDK, which doesn’t have the magnetometer tracking enabled yet. The Oculus team are working to get this fixed soon, hopefully.

My biggest problem with this demo was the cables. When you start to get immersed in a world, it’s really easy to forget where your desk is and get tangled up in all the cables. To combat this, I added some safety barriers that will show up when you’re about to run out of play space or get tangled in the cables.

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I was very excited to see that Sixsense have announced a wireless motion tracking system that will solve this problem. Some folks have already modded their Rifts to be wireless too, so it’s time to start building a Holodeck in your house!

Road to VR:  What projects do you have lined up in the future? Do you have any plans to incorporate your Hydradeck work into a fully-fledged original project of your own?

Teddy: The HydraDeck project is finished, and I’ve released the source code for it. I’m really trying to encourage more people make demos in the physically based VR space, as these are the most fun for me.

I’ve just released my next game project, which I’ve called “Hydra Cover Shooter”. This demo uses the same control scheme, but gives you a Desert Eagle and some things to shoot. I had so much fun building this demo, the result is such an intense and intuitive experience. You don’t need any instructions, just pick up the gun and duck behind something!

I plan on making a few more demos to experiment with different control schemes in different scenarios. I’m thinking of doing something with swords might be a fun challenge. I don’t think it makes sense to build anything into a bigger project at this point, as there is still so much experimentation to be done in this space.

Road to VR: Do you plan on getting into the Bum-Bag business as a side-project? ;)

Teddy: I was considering some BumBag stock options, but it looks like Sixsense are about to put them out of business with their clip on STEM tracker for their wireless motion tracking system!

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Our thanks to Teddy for taking the time to talk to us and we look forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.

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  • Mageoftheyear

    Dammit! Stop being awesome! :(
    *Waiting for consumer version, grumble grumble, it’s cold out here in monitor land, grumble grumble…*

    On a side note:
    Cables. Say your prayers – for the night is dark and full of wireless devices.