‘Lone Echo’ Developer Shows Impressive Procedural Hand-posing System for VR


Lone Echo, Ready At Dawn’s upcoming space-based VR game, employs a physics-based movement system where the player pushes and pulls themselves around a zero-gravity environment. A video presented at GDC highlights their procedural animation system that allows for convincing grip postures on arbitrarily shaped surfaces.

One of several exclusive games anticipated to launch on Oculus Rift and Touch hardware this year, Lone Echo is a first-person action game in a science fiction setting comprised of a story-driven single player mode and a team-based ‘esport’ multiplayer mode. Ready At Dawn’s technical prowess showcased in The Order: 1886 (2015) continues here, with the studio once again adapting to a new platform, developing an impressive physics-based movement system that plays to the strengths of VR motion controllers.

Jake Copenhaver, lead gameplay programmer at Ready At Dawn, recently gave a presentation at GDC about Lone Echo’s animation and locomotion system, entirely focused on the first person perspective. A teaser video (heading this article) was provided, which shows the inspiration (real footage of astronauts on board the ISS), the early prototype of the movement system, and the current implementation.

Zero-gravity movement is ideal for VR’s current motion tracking solutions, as astronauts mainly propel themselves around using their arms rather than their legs, grabbing handles or surfaces to pull or push. Lone Echo achieves this form of locomotion by positioning the head 1:1 relative to the hand as soon as it grabs something. This connection allows the player to pull towards or push away from objects in any direction, intuitively navigating the environment with physics-based interactions.

Copenhaver went into detail about the issues that needed to be solved, as the system had to work just as well on floating physics objects (of wildly different masses) as it did on fixed geometry. The next step was to develop a procedural animation system for the hands that would convincingly sell the movement and collision physics, as the player is free to grab ‘any and every surface’ in the environment. Only the ‘gun grip’ in the footage is pre-authored; every other animation is responding to objects and surfaces procedurally.


lone-echo-ready-at-dawnIn addition to the complex finger joint optimisation, there was the challenge of estimated inverse kinematics to animate the untracked joints, such as the elbows and shoulders, as well as the rest of the untracked body. A separate procedural animation is at play for the spine and legs, which move based on player velocity, combining with a propagating motion from player head and arm movement, as well as an additives layer for some animator control.

Hands-on: 'Lone Echo' Multiplayer is a Totally Surprising Triumph for Competitive Zero-G Locomotion

The full presentation slides are available to view or download.

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • NullReference

    Really impressive, I hope they share/open source that work so that other developers can use it.

    • Firestorm185


      • Yes, really great work. Would be fantastic if they shared this at the code level to create a common system.

        • Firestorm185


    • Nick Outram

      Why would they simply give away all their hard work?

      • Edward Pino
      • NullReference

        For the same reason anyone would open source code. In case you aren’t aware there is a lot of it out there.

        1. By open sourcing a core tech like this they position themselves as the leaders in it. They can offer services to implement it elsewhere or help others to.
        2. Others can contribute to it, making “their” code better
        3. It becomes a de facto standard which they have a head start on

        Core tech is often open sourced, it’s what you do with it that sells for cash.

        An example: https://vrtoolkit.readme.io/

  • Foreign Devil

    impressive! Just as impressed with the implied leg movement. . Would you be able to push off surfaces with your feet in this game buy crouching down and standing up quickly in real world? This procedural animation is also something that could be extremely useful in games animation world in general. Not just in VR.

  • Brandon Russell

    That was great! I’m kicking myself right now for not getting into game development sooner.

  • OgreTactics

    Again, a private studios (of veterans, sure) doing the job of corporations. Although I wonder what the weird hand wobbling is due to, either the software or limitations of the Oculus Touch they use, in which case I wonder how this would fare with a Leap Mo.

    Also goddamn, why aren’t Sony securing the exclusivity of their studios given how critically important this is to the future of platform publishers, especially given who this one is composed of and the impressive work they’ve done coming from PSP Daxter’s to the Order 1886.

    • Andrea Pessino

      The wobble/shaking is a video capture artifact, there is no jitter when you run Lone Echo in VR.

      • OgreTactics

        Strange given I can get the same real-time artifact on a real-time hand-tracking device, but since these are Oculus Touch that’s a non-problem as it shouldn’t jitter in RT indeed.

        Have you been able to experiment your procedural physical hand-interactions system with simple tracking devices like PS Moves and complex hand-tracking stuff like a Leap Mo?

        • Andrea Pessino

          We have not – all our work has been with the Touch.

    • I agree on the frustration with Sony not securing this studio. The Order: 1886 had issues, but they could have had the studio work on their engine for other first party devs. Also, I wish this coming to PSVR.

      • OgreTactics

        I mean they’re one of those rare corporations who still not only have good engineers but also great conceptors and industrials designers using these assets, but camera is an ever stagnating business until smartphones get to good, so are TVs especially with VR, and consoles as a device paradigm is soon to be dead, replaced by cross-devices platforms of which the main differentiator will be franchises quality and exclusivity which is in fact a huge part of the PS4 incentive compared to a PC or Steam.

        • I understand the impulse to proclaim consoles dead, but the sales of the PS4 and Xbox One tell a different story. I don’t even think that the half-step consoles (e.g. PS4 Pro) are going to prove very successful because the console audience wants the simplicity. In its own way, even PSVR is quite simple (once you have the initial tangle of cables in place). Yes, fixed-camera VR will eventually be replaced by inside-out tracking. Yes, mobile VR will continue to improve. However, I think console/PC VR will continue to outperform mobile VR for the next few years. For as impressive as the tech is, there are so many areas for improvement: cable reduction, field of view, screen resolution, graphical processing power, controls/input devices, locomotion, haptic feedback, and so on. We’re in the “Pong” era of VR; let’s not assume that we’ll jump to the “Uncharted 4” of VR in one fell swoop.

          • OgreTactics

            I just skipped too fast, so I’ll explain: when I say console are “dead” in prospective terms it means that although you couldn’t tell 5 years that they were or when they would be, it’s now a certainty that this generation or the next will be the very last one: first of all if you want to look at the number, the previous generation reached with widening casual audience reach peak sales (after the same period as current gen they had 120+ millions consoles sold already). Then there is the fact that since mobile hardware and GPU yearly iteration, console can’t hold in terms of specs, standards or incentive more 2 years, then of course upcoming game-streaming. Every manufacturer from Microsoft with Windows 10 cross-platform and PSNow/Remote has understood it.

            On the VR side, we don’t remotely agree. I’m sorry but no, we’re not in the Pong era of VR it already happened in the 90s except unlike consoles it failed for good reasons, also I’m way past the point where I find anything acceptable or practical about the “consumer” headsets released, as if the absolutely objectively mediocre number didn’t speak clearly. Of course VR will evolve, like everything evolve, it’s not saying much, however there’s a common lack of practical prospective and economical thinking behind as it seems the rules of consumer market, behaviour, investment and expectations magically didn’t apply to VR, it could collapse in 2 years from now if there’s no adoption and the momentum interest is waning, these are the indubitable economical rules.

            I really think that companies simply are doing a mediocre job on a quite challenge device paradigm that VR, but clearly with no Steve Jobs on the horizon it’s like everybody is lost and there’s not one conceptors in these. Some few companies like Leap Mo, GoPro or Parrot have done great job if their relatively specialised sectors, but it seems there’s no-one in VR save from the original Palmer’s Luckey engineering prototype idea of putting two lenses on a smartphone screen with an IMU sensor: this is FAR from a real product or device, and again it’s a very challenging one to conceive correctly, maybe more than the smartphone was.

  • TheMediaman1

    Wow… Visually fantastic. Experience using various control-only and control+physical feedback positioning (e.g., body/wrist/external) or haptic/other feedback?