The much lauded Echo VR might no longer be with us, but one of its innovations is living on in a new wave of VR games.

Echo VR (and its single-player counterpart, Lone Echo) were among the first major VR games to build a game around a virtual movement system based entirely on the player’s arm movement. While most VR games used (and continue to use) thumbsticks to allow players to glide around on their feet, the Echo games actually gave players no control over their feet, and instead had them floating around exclusively in zero-G environments with only their hands to push and pull themselves around the game space.

Image courtesy Meta, Ready at Dawn

While other early VR games definitely contributed to the idea of arm-based movement rather than sliding thumbstick movement (shout-out to Lucid Trips ClimbeySprint Vector and many more), the Echo games did a lot of heavy lifting to popularize this novel locomotion concept.

And from there, the idea has grown and evolved.

Gorilla Tag (2021), whose creator specifically says he was inspired by Echo VR, has become one of VR’s most popular games, bringing its spin on arm-based locomotion to a much wider audience. With that exposure, more and more players are learning how this particular way of moving in VR can be fun, making them more likely to try games with similar mechanics.

Image courtesy Another Axiom

And this goes far beyond the smattering of Gorilla Tag clones you can find on Steam.

Nock (2022) went several steps further with a much faster type of sliding and gliding arm movement, while also weaving in bows and arrows, challenging players to both navigate and shoot with their hands in a continuous flow.

Space Ball (2023) took the Gorilla Tag movement and fused it with a Rocket League style game, letting players bound around the arena and launch themselves to dunk a huge ball into a hoop.

It’s not just multiplayer games either. Arm-based locomotion systems are popping up in single player adventures like Phantom Covert Ops (2020) which had a very literal take on arm-movement in VR—asking players to paddle themselves around in a covert kayak. It sounds silly on the surface, but there’s no doubt the game’s arm-based movement was both unique and successful.

Image courtesy nDreams

In 2023 alone we’ve seen more arm-based movement games like No More Rainbows, Toss!, and Outta Hand. If you peruse the reviews of these games, you find a common theme of advice from reviewers: ‘if you liked Gorilla Tag, check this out!’. Clearly the players enjoying these games want more like them, with the desired similarity being the use of arms for movement.

And there’s more to come. One of the most intriguing upcoming Quest titles, Underdogs, takes the concept in a different direction, where a player brawls it out in a mech using their arms to pull themselves around the arena.

And in a truly full-circle moment, the creators of Gorilla Tag (which were inspired by Echo VR) are building a spiritual successor to Echo VR. Currently codenamed ‘Project A2’, the game will revisit arm-based movement in zero-G in an effort to revive the very game that popularized arm-based movement to so many in the first place.

It’s apparent that VR developers and players alike are beginning to find that controlling your arms with… your arms, is much more engaging than controlling your legs with… a thumbstick. I have a feeling that this new wave of games built entirely around arm-based movement is here to stay. The question on my mind is if they will remain as their own genre within VR, or perhaps come to define the way movement works in most VR games.

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  • Peter vasseur

    It will be its own nitch. I played sprint vector. Wasn’t the greatest. I’d rather have a treadmill and walk. Arm movement in a space game like echo and a kayak game make sense. Games that walk and try to use arms is a huge disconnect and immersion breaking.

    • polysix


      • Jonathan Winters III

        Korg 1982

    • Sprint Vector imo ended up being a not so great experience. Having to time your trigger pulls was annoying, and led to item misfires since they used a double tap of the trigger to activate.
      I made a small demo game a while back that used a three-tiered approach: analog stick for slow walking/strafing, jog-in-place for standard speed, then arm swinger to sprint. Arm swinger wouldn’t engage until it knew you were jogging. I personally thought it was a great mix, wish more devs would give jog-in-place a chance, but alas.

  • polysix

    Nah… arm movement will get old, just like everything. It was O.K when it was the novelty way to get around ‘the problem with transport in VR’ but come on.. how many games can we seriously stomach that keep reusing this kludge for VR’s failings? Unless you’re an actual swinging ape or in zero G there’s a limit to how many decent games can pull this off without seeming like yet ‘another gold rush’ of mediocrity.

    The problem needs addressing at the hardware level, with proper ways to move around, I don’t think treadmills are the answer either (too clunky and high friction as in to get in/out). VR will never really be VR until we solve this issue, and limiting ourselves to arm pulling/swinging forever is NOT the answer at all.

    It will either require expensive and elaborate exoskeletons mounted on gyroscopes or walls that can give us haptic feedback AND full 360 freedom of every limb to run, fly, fall etc… OR we need to decouple movement entirely from the physical world (neural stuff), swinging arms is such a cop out.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, I think the swinging arms to move around like in Westworld:Awakenings works very well, haven’t seen a system like that being used much (or at all).

      • VR5

        I liked Survios’s arm swinging locomotion in Creed but in Westworld I got stuck on background objects and switched to stick loco immediately. Still good to have the option and I guess you can learn to move around efficiently with arm swinging also.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    TL;DR: a roughly matching physical movement can successfully fool the brain into thinking that the movement in VR is real despite you feeling that you are still standing still, and thereby improve or even get rid of motion sickness, allowing for types of game play so far considered too uncomfortable for most.

    It’s quite interesting how well arm based motion works, and why it does, esp. in games where you fling yourself through space. Older games in zero gravity like ADR1FT were prone to causing serious motion sickness, due to the dissonance between the motion you see and the motion you feel. That’s also a problem for stick based movement, but there you are at least oriented as your feeling of gravity would suggest, and only the movement is wrong.

    Our vestibular system is pretty good at detecting acceleration or deceleration, but cannot feel absolute speed like when traveling on a train or plane. Virtual rollercoasters that make flat 90° turns without leaning into the curve, or seemingly move up and down at a constant speeds, are puke machines, because there the visual representation, reported movement and experience based expectation of significant acceleration are all extremely off. So for a long time one advice for implementing movement in VR was to skip any physical correct acceleration and instead just go from standing still to full speed instantly, thereby avoiding showing any acceleration, something the brain seems to be more willing to accept than acceleration it can’t also feel.

    So bouncing from tree to tree in Gorilla Tag or flinging yourself through space in Echo VR with lots of accelerations and turns should make you really sick, but it apparently doesn’t. The difference to stick/controller based movement is that here the virtual movement is seemingly the reaction to a physical movement. We have a sense called proprioception that allows us to know the exact position of our limbs without seeing them. So if you grab something with our hand and push yourself away from it, you brain got the message that you just excerpted force, and a movement in that direction is therefore a consequence of your action.

    Motion sickness is triggered by the brain misinterpreting a mismatch between movement your visual systems sees and your vestibular system feels as a sign of poisoning and an urgent reason to make you empty your stomach. Having an actual physical movement seemingly cause the movement you see is apparently enough to convince the brain that the movement actually happens, somewhat overriding that you can feel that you are still standing in place. That’s not a new insight, “Natural Locomotion” has been available on Steam for five years, and allows users to translate movement gestures into stick movements. So instead of just pressing your thumb forwards, you continuously move your arms back and forth, and the app translates this to movement in VR. Natural Locomotion helps a lot of people overcome motion sickness, even though they still stand still while now power walking with their arms through Skyrim. Others lessen motion sickness by just walking in place or bobbing their real head, while the head bobbing in many flat first person games will feel horrible in VR.

    So besides this being a new category of VR games based on arm locomotion, this is actually a (new) way of locomotion in VR that is both less limited than teleporting and less prone to cause motion sickness than stick based movement. Its main trick is always that you perform a physical motion that could have caused the virtual motion to fool the brain into thinking the motion is real. As a consequence, this type of movement should also feel more immersive (and tiring), which is something a lot of Natural Locomotion users report.

    And it is not really limited to arm movement. Currently VR HMDs only track hands and head, but with e.g. the Quest 3 now also tracking shoulders and parts of the legs, it could be possible to achieve the same just by rhythmically rocking your shoulders or knees up and down, even during seated experience, and the presence of a somewhat matching physical movement will mitigate many of the problems of stick based movement. A lot of gameplay scenarios that so far were considered to be very uncomfortable for lots of players may actually become feasible just by integrating physical movement, which pretty much only has to match the rough direction for single movements, or a realistic walking rhythm for repeated motion. So the next new category of VR games might be based on arm flapping or hip thrusting.

    • XRC

      A very simple technique for dealing with the proprioceptive mismatch of smooth locomotion is to gently step from foot to foot whilst locomoting; not a walking stride but a series of small weight shifts.

      Ankles are the centre of the “foot active subsystem”, making small movement stimulates the neurocircuitry of the foot with measurable benefits. Ankle proprioception is arguably the most important aspect of balance control (The Role of Ankle Proprioception for Balance Control in relation to Sports Performance and Injury. Jia Han et al. Biomed Res Int. 2015. )

      In the absence of lower limb movement, arm swinging takes an important role to maintain active proprioception and hence balance control.

      An interesting experiment is to play a seated VR game like Aircar, try playing with feet on floor, then use seating that lets the user lift the feet off the floor whilst supporting the body, you will have a very different experience with the latter feeling like flying

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        The “driving vs flying” experience is quite interesting. One very early example of successfully “cheating” proprioception is “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome” from Owlchemy Labs of Job/Vacation Simulator/Virtual Rick-ality fame, a base jumping app originally released as a flat game in 2011.

        They were one of the first to integrate VR into a commercial game with a release for the Oculus Rift DK1, but there was a problem: in the flat version, you run off the top of a skyscraper, the camera is automatically turned down by 90° and you then fly/fall down along the sides of buildings, hitting colored squares for points. Doing the same in VR was very disorienting due to taking the camera control away from the headset and changing the users orientation. Having the users look down themselves also proved very uncomfortable, as you basically had to spend the game either bent far over or with your head between your knees.

        They settled with having the user still look down to go into the dive, but doubling the speed of the turn, so the users ended up looking slightly down at 45°, while their perspective in the game was turned straight down 90°. This solved both the discomfort from taking away the camera control and forcefully rotation the users perspective, as well as the discomfort from the user physically turning into an uncomfortable position. And even though you can easily tell whether you head is turned down by 45° or 90°, synchronizing the real and virtual turn was enough for the brain to just accept the visual result, so it really felt like going/looking straight down.

        I assume there are still a lot of unexplored ways to cleverly use our important, but in no way fool proof senses of motion, balance or proprioception, to make certain assumptions about the world and cause specific sensations, even without the use of complex and expensive mechanical tech like motion platforms or treadmills And even these could probably be simpler/cheaper, if the timing and direction of a movement is more important than the accurate distance. So a sudden physical jolt of 5° to the left when your virtual car gets hit in the side may be enough to make the brain afterwards accept a visual 20° tilt in VR, even though you should be able to feel that the angle is way off. The brain actually tries to make sense of the world and the input it receives, so as long as there is a reasonable enough explanation for a visible change, it is willing to lie to itself about the physical accuracy.

      • Jonathan Winters III

        Exactly, “fake walk” makes a big difference. The OVR app on Steam is another way to avoid motion sickness in VR.

  • Jeremiah Tothenations

    Isn’t it time they put our feet into vr? Yeah you’d have to walk on the spot (or get an omni-treadmill etc), but I want to work out my entire body!

  • Arno van Wingerde

    I play a lot of VR games, both the smooth transport can cause motion sickness. The “Nordic walking” movement in Horizon:Call of the mountain felt Great; for me this Option should become a standard! @peter_vasseur:disqus: once you think of it as Nordic walking, the hand movement becomes natural. Buying a treadmill seems overkill for most people.

  • VR5

    I think all locomotion methods are valid and devs should choose what best suits their vision. But world drag has benefits like being more nuanced, more immersive and less likely to cause motion sickness so I expect it to emerge a major branch of VR locomotion for sure.

    It is more sweaty than stick loco though, lol. Added friction of having to change your clothes for platformers.

  • Gildahl

    I’m waiting for teleport to be hailed as a “new category of VR gaming”.

  • NullReference

    A few other games also deserve a mention for using your arms for swinging: Windlands, Resist, and the rather good Swarm.