As developers continue to experiment with a range of VR navigation techniques, Virtuix’s Omni treadmill gives gamers a way to physically walk and run around virtual worlds in an otherwise limited space. The company’s latest developments bring compatibility with the HTC Vive and its Lighthouse tracking tech, enabling ‘decoupled’ manipulation of walking, looking, and aiming.
I’ve been lucky enough to try the Virtuix Omni treadmill at several stages along its development, but I’ve yet to be able to experience the holy grail of a fully decoupled experience that’s now enabled with the HTC Vive.
In my prior engagements with Omni prototypes, the direction you looked was also the direction you ran. That means you couldn’t run forward while looking to the left or right, for instance. The gun prop was also just a glorified controller, as the weapon was untracked and your reticle was attached to the center of your view.
Now as the company readies the first shipments of the Omni, they’re showing off what’s been their ultimate vision for the VR treadmill all along: fully decoupled motion. Utilizing the HTC Vive with its 360 degree Lighthouse tracking, that means independent control over walking, looking, and aiming. Now if you wanted to, say, run backwards while looking to the side with your arms outstretched in either direction, you totally can. And that means it’s time for me to start begging people to make an Equilibrium (2002) game so that I can pretend I’m doing this.
Virtuix is also showing off a new version of their in-house title TRAVR Training Ops, which is built from the ground up for the Omni’s fully decoupled locomotion. The game is set up like a time trials arena, leader board and all. As you dash through each room, targets pop up all around you which you can shoot with either of your dual pistols, and there’s even some threats to dodge.
When you run faster in the Omni, you actually move faster in the game, which means that topping the leaderboards is going to be as much about fitness as it is about aiming. Speedrunning is about to take on a whole new meaning.
And therein lies something that’s had me excited about VR from the very beginning: aligning the emotional action of gaming with corresponding psychical action. Virtuix calls this sort of full body gameplay ‘Active VR’.
I always go back to an example that I know well, the last moments of an epic game of Capture the Flag (for me, that would be in Halo, but pick your favorite game and imagine along with me). It’s 2-2 in a match to three. Each team has the opposing team’s flag and now it’s a race to see who can capture it first for the win. The adrenaline is pumping and everyone is on the edge of their seat, playing their best to try to secure victory.
But in contemporary gaming, all of this intense action is happening in your head and on the screen, but physically speaking, you’re twiddling your thumbs. How much more amazing would it be to be physically running that flag, knowing that the harder you run the faster you’ll get that flag back to base. Giving every last ounce of your effort—emotional and physical—for the sake of your team.
People who play sports at a competitive level know this duality of emotion and physicality well—for many, it’s what drives them to play sports in the first place. Soon the doors will be open for it to be part of gaming too. Not only is having your whole body involved in the action more natural, it’s also more immersive and could very well reverse the cliché of the unfit gamer.
For Virtuix’s part, the Omni is finally approaching the light at the end of a tunnel which started way back during the company’s 2013 Kickstarter which raised more than $1 million to get the VR treadmill into production. Now the very first units are set to ship starting in December, with a wider rollout in 2016. In the mean time the Omni is available for pre-order for $699.