Omni One Hands-on
On a recent visit to the company’s Austin, Texas headquarters I got to try Omni One for myself. And in speaking with CEO Jan Goetgeluk I came away impressed with Virtuix’s focus on the overall user experience, instead of just building a VR treadmill and hoping that customers will figure out the rest.
Similar to the original treadmill, using the Omni One doesn’t feel entirely like natural walking, but once you get the hang of it it’s functionally pretty comparable. After about 15 minutes strapped into the treadmill I was comfortable walking, jogging, and running, and it wasn’t long after that I felt like I could trust the hardware enough to nearly forget about it and get completely immersed in the game I was playing
The least natural part of the experience is getting used to swinging the arm around behind you as you turn. Even though the arm is fairly light and swivels freely, there’s quite a bit of inertia because of how far it is from your center of gravity. You’ll have to be strapped into the harness quite snuggly and be intentional in getting it to turn when you need it to, but it becomes part of the overall muscle memory pretty quickly.
In my demo I played a modified version of the company’s first-party Elite Force shooter, which was initially built for the company’s VR attraction. The experience was a run-and-gun affair, which had Goetgeluk and I chasing each other around a small arena and shooting with a basic array of weaponry.
Physically running to either chase your opponent or running away from them feels exhilarating and is at times immersive in a way that ‘gliding’ across the ground in other VR games just can’t be. Because I was physically responsible for moving my body out of danger’s way in the game—rather than just holding a thumbstick to go in the direction I want to—it felt very easy to get deeply immersed in the game; sort of like bringing more of my body into the game.
For a 10-minute experience it was a fun romp that left a smile on my face. But upon taking off the headset I quickly realized just how winded I’d become in that short period of time. I’m a reasonably fit person—according to my FitBit, my cardio is considered “good to very good” for men my age—but it was very apparent to me that this was a workout as much as a game.
Because of the way Omni One works—where you slide your feet on a slippery (but not frictionless) surface—every gait feels like it goes up one effort level. That is to say: walking feels like jogging, jogging feels like running, and running feels like sprinting.
Even in my short time with the treadmill, it became apparent to me that in order for Omni One to succeed it will be essentially to pair it with content that very carefully takes the player’s physical exertion into consideration.
While Elite Force essentially encouraged me to run continuously, if Virtuix wants people to use the treadmill for more than 30 minutes before completely wiped, they’re going to need to focus on content that very thoughtfully modulates the player’s movement speed with a combination of mostly walking, occasional jogging, and only rarely full-blown running.
Similarly, while the company’s game development talent is actually pretty impressive for a company that’s known primarily for its hardware, the arcade-focused roots of Elite Force were still very apparent and felt like it was missing the kind of depth I’d want to see in a VR experience that would bring me back time and again.
In sharing this feedback with Goetgeluk and the team, I was assured that Elite Force is still very much in beta, and has essentially only just been ported over from the original version that was built for short quick and easy arcade experiences. More changes are coming, and not to mention a handful of other first-party content (and other types of content) that will bring more varied experiences and more varied amounts of exertion.
In the end: content is king.
Omni One’s hardware might not replicate a perfectly natural giat—but I think it’s good enough to deliver on the promise of being able to bring your body into the experience in a way that’s meaningfully different than using a VR headset while sitting or standing. Virtuix has also done a good job building the device to offer a full range of motion that’s essential for modern VR games.
With the hardware sufficiently covered, great content—especially content that’s thoughtful of exertion—is going to be the thing that makes or breaks Omni One.
At the outset the company is promising some 30 titles that will be compatible with treadmill by the end of the year. That’ll be a combination of some first party content, but most of it will be existing content from third-party VR developers that has been adapted for Omni One; though exactly how much those games will be modified to specifically consider the treadmill’s unique challenge (ie: ‘exertion design’) is unclear.
If this were a less experienced company I’d be more worried that the creators wouldn’t fully appreciate that content is the lynchpin of the product. But considering the multi-domain challenges that Virtuix has demonstrated it can overcome up to this point, I think they’re better suited that most to rise to the challenge.
But we’ll have to wait and see how it pans out. There’s clearly still more work ahead for the company on the content front. Omni One ‘beta’ units are shipping to participants of the company’s crowd-investment campiang, and the company’s goal of having generally available units early next year is fast approaching.
Disclosure: Virtuix assisted with travel expenses for a visit to the company’s Austin headquarters.