Last weekend at VRLA, game designers Invrse Studios, creators of the VR sniper game The Nest, demoed a new and striking rifle controller. Created by VRsenal, part of the parent company Primestone, the aptly named VR-15 looks the part of a real rifle. It has been designed, as VRsenal’s Ben Davenport tells The Creators Project, “to add substance and weight to an experience composed of little more than sights and sounds”.
“The VR-15 was designed to drag reality into virtual reality,” Davenport says. “It was built to increase immersion—to blur the line between where one world ends and another begins.”
VRrsenal worked hard to give the gun peripheral ergonomics that made it feel right in the hands of users. The VR-15 is made entirely of engineering-grade nylon, then hand-finished with a worn metal patina. It is also outfitted with a fully adjustable stock, real weighted trigger pull, and four ambidextrous analogue thumbsticks. The VR-15’s weight also mirrors its real life counterparts, from the haptic and ejectable magazine clip that carries batteries instead of bullets to the glass optics in the scope. The haptic feedback also simulates the recoil and shock of an actual rifle.
A HTC Vive controller is mounted into the rifle “scope” upside-down and backwards to maximise the tracking sensors. This, however, makes the trigger and buttons inaccessible, so a custom bluetooth interface is used to communicate trigger pulls and button inputs to the game engine. Two analog joysticks on the side of the front grip can be programmed for any number of inputs, and these are mirrored on the other side for a total of four joysticks, all accessible by the wielder's off-hand. The Nest uses the joysticks to zoom in and out by pushing them forward or back, and other joysticks will likely be mapped to radial weapon-select menus, firing grenades and more in future versions.
“When using the VR-15, the gun that users see in their hands as they crouch in the bell tower of The Nest, is the exact same gun they feel themselves gripping in the real world,” Davenport explains. “It looks cool and it feels cool. No FPS game developer in his right mind would ever put a gun into his game that looks like the Hello Kitty PSVR Aim controller.”
Davenport says the big problem with peripheral manufacturers is that they continue to insist on producing guns that belong in a toy box, not on a battlefield, whether VR or otherwise. VRrsenal believes that the disconnect between painstakingly designed visuals and the tactile breaks immersion instead of enhancing it. The VR-15 is designed to remedy this problem by, as Davenport says, “confirming to the mind—through senses not seen or heard, but felt—that the virtual is indeed reality.”
“The necessity of realistic props in VR becomes obvious the instant you try to wield a two-handed using only a one-handed Vive controller,” Invrse Studios’ Craig Helm tells The Creators Project. “The simulation loses credibility when the object in your hands is physically very different from the controller, and things like a sniper rifle are harder to steady when you can't use a second hand. There have been add-on peripherals since the days of the Nintendo Zapper, but with VR, the experience can now be virtually perfect.”
While the VR-15 is integrated with The Nest, its current build quality and price point limits it to police and military training, VR arcades and, for those who can afford it, the high-end luxury market. But as the installed base of VR headset grows, VRrsenal will be looking closely at a high-volume version for the consumer market. They are also currently in integration talks with various other VR game developers for VR arcade installation.
Currently VRrsenal has Unity, Unreal, and Cryengine plugins for their peripherals, and are working to make it easy for game developers to integrate their products into their VR worlds.
Click here to learn more about The Nest.