Oculus wanted to get it right the first time, and they did.
Feeling present in any good VR experience is significantly easier with a great set of tracking controllers, and Oculus has been working on its version of this experience for a while now. Rather than release something that competed directly with other VR systems on the market, Oculus Touch is an effort to one-up and offer something unique. During Oculus Connect 3, we were able to spend multiple hours across multiple days with these new Touch controllers. Demo stations ranging from beautiful, calming puzzle games to loud, angry bullet-hell games were available for us to experience, and as the conference draws to a close, it's clear Oculus has something special in these new Touch controllers.
Seeing your fingers move
With your eyes closed, Oculus Touch feels like a toy gun grip with a pair of triggers for your index and ring fingers and half of a tiny, flat Xbox controller where your thumb rests. There's nothing particularly special about the way the controllers feel in your hand. They're comfortable enough to hold and lighter than they look like they'd be at first glance, but a little on the awkward side when first using them. Some of this awkwardness is no doubt from being trained for years to use gamepads that have your fingers laying across plastic instead of really gripping. Some of it, though, is software based, and it's something you'll need to trick your brain into being alright with.
Almost everything we played this week renders virtual hands where the controllers are tracked in the game. You look down in Oculus Home and see glowing blue hands, and you look down in The Unspoken and see magic energy arcing from virtual fingertips. This design is part of what Oculus calls Hand Presence, and it's pretty cool. When you lift your thumb from the joystick, the virtual thumb straightens to match. When you lift your index finger to point at something, your virtual index finger also stretches to match. Hand Presence doesn't extend to the rest of your fingers, but just being aware of those two digits means you can point and give thumbs up to other players in VR, which is delightfully compelling and goes a long way to making everything feel just a little more real.
Once you get comfortable with the controllers, Oculus Touch gets real fun real fast.
There are some limitations to this Hand Presence, and that's what causes some of this awkwardness. The virtual fingers can either be fully outstretched or closed; there's no in-between. When you press the button your middle finger is resting on, your remaining three fingers curl up. The idea is that you can squeeze both the index and middle fingers with your thumb on the joysticks to form fists in VR, which is great for punching your way through problems in SUPERHOT or snatching the disc out of the air in Lone Echo. What it's not good for is actually feeling like you're making a fist with your hand. The middle-finger trigger is placed further out from the index trigger, so the toy gun grip winds up feeling less natural while your "fist" is closed for you to take that swing.
Once you overcome this awkward feeling and get comfortable with the controllers, Oculus Touch gets real fun real fast. Vibration feedback in the controllers is excellent, and when you combine that with this flexible button layout you get some great experiences. You move a lot more with the freedom of these controllers, and whether you're preparing burgers for hungry zombies in Dead Hungry or flipping through manga pages in Project Hikari, seeing those fingers move makes a difference.
Room Scale for a price
You get one extra sensor camera with Oculus Touch in order to better track the three different sets of Constellation lights coming from your body. This setup lets you stand up and move around quite a bit more than before, but when you turn a complete 180 and have your controllers up near your torso, that tracking quickly goes away. Most Oculus Touch games are great at keeping you pointed in a single direction, but all of these games offer full virtual environments that encourage you to turn around and take in the view. Occasionally in our demos, some of which were unfinished betas, those glowing hands would jump around when tracking and quickly encourage you to stick your hands up for recalibration.
The solution to this is a third sensor, which can be mounted elsewhere and used to create a Room Scale setup similar to what is offered with HTC Vive. This $79 third sensor means the total cost of your Rift setup is now more than a Vive setup out of the box, and means you'll need a grand total of four USB 3.0 ports available to power this experience, but it's smooth sailing once you have it set this way. During the Lone Echo demo, which was set up for Room Scale, the whole experience was exactly as smooth as you get with a standard Oculus Rift game today.
An impressive array of games
It should come as no surprise that Oculus Touch is going to launch with 35 titles and have many more available in the coming year. Oculus has been working hard to make sure this launch goes off without a hitch, and there's good reason to be excited. Some of these launch games come from efforts on HTC Vive, like Job Simulator and Serious Sam VR. Others are projects we've seen in development for ages, like Kingspray, which now has a multiplayer hangout session mode that is a ton of fun. Luna is a relaxing puzzle toy box that anyone of any age can enjoy, and Rock Band VR is going to take those old Guitar Hero days and bring them back in a big way.
There's a healthy mix, and that's a great thing to see. The Climb felt like it was built for Oculus Touch from the beginning, and now feels like a much more complete experience. The Unspoken will have you perfecting the wrist flick to put a little spin on your base spell to make it harder to block, and reaching out to catch a football in VR Sports Challenge is way more fun than it sounds. There's more than one something for everyone, and all of them so far have been great.
Your Rift is incomplete without Touch
After spending 10 hours with Oculus Touch controllers, I'm not really interested in using an Oculus Rift without them. The sheer level of polish in these experiences in incredible, and the controllers themselves look and feel nice. It's new and kind of awkward at first, but it doesn't take long to feel like the future. Oculus will start selling Touch in bundles with Rift later this year, but should give serious thought to never selling Oculus Rift without the controllers.