VR Locomotion – Dreaming of new ways to address movement

Understandably, using VR requires quite a huge amount space if one wants to fully immerse themselves in the VR space. However, as VR becomes more and more accessible, perhaps we should start considering solving the problem of VR locomotion for the average consumer. Current solutions like the omni-directional threadmills can take up a lot of space, but for someone who wants to use VR by themselves at their own desks, they might not have that kind of space available. That is why I thought, what if we can move our feet while still in our seats?

Well, turns out there are already companies with that idea too. There is Roto VR with their chair that tracks the direction you are facing, and there is the Cyber Shoes, wearables that you can use to ‘walk ‘ while sitting down. However, I have in mind some other options that are, while similar to cyber shoes, work a bit differently.

What I propose is a mat that one can place surrounding their chair. By dragging their feet across this mat (much like the cyber shoes), some sort of tracking can be done and translated into locomotion in the virtual space. Ideally, users would only need the mat for this mechanic to work, but if more peripherals are needed, perhaps something light and accessible would be best.

Of course, this is just a theoretical solution to the locomotion problem. This is not consideration how implementation could work. Some ideas that I can throw out are as follows:

  • Using technology similar to touchscreen technology, except it would be able to detect feet.
  • Using rollers in 8 directions, essentially mimicking a 8-directional D-Pad.
  • With the use of extra peripherals on/near the feet, perhaps the use of eletromagnetic technology similar to what is used in Motion Capture technologies?
  • With socks, perhaps static can be used to measure the direction of movement.

These are just some ideas for solving locomotion in VR for the average consumers. Whether they work, I have no clue, but I guess everything starts with an idea?

Locomotion in VR with Leaning

There are several Virtual Reality (VR) locomotion techniques, such as teleportation, walking-in-place and reorientation. A method that is not so commonly seen is perhaps leaning, where the user physically leans or tilts in order to move the user forward in a VR space. It allows for moving in a large virtual environment without much physical exertion and not a lot of physical space is required. Furthermore, it could be relatively inexpensive with Nintendo Wii Fit Balance Boards (100 USD) [1].

Leaning in VR (Image credit)

Compared to the walking-in-place technique, users also have similar spatial awareness when using leaning to navigate a VR world [1]. As spatial awareness is our natural ability to maintain our body orientation and position relative to our surroundings, it is important in order for users to successfully navigate through a large VR environment.

Leaning to move around in VR may even be preferable to walking-in-place as it could enable the user to explore a large area in the virtual world a lot more quickly and effortlessly as compared to walking-in-place [1].

Personally, I feel that this would be quite an interesting way to navigate a VR environment, and it may feel natural as it could be somewhat similar to the leaning motion in sports like surfing and skiing. Expanding on this idea, I would suggest using the hand controllers to allow users to increase or decrease their movement speed while leaning. This may be a more accurate and effective method than determining the user’s speed based on how much they lean. Some users may also feel physically uncomfortable to tilt their body too much forward or backward or worry that they may fall over (especially because they are not able to view their physical environment with a VR headset on). Adjusting the movement speed using the input from the hand controller could be gradual and also tied with the leaning direction of the user. For instance, after the user had pressed the button to increase their speed, if they choose to lean backwards, the speed could slowly decrease as well, without another input from the user. This may also feel more natural for the user.

[1] Human joystick: Wii-leaning to translate in large virtual environments

VR Locomotion

Virtual reality (VR) is getting more popular by the year, and is often seen as the next step towards immersion in the gaming industry. However, based on a study from University of California “A User Experience Study of Locomotion Design in Virtual Reality Between Adult and Minor Users“, VR locomotion that mirrors real-world movement exclusively is the least preferred by all users. Unlike most games that we play on a screen/monitor, VR would require a new way for players to traverse in game before being widely accepted by the consumers.

One way to reduce the player’s discomfort in VR locomotion is to have the player move along with the character in the game, but such technology is still not widespread and can be too costly for most. Time is still needed for these devices to mature.

A much simpler and quick way is to use teleportation-based movement for the time being. The “Blink” mechanic has already been used in multiple VR games, such as Half Life: Alyx, to allow comfortable locomotion within. The drawback is the reduction of immersion when the game setting do not fit the mechanic.

Of course, all limitations can be utilised well with the right application. A game that revolves around teleporting the player character would easily turn the blink into a gameplay feature. The Dishonored series already has a teleportation skill, coincidentally known as “Blink” too, and such mechanics can be used in conjunction with the VR mechanic to create a much more immersive in-game environment. What’s more, the blink mechanic can be tweaked to suit the game setting too, such as the “Dash” shown below, which does the same thing with an added flair. With all these possibilities, current VR games need not fear to sacrifice too much immersion while waiting for a better solution to the VR locomotion problem.

VR Locomotion – Natural Vision

Many VR games and simulations invent new methods of locomotion to reduce virtual reality (VR) motion sickness for players. For example, teleporting the player is commonly used to reduce translational movement, which is known to cause motion sickness. However, as a person who experiences VR motion sickness, I feel that the nausea is amplified more by the instability of the camera. Therefore, I believe that any form of VR locomotion can actually be used as long as it is accompanied by a method that stabilises the player’s vision.

In real life, our vision is quite stable, whereas in VR, any slight shift of your head will be perceived as the camera wobbling. This effect is enhanced when moving, such as when walking or running, but can also occur while stationary and looking around. There are solutions that try to limit the player’s range of movement in order to reduce this wobbling effect. However, I believe that it can be reduced even further by building a gimbal into the VR headset. Gimbals are used to stabilise cameras while filming, and I believe that this can also be applied to VR headsets. The effect of gimbals will be like a hardware version of motion interpolation. This should help to reduce motion sickness by decreasing judder and unnatural eye movements. Gimbals are already used in cameras designed to film 360 degrees videos for the same reason, so why not have them inbuilt into headsets?

VR Locomotion – Walking In Place

The type of VR locomotion I would be most used to (though I have never tried) is probably a VR treadmill. One walks in place on the treadmill to simulate movement and prevent VR sickness. However, the cheapest of these still go for about $1000 (and look pretty silly). I think that thought needs to be put into where and when VR is used in gaming, so that it enhances the gameplay. In a VR game that can truly deliver experiences that one can never get in real life, then using a treadmill to simulate movement might provide extra realism.

VR Shoes – A Potential VR Locomotion Solution?

One of the limitations of VR games is the “supposed” need for real-life large spaces for players to move while playing in VR. Some solutions include using an analog stick or even teleportation to move around – but these may lead to motion sickness (or even break immersion).

Another possible solution is using electronic shoes (VR shoes). These shoes are equipped with electronic trackers that detect movement and speed.

However, unlike the treadmill that is designed to keep players in a fixed place, the VR shoes are not explicitly designed to do so. A creative way of negating movement is to pull the player’s standing foot upon the completion of one step. This feature is implemented in Ekto One, a pair of wearable robotic boots:

Source: Geek Culture (Medium)

Here is a simple video demonstration of the boots being used in Half-Life Alyx:

There are no simulations of walking on the spot. The two rotating plates are able to rotate in the direction the player is moving towards. A set of wheels pull the leg back whenever the player takes a step forward, simulating the walking sensation.

However, the boots seem to be able to accommodate only simple movements. being about to re-create side-stepping or jumping would definitely be a huge challenge, but would greatly enhance the immersive experience.

How to Not Break Anything or Vomit

Motion Sickness
Who let the pumpkin use the Rift again?

Users of virtual reality headsets tend to experience negative side-effects such as headaches and vomiting. Many games counter this by having the player be stationary and using the famous “teleport” mechanism to move around instead. To me, it seems like a cheap way to fit a conventional game into a virtual reality headset.

Virtuix Omni, the first serious virtual reality project to be developed with a treadmill.

If moving around is desired, the virtual reality headset should come along with a treadmill or various sensors that are able to detect the wall of the room that you are in. The player can then use his or her own legs to move.

A knee surgery in virtual reality.

The drawback is that the treadmills are expensive, and not everyone has a big room to walk around in. Maybe the games should be designed for the virtual reality devices, instead of it being the other way around. The immersion of virtual reality is its biggest draw, giving rise to its popularity in the medical industry as it is used as a training tool.

Tourism is an industry where virtual reality might make a difference.

Other industries might be better suited to use the virtual reality headset technology instead. For example, the tourism industry could use it to hold virtual tours, where you can transport yourself to another location using a headset, but you would be only able to look around the area rather than moving around.

Using virtual reality to become a great driver.

In fact, I feel that virtual reality may make a difference in other forms of technical training, not just in the medical schools. It could be used to learn driving, for example, though you would not be able to feel the actual acceleration and forces that are present in a real car (and that might make you sick). Jordá Autoescuelas is a school that has adopted this method of training, though it is currently only provided for interested students.

Definitely, more research has to be done into the area, which would have to be boosted indirectly by a heightened interest in virtual reality by consumers or businesses.

Mobile gaming revenue over the decades.

What makes a platform successful for gaming? I would argue that it would be how useful the platform is outside of gaming. A good example is the mobile gaming industry. Smartphones were originally designed for business use, and only became popular when they were tailored towards consumers and included features like touchscreens and 3G mobile data networks. It seems to me that mobile gaming became a big market only because these phones became popular, not because people were buying it specifically to play Angry Birds or Candy Crush.

As for virtual reality devices, I reckon that they should follow the same path as well. First, aim for widespread adoption in fields such as medical training and tourism before a market for games naturally grows and matures.

Image Sources and References:

Pumpkin, Virtuix Omni: https://www.alfabetajuega.com/reportaje/la-realidad-virtual-y-sus-metodos-de-locomocion (The Virtual Reality and Its Methods of Locomotion)

Driving: https://autoescuelas-jorda.com/blog/realidad-virtual-para-aprender-a-conducir/ (Virtual Reality for Learning to Drive)

Tourism: https://invelon.com/realidad-virtual-y-realidad-aumentada-tambien-presentes-en-el-turismo/ (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Also Present in the Tourism)

Mobile Revenue: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/how-big-is-the-global-mobile-gaming-industry/

VR Locomotion

Locomotion in VR is difficult as we want to allow users to move in an infinite virtual space while being in a physically constrained place. This limitation makes most locomotion in VR cause motion sickness as the body does not feel that it is moving.

I think that a VR treadmill that allows users to move around in the physical space to move their avatar in the virtual space would alleviate the issue of motion sickness. There have been several companies who have created a VR treadmill, like Virtuix Omni, KAT Walk and Rovr.

(Image by Virtuix Omni)

However, the issue is that these gadgets are not affordable to individual consumers (KAT Walk being priced at about $1,500). I think it would be great if instead of buying, there can be more opportunities where consumers may rent these equipments to try out these technologies.

A new way to move via hip-based navigation (DecaMove)

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More info: https://www.deca.net/decamove/

One of the most exciting things that just came up for VR Locomotion is the DecaMove device. The DecaMove itself is an external sensor that attaches to the user’s hip or lower body torso.

Traditionally in many VR simulations and games, Player Locomotion is normally done via teleportation or having smooth locomotion with joystick via hand or head direction.

However, there are two main problems with having the current way of locomotion:

1) Your hands are not free whilst moving in the game as you need to hold onto a button or joystick

2) It takes some time for users to adjust to as the movement may not be natural and users may experience motion sickness.

With the DecaMove device, it solves both problems as the sensor embedded senses the movement of the users’ hips for navigation and orientation. This ensures that players can move without having to hold or press a button as well as making the movement a lot more natural since we use our hips naturally to move in real life.

This device makes games with intense combat sections (such as in FPS games) much more natural as it is easier for players to coordinate their movements with their hip motion as opposed to a joystick or button.

Furthermore, this DecaMove device does not need any external base trackers, making it a lot more versatile and compatible with various headsets. The setup is also pretty straightforward as shown in the review of this accessory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp27jRDZh18

Overall, it is quite an exciting product that just got released and hopefully it’ll be the standard for many games soon.

VR locomotion – no reason to try VR

MSFS2020 on super ultra wide: MicrosoftFlightSim
Not my setup

I’ve seen many gamers going all out to achieve a surround view setup in games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator or F1 2020. Microsoft Flight Simulator is available in VR too. But gamers still spend big money on ultra wide screen with powerful GPUs to drive their setup. A VR setup cost way less and could possibly provide full FOV for the player. I think the VR pick up rate is non ideal due to the lack of motivation to drive this new game genre. Gamers are happy with their current setup and may not want to try something new. Perhaps we can loan VR setup to try games and experience it for ourselves.