Like many, I’m a gamer at heart. I think back to the days of Mortal Combat on our TV screen and the months I spent mastering the arrow keys of Modern Warfare II on my PC. Even now I still dabble in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege using wireless vibrating controllers on my PS4 — the game’s usually over before I know what’s happening. But when it came to Virtual Reality, there was always something about it that just didn’t appeal to me.
I think there has to be more to the future of gaming than simply wearing a screen in front of your face. Granted, I know that many find it to be an engrossing experience visually — I’ve watched countless Internet videos of VR players falling off-balance and head-first into their TV screens, usually to the roaring laughter of their loved ones looking on. I also spend hours investigating the possibilities of Google’s Tilt Brush on my Oculus while drawing three dimensional objects. But what about our other senses?
As an industrial designer, I spend much time drawing or in front of my computer; when I am not procrastinating online with Netflix or Amazon Video, I also play the guitar. I am very conscious of how important our hands are to overall daily sensory experience. And that is exactly what I was missing while gaming in Virtual Reality: Not only should playing a VR game be futuristic and exciting — the actual equipment my hands are holding in the real world should be futuristic and exciting as well.
Often, the illusion cast by the virtual world is shattered at the moment we fail to receive realistic haptic feedback. Current controllers do have integrated vibration engines, but these are usually only good enough for a rudimentary reproduction of the virtual world. And even if current controller generations do already contain good systems, other technologies are necessary in order to allow players to delve more deeply into the virtual world. Together with my team at ENTWURFREICH, we explore new ways of sending more authentic and more realistic virtual reality feedback to the player in order to create a more desirable and exciting user experience.
The Mixed Reality Controller (MRC) is a handheld controller design concept which opens up a revolutionary new level of communication between the digital and physical world. The hardware contains several built-in linear motors that activate a physical reaction in the controller which is suitable to the virtual event. So the user, wearing VR or MR glasses, experiences a lateral hit on the controller when he drives a virtual vehicle against the curb and a thump against the palm of his hand when virtual sword blades collide during a medieval fight. Let’s face it: when you’re firing a revolver in Red Dead Redemption II, you want to feel more in your hands than something reminiscent of your phone ringing on vibrate.
This minimalistic controller concept playfully solves the limitations of the monotonous feedback existing controllers generate and the problem of the player always having to hold the same object at one time: After extensive grip studies, our design team at ENTWURFREICH has developed a sleek and branched form which can be combined in various ways to form new gripping scenarios. The two hand controllers lock together into one overall controller, realistically simulating the feel of larger virtual objects which usually need two hands to operate. For the first time ever — as far as I know — players can now have the realistic feeling of holding different objects in their hands while seeing them through VR or MR glasses — the steering wheel of a racing car, the spear of an ancient Greek warrior, a sniper rifle or something else.
The MRC concept thus acts as an innovative connection element between the physical and digital worlds. It actually inspires its users and immerses players more completely into the virtual world, creating a far more satisfying experience. It is motivating and, in this case, not only virtually in the hands of the holder. Getting to the next level just went to the next level — and paves the way for new learning experiences as well: I would be more inclined to put on my Oculus for a virtual snooker match if — thanks to accurate kinesthetic communication — I could improve my stroke and potting abilities whilst playing and then take those acquired skills back into the real world.
In reality, this is exactly what design is all about: making innovative technology stick out in the user’s mind.
See our website for more information: www.entwurfreich.com