HTC's Vive Trackers are a game changer, capable of turning any object into a virtual reality controller or prop.
And like any new game-changing technology, it's going to take a while for developers to discover the potential. But with the HTC Vive Trackers have only been available for a matter of weeks and they're already being used for some creative, brilliant and strange things. Feet, cats and ceiling fans - the Trackers have appeared in some interesting places.
Read this: How people are trying to untangle VR's big mess
We've been keeping an eye on what developers and gamers have been up to, and spoke to a few about their projects. Here are some of the best, and most interesting, ways people are experimenting with the trackers right now.
A VR theatre experience
Alex Coulombe and his team at Agile Lens Immersive Design have been working with another company to build models of theatres in VR. Not only does this allow them to simulate what the theatre will look like when built, but it could one day let theatre-goers preview their seat before buying a ticket. Enter the Tracker, and now Alexa and the team have found a way to add immersion - by creating a 1:1 relationship between the real-world chair and the virtual one.
"On the design side, this has been great for moving the chair around to find optimal locations," Alex tells Wareable. "On the presentation side, it's fantastic to put people in locations in a theatre where there will be loose seats and let them shift around the same way they would be able to in the real theatre, finding their own optimal locations — which we certainly take note of."
Next, Alex says they want to use the Trackers to replicate rails and balconies with more realism in VR, but he's also excited by how the simple act of sitting on a chair can be totally changed by the Vive's new accessory, and what this could do to games and experiences.
"In all contexts, an unexpected opportunity that came from this verisimilitude was the ability to stand up and sit down while staying in VR. Think about it — that's never been a 'comfortable' experience before, but with the Vive Tracker you know exactly where the chair is. No need for a helping hand. I look forward to seeing other designers of all stripes find exciting uses for that seemingly simple (but extremely practical) new affordance."
The cat tracker
If you're in the middle of a VR experience, you know your space to be as clear as possible. You nudge aside chairs and tables so that you can wander around without tripping and falling on your ass, but what you can't control are stray pets wandering into your VR zone.
Enter Triangular Pixels' Tracker VR project, which lets you track either pets or little children who may wander into your area. Essentially, the goal is to be able to warn you when a foreign entity has entered your once-safe virtual space. While half of the project is code-based, the other half was altering a Mynwood Cat Jacket to allow the cat wear the tracker as comfortably as possible.
For Joe Sciacchetano, co-founder of Rebuff Reality, inspiration came when he injured his back and was unable to walk for several months. Shortly after recovery he got to try the Vive Pre and the ideas started flooding in. "The importance of the feet and their complete absence in VR was abundantly clear to me," he says. "So I quit my job and started Rebuff Reality to solve this problem."
The idea was for a game called Redfoot Bluefoot Dancing, a dance combo title inspired by Dance Dance Revolution that would put people's feet into virtual reality by attaching a pair of Vive Trackers. It works with any song played on YouTube, using machine-learning algorithms that match the beat to the pad.
"We remade the pad into a circular shape so that it is easier to hit each button and does not waste space, and made the whole thing into more of a spaceship for VR," Joe tells us. "An even bigger improvement, which is borrowed in part from Audioshield, is having each foot a different color. Though this may seem a small change, if you are familiar with fighting games you know that having two buttons vs. one button significantly increases the amount of combos, and a similar thing happens in our game. Each song can become incredibly unique and challenging."
The game will launch in July and Rebuff has also created a proprietary strap that attaches the Tracker to the player's feet and hands (essentially turning you into Rayman) however Joe says there's no reason the strap couldn't' work with any other game.
We're big fans of this one
Unlike some other Vive Tracker experiments, YouTuber iBrews decided to build an entire experience around his unique Tracker placement - in a bag and hung from the blade of a ceiling fan.
iBrews turned that unique setup into a game. The Tracker played the part of an evil villain in a balloon, tossing projectiles at the player and zipping around the map. The player is given a bow with flaming arrows and has to shoot the balloon out of the sky. iBrews says at first he had trouble avoiding getting caught up in the wire while trying to shoot the balloon down, but quickly found that if he planted his feet he would be fine.
Anyone for pottery?
We got a Vive tracker in the office and our intern, @Drew_Gottlieb went to work.
Don't get too excited, this isn't going to ship. :) pic.twitter.com/VKFpNo69PC
— Patrick Hackett (@phacktweets) April 19, 2017
VR offers endless possibilities - possibilities which extend to recreating the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore scene in Ghost, A Google intern made a VR pottery wheel using a Tracker and Google's Tilt Brush app. My love, my darling, godspeed your pottery wheel to me.
Ever tried whacking a piñata in VR? Us neither, but we can't imagine swiping a bat through thin air is very satisfying. Two Bit Circus has stepped in to solve that conundrum by attaching a Tracker to a real piñata, though one that doesn't break.
One person controls the piñata's movement with a rope, the other goes to town with a baseball bat (also tracked), collecting the virtual candy that bleeds out. Ok, it's probably less of an ordeal to just get yourself a real piñata to thwomp, but it's a cool showcase for melding real-world physics with VR.
YouTube streamer VoodooDE, aka Thomas, says he's already explored a bunch of interesting ways to use the Tracker. He's not building any games right now, but he's been experimenting with the accessory to see how it changes the VR games he streams. Like Joe, he's used the trackers to bring his feet into virtual reality, and one of the best experiences so far has been playing soccer.
"First thing I did was walking in the play area for about 10 minutes just to see my virtual feet moving exactly like my real feet," he tells Wareable. "Playing the game and kicking stuff with my real feet in Virtual Reality felt unbelievable awesome."
Vive on a Rift
We all knew this was coming. Lighthouse tracking on the @Oculus Rift using a @HTCVive tracker. Works great, better video & details soon! pic.twitter.com/iclwTK0BoI
— Ivan Mathy (@OKatBest) April 2, 2017
When OKatBest developer Ivan Mathy got his Vive Trackers he decided to experiment a little bit to see what he could pull off, so he stuck one of them on an Oculus Rift headset. It actually enabled him to track a Rift in a SteamVR experience using Valve's Lighthouse tracking technology.
Without the tracker, the Rift headset can still do positional tracking with Valve's VR tech, but the Lighthouse base stations can't actually track its individual location. Sticking the Vive Tracker on the Rift allowed that. Further, it allowed Mathy to try more experiments. He soon found he was able to use both Vive and Touch controllers at the same time. So, naturally, he put the Vive controllers on his feet and held the Touch controllers. Voila, one step closer to full-body tracking with the HTC Vive.
How we test