Playing Co-op VR with Palmer Luckey is Mindblowing

Oculus Touch + Toy Box is the best VR experience I’ve ever had

Up until a few hours ago, I’ve only had the pleasure of trying out Oculus VR’s seated/controller demos, but I recently got to go hands-on with the new wireless Oculus Touch controllers. It was the single best VR experience I’ve had up until this point. It also helped that it was a co-op demo, one where Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey was my virtual buddy.

Oculus Touch

The wireless controllers are like Wii Nunchuks on steroids.

In case you haven’t heard about Oculus’s new controller input, it’s sort of akin to Wii’s Nunchuck controller, but has a few key differences and enhancements. It’s roughly the same size as a Nunchuck and also has a buttons for your index and middle fingers, but it also has two face buttons on top near the joystick. What really distinguishes it from Nintendo’s solution, though, is that it offers 1:1 controls, meaning that your hand movements are pretty much exactly like your real hand movements in real life (Nintendo’s equivalent was more based on exaggerated gestures). The controller also has a little ring along the outside of your knuckles, which allows the controller to track the position of your thumb and index finger. This means that you’ll be able to give thumbs-up gestures and be able to point at objects for the benefit of your online VR buddies.

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Lilly from sister site TechRadar steps into the Matrix.

The room where I had my demo was a very controlled environment. It measured roughly 12 by 12 feet, with a mat in the middle that measured 4 by 4 feet to stand on. Otherwise, there was hardly anything else in there, so I can’t speak to any clipping or obstruction issues that may occur in a more typical real-world scenario.

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Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey personally worked on the input solution.

There was only one Oculus Touch demo—built internally by Oculus and dubbed "Toy Box"—but oh, man, what a demo it was! It’s a co-op sandbox experience, and I was originally going to play it with an Oculus representative I hadn’t met before, who would be playing from a separate room. To my surprise, following a video interview with Palmer Luckey (which will be published soon), the Oculus VR founder decided to hijack the HMD on the other end, and got on the headset’s mic. I was already surprised to realize that the Rift even had a built-in mic, so it was even more of a shock.

It's worth mentioning that the headset used here appears to be Crescent Bay, which is the prototype for the consumer-version headset. This article is mainly about Oculus Touch and the co-op Toy Box demo. If you’d rather read more about the CV1 headset, check out our coverage of the consumer-version headset.

What ensued was a roughly 20-minute demo that took me into another dimension. The demo takes place in a quirky sci-fi, playful laboratory environment. As I put on the headset, I can see two floating hands and a generic bald blue head staring at me from about four feet away, representing Luckey. He looked directly at me in this virtual environment and walked me through how to use the controller.

“Pick up the controller and use your index finger to point at something,” he says. I do so, and it works great. “Give me the thumbs-up signal,” he says, and that works swimmingly, too. “Clench down on the controller and make a fist for me,” he says, and as expected, my two virtual hands made fists. While I love Valve’s similar VR controllers, these simple finger gestures add an unprecedented level of immersion. Yes, given what I know so far, I do think it’s better than Valve’s already-stellar VR controllers.

Palmer Luckey shows off CV1 and Oculus Touch.

Between virtual Luckey and me is a large, wide table with a bunch of little colored boxes on it. Luckey asks me to pick up some boxes. After just a few seconds of trying to get used to the controller, I've got the hang of it and it really feels intuitive. “Go ahead and throw them at me,” he says, and so I chuck a piece across the room. I start throwing more boxes around until Palmer says, “Check this out. Grab a box, push it toward me as I push a box toward you, and we’ll simultaneously trap a box in between and pick it up together.” Lo and behold, it works like a charm. If anything is going to take VR experiences, which have been mostly isolated and lone journeys up until this point, to the next level, it’s co-op. Never had I felt the sensation of VR presence more, or the feeling that my mind and body were transported to a different place, than during this demo.

Palmer Luckey talks controller, VR porn, and more.

That was merely the beginning of my wacky but amazing experience with Luckey. As the demo progressed, sticks started popping up on the table in front of me and I started picking them up. They weren’t just any sticks, however—they were essentially flares. Luckey summoned a lighter on the table and started lighting the tops of his sticks. He pointed the lighter toward me and I reached over with my flares and lit them. And I thought to myself, “F***ing awesome!”

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You can point, give the thumbs-up, and make a fist with Oculus Touch.

Then, Luckey summoned a little dynamite box and asked me to light it and put it near a wall. I lit it and before I could drop it, the bomb exploded in my hand and blew up the wall, too. Surprised, I jumped a bit. In case you were wondering, the Oculus Touch does offer the slightest of haptic feedback vibrations, though Luckey says that, internally, the company has controllers with more vibrant haptic feedback sensors. Regardless, the little jolt does a good job of letting you know when you’re hand has clipped through a table, or when you have made contact with a hard surface. It adds a slight sense of tactility to what has otherwise been a weak aspect of VR until this point.

Moving along, Luckey summoned a ball into the room and he threw it up into the air and caught it. He then threw it at my face, and I felt surprisingly disrespected. It was as if someone in real life was chucking a fastball at my noggin. Maybe it unseated some dark memories of PE class dodge-ball that I’ve been trying to suppress…. Anyway, considering this was all done in a VR environment, I'll say that it was rude in the coolest way possible. One thing I learned from this experience is that if you thought people were sore losers in online games before, you ain’t ready for the competitive anger that may stem from forthcoming multiplayer VR titles.

I started punching the ball back at him, and then he summoned a tetherball scenario, with both of us punching the ball back and forth at each other. He totally mopped the floor with me. I was able to hold my own with him a little bit better when we started playing ping pong, though. VR ping pong alone could make for a compelling game with these controllers. Luckey then conjured up some giant hulk hands and gave them to me to slip on. From here, a big dummy appeared, which I proceeded to punch the hell out of with my new-found fists. I ended the beating with a double-handed “Hulk smash”-type gesture, which made the dummy crumble. It was wicked cool.

Eventually, Luckey summoned a slingshot, which required both hands to operate. I used my left hand to hold the stick and pulled on the virtual rubber band with my right hand to send little ping pong balls flying at objects across the room. It was interesting to note that here, Luckey appeared right alongside me, and we were slinging shots side by side. Again, he was much better than I was with the controls, and was able to sling at a much faster clip.

Speaking of clips, the next weapons that we picked up were guns, specifically alien laser guns. I started to shoot at some moving wooden animals (think the Circus) and had to really focus and use the sights to aim. Luckey then started throwing some discs in the air for me to shoot, and I wasn’t very good at it. Apparently, you need to lead your shots a little if you’re blasting from an alien pistol.

One of my favorite moments of the demo was when Luckey used a shrink ray to shrink me down to the size of a mouse. There I was, standing atop a massive table, looking up at his floating head and hands as if he were a giant. A really nice touch about this experience is that his voice got super deep and started echoing with a cavernous reverb. He then used the shrink ray in reverse, making me the giant. There I saw him as a tiny little guy moving around. And yes, he had a tiny squeaky voice to go along with his new diminutive stature.

This was the first time I’ve been able to use the mic and hear it in action. It’s fantastic, and the positional audio brings a true immersion experience; you believe that you’re really physically with someone who's not actually in the room with you. Throughout the demo, the backdrop changed from space-like environments to underwater scenarios, and Luckey's voice would echo or be muffled appropriately. I felt a childlike wonderment. Imagine playing a sci-fi flight simulator and having your friend sound all electrostatic-like on the other end. How freakin’ cool would that be?

This is a demo that will stick with me forever, an unforgettable experience that offered an unparalleled level of presence that I haven’t felt before. It also helped that Luckey was obviously bent on providing me a great experience. It felt oddly intimate at times, as if I might have to apologize for bumping into him if our virtual bodies got too close. I’ve never felt more confident in the future of VR than I do now, and I’m excited about how the medium will grow moving forward. The only real pressing question I have on my mind now is: When can I have these new toys, damn it?!


Jimmy Thang has been Maximum PC's Online Managing Editor since 2012, and has been covering PC hardware and games for nearly a decade. His particular interests currently include VR and SFF computers.
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