When I found out I had to take off my boots and put on special VR-enabled shoes during a demo at GDC, I was like, "Ah, shit. Do I really have to do this?" I typically view VR as something as a novelty already—an incredibly impressive technology that still feels fairly goofy because you've got a computer stuck to your sweaty face with velcro and you have to wave your arms around like a goddamn dope. And that's without taking things a step further by putting on special footwear and pretending to kick a virtual ball around.
Shows how much I know: what I found was that having virtual feet in a demo of Mi Hiepa Sports' VR football platform was the most natural-feeling and utterly convincing VR experience I've ever had. It's not strictly a game, per se: it's designed for managers, trainers, and coaches for player development and rehab. And it's excellent.
(Let's get this out of the way: I'm an American so I typically say soccer instead of football, but I'm gonna say football here because the developer is located in Manchester. And, you know, when in Rome—even though I met them San Francisco.)
After strapping sensors to my shins, and putting on shoes with sensors already attached to them, I'm now being tracked both from the headset I'm wearing and the devices below my knees. Looking down in VR, I see my virtual feet and calves and nothing else. It seems like it would be weird to have no virtual body, just calves and feet, but the experimental moving and stepping I do feel perfectly normal and natural. I have no controllers in my hands because, well, it's football, and I don't need them.
I'm facing a semi-circle of goals, with football launchers between each. One by one, footballs are slowly rolled in my direction, and I'm meant to kick them whichever next is highlighted. While I miss fairly often, it's one of the rare times having somebody watch me suck at games doesn't bother me because I'm so immersed in the experience itself. Soon they stop rolling and start bouncing in, but I'm able to first stop them with my feet, and then kick them. You can see some footage (not of my demo, thankfully, but from Mi Hiepa's site) below.
There's no haptic feedback here: I'm just wearing sensors on my shins and feet. Nothing vibrates or buzzes when I kick the footballs that don't actually exist. There's no virtual impact whatsoever. But the fidelity in which my feet and lower legs are tracked, the responsiveness and physics of the footballs, and the sound of my foot connecting with the ball, fed through the headset's speakers, completely fool my brain. It feels real. It's completely convincing, more than anything I've ever done in VR before.
I only have a few minutes to try the demo, and apart from kicking so poorly I'd probably cause a football coach or trainer to consider a different profession, I came away incredibly impressed with the potential for VR as a sports training tool. I mainly use VR for gaming and entertainment, but it's enlightening to finally see an example of VR designed for practical and educational uses, and especially great to see one so wonderfully designed. You can learn more at the Mi Hiepa Sports website.