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TrinityVR making an 'affordable' motion controller that works with virtual reality

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TrinityVR launched a Kickstarter campaign today for the Magnum, an affordable motion-controlled gun tracking peripheral that works with virtual reality applications like the Oculus Rift.

Speaking to Polygon, company co-founder Julian Volyn and chief of strategy Rahat Ahmed said the aim of the Magnum is to offer a platform-agnostic and intuitive motion-controlled peripheral that is both affordable and accessible. Using mature technology, TrinityVR wants to be able to sell the Magnum to consumers for less than $100.

"The important thing for us to say is look, you're going to buy an Oculus Rift for maybe $200 or $300 — we don't know exactly what it's going to be — you're not going to buy an input device for the same amount of money," Ahmed said. "You're going to buy it for a lot less, like you would a PlayStation 4 controller. So we want to keep it reasonable and in perspective."

The current iteration of the Magnum is a light-weight gun-shaped peripheral that can be held with one or two hands. Unlike Sixense's STEM or the Razer Hydra, which use magnetic tracking, the Trinity Magnum uses optical and inertial tracking. This means it uses a camera and inertial sensors like a gyroscope and accelerometer to track where the peripheral is pointed, how fast it moves and the angle at which it leans. The current build is PC-based and connects to computers via USB, but the consumer model is expected to be completely wireless.

Polygon tried out the Trinity Magnum with two Oculus Rift game demos. One was a first-person shooter where we wandered through the game world and used the Magnum to aim and shoot at targets and barrels. Another was a psychedelic, on-rails shooter. The Magnum was accurate and we didn't experience any lag. In the first-person shooter, tilting the peripheral left or right also turned the game's camera. The device felt more natural to use than a Wii remote — the gun form-factor made it easy to hold and maneuver, and the camera tracking detected nuances in movement.

"It can really be designed for anything," Volyn said. "We find that first-person shooters are an ideal use case by virtue of the fact that [the Trinity Magnum] kind of feels like a gun, but the gun form-factor is really just for ergonomics and comfort."

Volyn told Polygon traditional controllers can be intimidating for many users, especially those who don't play a lot of games. Trying to use a traditional game controller while wearing a virtual reality headset can make things even more difficult. So the developers at TrinityVR see the Magnum as a solution to the problem of clumsiness.

"Try using a mouse and keyboard without visibility of the outside world — it's a very clumsy process," Volyn said. "So we're trying to remove some of those previous metaphors that were in place like 'point and click' to something that's more natural. You point to where you actually want to go or interact on the screen.

"We have a game called Narcosis where you're deep-sea diving and you can use the Magnum as a flashlight or a flair gun or even a knife. It's kind of like a multi-tool."

The Trinity Magnum API can also be implemented at the game engine level or at a lower level, so developers aren't restricted by how they can use the peripheral. The developers are looking to support all kinds of VR headsets, and they're even considering platforms like Google Glass.

"If you have a toolset or some other application you want to explore, we're not going to police it," Volyn said. "You can explore it as a generic input device if you want to."

Up until this point, TrinityVR has been mostly self-funded with some angel investment. The company is currently raising $50,000 on Kickstarter to continue development on the motion controller, and it is also actively seeking game developers to work with.

"The developers are our most important asset. We want to be there for them," Volyn said.

"We're playing a long-term game," Ahmed added. "We're not just in it for quick money. All the money we make should go back to developers to make sure the content is there."