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Developer shows off experimental full-body tracking in VR

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This is pretty cool

Almost all virtual reality games with motion controls simulate your body as a crude hit box connected to a set of floating hands. Island 359 developer Cloudgate Studio has just released a video that shows off a full-body simulation using two additional Vive controllers connected to the feet, a setup that will become much more affordable and comfortable for enthusiasts when Valve releases the Vive Tracker in the second quarter of this year.

The two members of the team have over 20 years of motion capture and kinematic rigging experience between them, which allowed them to create this experiment as a side-project across a weekend.

“We've wanted to do this very thing since we both first saw the Vive dev kits and have been talking about it since, so it's almost like we had already built it in our heads over the past year,” Cloudgate’s Steve Bowler told Polygon. “It's fairly house-of-cards right now and we'd have to rebuild it for real down the road when the trackers are released.”

This is a big step forward for making people feel as if they are actually inside these games. Suddenly you have an entire body modeled in the game, which allows for much more specific collision detection and a stronger sense of presence, even in single-player games.

“A ton of the time involved in making our full body test was even just making sure the torso fit you correctly, so when you look down you don't see the inside of your torso,” Bowler explained. “When you crouch, for instance, we have to use your HMD height and rotation to ‘drive’ your butt backwards on the mesh so that when you look down, your torso isn't directly hanging under your HMD still. And the nice part about this is it's fairly WYSIWYG in that it doesn't just look right; it mostly is right, insofar as we have your extremities tracked 1:1, so we wouldn't need a third-person solve if it's used in multiplayer.”

There is still a lot of polish required before something like this can be added to a game aimed at a wider audience, but these first steps allow Cloudgate to find some of the edge cases they wouldn’t have thought of before they built the system and tried it out. For instance, turning the controllers on in a random order could cause each one to be assigned to the wrong limb, which is ... not optimal.

This also doesn’t change locomotion in VR, which means teleportation will likely remain the standard for the time being, but having a modeled body will remove the necessary suspension of disbelief that is required by games that only model your hands. People are used to seeing themselves and this sort of experiment, combined with hopefully inexpensive secondary sensors, is going to allow for much more tinkering with VR design.

Plus now you can kick stuff.