Your VR junk drawer's going to get pretty packed.
HTC doesn't call it an NES Zapper. It's technically a "Hyper Blaster." But you know what it looks like. It's the rebirth of Nintendo's old light gun. Sort of. In this case, it's more of a motion-controlled VR gun accessory, almost like Sony's PlayStation VR Aim.
I held it in my hand. Yep, it feels just like I remembered. Except for the black Vive Tracker, a three-pronged puck that juts out of its top and turns it into a VR accessory.
The Vive Tracker, announced back in January, is HTC's way to make objects trackable in VR. It's basically a Vive Controller's lopped-off top. The tracker's been available for developers for months, but is finally arriving for VR enthusiasts to buy.
The Hyper Blaster itself will work with a number of Steam VR games, including Duck Season (which feels like a weird VR reboot of Duck Hunt) and Arizona Sunshine.
The Hyper Blaster in-hand, Vive Tracker sitting on top.
The Vive Tracker costs $99 on its own and works with "dozens of VR titles." But Vive's also packaging it in bundles along with accessories it can attach to, and included games.
- The $150 Hyper Blaster bundle, an Amazon exclusive, comes with a Vive Tracker and Duck Season.
- A $150 Racket Sports Set comes with ping-pong and tennis handles, a Vive Tracker, and Vive Sports.
- Another company, Rebuff Reality, is selling full-body TrackStrap body trackers for $25 that work with fitness games and come with a dancing game called Redfoot Bluefoot Dancing.
I played a few rounds of Duck Season with Hyper Blaster, and honestly it's not too different from using two Vive Controllers. It's hard to distinguish between the blaster's trigger and the Controller's own trigger. The same could be said for the rackets: after all, a controller can be anything in VR, so why would you need a realistic-looking racket design you can't see?
But then again, the flexibility of Vive Tracker is pretty clever. It's like, suddenly, anything can be a kinda-sorta Vive Controller.
Joan Solsman tries Duck Season. In VR, you can't tell if you're holding a real plastic gun accessory.
The more interesting idea in Vive's trackers is the possibility of adding lots of trackable sensors to objects or your own arms and legs. I tried some experimental theater pieces in VR back at the Tribeca Film Festival that used Vive Trackers to track hand motions while in VR, and it worked well.
Unlike Oculus and Google, which are making increasing moves into mobile VR, HTC Vive is staying focused on PC-based VR experiences that hook into Valve's Steam platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft has its own VR platform with a variety of other plug-and-play headsets from Lenovo, Samsung, Acer and others. The Vive Tracker is, maybe, a way for Vive and Valve to explore more advanced ideas in VR, expanding the idea of the holodeck. It's also a way to create something unique against Oculus' plan for fully wireless VR and Microsoft's plan to make tons of competing headsets with easier setup.
HTC is developing a mobile VR headset in China, but according to Vive's US GM Dan O'Brien, that won't be coming overseas anytime soon. The Vive Trackers are exploring ways to bring objects into VR with existing Vive hardware: for now, it's with screw-on plastic pucks. In the future, maybe, advanced sensing cameras won't require any trackers at all.
But in the meantime, your VR room might get a lot more cluttered with plastic things.
The Vive Tracker is available to preorder now, but HTC says the trackers will start shipping in December.