Oculus Touch controller turns ‘The Climb’ VR experience into a real cliffhanger

The latest edition of Oculus VR’s “Touch Tuesdays” talks with Crytek’s Niels Stoelinga about adding support for the Oculus Touch controller in The Climb. The Oculus Touch controller showed Gamescom 2016 attendees in August how additionally immersive the game can be using the touchy new Oculus Rift controller. Support for the new controller will be provided as a free update to The Climb through Oculus Home next month.

Stoelinga serves as the gameplay programmer for The Climb. Prior to jumping into virtual reality, he worked on in-house games such as Warface and Ryse. Crytek’s The Climb actually started out as a simple climbing game created by level designer Matthias Otto as part of prototyping locomotion and weapon handling. Called “Matto Hands,” the level featured hands that followed the player’s head movement.

But this simple experience proved to be rather fun, so they built up from that foundation and showed a prototype to Oculus VR. The company loved the concept, so Crytek continued to flesh out what eventually became The Climb. Naturally, the experience was a perfect match for the Oculus Touch controller, which according to Stoelinga, made some of the rock-climbing mechanics simpler.

“In the gamepad version, we used a button press for players to check their watch in-game. Now you can just look at your wrist,” he said in Tuesday’s interview. “This actually becomes a lot more immersive and natural because it replicates real life.”

He added that by using a gamepad, movement is automatic. But when Oculus Touch is used, the player must consider how he/she moves through the current space. Because of this, adding Oculus Touch support wasn’t exactly a walk in the park: the team had to make sure the user’s hands are always correctly placed or else the rock-climbing illusion will be broken.

Another factor the team had to consider was player fatigue. Even though they’re not actually climbing a rock wall, players are still moving their arms about to grab virtual edges. The fatigue factor comes into play on the mental front, as many players will feel “discomfort” after moving quickly for an extended amount of time within virtual space. That called for what Stoelinga described as “chalk mechanics” and a stamina system so the game can be slowed down for a few minutes for players to recuperate.

Of course, the team also had to consider competition. The Climb will be served up in two versions: one supporting gamepads and one supporting Oculus Touch controllers. Thus, instead of pitting both platforms against each other, there will be a leaderboard for each, giving Crytek the freedom to make the Oculus Touch version “as fun as possible.”

“We could have integrated Touch with the same jumping, reach length, and automatic repositions as the gamepad, but ultimately, mapping player movements into the game was just much more fun and engaging,” he said. “Whether developers are adding Touch controls to an existing game or designing from scratch, it really is worth experimenting and tailoring the experience to take advantage of this new range of data provided by Touch.”

Ultimately, Stoelinga’s takeaway from The Climb understanding that when it comes to Oculus Touch, experimenting is important. The rules of VR will eventually change, and developers will have their own methods of tackling problems related to humans interacting with the virtual environment. Developers shouldn’t be afraid to take a new approach, he suggested.

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