by Andrew Tarantola January 6th
We’ve been watching the development of Virtuix’s Omni VR treadmill since 2013. The company debuted a fully-functional production model at CES 2016 and I was lucky enough to take the $700 device for a test drive — or rather test run.
The treadmill doesn’t work like the one at your gym, mind you. There aren’t actually any moving parts. Instead, the user wears special, $60 super-slippery soled shoes adorned with accelerometers that track their movement as the user slide-steps atop the unit’s floor. The user is also strapped into a lower body harness to keep them centered above the unit, which also allows them to shuffle their feet faster. All this physical movement translates into in game movement — walk forward, to move forward in the game; back pedal to reverse course. Easy, right?
I had a chance to strap myself into the Omni for a brief demo on the CES 2016 showfloor and, holy poop on a stick, this thing is freakin’ awesome. I’ve been playing first person shooters since the days of Doom on the PC and have always longed for a more immersive experience. Spamming my keyboard’s Up arrow and swiping my mouse to look around never really did it for me — it was always too stiff to really get me into the game. Same with modern console FPS’s like Call of Duty — ot being able to look around independently from where my weapon was aimed not only was unrealistic, it put me at a tactical disadvantage. Not so with the Omni. The generic “base defense” shooter game that I tried blew me away. Having to actually move, turn, look around and aim was incredibly immersive and added a completely new level of gameplay. There’s no more sprint button. If you want to run faster, then you really have to run faster. I was sweating by the end of my session — and grinning harder than I have in years.
Even the easy mode that I tried, wherein you fire where you look rather than where the gun is pointing — had my heart pounding. There’s a more advanced option that I wasn’t able to try but reportedly allows you to look, run and aim in completely different directions — that is run forward, look left and shoot right. And with the optional dual pistol controllers, rather than the rifle I used, I’m sure I could muster some straight John Woo Hard Boiled-level gunplay.