I was standing in the grubby, abandoned train car at the beginning of the Oculus Touch game demo Bullet Train, waiting for the doors to open and intimidating, armored figures to start shooting at me—5-foot-4-me, shoulders arched, fidgeting in my Chuck Taylors, holding tightly onto a pump action rifle formed from a pair of Oculus Touch controllers.
I pumped, shot, felt the haptic feedback, and teleported out of the car.
The guy giving the demo reminded me: "It's only VR."
Gun battles or not, it's been a busy week for virtual reality. HTC announced a new developer kit called the Vive Pre. Oculus announced pre-orders for the consumer version of the Rift, and demand was such that their site crashed as people desperately tried to order the headset and panicked as shipping date slid from March to June.
In true conference form, the two-story Oculus booth had a steady line of people waiting to try the much-buzzed about consumer Rift.
On Friday, I got to spend a bit of time with the consumer Rift, first trying out games Lucky's Tale (think something as friendly as Mario) and Herobound (an RPG). Both use the Xbox One wireless controller that will ship with the Rift, initially. The headset, true to hype, was lighter, more comfortable, and easier to put on. I was told that even since the June unveiling, Oculus has made tweaks, like adding a layer of fabric to the interior of the head straps, and a spring that lets the user pull the mask out from her face while putting it on.
The next demo I did was Bullet Train, a first-person shooter from Epic Games. Bullet Train is a good way to spend time with the buttons and triggers on the Touch. You slide your hands through loops and the Touch controllers rest in your palms. There's a trigger for your pointer finger and one for your middle finger, along with familiar buttons on top like X, Y, and A, plus a few others.
Bullet Train offers a pretty cool, for lack of a better word, representation of your hands. They're blue and a bit grid-like, but they're there, and look connected to your arms. To pick up and hold a gun, you've got to keep the middle finger trigger depressed. It forces you to feel like you're holding onto something. Another feature of the demo was the ability to slow down time and grab bullets or rockets out of the air and throw them back at the enemy attackers. All of that requires dexterity with the controllers
When Palmer Luckey introduced the Touch Controllers in June, he talked about easing the mental load of always being aware that you're holding onto controllers in the first place, and not just naturally using your hands.
I never quite forgot I had controllers in my hands. For all the talk of ergonomics, they slid around in my palms quite a bit. Maybe it was them, maybe it was me, maybe gamers might have an easier time internalizing how to manipulate the buttons and triggers.
For the non-gaming set, those who might be looking toward creating an application for training, education, marketing, and so on, the Vive controllers might offer an easier on-ramp, or lower learning curve in terms of simplicity. For example, the Vive controllers won't give you as much interplay with your thumb and and multiple fingers. While both the Vive and the Rift are built for high-end PC gaming, it feels as though gaming is more sole and central to the design of the Touch controllers—and that's worth keeping in mind for anyone who doesn't need that level of complication.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.