Hands on with the Roto Motorised VR gaming platform – could it be about to change VR gaming?

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A new VR product is hoping to take Oculus Rift gaming out of the “Cone of Comfort” and into give gamers a full 360-degree experience. Roto is a motorised seat base that will move with you when you’re wearing a VR headset and allow you to fully explore 3D worlds.

roto

The creators of Roto argue that even with products like the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR headset, after looking about a little bit you’ll always end up playing the game as normal, keeping your vision within a relatively limited field of vision. Worse still, with headsets when you do spin around whilst staying seated, it can often induce motion sickness and nausea, making long periods of play tricky. This is the problem that founder Elliot Myers thinks that Roto can solve.

The way it works is pretty clever. Essentially, Roto is a base unit, connected to a footpad, on to which you can slot in any normal office chair. Then when you’re wondering around inside of a game, instead of using the right thumbstick, it is simply a case of tilting your feet to rotate the chair. The fact it is a chair too, and not something you have to stand-up to use (like the Omni VR) immediately sets it apart too. Yes, it might take you to the frontlines of a war, but you can still slouch down if you like. “People will almost always prefer to be lazy”, Myers says.

The upshot of this is that it is said to feel more natural – as unlike in normal FPS games, you move more like in real life – where you turn your head, and your body turns to match it. Apparently this will encourage an “inclination to explore”.

The fact that the base unit will be relatively compact, and enable your chair to function as a chair too when you’re not fragging bad guys also means that it will be relatively unobtrusive. (Though you’ll still need enough room to spin around on a motor – which might be tricky in a London flat or a china shop.)

With the Roto in play, it means that developers who properly support the device (it can just work as a replacement for the right thumbtack) can get data on many different variables – including where the player is looking, which way they are facing, how they are leaning, in which direction they’re aiming – and there’s even two pedals on the footpad which can simulate footsteps.

Apparently in development it was discovered that rotating with VR had the surprise consequence of actually adding a greater feeling of mass to gameplay – the small centrifugal force tricks the brain into making your actions feel weightier. Myers described how this made him play games slightly differently.

To get around the problem of the Oculus and other headsets currently relying on a wired connection, the base unit has a number of adapters for different devices in, which uses slip-rings, to enable you to spin around in either direction to your heart’s content, without getting tangled up.

The Roto unit itself will apparently have three speeds when it launches too – from “comfortable”, to “reactive”, to “holy —“ (he didn’t finish his sentence).

This is another journalist having a go, so you're going to have to picture a slightly different looking nerdy man having sat in a chair too fully visualise my experience.
This is another journalist having a go, so you’re going to have to picture a slightly different looking nerdy man having sat in a chair too fully visualise my experience.

Perhaps realistically, the developers do not seem to believe that VR is something that everyone will use – positioning the device as something analogous to a steering wheel controller, as something that slightly more hardcore gamers may want to own (think Call of Duty, not Candy Crush). Interestingly too, the developers also think that VR movies (and not just games) could be what makes the device a big success. Because the base is motorised, the thought is that directors could use Roto to point viewers at the action, whilst still giving them freedom of movement if they want it. The example used was with something like Jurassic Park: The chair can make sure you’re pointing at the T-Rex when it is running towards you.

I was lucky enough to have a go with the prototype machine, walking through the corridors of Alien: Isolation, and it was a pretty extraordinary experience. At first, it was strange, as my brain defaulted to thinking like playing a normal FPS, so I ended up spinning around endlessly – but once I realised that I needed to move not like in a game, but in real life – looking before moving – it made sense, and I was wandering around the ship with a real sense of presence. I think there’s inevitably going to be a little bit of a learning curve, as it is unlike any previous gaming experience.

At the moment, Roto is somewhere between the prototype and production stages – with the chair you can see in the photos I took today being of the prototype unit. The production unit – which will be funded by a Kickstarter launching on March 12th – will be more slimline, and apparently the motors will allow for even faster movement, as the gears will be custom designed. Here’s the best bit: The Roto base unit and footpad look set to cost under £200. (There will be accessories, including a table that moves with the unit on which you can balance, say, a flight stick, costing more.)

Personally, I’m hugely excited – and I can’t wait to be wandering the streets of Los Santos in the chair.

James O’Malley