Monday, December 12, 2016

Using the Oculus Rift and Touch with HTC Vive games on Steam: how well does it work?


In this post, I discuss how well the Oculus Rift with Touch works with Steam games that were designed for the HTC Vive.  I believe this is a very important question because if the Rift + Touch can play Vive games very well, it could make the Rift arguably the better overall VR system.
I had an HTC Vive (reviewed here) which I loved but I sold it to get an Oculus Rift (reviewed here) when I found out that the Rift could supposedly play HTC Vive games.  When I finally received the Oculus Touch, one of the first things I wanted to know was whether and to what degree the Oculus Rift and Touch can play HTC Vive games on Steam.

The short answer is that it's true the Rift and Touch can play most games for the Vive.  Touch compatibility on Steam was even improved in a recent update to Steam VR which improved the button assignment and added haptic feedback.  However, the degree of compatibility still varies widely.

Below, I've listed samples of games and what issues exist in them to give you a better idea.

Works great:  Some games feel like they were designed for Touch, and work as well as or sometimes even better than on the Vive.  Here are some examples:
- Pierhead Arcade: this game lets you play several games in an arcade.  This game appears to have been redesigned for the Touch.  The in-game representation of the controller is the Touch controller, and it uses Touch-specific buttons (A, B, X, Y).  It acts like a native app for the Touch.
- Thrill of the Fight:  this is a boxing game.  The designer included a new default controller that allows you to hold the Touch controllers as you normally would and it feels pretty good, although it's not exactly a fist.  There's also a customizable control mode where you can hold the Touch controller any way you want.  If you really want to close your fist, you can use this control mode.  Thrill of the Fight CAN work better than with the Vive because you can move your controllers closer to your face without the controller bumping into each other or the headset.  However, for best results, you need to use a roomscale setup.
- Cosmic Sugar:  this is a simple (but beautiful) app where thousands of tiny stars move around your controllers, interacting with each other.  It's like playing with your own galaxy.  Because the controls are so simple, the touch controllers work pretty much as well as the Vive controllers.

Works reasonably well:  Some games work almost as well as they work with Vive controllers, with minor changes or modifications.  Here are some examples:
- The Lab: one of the earliest and best VR apps for the HTC Vive is The Lab by Valve, which uses minigames and short VR experiences to showcase what the Vive can do.  It works with the Touch as well.  However, there seems to be very little haptic feedback.  For example, when I draw the bow in Longbow, I feel almost nothing from the controller.  On the Vive, the controller vibrates in a way that feels like I'm really pulling on a bowstring.
- Space Pirate Trainer: this shooter is one of the best-selling titles for HTC Vive.  There's now a version for the Oculus Touch as well, but the Vive version works pretty well.  The only quirk is that it's harder to switch weapons than with the Vive controller. On the Vive controller, you push the thumbpad / trackpad to select another weapon.  On the Touch, you have to press and hold down the joystick, then push the joystick in a direction to choose your weapon, then release the pressed joystick.
- Tiltbrush: in this app, you paint with light in 3D space.  As with Space Pirate Trainer, you have to press down the left joystick and push it to change the menu.
- Gnomes and Goblins: this is a VR experience where you meet friendly goblins and enter their world.  It works with the Touch just as well as it does on the Vive, except that you must use a roomscale setup.  If you use a standing-only setup, you won't go beyond the title screen.
- Vanishing Realms: one of the best adventures for the Vive. I enjoyed playing it with the Rift.  The limits are that roomscale setup is all but necessary.  In addition, you have to disable the auto pause in the menu, because it doesn't seem to work correctly with the Vive's proximity sensor.
- Google Earth: this app allows you to explore almost any place on earth in VR.  It works but before you use the app, you need to add a file to override the hardware lock.
Job Simulator: works pretty well, but the left controller can be assigned to the right hand and vice-versa.  To avoid this, make sure that before you launch Steam and before you activate the controllers, the left controller is on your left side and the right controller is on your right side.  Otherwise, Job Simulator works well even with seated or standing VR because it has a dollhouse mode.
Job Simulator on Steam being used with Oculus Touch (see the Steam VR panel)


Quirky/awkward:  some games work but you have to make significant changes.
Paddle Up and Eleven Table Tennis: these are table tennis games.  They kind of work, but I had to improvise by changing the grip on the controller.  If I hold the controller the normal way, the racket is perpendicular to where it ought to face.  I have to hold the Touch controller sideways to make it work.  With my grip modified, it does work.
Trickster VR:  this was one of my favorite bow-and-arrow shooters on the Vive.  With the Touch, I had difficulty starting the game.  At one point I got lucky and I don't know what combination of buttons I pressed but the game started, where the gameplay was similar to that of the Vive.
Fastest Fist and Kunlun Fight: these are really good boxing / fighting games for HTC Vive and they can work with the Oculus Touch, but you need to hold the Oculus Touch controllers sideways, which is a little awkward for the Oculus Touch.


Hard to use:  some games are hard to use with the Oculus Touch.
Raw Data: Raw Data is a shooter and is one of the top-selling games for HTC Vive on Steam (in fact it was the first one to generate $1 million in one month).  On the Vive controller, it aims with the edge of the ring on top of the Vive wand.  The Touch also has a ring, but it's angled perpendicular to the controller whereas the Vive's ring is angled at 45 degrees.  Therefore, to aim with the Touch in Raw Data, you have to flex your wrist backward, making it difficult and unergonomic to use the Touch.  You would have to be pretty desperate to use the Touch with this game.
Quick Draw:  Quick Draw is a cowboy fast draw game similar to Nintendo's Wild Gunman.  When used with the Touch controller, the controls become difficult.  Instead of using the grip button to grab the gun, the controller uses capacitive touch, i.e., merely touching the button counts as pressing it.  That might sound like an advantage but in actual use, if you accidentally touch the trigger button, it fires a shot.  In addition, you can't fire the next shot until you fully let go of the trigger button, thus increasing the required finger movement.  In a game measured by miliseconds, it puts you at a significant disadvantage.  Moreover, when you press the trigger, no shots are fired or there seems to be a lag before two or three shots are suddenly fired.  The Vive controller does not suffer from these problems with this game.

Unusable / incompatible:
Fist of Physics: As of December 18, 2016, this game is not compatible with Touch.  I got stuck at the title screen because you have to click on a sign, but it's about 10 feet away (beyond the reach of my play area) with no way to teleport.
The Lantern:  I got only a demo of this game, but I didn't get beyond the title screen.  

SUMMARY
It's difficult to generalize across all 700+ HTC Vive games on Steam, and I haven't even tried the Touch will the 100 or so apps in my Steam library, but many games on Steam work pretty well with the Touch, with only minor modifications or adjustments needed.  In any case, the good thing with Steam is that it has a lenient refund policy.  If you download a game that turns out to be unusable for the Touch, then you can refund it.  Having said that, there may be some games that are particularly important to you, in which case, I would check for Touch compatibility first.  If there's a Steam game that you want to test with the Touch, please let me know in the comments! (and please tag me to make sure I get notified)

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