In VR, anything can be anything. Your game controller can turn into a gun, an arm or a bubble-blowing space machine. So, what's the point of wielding a realistic-looking gun or ping-pong paddle in real life?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to that question. Nevertheless, HTC's Vive Tracker, a little trackable set of wireless pucks for VR if you already own an, aim to do exactly that.
Vive Tracker costs $99 (£100, AU$169) or it comes in a few US bundles(a light gun recreation, or set of a tennis racket and a ping-pong paddle) and Steam game codes for $150.
There are also separately-sold $14.99 Rebuff Reality Trackstraps (roughly £11 and AU$20) that are like velcro leg/arm straps you can screw a Vive Tracker into. Keep in mind, these are extras: Vive itself is still required, plus a gaming PC. This isn't a cheap hobby.
I spent some time with all of the new Vive Tracker configurations and accessories... and had some fun and a lot of frustration along the way.
When it works, it's fun. Using the well-weighted ping-pong paddle with the VR ping-pong game Eleven: Table Tennis VR made me really feel like I was playing. Using the light gun blaster with the weird Duck Season felt a little more convincing.
But, you could also play these games with the existing Vive controllers already included in your original purchase, too.
What is a Vive Tracker, again?
Vive Tracker is a wide-ranging idea announced, but has only come to fruition recently with supported games. In current PC-connected VR hardware, you're usually limited to a pair of wireless controllers and a headset as your way of interacting with objects in the virtual world. What if more items in the real world could be tracked, so they could accurately show up in your virtual game space?
The Tracker is like the lopped-off top of an HTC Vive controller: it's weird, black and three-pronged. It charges up via Micro-USB and then can screw into other add-on accessories. Add it to the top of a light gun, and you have a trackable weapon. Screw it into a plastic tennis racket, and you have a VR tennis racket. Put them on velcro wrist bands and wear them on your arms or legs, and you can track your body a bit.
Sometimes awesome, but lacks haptics
Connecting the ping-pong paddle and playing ping-pong in VR sounds silly, but was surprisingly great and physics-accurate. But, I can't feel the ball's impact with the paddle. There aren't any haptics. Which means I feel like I'm playing ping-pong with a neurological disorder.
I was weirdly excited when I strapped both trackers to my feet and realized my shoes had suddenly become visible in VR. I had a blast trying Final Soccer, which turned my hands and feet into four trackable points. I was able to try goal kicks with my actual legs -- or, my feet. But again, no vibration or haptic feedback. I can see myself kicking, but can't feel it.