goal mission 2 developers have been experimenting with VR hand tracking for several years. From solving puzzles in cubism to fantasy adventures in Aeolia, VR headsets can provide some unique experiences by turning our bare hands into controllers. Naturally, this comes with several restrictions, and that often relegates manual tracking to a niche, even by VR standards.
It’s a rare Quest game that doesn’t offer controller support, but that’s exactly what Owlchemy Labs is planning. First promoted during Gamescom’s Opening Night Live, Owlchemy Labs, best known for Vacation Simulator and Cosmonious High, is working on a new (currently unnamed) multiplayer VR game.
Since the Oculus Quest recently received support for Hand Tracking 2.0, we wanted to learn more about how this technology works. Speaking with Owlchemy Labs COO Andrew Eiche, we asked how the team uses the best VR headset technology in Quest 2 to create an experience focused on hand tracking.
“When we first heard about manual tracking, we were skeptical. We set up a small R&D team to take Oculus hand tracking and integrate it into Vacation Simulator,” Eiche explains, commenting on the first Owlchemy game to support this. “As we were unraveling, we were like, ‘Oh, I think we can release this.’ That’s why we released experimental support for the first version of manual tracking and continue to update it.”
With the release of hand tracking 2.0 earlier this year, we asked if there were any major differences in the implementation of support between the two games. “Manual Tracking 2.0 is simple, but what we’re doing now is reviewing everything. We previously made a game for controllers that we adapted hand tracking for, and now, we’re building for hand tracking. We had to rethink everything.”
Surprisingly, the current version has no driver support at all. However, Eiche doesn’t rule out a future update for accessibility reasons, telling us that the game “would use controller support if we can’t overcome accessibility hurdles in the game, but we’d really like to.” this.” If we do see the feature, the developer confirms that this won’t be until after the game launches.
As for the online component, Eiche says that “multiplayer is something we always wanted to do; is what our fans have really been clamoring for. Hand tracking in VR creates another level of fidelity. There is expressiveness in gesturing more precisely and making hand signals. I can point exactly like I would in the real world,” he advises, continuing. “Many people think that virtual reality takes you to a fantastic world. But being the backyard ant doesn’t feel very good; you can’t affect anything. We stand behind a philosophy we call ‘Near Right VR’. What is a desktop scale for you? How can you interact with those objects? Manual tracking allows for that, and with multiplayer, it’s magical when you get it working.”
However, this doesn’t always work so well despite its immersive promise. “It’s a bit of a technological nightmare. When you talk about your hands, you have five fingers, each of which has three joints, each of which can be at any angle,” Eiche replies before continuing with a smile. “This is a fun technology problem to solve. How do we not flood the web with data trying to tell everyone where each other’s fingers are?
Owlchemy won’t stop with manual tracking either. With the Quest Pro now available, we’re also asking if you have any plans to look into Meta’s latest headset, specifically with face tracking. “Quest Pro is targeting a different user base, but long-term, we’re excited about face tracking when it hits the mass market. They all have the same mouth and face movements, but when you have a camera, it will be like you are talking,” Eiche tells us, before moving on to eye tracking.
“Eye tracking is good for a few things, like foved rendering and seeing where someone is looking in multiplayer,” Eiche explains before revealing a major drawback. “It’s terrible for interaction. Your eyes naturally scan the scene and you don’t have such a large area that you can see in high resolution, so they just rotate all the time. If I told you that to get out of this game, you have to keep your gaze on a specific point and you can’t move your eyes. It’s pure torture.”
We’d like to thank Andrew Eiche for speaking with us here. If you want to learn more about VR hand tracking on the Meta Quest headset, check out another part of this interview, where we discuss why Quest 2 can’t simulate weight. If not, check out our recommendations for the best Oculus Quest 2 games, while we wait to hear more about the upcoming Owlchemy Labs title.