How does a player get from one point to another, without breaking immersion? This is one of the great challenges that VR is facing during its infancy. Developers have worked diligently with the community to find what works best on the software level. However, the hardware side of things still finds itself in a funky state of limbo. That is where products like the 3dRudder come in.
3dRudder is trying their hand at providing gamers with a movement solution that utilizes their feet. The idea is, that if you use your feet for movement it will feel more natural and free up your hands for other tasks. To deliver this experience, they developed a foot controller that captures your foot movement. Their software then translates that into whatever VR game you’re playing, in place of your normal controller input, and moves your around. So, how does the 3dRudder stack up for the VR gamer? Let’s take a look.
Once the 3dRudder is out of the box, it’s as easy as plugging in the USB and downloading the 3dRudders software. The Dashboard software will test out your rudder and then run through a tutorial that covers all the basic movement. The software is pretty easy to navigate and has a healthy amount of options, as this product is also intended to be used outside of VR. Yes, I tried it for a few of the recommended flat games, and I may have used it as a TV remote just for the hell of it.
The Dashboard has five controller option tabs, each one representative of what the rudder will be acting as. You can use it in place of a joystick, mouse, keyboard, Vive wands, or Touch controllers. Each tab, once selected, opens up mapping options and sensitivity controls for the 3dRudder. Unfortunately, the software does not provide much of a tutorial in how to customize the controllers’ settings. For something that sets up so easily, not having the information needed to customize the experience was disappointing.
The Dashboard does have a tab that displays several presets for more popular games. While the list is long and the devs do update it frequently, it can’t cover everything. That is where a solid tutorial or tooltips would help out most. I recognize that many VR gamers are going to be able to work out the settings, and the instruction manual 3dRudder is working on will further help with that. However, the average consumer would probably get agitated by the level of tinkering needed to create a stable and enjoyable experience, if the game they want to play isn’t on the preset list.
Rocking in VR
Once you do find your sweet spot for game settings, you can save your loadout and get gaming. I found that you need to have the game loaded up, and then load up your settings in the Dashboard. Once the software calibrates everything, you will hear a few beeps, put your feet on the rudder. After more beeps, its ready to rock. Literally. It is pretty easy to understand how the controller operates and after a few minutes it was pretty easy to use.
The problem I ran into most, was getting the settings just right for each game. I found myself taking off my headset and tweaking settings constantly until I found the proper sensitivity. Then, you have to do it all over again for the next game. It is definitely not a plug and play experience, you’re going to have to spend quality time setting up the 3dRudder. Just think of it like you would any Bethesda game. At first, you’re going to feel cheated and pissed off but once you have it set up the way you like it, it delivers.
Each tab in the Dashboard changes the input mode of the 3dRudder and that can be a little confusing at first. Specifically, the VR Unleashed options. One mode replaces the controller locomotion and another replaces free locomotion. Free locomotion basically tricks the game into thinking that your foot movements with the 3dRudder are actually your HMD being tracked. As you can imagine, this is great for players with limited space as it basically gives you unlimited roomscale. Unfortunately, this also means that if the games developer didn’t count on you to be able to reach something, they probably didn’t put anything in place to keep you from passing through it.
The 3dRudder is a disc with a rounded bottom that sits on your floor. When you place your feet on the right and left sides, you get a full range of motion out of the controller. While the movement feels natural enough, it does take some getting used to. We have been using our fingers for movement for years and that is not easy to overcome. Add on top of that, the fact that you spend most of your time in VR standing up and you can really see how the 3dRudder starts to become an exercise in brain reprogramming.
Okay, so that is really more of a mental hurdle, and one that will be different for everyone. In games like EvE Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous, the process felt more natural. The reason is pretty clear. These games are made to be played sitting down. In games like From Other Suns and Fallout4VR, the quality of the experience all comes down to getting your settings right. Unfortunately, that means that many people are going to have bad experiences out of the box, until they get the settings right.
The physical comfort of the 3dRudder could use a little work as well. It has some fairly solid grip on the bottom that keeps it from sliding during use. However, it does require a hard, flat surface to use. It still starts to move away from you over time, and re-centering the rudder can be tricky. Your feet tend to wonder out of position and then your whole sense of center gets out of whack. That can be a real pain when you are playing something that requires a lot of turning, which is basically everything in VR.
Looks a little like a Roomba
That brings us to the build quality of the 3dRudder. The overall quality of the product is great. One USB 2 cable, study construction, and it doesn’t look half bad. The non-slip tape helps with the inevitable drifting, but it really could benefit from having something to guide your feet into the proper position. Rift owners can use that little gap between our nose and HMD to kind of peak out, but we really shouldn’t have to. We did see some newly designed units that address this issue, with a foot guide, at CES. Unfortunately, the updated model is not yet available.
The software, overall, is well presented and easy to navigate. It really gives the user a ton of freedom to cater to their needs. It would really benefit from having a tutorial, supplemental videos, or even just tool-tips to help people get acquainted with the functions. Having to go in blind left me to face a fair amount of weirdness in certain games, but the software never crashed. It just needs to find a way to look out for the average consumer in order to be really great. I think that will be less of an issue when the list of games with presets grows and players are shown how to fine tune settings.
The 3dRudder is going to run you right around $140.00. That is a fairly hefty amount for a controller that requires a large amount of time to set up for each specific use. However, its versatility is also going to be what resonates most with players that would be willing to drop that amount on a controller. This is definitely not, in my opinion, an average gamers controller.
The amount of time a player will need to invest in making the 3dRudder a more viable option than hand controls is a pretty heavy. When you get it right, it performs great, just be prepared to be underwhelmed until you do. If you order directly from 3dRudder, you do get a 30-day trial period and I think that’s a pretty good option if you’re on the fence.
Not for Everyone
The 3dRudder has a lot to offer, if you are willing to invest the time in making it your own. It can deliver the experience it describes, and frees up your hands from movement controls. As more games allow for advanced button mapping, I could see this being a nice advantage. While it does support a large amount of VR games, that advantage comes at a price and that is sitting down to use it. That is definitely a decision you will need to make based on your play style and game choices, but it’s definitely cool to have the option.
We find ourselves at a point where companies are willing to try just about anything to provide a desirable VR experience. From treadmills to 3D printed controller accessories, we are going to see a lot of niche controllers, and I absolutely love that. Some are going to work, some are only going to work for specific people. The 3dRudder is definitely one of the products that works well for specific tasks, and a specific group of VR gamers.