SAN FRANCISCO — The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive can take you to some incredibly believable virtual places, but most of the time they force you to use some sort of plastic controller that keeps you tied to the real world. Manus VR is looking to break that barrier to full immersion, with a new pair of VR-friendly gloves that let you control games using natural hand movements.
The Manus gloves will go on sale this year as a $250 developer kit; Manus VR said last week it would start taking pre-orders in the second quarter. Based on my time with the gloves at the Game Developers Conference, they certainly have the potential to make VR games feel just a bit more intuitive.
Manus VR's peripherals look a whole lot like workout gloves, with a lightweight, cozy design that leaves plenty of room for your fingers to breathe. For the purpose of my demo, the top of each glove was attached to one of HTC's touch controllers in order to provide extra-accurate positional tracking.
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I tested the Manus gloves with Pillow's Willow, a simple game that has you guide a character through a fantasy world by solving physical puzzles. My first task was to catch some fireflies and put them in lanterns, and I didn't have to think twice: I simply snatched the glowing bugs with my actual hands, pulled a virtual lever, and lit up the game world by planting them in the empty lanterns.
The gloves held up just as well for the following challenge, which had me rebuild a broken staircase. Once again I just followed my instincts and picked up each piece of debris, eventually connecting them all together as if I was playing with Legos.
To finish the demo, I had to push down a few obstacles that were standing in my character's way, before finally playing a few notes on a big, virtual piano. Despite a few moments of inaccuracy, this early version of the Manus gloves successfully allowed me to move around a whole bunch of virtual junk with my regular old hands.
While Manus VR has plenty of potential to change how we play games in virtual reality, its success ultimately depends on how many developers choose to support the hardware. Game makers who pre-order the $250 Manus VR development kit will get the gloves along with the Vive controller mounts and SDKs for Android, Windows, Linux, iOS and OS X.
I've been impressed by Oculus' and HTC's touch controllers when it comes to interacting with a virtual environment, but there was something special about just using my hands. I'm excited to see how Manus VR evolves as more developers experiment with it.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.