AUSTIN, TEXAS – Playing with the Sixense STEM was the closest I've ever been to actually being a Jedi Knight. This high-end motion control peripheral, first shown off at CES 2015, offers one of the most refined and precise VR experiences I've ever encountered. I was wielding two lightsabers as naturally as I would a real set of weapons. The best part: early Kickstarter backers should start receiving units by the end of the month.
After Sixense evaluates how well the first wave of products work, it will make the system commercially available in the third quarter of 2015. A head tracker plus two sensors will cost $389, while the full five-sensor set will cost $599. During SXSW 2015, I noticed that the STEM easily had the longest line of any exhibit in the convention's Gaming Expo. It was currently only a demo, but it's the demo you've always dreamed about.
The STEM itself is a collection of motion trackers that function with just about any VR headset. One motion tracker follows a user's head, while the other two interpret signals from his or her hands, wrists and arms. A user can attach an optional second set to his or her legs.
To begin, I put on an Oculus Rift VR headset with a motion tracker attached. I then grabbed a controller in each hand, and two button presses later, I had picked up two lightsabers. (I chose a green one and an orange one.) From there, a small training droid fired lasers at me, and it was up to me to deflect the attacks with my twin energy swords.
Despite the fact that I have, for obvious reasons, never actually wielded a lightsaber before, the experience was as intuitive as could be. After the two initial button presses, all I had to do was tilt my wrist in the direction I wanted the sword to go. I could swing my arm up and down and tilt the blades in any direction.
I even found I could block a lot of incoming blasts by crossing them into an "X" shape over my chest. The blades recognized each other, the incoming lasers and the droid itself when it came into proximity.
One of the most interesting things about the STEM was that I moved around the entire demo space without realizing it. A user can set his or her own space parameters, meaning that aside from the size of the room and the length of the VR headset cord, nothing limits how far you can move. According to the Sixense representatives, I ducked, bobbed, shifted positions and kept a low center of gravity as I defended my virtual self, and the STEM followed it all with perfect synchronicity.