The Giant Analog Stick

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Four years ago next month, I backed an omnidirectional treadmill through Kickstarter. I was lucky enough to actually get one through a myriad of shipping delays, eventual cancellations, and an extra $200 in shipping (!).

Despite all of these, mine actually shipped, arriving just two weeks ago. I’ve since posted progress photos of the build and the final setup on Twitter, as well as some of my initial impressions.

This post intends to list what I’ve discovered using this thing, for those that might eventually want to get an Omni or similar device into the future, and whom want a bit more than what tech journalists have to say from using a demo unit.

The Good: It’s a fantastic omnidirectional treadmill and joystick with most games

I’ve been taking daily walks in No Man’s Sky, which has been fantastic for the purpose. My current setup uses a monitor instead of a 3D head-mounted display, mostly to limit the number of wires and the overall cost of my setup.

Even in this limited setup, the Omni is still fantastic to use. To use it, you put on special shoes and walk — at full range of motion — on a low-friction dinner plate. It takes some getting used to, but once I got all the hardware together, it did not take long at all to get acquainted with running around and exercising on the thing daily.

The Omni itself is also, surprisingly, compatible with most Windows games — owing to input mapping with x360ce.* Despite how it markets itself as a “VR treadmill”, there’s no software interaction between the Omni unit and any VR setup. It instead acts as a form of joystick that you array peripherals around.

Surprisingly enough, the most fun I’ve had with this thing is with an inexpensive platforming game named Refunct. I mapped a Switch Pro controller and Omni into a single x360 pad using the correct settings in x360ce’s UI. After a brief bit of twiddling with dead zones to ensure my walking speed mapped well to the games I play, I got up and running — literally — and had a blast.

The Bad: So, about the setup difficulty

As you can probably tell from the nest of jargon and tooling above, the Omni does not work well out of the box. It took me approximately two days of twiddling with wires and software to arrive at a setup that works for me — and that’s without relying on the VR bits at all.

The library of supported Omni games is, at present, very small. Beyond the library of supported games, the “full VR experience” seems to involve elaborate wire-hanging setup and heavy configuration — including x360ce or some input mapper as above, and vorpX to add VR to older games.

The depth of configuration should be considered a barrier to anyone without time or technical expertise to play with Windows DLLs and input or 3D injection libraries. I suspect over time this will get easier, but don’t expect things to just work with this device as it currently exists.

Overall: Great exercise device for the current state of VR

However, this may not be too much of a barrier for people currently investing in VR. For those folks that have the time and money to burn on a full VR setup, or even a partial one like I describe here, the experience is very immersive and intuitive to use once you get it up and running.

As such, this solves a problem: it’s a great treadmill that helps the operator not be bored while exercising. It’s a step (ha!) beyond what one might typically have in a home setup, being about on par with gym or arcade equipment.

But for anyone looking for a simpler or less elaborate exercise setup, it’s probably better to try DDR, StepmaniaWii Fit U, take a jog around the block, or get a gym membership, depending on your exercise needs. All of these are excellent options, at least until you get bored after the hundredth run of the same song or Mii faces on Wuhu Island.

The Omni excels if you’d like to take a jog in a walking simulator and completely forget that you’re still getting aerobic exercise. I can see the Omni really catching on with better support and a hardware revision or two. But for now, unless you have a very specific need you’d like to solve — as I did — it’s possibly better to wait until then.

 


* I have not tested this setup under Wine, but owing to the fact the Omni maps as a PC joystick and connects to a PC via USB, it’s entirely possible this would work, too.

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