Punching virtual sharks for points with the Oculus Rift and Leap Motion

"This could be a science lesson on the innards of sharks."

Chance Ivey, game design lead for Chaotic Moon's whimsical Oculus Rift demo SharkPunch, was only half-joking when he made that comment to me as I exploded a megalodon with my fist in virtual space. That's because the minigame, which incorporates a visor-mounted Leap Motion controller to let users punch sharks in 3D, actually has firm roots in an educational simulator the Austin, Texas-based company's been developing for prospective clients. Yes, that connection may be hard to swallow at first -- after all, how does a frenzied, and fun, game of shark carnage assist players with learning? The simple answer is that it doesn't, but by no means does that lessen SharkPunch's educational origins in the slightest.

Chaotic Moon's proper Oculus Rift education demo begins by placing a user within a virtual classroom. At the front of this room is an interactive periodic table that the "student," acting on instructions from a nearby teacher, uses to pull elements together and create a molecule of H2O, also known as water. Once that goal's been achieved, the molecules begin to multiply in a chain filling the room and, eventually, transforming into water; water which then floods the classroom. It's at this point the student finds him/herself immersed in an undersea environment populated by swimming fish. Chance told us that it was this tempting virtual environment that prompted a multitude of users to wonder aloud, "Can I punch those fish?" If you've ever submerged yourself in the Oculus Rift's VR world, you'd understand the impulse.

"This could be a science lesson on the innards of sharks."

The undersea world of SharkPunch isn't as pretty as it could be -- which is to say, it's not searing your retinas with HD eye candy. But that's no fault on Chaotic Moon's part. It's because the small team of three had to make do with Dev Kit 1 of the Oculus Rift and not the more refined HD or Crystal Cove iterations. It's a small wrinkle that's easily overlooked considering two points: SharkPunch isn't headed for commercial release and its core shark-punching game mechanic is pure, addictive bliss.

That said, there is a slight learning curve for the game's gesture-based controls. Since the Leap Motion controller's mounted to the front of the Oculus Rift, users have to hold their fists in a fighting stance higher up than feels natural so their motions can be accurately tracked. Also, it's worth nothing that the entire rig is tethered to a system of ropes hanging from overhead, as most users will inevitably wander about the room swinging at the increasing parade of attacking sharks. The game, however, is unforgiving. One missed shot at a shark and you're dead. Which makes the company's current in-house high score of 26 (one point per dead shark) something to envy.

Its core shark-punching game mechanic is pure, addictive bliss.

SharkPunch may be nothing more than an endearing calling card for Chaotic Moon's charming brand of tech innovation, but that's not stopping the company from trotting it around as a party game. So if you happen to be down in Austin this week for SXSW and have the right RSVPs, there's a chance your virtual fist could connect with a megalodon belly.