Futuretown's modular platform turns VR into simulator rides

Former HTC CEO bets big on motion feedback hardware for VR.

When we last met Futuretown's CEO Johan Yang back in February, his startup appeared to be merely a virtual reality game studio, with its popular title Cloudlands: VR Minigolf currently owning 30 percent of the HTC Vive market share. Today, the company is entering the hardware space by announcing its 5D Totalmotion at the Tokyo Game Show. This aptly-named device is a cylindrical motion feedback machine that can fit any module on top to simulate different types of scenarios, such as riding, standing and seated experiences. To demonstrate these, Futuretown also announced four new VR games: Whiteout: Ski VR, Infinity Rider: Motorcycle VR, Wave Breaker: Surf VR and Stallion Adventures: Horse Riding VR.

Even though Futuretown -- backed by former HTC CEO Peter Chou -- started off as a studio dedicated to the HTC Vive platform, its 5D Totalmotion is open platform and supports two other VR systems out of the box: Oculus Rift and 3Glasses from China. In fact, the company's using the Rift for its 5D Totalmotion demos at the Tokyo Game Show, in order to maximize the amount of usable space at the booth. CTO Justin Liebregts explained that if all the games ran on the Vive, his team would need to set up partitions between each setup due to potential interference from the passive Lighthouse trackers, whereas the Rift doesn't have this issue since it uses active trackers that are plugged into the PC.

Yang said he's aiming to launch the 5D Totamotion within the first half of 2017. That said, all four of the aforementioned titles were playable at the show. I started off with Wave Breaker: Surf VR which got me surfing from a fast-flowing river all the way to the big waves on the sea. It was, to my surprise, physically intense. I wrongly assumed that I wouldn't need the handlebar, but eventually I learned that I needed to do a lot of twisting, which is a good thing that the standing module comes with shoe bindings à la snowboards. I was also given a Woojer haptic sensor vest to put on in order to simulate the sensation of rush, which Sure, I kept missing the balloons, but it was still fun and proved to be great way to work out. I was already sweating a bit after just this one game.

I was then given a chance to recover by riding on a horse and an eagle in Stallion Adventures: Horse Riding VR. Admittedly, I freaked out a little when the first cheetah briefly chased me, but it turned out that the horse and the eagle were on a fixed track due to the game's early-stage development. The only control I had over was the horse's speed: I simply had to tug the riding module's rope and bob in sync with the horse's movement to accelerate, and then pull the rope back to slow down. Hopefully the final game will allow more freedom to explore the virtual world.

Later on I checked out Whiteout: Ski VR which let me ski down a mountain in any way I wanted (and also knock out other virtual skiers for a laugh). While I'm no expert in skiing, I wish the game had a dedicated module that would allow my feet to move separately like in real life, rather than using the same module I used for surfing earlier. But that's not to say it wasn't fun.

Last but not least, I hopped on the motorcycle module for Infinity Rider: Motorcycle VR. I appreciated how this module offered a realistic handlebar with brake handles and acceleration grip on the right, but the overall body didn't provide enough tilt for turning (Chou assured me that this will be addressed in an upcoming iteration of hardware). Also, for some reason, I quickly felt sick and had to hop off as soon as the game ended. My guess is it was to do with a combination of visual delay and motion delay, but there was also the possibility of me not getting enough rest after the three previous games.* Hopefully Futuretown can fix these issues, as this particular ride has a lot of potential -- just imagine riding a speeder bike in a Star Wars VR game.

It'll obviously be a while before we see the 5D Totalmotion in public places. While there are already other types of VR rides in malls and arcades across Asia, Chou, who also serves as the Honorary Chairman at Futuretown, claims the 5D Totalmotion is already more compelling -- even more so than those at Tokyo's VR Zone, according to feedback he received -- and is also much easier to deploy. He isn't worried about being comparatively late nor potentially being copied by others. "We have soul. People who copy have no soul... By the time we ship the products, they will be so much better [than others]."

*Update: While recording some b-roll footage for our Tokyo Game Show wrap-up video, I watched at least six pairs of attendees getting off the motorcycle simulator just fine. We later concluded that my nausea might have something to do with the fact that I didn't have any food that morning. Lesson learned.