One of the questions that I get asked most frequently when talking about Virtual Reality for iPhones is: Which Game controller should I buy?
It is a good but difficult question.
VR tech for mobile devices is a very young technology that is constantly evolving and has not been standardized yet. The closest we get to standardization is Google's Cardboard. A very good idea that is broadly supported for both Android and iOS (version V2 2015). But is this it? or is it just the beginning of VR standardization.
Game console controllers have been standardized for more than 30 year. A gamepad with navigation controls on the left, action controls on the right. The Wii brought a new way of controlling by adding orientational tracking, but 90% of al (console) games are still controlled through a standard gamepad layout. Before that, there were joysticks. There still are joysticks but they are mainly used for flight controlled games. And after that Playstation Move and Xbox Kinect tried to reinvent the way we control our games by adding positional and body tracking.
The smartphone also introduced a new way of controlling games: touch input. You touch the screen to control a game and you use the motion detection capabilities your smart phone offers (gyroscope and accelerometer). Great! but how are we going to use the touch screen if the screen is attached to our face?... Which is the case when using your smartphone for mobile VR gaming. Not!
Well some portable VR headsets allow you to touch the screen but they also got a huge amount of light leak. This is not the solution we are looking for... Besides that, you cant see where your finger is touching the screen.
At the moment new entrepreneurs and gaming companies are reinventing the way we control our games. Oculus Rift and HTC Valve both invented new controllers and head/motion/positional trackers. Omni Virtuix introduced a very natural way of moving within a VR game and the Fove tracks our eye movement also allowing new ways to control games.
But how do mobile VR Gamers control their games?
Here are a few ways:
BlueTooth game controllers
On sites like Amazon, AlieExpress and many others there is a big variety of BlueTooth (BT) controllers. Some of them are even given for free when you buy a VR Headset.
They are small and cheap but unfortunately they are NOT iOS compatible!
Con: not compatible with iOS 9.2 and above, very limited compatibility with pre iOS 9.2
So do not buy these if you want to use it with an iPhone or iPad.
MFi supported Game controllers
MFi program ("Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad") is a licensing program for developers of hardware and software peripherals.
MFi certified game controllers are fully iOS compatible and approved by Apple.
I listed a couple of them down below. Like most Apple compatible hardware these controllers are not cheap. You'll pay about the same you would pay for a regular Xbox or Playstation controller. For this cash you get a premium iOS compatible Game controller with a wide range of top of the list compatible AppStore Games like Call of Duty Strike Teams, Counter Spy, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and Modern Combat 5.
I own the Steelseries Nimbus which is a really great controller for both my iPhone and iPad. It really feels like your playing on a Game Console and the annoying touchscreen controls which just do not work well for all type of games are not mandatory anymore.
Back to VR: these controllers should be supported by all VR Games but unfortunately this is not (yet) the case. I am sure that when the big mainstream Game developers start making VR games most of them will support MFi controllers. Indie Developer Games and Android ported Games often do not support MFi.
There are however already some games available that do support these premium game controllers. See the list below. If you miss any VR Game in the list please reply in the comments.
Pro: fully iOS compatible, Good quality
Con: Expensive, not all games support these devices
Game list MFi supported VR Games:
- End Space VR
- Occupation VR
- House of Terror VR
- Shark VR
- Hometown zombie VR (walk)
- Sniper VR (shoot and zoom)
- VR Space the last mission
Available MFi supported Game controllers (on Amazon):
Google Cardboard V2 conductive button
Off-course you know this one. The Google Cardboard V2 conductive button. A button that simulates a screen touch. Google really helped mobile VR users around the world by launching a Cardboard SDK, a Cardboard VR Viewer and trying to standardize VR for mobile phones. Daydream VR will be the next step. But Apple seems to miss out on that one.
Although the Google Cardboard button is the most widely supported way of controlling VR games (on a smartphone) it is limited to a VR headset that contains the button and it only has one button. Many games just need more than one button. First person shooters, racing games and almost all hardcore games demand more controller input.
Pro: cheap, works with a lot of VR Games
Con: only one button
Game list Google Cardboard V2 supported VR Games:
(this is an extensive list, impossible to mention all. Here are some. Please reply if you know more:)
- End Space VR
- FastHit VR
- Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue
- InCell VR
- Hidden Temples VR
- Clay Shooting VR
- Sniper VR
- VR Zombie Pirates
Realiteer 1 and 2
Realcontrol and Realcontrol 2 are two open source budget Virtual Reality controllers that enables you to control a game with the help of augmented reality (AR). Your phones camera captures the position of Realiteer and simulates it in a game or app. Works great!
Just print the free blueprint, cut it and assemble it. And so much fun it is.
I want to congratulate Realiteer for inventing such low-level ingenious device. Google Cardboard + Realcontrol = fun for free (almost).
Pro: Motion controller, very cheap
Con: Just a few games support this device
Game list Realiteer supported VR Games:
Cmoar + motion controller
Cmoar, a crowd funding project that started a few years ago, is taking its time to come to live... This product could just be the first iPhone Gear VR, as it has integrated sensors to reduce latency and integrated input buttons. And with it you can pre-order a motion controller also.
Lets hope this product will be as great as the pictures and text on the productpage.
For now we have to be patient. Latest news on the website states that Cmoar will ship its first headsets in september/october. You can pre-order it. Price 199$.
Note: This is a crowd funding project. Helping to fund this project does not guarantee that the product will be really built and delivered. Beware of this risk.
Pro: iOS compatible, design, motion control
Con: Not available yet
I was one of the first lucky guys to try out the Alpha prototype the guys at RevolVR sent out to try out their view on Virtual Reality controls for mobile devices. It works surprisingly well with low latency and a couple of really fun (demo) game (on Android) to test RevolVR.
The RevolVR set consists of a VR Gun and a Navigator which fits al your FPS needs.
RevolVR is not yet available for pre-order.
Pro: Motion controller, cheap
Con: Not available yet
Remoria Lignum VR
Pro: Motion controller
Con: Not available yet
And then there are lots of games that do not need a controller at all. These games mostly rely on head movement or by pointing at objects by looking at them for some time.
Here are some well succeeded examples:
A Xbox Kinect for mobile devices. This crowd funded product wants port Xbox Kinect Body movement tracking tech to your smart phone.
This sounds like a great idea! The consumer version will be available in Q4 2016. And now we wait....
Pro: Full body tracking
Con: Not very portable and not available yet.
At the moment of writing there is not one choice that fits all needs. So I can not recommend just one of the controllers.
You'll be best off buying a Google Cardboard V2 (or WWGC device/compatible), a MFi Controller, print yourself a Realiteer and wait until the next best thing appears on the market.
As a racing fan I would really love a wireless iOS compatible Racing wheel including pedals, gear controls and force feedback to combine with my iPhone and VR Headset. How nice would it be to play Real Racing 3 in VR on our iPhones. I play Life for Racing in the Oculus Rift with a premium Racing wheel and this is the best gaming experience ever!! by far!