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Playing Half-Life: Alyx On Apple Vision Pro Using Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons

Playing Half-Life: Alyx On Apple Vision Pro Using Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons

Half-Life: Alyx and other SteamVR games like Walkabout Mini Golf and Beat Saber are technically playable with Nintendo Joy-Cons on Apple Vision Pro. But how well does it all actually work?

A port of ALVR enables PC VR streaming to Apple's $3500 headset and maps hand tracking to Valve’s skeletal input system in Steam. Combining this with a Joy-Con in each hand, you have the inputs needed to play VR games like Half-Life: Alyx, Beat Saber, Walkabout Mini Golf and more. Joy-Cons even come with wrist straps so you can drop them from your hands when not in use.

Apple Vision Pro SteamVR Support Now Available Via App
ALVR for Apple Vision Pro is now available to install without the need to compile the source code, and it forwards hand tracking to SteamVR.

The tracking quality is far from ideal and I couldn’t get the gravity gloves to pull objects. Those limitations make much of Half-Life: Alyx still off-limits at present. The hand tracking is so sluggish, for example, I wouldn't want to engage in combat like this. Still, I enjoyed exploring a laid back look through the early parts of Half-Life: Alyx on Vision Pro's untethered system with developer commentary turned on. And that this works at all is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of open-source developers.

6DoF Joy-Cons With Apple Vision Pro?

I completed a Beat Saber track on Hard in Apple Vision Pro with Joy-Cons, but I couldn't beat the same song on Expert. Over in Walkabout Mini Golf, my club would jitter and shake from the hand tracking in my poorly lit office. Still, I managed to stay near par across a quick-play match online.

In the video embedded above you can see some of my raw testing from inside The Northern Star level of Half-Life: Alyx. I was able to switch tools, pick up items, fire weapons, and get more ammo from my backpack. I could even drop the controllers from my hands to play the piano, letting the Joy-Cons hang from their wrist-straps.

Because headsets like Apple Vision Pro rely on hand tracking out of the box, eventually Nintendo Joy-Cons (or controllers much like them) might end up being a match made in heaven for gaming on these systems.

Joy-Cons sell for $80 for a pair and are available in most retail locations. Valve Index controllers sell for $280 as a set and the Quest 3’s Touch Plus controllers sell for around $150 for a pair of replacements. Joy-Cons are mass produced at a larger scale and don’t have the extra cost associated with 6DoF tracking. Plus, they can operate together as gamepad input for flat games, or even apart laying at your side in bed.

Apple Services Hinder & Help

Due to an apparent bug in this early version of ALVR I was testing, leaving the app and returning to it would sometimes overlay my arms on top of Half-Life: Alyx.

On the one hand, I found it distracting to see both the gravity gloves and my own fingertips interweaving one another like Joi inhabiting a physical avatar in Blade Runner 2049. On the other hand, seeing my arms in front of me as "ground truth" for tracking had the effect of grounding me more comfortably than if I was only seeing my hand movements taking a trip to my PC and back.

For good and bad, then, playing Half-Life: Alyx on Vision Pro puts a number of Apple Services into place behind the scenes that could totally change the way you play VR or share it with others. To start with, you're at the mercy of Apple’s built-in safety systems. This means you’re limited to sitting or standing in place and fast positional movements reveal your physical environment. Additionally, people from your actual room appear in City 17 like floating ghosts.

Meanwhile, Apple’s built-in FaceTime audio calls work and view sharing works too. So you could get your friends on a FaceTime call and let them all watch on their iPhones or iPads from your view as you play Half-Life: Alyx.

You'd also want to turn on Do Not Disturb mode because it is about as jarring as a head crab to suddenly get text message notifications in the middle of your journey.

What's Next For VR On Vision Pro?

Proton Pulse is among the best games on the App Store for Vision Pro and an interesting window into VR game design circa 2014, with others like Job Simulator and Rec Room on the way. Half-Life: Alyx released this decade, though, and stands as one of the best VR games ever made. Apple Vision Pro released in February with almost no VR games. It is March now, and Half-Life: Alyx is technically playable on Apple's headset with Nintendo controllers.

While today this is a hacked-together solution that doesn't work very well, that it is this far already could suggest a more hopeful future for VR gaming on Vision Pro than many were expecting.

Ethics Disclosure: Ian is married to an Apple employee.

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