Editor’s Note: If you try this at home, do so at your own risk.
We’ve known for some time now that Valve has been experimenting with motion controllers that strap to your palms, a design that presents interesting possibilities for a more natural grabbing and throwing experience. Oculus decided to go a different route for their consumer version, even though they also experimented similarly. Nonetheless, I thought that the physical design of the Touch controllers looked ideal for a very simple mod that would attach them to your hands. Now I’ve actually come up with several approaches, two of which work decently, and one of which is so simple that I think everyone, even non-enthusiasts, could at least try. All it really takes is a single rubber band, and some foam or cloth padding. The harder ones use gloves and minimal sewing. There are advantages and disadvantages to the mods, but first, here are the instructions for the simplest.
Step 1: Get an Oculus Touch controller and a rubber band that’s around 9 cm long, relatively “wide”, and high-friction. Then tie the rubber band to the controller wrist strap.
Step 2: Loop the connected rubber band under and over (not over and under) the tracking ring, then around the wrist strap.
Step 4: Adjust things so that the rubber band is what is hooked onto the tracking ring, not the wrist strap. This is critical because the friction of the rubber band keeps it there reliably during play.
Step 6: Wear the controller. If it feels too loose, add more padding. If it feels too tight, use a longer rubber band. These ways of adjusting tightness for yourself enables you to preserve the high-friction positioning between the rubber band and tracking ring.
Step 7: Be aware that if you go without padding, the strap may be too floppy, or it may be so tight that it digs into your skin. You can try without padding if you want to get a quick impression, but it’s not recommended.
Step 8: Try it out, and if you like the experience, read on for an even better solution.
The advantages in this method are that it’s very simple and you gain the ability to let go of the controller. It now feels more natural to grab and throw objects in VR. You also stress your fingers less, although Oculus Touch is already a very light controller. Actually, if the controllers were heavy, this mod probably wouldn’t work well. In any case, this implementation isn’t perfect, as expected due to how simple it is, but it also has big problems.
One is that the controller can still fly out of your hand if you throw hard enough, so you should still be careful. The other is that the strap isn’t positioned perfectly with the controller. The strap in this method is positioned such that it forces your hand to grip the controller a bit differently from how you normally would. You might notice when you try it.
Touch was designed so that it fits into your hand a certain way, but my simple solution forces a slightly different position, which means your virtual hands can feel less accurate, or less real. And among various gameplay impacts, it could even mean less accurate aiming in VR, because the angle at which you hold guns would be off. Differences in people’s hand size and shape could add to the problem.
Before I came up with this mod, I thought of, and tried, some other implementations that weren’t acceptable, as they were too awkward feeling, or they made some sort of compromise, like putting glue on the controller, or straining the battery compartment lid. In the end, there are still problems with this method, but I mostly solved them with some additional work in the next two. If you try the single rubber band mod, and find the experience worthwhile, I highly recommend actually doing the implementation you are about to see right now.
Going Deeper With Oculus Touch Gloves
This one just adds in a glove and some sewing, so you do need more things, but it’s not too much, and the experience is greatly improved. What I did was get a fingerless glove that had a velcro strap, wear it, wear the modded controller, and then use my free hand to force the controller strap into a position such that I would be holding the controller in the correct way.
Then I sewed the strap to the glove using “guides” through which the strap could run. Ideally I would put one guide near the index finger knuckle, and one toward the bottom corner of the palm, right where the straps start begins to make contact with the hand, but the fake leather on my cheap gloves seemed quite frail, so I ended up sewing the guides in slightly different places, as you can see in the red circles.
It’s not optimal because it leaves more room for the controller to slide around in your hand, so I really recommend to stick as close as possible to the ends, around where the green circles are.
The gloves shouldn’t be expensive or too hard to find somewhere and buy, and the sewing is very minimal as well, because you’re just making a few loops with string. This is the most efficient mod I thought of and tried. So now you’ve seen my best result, and you can stop reading, but if you want to know about more challenges and alternatives, continue.
Challenges and Alternatives With Oculus Touch Gloves
In any case, this implementation solves the problem of inaccurate positioning, and also lets you throw as hard as you can without letting the controller fly. As it is now, holding the controller feels as natural as it did without the mod. But things could still be better. The controller is now attached to the hand, but the connection is not rigid. When you fully let go of your grip, the controller has the opportunity to somewhat twist and rotate on one axis, because only a single strap holds it in place. The instability caused by this might not be very consequential at all, but my next addition does solve the problem.
This time, I’ve added in a sort of holder, which keeps the controller stable in relation to the hand. I basically cut out a piece of thick rubber material and sewed it onto the glove. Then I looped the strap through an opening in the bottom, and did the usual steps from before, except this time I didn’t sew any guides, as the holder already does the same thing. Now it essentially feels perfect.
But of course, it was only perfect for my hands. Demoing it to other people, I observed some problems for those with small hands. They weren’t able to reach the farthest button, and weren’t able to reposition the controller in their hand to reach it. So actually the more floppy but flexible previous implementation worked better. This solution also took a lot more work. I probably spent an hour cutting, positioning, and sewing. While providing a great experience, I don’t recommend anyone doing this. Instead, the previous one is arguably good enough, or better.
Before I close off, there is one problem inherent to this type of controller that should be mentioned, other than sweat build up, and other than the tracking ring somewhat blocking your hand from opening comfortably. It is the fact that you now need to wear the controllers.
The Wearing Ritual
The wearing ritual gets more complicated. Try wearing these and then wearing the headset or taking them off. Or try grabbing a drink in the middle of playing. It adds quite a bit of fumbling. You wear one controller (using both hands), then you put on the other controller (using your other hand which now has an object in it), and then you put on the headset, while having objects in your hands. I personally found that wearing the controllers first and then trying to slip on the headset was a bit easier than the other way around, which has you blindfolded while putting the controllers on.
This problem unfortunately only gets worse as you use different attachment methods that are more stable and safe (which you would want for a consumer product), and that’s actually one reason why Oculus likely didn’t do it for the consumer version of Touch.
From a Wired article about the creation of the Oculus Touch controllers quoting Peter Bristol:
Should the device be held, or worn? (Answer: Wearing something lets you open your hand fully without dropping it, but getting the second one on—while wearing a headset, no less—made that a nonstarter. “At some point,” Bristol says, “it started feeling like a wearable thing was not going to provide as much value as it was a hindrance.”
I do sometimes find myself feeling slightly more hassled in order to use VR because of this, and end up using the controllers without the mod, but the experience was still worth it. In my opinion, the trade-offs are equally significant.
So here is where my modding stops, but there are many ways, if you want to get more complex or dirty with things, to make a better mod to achieve the goal of attaching the controllers to your hands. You could, for instance, 3D print or mold a sort of holder that clamps to your hand and has a strap, essentially mimicking Valve’s own prototype. In fact, Oculus have provided CAD files for accessory makers, so you could make use of them if you decide to 3D print a holder. You could even develop your own battery compartment lid that integrates with such a clamping system.
I still recommend everyone with Touch to at least try the single rubber band solution and see if it might interest them further. The most stable version of my mod does, in my opinion, take things to another level, but it’s harder to do. Again, if the simple version makes you more interested in permanently using the mod, go get yourself some fingerless gloves with velcro straps, and sew some guides on there. It shouldn’t cost much and shouldn’t be too hard to do. It also isn’t permanent. In addition, there might be solutions out there even more simple and efficient than mine, yet to be discovered. So go and get modding.
Update: Some are saying that the tracking ring may make these mods pointless, because you can’t open your hands as comfortably. Well, first I would urge everyone to try the mod first, but in my own experience, yes it does not match for example Valve’s controller in letting you comfortably throw objects, and I do not claim it does, but it is not too uncomfortable. Over time, you should also be able to get used to any discomfort that is there. Less comfort may not mean it’s pointless either. I already noted the advantages above, but to reiterate, it’s more natural feeling, you don’t stress your fingers as much anymore, and you can just let go of the controller without worrying about it, making things feel much more intuitive. One of the key pieces of magic to the Knuckles prototypes was that you didn’t need to think about pressing any buttons to grab objects, and that is true here.
Frank He is a student at UCLA who plans to study neuroscience, but is currently focusing on VR out of a life-long desire to experience digital worlds.