I’ve been playing with my Merge Cube quite a lot lately and I love it. I was very excited to hear about Merge’s latest shiny new toy, the MERGE 6DoF Blaster. I wasn’t attending CES 2018, but there are lots of videos posted by people who were there and tried it out, so I could get some impressions and I want to share with you my thoughts and some open questions that I still have.
What is Merge 6DoF Blaster?
The MERGE 6DoF Blaster is basically a Nerf-like gun that supports smartphone games. You can look at it as a handheld virtual reality experience. The whole idea is to use the available advanced positions tracking technologies available today for AR and use them to deliver a unique experience where the player can move anywhere within the virtual 3D space in the game.
Here is a video by Engadget that shows the Merge 6DoF Blaster gun in action.
I have to admit that that gun kind of confused me because when I heard about Merge marketing this gun as a handheld VR, I didn’t know what to expect. When you think about VR, you think about a headset that covers your field of view, but obviously, this isn’t the case here. It’s more Augmented Reality than virtual reality. I’ve already seen many AR games that use an entire virtual scene like Game Scorpion’s “Jungle Adventure” AR game. The main difference is that you have this gun-like accessory that can help deliver a more exciting FPS AR experience with that type of virtual scene.
Supports ARKit and ARCore
According to the official website, the MERGE 6DoF blaster is a VR/AR input device that uses positional tracking technologies like SLAM, ARKit, ACore, and Vuforia. This means that we can see support for a larger range of devices, both for Android and iOS. This also means that developers can continue working with their favorite AR platforms using the 6DoF Blaster SDK to deliver their unique experiences.
6DoF Blaster Pros & Cons
The technology is essentially a room-scale VR experience, but not limited to the size of the room. HTC Vive and Oculus Rift achieved this by using sensors placed inside the room. Today we also have mobile VR headset that has that advanced positional tracking inside the headset as well.
The main advantage of the 6DoF Blaster is that you don’t need to wear a VR headset or rely on external accessories to bring that type room-scale experience. One of the main downsides is that unlike a VR headset in which the entire field of view is replaced with a virtual scene, here you experience the virtual through the smartphone’s display.
It’s great being free of wearing anything on the head that just obscures the vision and makes it inconvenient to take that experience outdoors.
Even with standalone VR headset, I find it odd seeing people playing a multiplayer game outdoors in the park while wearing these VR headsets. I can definitely see a gathering of people playing multiplayer games at the park using their 6DoF Blaster guns.
Another matter with VR is that you kind of limited to a specific area, even with a standalone VR headset. Your vision is obscured, so most of the experiences are built for a small gameplay area like a few meters square (e.g. 2.5×2.5 meters). With the 6DoF Blaster, you don’t need that limit and you can move, run, duck and jump in a marge larger area. You can still see what’s going on around you, while your focus is on the experience in front of you on-screen.
The Merge 6DoF Blaster Nerf-like gun supports both Android and iOS. I see no reason why we won’t see cross-platform games, so a person who uses an iPhone X can play against a person who uses the Blaster with his Samsung Galaxy S8.
The Merge 6DoF Blaster is a really interesting mix of AR and VR. It’s great having a complete freedom to move in space and see that movement projected within the virtual world. I can’t wait to play some great multiplayer laser tag games with this little baby, it’s going to be a blast!
Merge has demonstrated the 6DoF Blaster gun peripheral at CES 2018 with a demo game that was developed using ARKit. Some of the people who were at CES 2018 and tested it said that the response rate is astonishingly good.
Now, a question came to my mind: “Is the 6DoF Blaster gun only good for first-person shooters?”. Well, I don’t think so. Having the controller look like a gun doesn’t mean that it has to act like a gun in the game itself. I Think that developers would come up with some unique that will use the triggers for other types of games like turning the gun into an electric hand saw to cut zombies into pieces, turning it into a tennis racket, or a balancing game where the gun serves as a plate for drinks and you play as a waiter need to serve customers as fast as possible. However, I have no doubt that first-person shooter will be the most popular genre as this accessory was specifically designed for it.
Design and Controls
I have to admit, the Merge 6DoF Blaster looks really cool, with flat surfaces and sharp angles that looks like those plans or ships that were designed to reflect radar signals away from the receiving radar antenna.
The gun, not surprisingly is mostly purple color, which is the color of the brand with a green and dark gray accent at certain areas. It probably might not be the final design and we might see some changes made to it when it’s officially released toe major retailers in 2018.
The Merge 6DoF Blaster is a two-handed gun peripheral which features 4 action buttons: Run, Jump, Shoot and Interact. Each of the handles has a trigger.
Make your own Blaster-compatible Product
I’ve just read on vrfocus.com that Merge will release the MERGE 6DoF Blaster manufacture specs so other manufacturers will be able to design their own Blaster-compatible products. This will help grow the MERGE ecosystem, reach more customers and make its platform more attractive for developers to develop apps for.
MERGE 6DoF Blaster Price?
As of the time of writing, there is no word about how much the Merge 6DoF Blaster will cost.
Merge 6DoF Blaster Release Date?
The MERGE 6DoF Blaster is expected to be available in early 2018 – Great!
I am very excited about the MERGE 6DoF Blaster toy accessory. Gamers love first-person shooters, and I have no doubt that this new AR accessory is going to be very popular. I also think that it will attract much more developers than the Merge Cube. I love first-person shooter games, I love AR and I love multiplayer games. So just give me this type of experience that has it all and I’m totally in. The only thing I need is to find a way to buy a compatible iPhone device that supports it. I only own an iPad.
Open Question that I still don’t have answers for:
- Does the MERGE 6DoF Blaster is compatible with the iPad?
- What helps secure the smartphone so it won’t fall during intensive gameplay?
[update] Looking at the Engadget videos I’ve posted above, I can tell that there is a spring mechanism that pushes the phone towards the back part with some protruding part that probably helps to secure it in place so it won’t slide to the sides or damage the screen. At the top of the gun, there is a gray switch, which I guess it’s used to push that mechanism forward and backward, but I am not sure.
- How much the 6DoF Blaster weighs?
- Does the MERGE 6DoF Blaster support cross-platform gameplay?
- Will I be able to play games like standard AR game with virtual content shown over the real world camera’s video stream?
I will update you when I have more information about the MERGE 6DoF Blaster. I’ve contacted Merge to have some more information, so I will share with you that information once they replied back. If you have answers to one of those questions, please share it in the comment section below.
What do you think about this gun?