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Making our VR rifle

Many people today are addicted with video games. The fashionable theme of virtual reality (VR) has not bypassed us as well. While playing various FPS we found that all these standard controllers are not able to convey the emotion of combat and the feel of recoil blow in a shoulder. There are, of course, quite professionally made Chinese articles (for example, One of the first quality rifles from China ), but they worth a lot, and the effect of a "buzzer" in your hand triggers quite wrong associations. There are also serious solutions with advanced design that have not yet entered the market but are already offered for quite a bit of money (for example: Futuristic rifle with a kickback effect). Some game developers do not bother themselves much with this issue - they took a finished device, cut off the stock and sell it now for double price. This approach is tempting, but we as engineers and designers are not interesting in such "creativity".

Some months ago there was an idea born within our team: to create our own controller, which would look serious. But in terms of gaming it should behave realistically and in terms of cost it must be competitive in the market. Encouraged colleagues rushed for the goal.

Being fans of the first series of X-Com games by Microprose (remember isometric alien fighters from 1993?), we have decided to re-recreate a rifle from this game as a start.

Our idea has stalled right away - at the design stage. As you can imagine the original visual part with VGA graphics was not helping - such a small image can not contain any details. In addition, an attempt to work with it while keeping the proportions did not comply with human anatomy.

This is one of the first concepts with an attempt to keep proportions and shapes. Looks really ugly, doesn't it?

So, we had to model the design from a scratch.

Assuming that we are making a controller, which will be used for hours of play we decided to make sure the rifle fits comfortably in player's hands. Thus we we studied ideas of the fan community offered by the Internet. Starting with the original Alien movie and up to recent Fallout series by Bethesda.

We have not considered official weaponry from X-com by Firaxis and 2K. We decided to do something completely original. Plus, some elements were firmly demanded by our electronic engineers, who wanted to fill it with circuits for gaming. At the end, we came to a mixed solution: сombination of FN P90 SMG (Official American web page) and toys from Nerf series by Hasbro (Hyperfire model at its official web page)

Time came to select materials. Metal, wood, plastic?

The first models were made of oak. They looked great, although they were almost as heavy as a real rifle. But the costs were not critical - wood is still an abundant resource in our part of the Planet.

Our joy was not long enough. Some days after being manufactured the wood absorbed moisture from air and then dried and started cracking and curling. Therefore, the second edition was covered with varnish and paint.

Inside we made cavities for electronic and mechanical components.

It still turned out to be very heavy. Maybe for hardcore players this would be just right. But for modern teenagers... playing with such a rifle for hours will turn into a weightlifting exercise.

As a result, it was decided to manufacture the rifle of plastic. For this purpose we need molding forms for casting. These had to be created. For making of forms one needs a special "master-model" with highest detail possible. Wood is not a good material for this. Two reasons. First, machine cutting with finest tools takes a lot of time and still requires hand work for finishing. Any small mistake kills the entire piece. Second, the wood is a porous material, which absorbs even moisture from air. Imagine what happens with the molding material? Of course, one can cover wood with a special varnish, but it will also hide the angularity and details.

After several attempts we decided to do it differently. Thankfully to our workshop for miniatures we have a jewelry standard 3D printer. The result is the most expensive of all, but it is the exact way we have chosen. We made a rifle on our 3D printer. The accuracy of 0.05 mm is redundant for such purposes, but we went for it

Our printer is small, so we had to split the model into parts and then glue them together.

At the same time as our designers were red-eying into their displays our electronic engineers worked on the inner components.

Making the controller is a walk in a park for them. There are plenty of open source materials and each hardware manufacturer complies with pretty straight forward standard and requirements. What they really thought about was how to mimic the effect of recoil when one pushes the trigger.

Solutions available in the market are mainly represented in the form of rotating weel with a rod moving in a barrel. There are also exotic solutions, like pneumatics. All they are either too cumbersome or could not "shoot" with a burst mode at a normal gun's speed (300-500 rounds per minute). All kind of "buzzers" we have not even considered. It was a hard research with trials and errors.

Suddenly, our technical director came up with an idea. He bought a starter relay from Lada car engine at the local automotive market (Lada VAZ-2103). TThen guys tried to connect it to electricity. It nearly broke their pliers and knocked out their fingers. So strong was the blow. It's good that we did not buy a relay from BelAZ (Lorry truck for open pit mining).

 

Then researchers had to take something smaller.

It required some adaptation from a standard 12V in-car circuits to a usual computer-oriented 5V schemes.

Still it turned out to be a powerful solution. Thus shooting is now felt not only in the shoulder but also visually bumps the scope off sight during the game. This added a lot of realism, especially during a sniper mode.

We are now working on optimizing the mass production process. We are not going to outsource it to China. But we are also not going to make hand-crafted rifles at a price of a thousand dollars. Well... may be the exclusive set, but not the serial pieces.

Let see how it goes. We will keep you posted!

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