I recently had the opportunity to play with the Leap Motion, an interesting device that interprets hand gestures as commands, taking the place of other input devices such as a VR controller. The Leap Motion was released in 2010 by Leap Motion Inc.
I first tested the Leap Motion for use on the desktop, which turned out to be a game and a half. As it happens, support for the desktop side of things is limited, if non-existent – the desktop App is no longer functional, and it takes a bit of digging on the user’s part to find the library of games that can be installed. The calibration process – pointing the Leap Motion at the computer screen and moving it around to ‘paint’ the screen – was also a painful process. The device would register a score out of 100 for how much of the screen is painted., which is great until you get to 79 points out of the 80 required and it randomly drops back down to 56.
However, once the device is connected, and a game is loaded, the device is quite fun to use. I tested out the game ‘VirtunAir’, a marble-run styled game in which you use your hands to move a marble along an obstacle course. The controls take a bit of getting used to, but once you have the hang of it, moving the marble proves to be very fun. The only downside is that using menus is very temperamental – I would recommend keeping your keyboard and mouse plugged in.
Where the Leap Motion really shines is in use with a VR headset. I used the Oculus Rift to test it out, and it was an absolute blast. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the VR application, it gives you a link to an admittedly small catalogue of games – the ones I tested were ‘Paint’, ‘Blocks’ and ‘Particles’.
‘Paint’ was a lot of fun, allowing you to draw 3D objects in a literal pinch: the Motion did sometimes struggle to register that thumb and index finger were pressed together (the gesture that allowed you to ‘draw’) but you can quickly overcome this by sliding thumb and finger along each other until it clicks. Drawing is a challenge in and of itself, as you have to try and work in a three-dimensional space, but unlike trying to calibrate the device, this obstacle is a fun one to try and overcome. I managed to draw a stick figure that looked fine from the front, but wasn’t perfectly aligned on the side, for instance. However, once you’ve gotten to grips with the environment, you can create some truly amazing things; I would recommend looking at the designs included with the game itself.
Next up was ‘Blocks’, which allows you to mess around with, you guessed it, blocks. It’s a pretty self-explanatory game. ‘Blocks’ proved to be just as fun as ‘Paint’; functions include creating blocks out of thin air by stretching them between your hands, stacking said blocks to create towers with at times questionable balance, and even turning off gravity so you can punch those towers into infinity. At times, it struggled to register a command, or activated one when you didn’t want to – beware randomly-created blocks if you move your hands too close together – but overall, I would say it was a very cool demo.
Finally, I gave ‘Particles’ a spin. It’s more a simulator than a game, with you interacting through menus that allow you to change how many particles there are, how much force they exert on those around them etc. It’s impressive to look at, certainly – it also allows you to brush particles apart, interfering with them on a pretty basic level. The main thing it has going for it is allowing you to feel that sense of wonder you felt as a kid, but after a short while that ends up fading away.
In all of these, the Leap Motion worked decently. As stated, the controls took quite a bit of getting used to, and at times the device struggled to detect what your hands were doing – it also has a minimum range, so if your hands get too close to your face the device can no longer read them. There are also notable problems with installation of the device software, and calibrating the device in the first place (a process the VR side thankfully didn’t seem to need).
However, once you’ve gotten through those hurdles and have it set up in front of you, I would say the Leap Motion is a pretty fun piece of kit. Unfortunately, the company went defunct in 2019, so support for the device is likely going to fade. If you get the chance to play with one, I would highly recommend doing so, but I don’t think it will be replacing keyboard and mouse, or VR controller, for a very long time.