A New Way to Play: ‘Little Cities’ Adds Hand Tracking Support Today

Oculus Blog
June 30, 2022

Little Cities offers a laid-back city-building experience with its charming graphics and tranquil soundtrack. And with the release of today’s free hand tracking update, you can chill out even more by putting the controller away to create towns with your own hands. If you don’t have the game yet, you can pick it up on the Meta Quest Platform for $19.99 USD.

Those who play on Quest 2 can take advantage of further enhancements thanks to Hand Tracking 2.0, a recent Presence Platform software upgrade that lets developers use more complex hand movements and gestures in their apps. Hand tracking is just the first of several post-launch updates that developer Purple Yonder has in store for Little Cities. Stay tuned to nDreams’ socials for more updates.

James and Kelly Howard, the husband and wife founders of Purple Yonder, spoke to us about all things hand tracking and how it changes the game.

Why did you want to add hand tracking to Little Cities?

James Howard: As a studio, we’re passionate about making the most of everything that VR has to offer, so naturally, we were very excited to get involved with Meta’s cutting-edge hand tracking. The technology has made big strides in performance and accuracy with the recent Hand Tracking 2.0 update, so we were keen on bringing this to Little Cities.

Hand tracking is a perfect fit for Little Cities, and although the game wasn’t originally designed with it in mind, the wristwatch and bubble menu work great with your virtual hands. We enjoyed the challenge of reimagining the city creator genre for VR, and with hand tracking we’re breaking new ground again with the opportunity to play Little Cities in a whole new way.

Even before we launched Little Cities, we had several players reach out and tell us that they would love it if we could add hand tracking, so it’s been a hotly anticipated feature for the game. We can’t wait to see people experience this fresh way to play for themselves.

How does hand tracking change or enhance the gameplay?

Kelly Howard: There’s something very natural about using a virtual representation of your hands to build, touch, and navigate the world around you in VR. Being able to control the game world with just your hands feels awesome and futuristic!

Without the need for controllers, you can just put on the headset and start playing. This helps to simplify gameplay, and it can feel more intuitive—especially once you quickly grasp the gesture “language” of the game.

In Little Cities, you have a handy wristwatch to easily keep track of the needs of your city, and this pairs perfectly with your virtual hands. Players have always found it very satisfying to navigate through the menus by popping bubbles with your virtual hands via the controller. But now with hand tracking, it feels even more tactile when popping them with a pointed finger, as if it was always designed with hand tracking in mind.

Were there any technical hurdles you had to overcome to implement hands support?

JH: We were able to have a prototype up and running very quickly, but it took time to refine the gestures and how they should be recognized. By its nature, it’s more difficult to build a system that accurately recognizes hand gestures compared to pressing a button on a controller. Early in development, we ran into problems where if two types of gestures were too similar to each other, the game would struggle to consistently tell the difference. By designing gestures to have clearer intentional actions with the hands, we were able to avoid this problem.

When constructing roads and placing buildings in the world, Little Cities features a virtual cursor that’s projected onto the terrain beneath you. When playing with controllers, there’s a clear stable reference point to build this from, but this isn’t the case when using your hands. To help keep this experience consistent with hand tracking, we built a special stabilization system that filters the input to keep the cursor steady while remaining responsive.

What do you enjoy doing most with the new gestures?

KH: On a personal note, I feel a greater sense of presence using my own, female virtual hands in the game. By repeating certain actions and gestures, I’m able to get into a flow that’s meditative and calming.

JH: For me, it’s the use of my hands to emphasize commands, like a conductor in an orchestra. I also find it grounding and prefer seeing a more accurate representation of my hands over the default hands.

Any tips for developers who also want to add hand tracking to their games and apps?

JH: There are a lot of people who’ll be playing with their hands for the first time, so it was very important for us to provide enough visual feedback and aids to let players know exactly how the gestures should look. This process involved iteration and testing to refine and get it to a point that we felt would yield the best results for players.

The tutorial design needed to be well thought-out, which meant conducting a lot of user testing to combat any edge cases because everybody holds their hands in a different way, whether they’re relaxing their hand or making a gesture.

Go hands-on with your island creations in Little Cities for the Quest Platform. For more on the game, check out our launch day interview with Purple Yonder, as well as the first entry in our new Meta Must Play series, where we asked the community to share their Little Cities impressions and screenshots.