Silhouette uses hand tracking to create an interesting puzzle game on Quest, but not in the way you might expect.
If there was an ongoing theme for much of the discussion about boundary-pushing VR content at Gamescom this year, it was hand tracking. More specifically, there was lots of talk about how experiences might leverage hand tracking beyond novelty. How do you build a hand tracking experience that has real value?
Perhaps that’s why a short-five minute demo of Silhouette, an upcoming Quest 2 release from Team Panoptic, stuck with me.
The team is best known for the 2020 asymmetrical PC VR game Panoptic, but this next project is quite different in nature. It’s a hand tracking-exclusive puzzle game for Quest that largely circumvents hand-to-object interaction, focusing instead on using the image of your hands to affect the environment around you. Instead of honing in on the physicality of your hands in VR, Silhouette makes you use your hands to create shadows instead.
The game builds its central mechanic around this shadow puppet concept. You’re presented with 2D vignettes cast from the rays of large spotlights, pictured above, with a small shadow creature stuck in place on one side of the scene. You’ll soon discover that you can raise your hands in front of the spotlight to cast shadows onto the illuminated area. From there, the shadows become a tool to assist the creature moving from point A to B.
It’s a basic puzzle concept – variations of which we’ve seen before in other non-VR games – but it’s the combination with hand tracking that offers something new and immersive. Casting shadows lets you discover creative solutions to the puzzles, such as using your shadow to create bridges or block streams of water. In later puzzles, you’ll shape your hand into a finger gun, to create the shadow of a weapon that you can shoot to clear blocks and access new areas.
It’s an approach that avoids the frequent disconnect found in many hand tracking experiences, where a virtual interaction with a virtual object draws attention to the absence of any physical object in your real hands. Team Panoptic has instead opted to use your hands to affect the envionrment in a way that is, ironically, very hands-off.
The shadow puzzles form part of a larger overworld, with four separate environments and one central hub. There’s 28 puzzles total, which Team Panoptic says should take players about 3-4 hours to complete. You also won’t have to complete every single puzzle to progress – you’ll accrue points from each solution that give you some freedom in choosing what to unlock next. While the demo only featured one of the overworld environments, exploring that area nonetheless felt a little less refreshing than the puzzles it contained. The game also isn’t completely devoid of ‘traditional’ hand tracking interactions – there’s some levers to pull and pinching selections to make here and there, which perhaps feel more clunky than usual when placed next to the smooth shadow puppets concept.
However, the uniqueness of Silhouette’s main mechanic might be enough to carry the rest of its game on its back. Meta certainly thinks so — Team Panoptic says the game is already approved for release on the full Quest Store, aiming for a Q1 2023 launch. With that in mind, there’s definitely still time for the team to polish and fine tune a few elements before release. We’ll be watching closely to see how large a shadow Silhouette casts on the competition next year.