Imagine standing on the shore of an island. Your island. You reach toward the island’s center, clench your hand, and pull a mountain up from the ground. Nearby, you depress the ground until a small pond forms. You trace a stream flowing from the pond, create rolling hills around it, carve a mountainside cave, maybe plant a few palm trees.

You can walk through your creation, teleport to your favorite locations, or take flight. You can save your work, undo your mistakes, change the weather, and adjust the time of day.

You’re the master of this island. You have complete control. And all of this is easy, because every tool you need is in the palm of your hand.

What is Hovercast?

Hovercast is a menu interface for virtual reality environments. Built as a tool for developers, it’s highly customizable, and can include many nested levels of selectors, toggles, triggers, and sliders. All menu actions – including navigation between levels – are controlled by simple hand movements and reliable gestures.

With input from a Leap Motion Controller, Hovercast radiates from the palm of your hand – becoming a powerful, versatile extension of your virtual self. As you rotate your palm toward your eyes, the Hovercast menu fades into view. A wide arc of menu items extends just beyond your fingertips, and follows your hand’s every movement. You can interact with menu items using the index finger of your opposite hand. To select an item, simply move your fingertip (the cursor) nearby, and hover there for a short time.

To get a first-hand look at Hovercast, you can try the demo application. The demo requires a Leap Motion Controller and (optionally) an Oculus Rift headset. You can find more details, full getting started guide, and source code at Hovercast’s open source Unity project page on GitHub.


Getting started with Hovercast is quick and easy – just attach it to a scene, create the menu hierarchy, add optional customizations, and hook everything together. Learn more with my getting started guide.

Why is Menu Design Important?

Hovercast is still in its early stages, and it will take time to explore its full range of possibilities. It’s not too soon, however, to see that user interface tools will be a vital part of the virtual reality landscape – for developers, users, and even device makers. To understand why, let’s return to your island.

Developers. The hypothetical island-building application begins with a simple premise – grab an area of land, then pull it vertically to create either a hill or a valley. Already, this requires four hand actions for users to learn: move to a particular location, grab, move up or down, and release.

Looking further, the application quickly grows in complexity. How do users save their changes? Visit another island? Change the size and shape of the land interactions? Move the camera? Add objects to the scene? Control the weather? The available development options are not very appealing:

  • Use a “real space” input device, such as a mouse, keyboard, or hand-held controller. These have substantial drawbacks in virtual reality, and the developer still needs to build a menu.
  • Develop new hand gestures for each new feature. This becomes complicated for the user, especially as each new gesture is more likely to interfere with the others.
  • Invent a new “virtual space” menu. This requires significant development effort, with constant consideration of design, interactions, and overall usability.

With Hovercast, developers have another option. The menu avoids these challenging development obstacles, and allows developers to stay focused on their application’s primary features.

Users. While menu interfaces may seem like a minor detail to some users, tools like Hovercast can benefit them in several ways:

  • The experience is more complete. The easy-to-use menu encourages and enables new features, more options, and more control.
  • The sense of immersion is never broken. Users no longer need to reach into “real space” for their mouse or keyboard.
  • The menu itself can be a fun experience. The user’s virtual self is enhanced, making them feel empowered and in control. The menu’s appearance, functionality, and usability is carefully balanced and refined – which may not be the case with a new, application-specific menu.
  • The learning curve is reduced. The user can easily discover options and perform actions using the simple hover-and-select menu mechanics – no tutorial necessary.

Device Makers. Hardware devices make VR experiences possible, but it’s the software that makes those devices irresistible. Tools like Hovercast help developers make better, more complete virtual reality software, which accelerates the adoption of device makers’ products.

Design Inspirations

There have been several concepts and ideas that have provided inspiration for the Hovercast project, and will continue to impact its future. Here are a few:

arm-hud-widgetLeap Motion’s various hand-based menus provided insight on usability, and helped demonstrate the need for useful developer tools. phoneSmartphones pack endless possibilities in our hands. We typically engage with them by turning our palms toward our eyes, and often control them with a single finger.
prometheusHolographic and semi-transparent displays are common in futuristic user interface concepts, like the ones seen in Prometheus, Iron Man, and Avatar. rosettaPromoting the Rosetta space mission, the short film Ambition features humans with tech-infused hands who have incredible creative power over their surroundings.

This project has had many inspirations, and hopefully, in some small way, it can also inspire. How would you use Hovercast? What new experiences could it help create?

The next time you dream up a virtual reality project, consider all the secondary features that would make the experience complete. Maybe Hovercast can help! And the next time you find yourself stranded on a deserted island, just check your palm. There’s a “Request Rescue” option just below “Build Mountain.”

Next up: Hovercast VR Menu: Behind the Design

Image credits: Marcus Qwertyus, 20th Century Fox, ESA

Epilogue: Hovercast on Twitch!

Recently, Zach joined us on our Twitch channel to talk about the development of Hovercast, along with a new upcoming demo:

For cutting-edge projects and demos, tune in every Tuesday at 5pm PT to To make sure you never miss an episode, enter your email address to subscribe to up-to-the-minute Twitch updates:

Zach Kinstner has been a software contractor and consultant for nearly a decade, specializing in projects that require a high degree of creativity and design. His one-man development company is called Aesthetic Interactive, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can see his portfolio at and follow @zachkinstner on Twitter.

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