Tag Archives: polygon

Sex game that looks like a kinky Mass Effect blows up on Kickstarter

Four years ago, StudioFOW was known as a collective that created brutal porn films featuring the heroines of popular video games. In these movies, characters would routinely get raped and abused until reaching a mental breakdown, all for the viewing pleasure of millions of hungry fans. Today, StudioFOW is still around — but now it’s making a video game that is exploding on Kickstarter.

Subverse is a hybrid video game that combines tactical RPG gameplay (think XCOM), shmups, and cinematic visual novel elements. You can explore a galaxy full of planets hiding secrets. You have a ship that you can upgrade, and a crew that you can get to know through backstories and loyalty missions. But also, you can sleep with all of the women you recruit.

If this kinda sounds like Mass Effect, that seems intentional — Subverse wears its influences on its sleeve. At one point, the Kickstarter pitch jokes that the game’s navigation mechanics are “stolen from well-known sci-fi games,” but the similarities go beyond that. The sexbot character, for example, is very reminiscent of Mass Effect’s EDI. But where BioWare games have shied away from focusing too heavily on the romance elements, Subverse leans fully into the relationships between characters. While there is a story, watching people bang each other at the player’s preferred speed and pose seems to be the primary motivating factor behind Subverse’s gameplay. StudioFOW promises that your crew is perpetually turned on, and seemingly there to please the player, cleavage physics and all.

“The better you perform in combat, the more you explore, and the more you talk to your waifus – the better your rewards get!” the Kickstarter reads. “Each waifu will have unlockable, fully animated, StudioFOW quality hentai scenes which you can view whenever you wish from the comfort of your own Captain’s Quarters.”

Given the developer’s pedigree, you might expect that Subverse’s debauchery is as brutal as the wider StudioFOW oeuvre, but surprisingly, that’s not the case here. While StudioFOW heavily emphasizes the action, DC, the creative director, told Polygon that unlike their previous work, Subverse will not feature rape.

Subverse will feature fully consensual sex,” DC said. “It was a creative decision on my part.”

Given that Subverse aims to release on Steam, StudioFOW’s options for portraying things like rape is limited. While Steam does sell games where people get it on, the distribution platform recently pulled a title called Rape Day because it posed “unknown costs and risks,” according to Valve. Kickstarter, meanwhile, doesn’t allow fundraising for “offensive material” or “pornographic material.” It’s possible that Subverse couldn’t exist and be sold on these platforms if it included the type of sex that the studio is known for.


StudioFOW

As DC tells it, early scripts for the game were darker, but these iterations didn’t work out the way the studio hoped. “We tried a number of rewrites then eventually went full on comedy and it IMMEDIATELY clicked, like overnight,” he said. The aim was to create a lighthearted game with “memorable perverts and deviant villains.”

To wit, Subverse features a character called William Dildofingers, who apparently has inflatable phalluses attached to his robot hands. If this sounds ridiculous and a tad immature, the kicker is that, as of this writing, Subverse has raised $1,787,407 on Kickstarter — well past its goal of $129,409.

Subverse’s success on Kickstarter can be boiled down to a variety of factors. For one, StudioFOW has been around for a good while, and its hardcore porn films have produced a legion of devoted fans. Many StudioFOW creations have been viewed millions of times. If a fraction of that audience donated to the Kickstarter, it’s no wonder the project is doing so well.

More overtly, sex games continues to be an underserved market in the video game world. Games about sex are few and far between, and any game that depicts the subject has to deal with things like age ratings. Retail stores often refuse to stock adult-only games, while platforms like Steam try to hide their existence unless you opt in. Despite this landscape, hunger for games about sex is alive and well in the video game industry. Gaming portals like Nutaku, which specialize in risqué games, boast that it has millions of players every month. Many of these existing sex games, however, do not look or play like the AAA video games that Subverse is trying to parody.


StudioFOW

Still, there’s the question of why players would trust filmmakers to make a good game. StudioFOW claims that some people on staff have already shipped titles on Steam, but it also helps that they’re already familiar with the development tools necessary to bring it to life.

“We switched engines to Unreal 4 last year [to make movies], and since it’s primarily a games engine, we thought it would be a natural progression for the studio to try and make a game with it,” DC said.

With less than a day left to go in the fundraiser, it seems likely that the project could hit $2 million. Already, donors have unlocked a variety of fundraising milestones, such as added characters, more chapters, additional lewd sequences, character vignettes, and even a manga adaptation. Rewards, meanwhile, are strictly digital — the campaign offers things like digital art books, adding names to the credits, Discord access, naming planets, and even designing a love sequence. This, StudioFOW explains, was done to make sure that its budget isn’t wasted on physical rewards that take away from the game’s actual development.

“I have to say that the Kickstarter campaign has surpassed even my wildest expectations,” DC told Polygon. “I think it resonates with people because we’re trying to make a good game instead of the usual exploitative hentai fare that uses gacha and gambling systems.”

Source: Polygon.com

The best part of Oculus Quest: It makes the hard stuff look easy

The Oculus Quest might seem like a modest step forward to the casual onlooker: it’s VR, minus the wires. But the product is more complicated than its simple silhouette suggests. A ortable, self-contained headset that doesn’t require a PC or sensors to deliver room-scale head and hand tracking in VR required dramatic leap forward from the Oculus team in a short amount of time.

Since the original Oculus’ release in 2016, the VR company has made a number of incremental technological streps that have led them here. Jason Rubin, vice president of VR/AR partnerships and content for Facebook, is confident those changes will impress the headset’s early reviewers and audience. That what looks simple will feel significant.

The hardware will be released on May 21, and pre-orders were opened today. You can already read our full review of the product itself, and I’ve been able to use the hardware in my own home, with no restrictions, for the past week.

The next generation of portable VR

I agree with Rubin’s assessment after spending so much time with the hardware. The Quest is an amazing piece of engineering, and it’s hard to believe that it’s able to deliver such relatively high visual quality and imperceptible tracking latency using only the self-contained, and somewhat aging, Snapdragon 835 chip. For reference, that’s the same system on a chip found in a Google Pixel 2 smartphone.

“We’ve implemented many optimizations from the software stack to the hardware to give Quest the best possible performance,” Sean Liu, director of hardware product management, told Polygon. “For instance, an active cooling system allows Quest to run at much higher clock rates for sustained periods, letting us get more power out of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC.”

The hardware team even had to get creative with how the controllers connected to the headset, since it was so important to minimize latency.

“To achieve this, we invented a completely new custom wireless protocol that allowed us to reduce latency for the controllers to a lower level than could be achieved by using Bluetooth or WiFi — in fact, to a level as low as 2 milliseconds,” Liu explained.

But most players won’t care about the engineering that went into the Quest, what’s important is that it’s both fun and easy to use. And that’s where the Quest really shines: It’s completely self-contained, so it doesn’t need to be connected to a PC. It requires no external sensors, even though its controllers deliver six degrees of freedom, allowing you to manipulate objects in 3D space just as you would with a traditional Rift or HTC Vive.

You can stand in one place or sit down to play many games if you’re short on space, but room-scale VR is also available, as long as you have a minimum of 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet of unobstructed floorspace. Or you can switch between those options any time you’d like. That ease of use and nearly instant setup was the entire point, according to Rubin.

“We are competing with everybody’s entertainment time right now,” he said. “You can put on Netflix, you can go play PlayStation, you can go read a book, you could do any one of a thousand things. VR should not take half an hour or 15 minutes to get set up … That’s why we thought the most important thing to tackle first was [getting rid of] those external sensors and fidgetiness of setting it up every time.”

Much of the simplicity of the system comes from the Guardian system, which is a safety mechanism that shows you a virtual, wireframe barrier when you get close to stepping outside of your usable VR space. The Quest will even take you out of VR and show you the world around you through the system’s passthrough cameras if you step completely outside of it. Creating a new Guardian setup is as easy as looking down and tracing the area with the controller; the entire process takes around 10 seconds.

“Even if your Guardian has changed and you moved to a different room, it takes absolutely no time to paint Guardian on the floor and go,” Rubin pointed out. “It’s just not a big deal anymore.”

This change makes getting into VR so much easier that Oculus will no long offer any products that use external sensors, in fact. You may be able to track down an original Rift on the secondary market, but from here on out the Rift S and the Oculus Quest will be the standard Rift products offered for the full gaming experience, along with the more limited Oculus Go and Gear VR.

This is a big shift, but wireless, self-contained room-scale VR brings its own challenges. Rubin pointed out that it’s hard to tell how players will react to being completely untethered from the PC. Some people get a little too enthusiastic with their movements, while others take even more time to get comfortable moving around with the headset on.

“Sometimes you put people in wireless VR and they’re flying all over the room,” he said. “And thank god we have the Guardian system because they’re suddenly untethered, and it’s so freeing. Other people use the weight of the cable to tell them where north is, if you will, where their PC is. And without that, they feel a little bit naked, especially if they are used to playing with the cable, so they’re a little bit more conservative with what they’re doing. There were a lot of surprises.”

I asked Rubin why the review embargo lifted so much earlier than the Quest’s May 21 release date, and his answer was blunt.

“We get more sales,” Rubin told Polygon. “We believe in these products. We believe the reviews are going to be good. If you believe the reviews are going to be good, you want them out there as soon as possible … At the end of the day, anybody who holds [reviews] until launch day is worried.”

Source: Polygon.com

Magic: The Gathering’s War of the Spark lets players take some wild swings at each other

Magic: The Gathering’s War of the Spark is an attempt by publisher Wizards of the Coast to elevate the storytelling in its marquee franchise. On the table, the original collectible card game’s latest set allows players take some big swings at each other. It also puts a ton of Planeswalkers on the table. The end result is the potential for some truly epic engagements.

Since I started playing Magic again last year, Wizards has provided Polygon with some cards from each new set. I’ll usually sit down with my old decks and tear open a whole box of boosters — 15-card packs filled with random cards — in order to plan out some new strategies for the coming season.

Of all the cards that appear in those boosters, Planeswalker cards are the most rare. These powerful characters act like sidekicks, augmenting my basic spells with their Loyalty abilities. I’ll often try and build decks around multiple copies of the same Planeswalker card, hoping to bring out one of them early in the game. It’s the most reliable way to build up momentum for a Planeswalker’s most expensive — and most powerful — abilities.

Usually, as I tear through a 36-pack box of boosters, I’ll be lucky to find one additional Planeswalker card. This time around I found one in my very first pack. Then, in my second pack of cards, I got another. And another. And another. And they were all different.

I thought I was losing my mind.

Nicol Bolas Dragon God by Raymond_Swanland

But no, as it turns out this latest set of Magic cards includes at least one Planeswalker card in every pack. After I’d torn open everything that Wizards had sent I was sitting on a stack of more than 40. The possibilities here are simply boggling.

This time around, Wizards has gone about things a little differently. Planeswalkers are clearly much more numerous, and can also appear at just about any rarity, including uncommon. That means there are some pretty low-powered Planeswalkers coming onto the table. To make up for that, designers have given each of them a unique passive ability.

For instance Huatli, The Sun’s Heart, states that your creatures get to do damage based on their toughness rather than their power. That makes the most defensive cards in my hand suddenly the most offensive. Angrath, Captain of Chaos, gives all of my creatures menace, making them much more difficult for my opponent to block. Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, states that any time a creature with power four or greater enters the battlefield its owner gets to draw a card. With 36 Planeswalker cards in the set — 39 if you include those in the Planeswalker decks and a promo card — there’s a lot of weird effects to choose from.

My impulse, therefore, is to get as many Planeswalkers into my deck as possible. I’m looking at color combinations that I’ve never considered before, including three- and four-color mana decks. I might even try my hand at building a deck that runs entirely on colorless mana just so I can get the weirdest combination of Planeswalkers into battle at the same time.

Wizards of the Coast

On the other hand, I could also double down on the red and black deck that I’ve been working on for the last few years. Since the changes made to the core rules with the Rivals of Ixalan set, it’s easier to integrate multiple cards featuring the same Planeswalker into your decks. Players who have been keeping up with the last few years worth of new card sets likely have a small stockpile of underutilized Planeswalkers that suddenly look a lot more attractive than they did just a week ago.

But there’s a catch.

In keeping with the game’s narrative push, there’s one Planeswalker that has the most powerful ability of them all. Once Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God comes into the game, he receives the abilities of every other Planeswalker card currently in play. As permissive as War of the Spark is for players looking to try out unusual new strategies, it’s also a kind of trap. Everyone will need to contend with the Dragon-God, so maybe the best strategy of all is to simply build my deck around him instead.

Overall, I’m terribly impressed with Wizards of the Coast this time around. For a game that’s more than 25 years old, Magic is proving with each new set that it still has plenty of life left in it.

The War of the Spark set had its pre-release last weekend and goes on sale this week at major retailers, local game stores, and on Amazon. The cards are now live in the digital version of the game, Magic: The Gathering — Arena. Physical Planeswalker decks — pre-built decks available for a premium price at many retailers — now also include a code to unlock those same cards online.

Source: Polygon.com

Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt is rad, even if its randomness is a drag

Mortal Kombat’s Krypts are more than simple unlock screens and currency dumps. In Mortal Kombat 11, the Krypt is a third-person action game. It’s this generation of Mortal Kombat’s best surprise, even if I can’t get past the grind-heavy economy.

Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt takes place on Shang Tsung’s island — a familiar location for Mortal Kombat fans. I play as a mysterious traveler, and I wander the island looking for secrets and hidden items.

Only a few steps into Shang Tsung’s island, and I find my first Mortal Kombat relic: the hammer of Shao Kahn. With my new tool, I smash through a few nearby walls. The small opening corridor branches into new paths. This is Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt. It’s a place to go and spend my hard-earned Koins from the game’s various mode, but it’s also a clever throwback to Mortal Kombat history.

As I explore the island, I discover the famous courtyard, where Shang Tsung and his monks watched the first Mortal Kombat tournament. I come across the statues of Raiden, Goro, and Sonya Blade.

Mortal Kombat 11’s Krypt opens up over time. My first foray took several hours of exploration before I ran out of Koins and other currency. More than once I felt like I’d run out of new places to explore, and even still I found items lurking behind puzzles or down a missed hallway.

It’s a nostalgic trip for Mortal Kombat fans. Not only am I collecting the spear of Scorpion or the blindfold of Kenshi, I’m walking around my first fighting game memories. The Pit stage from the first Mortal Kombat is prominently featured in this iteration of the Krypt.

I remember spending hours as a kid trying to knock my teenage sister into the spikes below, fully aware that I was playing something too “mature” for my age. Standing on a 3D, high-definition version of that bridge and watching Ermac plummet to his death was a reminder of hours spent sitting in front of my Super Nintendo. They were simpler times, with digitized actors swaying back and forth in cheap ninja costumes and a green leotard.

No matter how fun the island is to explore, I eventually run out of Koins. Without the ability to open chests and look for random skeleton keys, I’ll never see the hidden Reptile Easter egg locked behind one of the final doors.

Even with the update to Towers of Time, I still need luck on my side to earn keys. Doors I was looking forward to opening will stay shut forever unless I grind out Hearts, Soul Fragments, and Koins. To play the Krypt, I need to leave the Krypt, and my moment has slowed as a result.

Mortal Kombat 11 created a miniature Metroidvania inside the world of Mortal Kombat. It’s a reminder of how fresh the series can feel, even when it’s playing on nostalgia. I can only hope the reduced grind can propel me through those locked doors.

But even if I never go back, it was nice to feel like a kid again for just a few hours. When Mortal Kombat 12 comes out, I probably won’t remember 11’s frustrating initial economy or my half-finished Krypt. I’ll remember holding down-uppercut in my basement, watching my sister’s avatar plummet into the pixelated spikes below.

Source: Polygon.com

One woman’s quest to record everything on TV led to her ruin

One of the most poignant and melancholy moments in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Richard Dreyfuss sculpting his mashed potatoes in the shape of Devil’s Tower. “This means something. It’s important,” he says through tears, his wife and three kids realizing that “there’s something a little strange with Dad.”

It’s a raw scene of self-awareness for someone who is in dire need of psychological help. He doesn’t get it, of course, because Close Encounters is a popcorn movie, and he’s only acting this way because aliens have implanted a call to adventure in his psyche. Race to the mountain, Richard Dreyfuss, and be an ambassador in space!

Real life doesn’t work like a Steven Spielberg movie. In real life, obsession, even one with noble origins, can tear families apart and ruin lives. There is no twist at the end proving that blocking off the rest of the world to pursue an inexplicable goal is actually the right choice, even if there’s a silver lining.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Story, a documentary by Matt Wolf debuting at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival (and hitting other spots around the country this spring and summer), sits in an unusual midway between the Pollyanna-ish Close Encounters scenario and the all-too-familiar “someone is losing their mind” tragedy of reality. For Marion Stokes, the crippling effect of obsession began with 1970s public affairs television and the rise of VHS technology.

Stokes was an African-American woman in Philadelphia, working as a librarian and traveling in extreme leftist circles. The documentary doesn’t tell us much about her early life, but we know she was put up for adoption by her mother, who kept and raised later children. Marion interpreted this as a betrayal, perhaps sparking a fundamental paranoia.

Eloquent and sharp, Stokes was courted by the local branch of the Communist party and actually tried to emigrate to Cuba with her first husband and their son, Michael Metelits, who acts as a witness for much of Recorder.

Marion Stokes Tapes 01-12-1981 
Marion Stokes Tapes Jan. 12, 1981
Courtesy of Archive.org

Marion returned to Philadelphia and ended up as a panelist on a local news show called Input. Clips of Input will look completely alien to people brought up on the Two Minutes Hate-style rancor of programs like Hannity. People from vastly different perspectives would talk and, calmly, try to find common ground. The anchor of the show was a kind-hearted, extremely wealthy man named John Stoaks. As the two exchanged ideas, Marion and the married Stokes fell in love, and he left his family to marry her.

The couple and Michael moved into a building on Rittenhouse Square (the poshest address in Philadelphia) and, with newfound riches, Marion bought an early Betamax machine. (Note: Wolf’s documentary, which is very juicy and propulsive, is, for God knows what reason, extremely convoluted on its timeline, so any vagueness comes from the movie’s own pitfalls.)

The very liberal-minded Marion starts taping Star Trek reruns because she loves the utopian society of the United Federation of Planets. But word on the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 triggers something in her. She is extremely untrusting of the “official” story coming from domestic news outlets. She is certain that facts from early reports don’t jibe with later ones. Specifically, whether or not CIA operatives were among those taken hostage. Whereas most people would just have a sense of unease and ask “hey, don’t you remember them saying on the TV that there were CIA guys there, but now you don’t hear it so much anymore?” Marion took action. She was an early adopter of technology to capture and preserve the flow of information for further review. She started recording everything.

As the Iran saga captured Marion’s attention, television news saw a dramatic shift in style. The crisis birthed Ted Koppel’s Nightline, which did well in the ratings opposite American icon Johnny Carson. TV viewers of the era saw same story every night — Iran and only Iran — but from a different angle. The prime-time drama, with unexpected twists and new characters, lasted close to 450 days.

Other channels copied the style, and a 24-hour news channel, CNN, launched. Marion, in turn, bought more televisions and truckloads of tapes. She eventually stopped speaking to her son and created a barrier between her husband and his daughters. Her focus was the recordings. Finding something that most people wouldn’t see.

Marion Stokes Tapes 01-21-1981 
Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 21, 1981
Courtesy of Archive.org

Fueling the obsession was a kind of altruism. No one else was collecting the footage — certainly not anyone that can be trusted. Someone had to do something. Marion took on the task for the betterment of society. She also ruined her life. In the documentary, we see that her behavior became erratic and paranoid, her home overrun and, despite the help of staff, any time spent outside the apartment was rigidly fragmented; a chauffeur would routinely rush her home to swap in fresh tapes when old ones run out of room. She was trapped.

Recorder gets a lot of mileage of playing excerpts from the Stokes archive. Major world events are viewed against oddball, long-forgotten stories. Social trends are captured in amber. In a pointed moment, the film plays a video of a truly repulsive man saying racist things: The man is a young Jeff Sessions. Clearly, it is important to have an independent record of some things.

Most striking is the way Wolf details the morning of 9/11/2001. In a four-way split screen of CNN, ABC, Fox and CBS, we watch as one feed switches over to the horror, then a long gap while the other three live in a parallel universe that hasn’t gone through the change yet. ABC airs a house ad touting that night’s Ted Koppel special about untold atrocities in the Congo that “you won’t want to miss.” (Looks like it got pushed to January 2002.)

The documentary continues through to Stokes’ death which, eerily, played out at home as eight televisions recorded a breaking story: the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Despite DVR long being the norm by this point, Marion didn’t trust it; she didn’t want “them” to know what she was watching. Her staff had to hunt for increasingly rare VHS tapes. When she finally passed away, her son hit stop.

The surreal twist is that, while Marion’s never-ending project ruined the Stokes family’s chance for a normal life, media specialists and news historians flipped when they learned about the 70,000 tapes she left behind. They are now in the hands of Archive.org, being digitized and preserved.

Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 12, 1982
Marion Stokes Tapes, Jan. 12, 1982
Courtesy of Archive.org

Those of us old enough to remember a time before YouTube and social media understand Marion Stokes’ drive in a way that, I think, a younger generation can not. Can you imagine getting in an argument about a fact with someone, finally saying “enough, I’ll prove it!” then driving to the library to settle the score? It’s impossible to imagine a functioning world without the access we have today.

The access may take its own toll. Alvin Toffler’s brilliant 1970 book Future Shock, which predicted the gig economy and the information overload paradox of overchoice, couldn’t predict the QAnon devotees screaming on Twitter about false flags and Pizzagate, but it understood how rapid changes in technology could make us actually physically ill.

Recorder substantiates Toffler’s dark vision in news clips from the Stokes Archive. In addition to her news hoarding, which she affirmed would one day enhance democratic behavior through knowledge, Stokes had a different obsession: Apple computers. She collected countless Apple products and stashed them in her various apartments. She grew consumed with Steve Jobs and described him as if he were another son. It’s fascinating when you consider that Apple’s entire ethos is that of limiting choice, a closed perfect system that avoids interaction with others as much as possible.

This paradox makes sense in a story about someone whose mind malfunctioned when charged against the tide of media and technology. Jobs’ sleek, essentialist philosophy versus a maddening drive to capture and preserve the entire world eventually left someone unspooled. Recorder is a fitting tribute.


Jordan Hoffman is a writer and member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, and elsewhere.

Source: Polygon.com

Pokémon Go adds Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit as rare spawns

After months of speculation, Niantic has introduced the infamous Lake Trio to Pokémon Go. Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit can now be found as very rare wild spawns in the game.

First introduced in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the Lake Trio is a group of three Legendary psychic Pokémon located at three of the in-game lakes. According to the Pokémon lore masters at Bulbapedia, Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit were created by the god of the Pokémon universe, Arceus.

As for where you can find them in Pokémon Go, it isn’t going to be easy. Early reports are stating that the these are totally random spawns that can show up just about anywhere. Your only shot is to keep an eye on your Nearby Pokémon list and hope for the best.

Several lucky players have already nabbed members of the Trio, including this Mespirit, this Uxie and this Azelf. All of these catches have been wild, meaning no raids required, and they seem to appearing all over the world.

We hope to have more information about where and when to capture the Trio. Until then, keep those eyes peeled.

Source: Polygon.com

Fortnite now lets you play with more friends thanks to new 16 player parties

Fortnite may be a battle royale game on its surface, but over the last year it’s also morphed into a place to meet friends and spend time together in a digital space. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Epic has increased the party limit in Fortnite’s big team game modes to 16 players.

This new feature is called Large Party Support and was announced in a tweet on Tuesday morning. Players can group up in these large parties in any of Fortnite’s larger modes like Team Rumble, Creative, or even Endgame (while it lasts).

The idea of larger parties is something that players have been requesting from Epic since Limited Time Modes first launched. Modes like 50vs50 seemed like perfect fits for players to get more friends into matches. These big team game modes have always been fan favorites, and that’s not likely to change now that large groups of friends can join matches together.

Source: Polygon.com

The Oculus Quest is virtual reality’s next big leap forward

The Oculus Quest is the most innovative virtual reality headset since the arrival of the original Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

The benefits of Oculus’ new hardware, which is out May 21, don’t come from enhanced resolution or a lighter weight, but from the ease of use and lack of setup. The external sensors are gone completely, and the unit is self-contained — no PC required — but the Quest still offers the same tracking abilities as the Oculus Rift. That means the controllers offer six degrees of freedom to manipulate objects in virtual reality, but you don’t need to go through any extensive setup or use any external sensors at all to enjoy room-scale VR. You can use the hardware in any room after going through a setup process that takes around 10 seconds to complete.

It’s a game changer, in other words: portable, self-contained VR for $399 for the 64 GB option or $499 for the 128 GB option, and both versions come with the headset and two controllers.

So what’s going on, and why is the Quest such a big jump from existing VR devices? Let’s start by looking at the headset and controllers.

The Oculus Quest with the two included controllers, charging cable, and spacer to make it easier to play with glasses.

The hardware

The Oculus Quest looks similar to a standard Oculus Rift, despite its four built-in sensors and the fabric around the outside of the hardware. The straps make it easy to put on or take off, even with glasses, although things may look blurry if you don’t have it adjusted so your eyes hit the sweet spot that allows you to see everything clearly. Putting the Quest on and adjusting the straps to be comfortable and give you the best view takes a bit of practice, but you can do it in a few seconds once you get a feel for it.

The two included controllers look and feel very close to the original Oculus Touch controllers, which is to say that they’re comfortable and easy to use. The biggest change is the addition of another button below the trigger that allows you to squeeze the controller to make an in-game fist — or whatever the developer would like to use the interaction for.

The headset is around 100 grams heavier than the original Oculus Rift, but the weight didn’t bother me once I had the straps adjusted properly. You can use the built-in speakers for audio if you’d like, but I prefer to connect headphones for a bit more immersion.

The 72 Hz OLED panel offers a resolution of 1440×1600 per eye, which gives you a strong, clear image. The whole thing is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system on a chip, and the Quest will give you around two hours of play time for graphically intensive games or closer to three hours of play time if you’re just watching media. The hardware takes two hours to charge using the included USB-C charging cable.

How the Quest tracks your movement and playing space

The Oculus Rift required the use of two external sensors for standing VR, and three external sensors for room-scale VR. The sensors had to be placed on a solid surface or mounted to your wall, and each one had to be connected to your PC with a USB cable. Initial setup and calibration was a pain in the ass, the sensors took up space and connections on your PC, and moving the whole thing to another room or over to a friend’s house meant that you had to do it all again before you could start playing.

The Quest, on the other hand, uses four sensors that are built into the headset to see your playing space and track the controllers. The hardware senses the floor automatically, and setting up your play space only requires you to look through the passthrough cameras and trace an outline of your usable play space on the floor, using the controller like a laser pointer.

One of the Quest’s built-in sensors

The system will remember and recognize multiple rooms, so if you walk into the bedroom from the living room and have a play space set up for both, the hardware will remember and respond appropriately. That’s a nice touch, but creating a new playing area just requires that initial trace, which only takes a second or two. Moving to new rooms or taking the hardware to another environment entirely is now trivial.

I have been testing the hardware in my own home with a variety of launch software for over a week, and have yet to see any issues with the tracking. I was able to play Beat Saber and Space Pirate Trainer without feeling any lag or noticing any loss of precision in my movements.

Using hardware with full motion tracking for the headset and controllers without a cable attaching it to a PC feels wonderful; it’s so much easier to get lost in a game when I don’t have to worry about twisting the cable around myself or tripping over it. I can spin, duck, walk around inside VR, and even jump up and down without issue. Room-scale VR requires a minimum of 2×2 meters of free space, but the Quest also supports regular standing or sitting options if you don’t have a free VR room.

You don’t have to worry about slamming into a wall as you’re playing, either. The Guardian system will show a wireframe grid when you get too close to the edges of your playing space to keep you from wandering into a wall, and the virtual world will even fade away. If you step completely outside of the limits of your play space, you can see the real world, and you can tell where you are.

Being able to play games like Superhot VR or I Expect You to Die without worrying about the cable makes the entire experience much more enjoyable and less of a worry. The upcoming Rift S will be able to offer more visually impressive games since it’s powered by your gaming PC instead of its own self-contained internals, but the lack of wires of any kind when using the Quest may make it a better pick for many people, especially if you don’t happen to already have a fast gaming PC.

And speaking of processing power …

Is this system really powerful enough for VR?

A self-contained VR system that relies on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip — the same hardware that powers the Pixel 2 smartphone — seems like it would be underpowered, especially when you consider how much computing power the tracking software must take up before you even get to the image. But somehow it all works.

The Quest has its own game library outside of the Rift, but right now the announced list of games feels like a best-of collection from the Rift’s best games. I noticed a slight visual downgrade from what I was used to playing these games on the Rift that my gaming PC powers, but I was never distracted by a lack of visual fidelity. Low-latency tracking and a good screen are much more important than pure graphical power when it comes to immersion in VR, and the Oculus Quest delivers enough of the good stuff that the visual trade-off felt worthwhile.

It helps that most of the best VR games that are currently on the market rely on stylized visuals and strong design more than high-resolution textures or general visual whiz-bangery to make their point, but prospective buyers should still know that not every game coming to the Rift will also come to the Quest.


Beat Saber features simple graphics, but the effect is still mesmerizing in the Quest

The good news is that Oculus seems committed to cross-buy support: If you’d like to play any game that works on both the Rift and the Quest on both pieces of hardware, you won’t have to purchase it twice. If you have a copy of Robo Recall for your Rift already, you’ll be able to download the game on your Quest for free if you decide to upgrade into that platform. It’s a nice touch that helps bring value to the software ecosystem.

There is one big feature that the Quest lacks, however.

Being social in VR

Most existing VR platforms, from the PSVR to the Rift and Vive, output the image from the headset to a television or computer monitor so everyone in a room can see what the player sees. Knowing what the player is doing, and how well they’re doing it, goes a long way to make VR a social activity as you take turns playing and watching. Pulling off something really difficult or impressive in VR is a lot less enjoyable when no one can see what you’re doing.

And that’s an issue with the Quest at launch. You can send a live feed from the headset to the phone that’s running the Oculus app, but it’s not like it’s easy to crowd around a phone. Also be aware that you’ll need a smartphone with the Oculus app to setup the headset the first time, and you can browse and buy games through the phone’s interface to be downloaded on the Quest.

The Quest supports streaming to a display using an Nvidia Shield, Chromecast Ultra, or Chromecast Generation 3 devices, but not everyone has one of those or wants to spend money on extra hardware after buying a $399 VR headset.

Hopefully sharing the Quest’s image gets easier as the software is built out.

VR keeps getting better

Portable VR used to mean getting rid of full 3D tracking for your head and controllers, but the Quest solves that problem. VR in general used to mean fiddling with multiple sensors that had to be plugged into your PC, in the case of the Rift, or wall sockets for power for the Vive. The Quest solves that problem as well.

And the result is a system that does everything it needs to do to provide a full VR experience without the player needing to place any sensors or perform a lengthy calibration for their playing space. You just put on the Quest, trace your playing area, and go. The rest takes care of itself.

All the wires and setup of traditional VR weren’t an issue when I first started using the hardware, because at first it’s so cool to have functional, high-quality VR at all. But once the shine wears off and you’re stuck managing cables or fiddling with sensors, it’s easier to just go watch a movie than it is to play a game in VR. The Quest means that suddenly playing a game in VR is just as easy as most of your other entertainment options, and that’s a jump that consumer-level VR needed to take if it wants to find mainstream acceptance.

The system could be a bit lighter and the internals could be a bit more powerful, but the breakthrough has occurred. Portable, easy to use and full-featured VR is here, and for now Oculus doesn’t have any competition in that particular market.

After using the Quest for the past week, my only note to companies like HTC and Lenovo is a simple one: Catch up.

The Oculus Quest hardware final “retail” was reviewed with a unit provided by Facebook You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

Source: Polygon.com

Valve’s Index is the next generation of high-end virtual reality

Valve’s next-generation virtual reality unit, known as Index, is an impressive plaything with a fistful of design advances beyond the old Vive. It’s also expensive, and lacking — for now — any particular reason for purchase in the way of compelling new games.

Last week, at Valve’s offices in Seattle, I got a chance to play with Index (which is expected to ship sometime in June). I liked it a lot. It’s stylish and smart, and it solves a bunch of early VR-related problems. But before we get into the specifics of the hardware, let’s get one thing out of the way. Let’s talk about games.

Valve is known to be working on three big VR games, which we all assume will include one or more Big Valve Franchises. As of right now, Valve refuses to speak of these games. Not even in an elliptical “what if …” speaking-strictly-off-the-record kind of way. (I know, because I tried.)

So if you’re hoping for news about a VR Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, or Dota, you’re out of luck. All that the well-rehearsed Valve spokespeople will say is that a big VR franchise is coming this year. Which means almost exactly nothing.

But if we’re still in the dark about software, the hardware picture is encouraging, starting with the controllers. One of Index’s main attractions is a new input system called Knuckles. These are a pair of controllers that attach to the hand (not the wrist) via an adjustable strap.

a hirsute man using Valve’s Index virtual reality headset Valve

Index - left hand holding a Knuckles controller
A Knuckles controller for Index.
Valve

Once I attach my Knuckles, they feel more like a pair of gloves that hang from my wrist than a handheld controller. If I shake my hands in the air, or try to raise the roof, the Knuckles stay resolutely attached to me. They feel great.

My first demo at Valve teaches me about how Knuckles simulates individual finger inputs. It’s a Portal-like series of tests in which I variously shake hands with a robot, high-five, make the peace sign, point, waggle my digits, and shake my pinkie.

It takes me a few moments to figure out the inputs, but it’s soon apparent that I’m able to make use of my VR hands pretty much the same way as I use my real hands. There’s a slight lag in movement and input, but this is a way more intuitive system than I’ve ever played in VR before.

Index’s Knuckles controllers make use of 87 sensors, each, so that the complexities of hand movement are translated into the virtual world. It’s an impressive piece of user interface design that feels akin to magic.

Index - Portal demo
A Portal-themed demo for Index.
Valve

Inside a Portal-themed demo, I’m impressed by Index’s visual fidelity. The world looks sharper than I’m accustomed to seeing in older VR units. In particular, text is crisp and clear, certainly when in the center of my vision, though it blurs at the periphery. Index’s screen resolution is 1440×1600 per eye, up from Vive’s 1080×1200 per eye. But I’m told by Index’s designers that this is only part of the picture.

Their task is to marry the display with optics and tracking. If one gets too far ahead of the others, its advantages are moot. For example, great optics will still be blurred by poor visual persistence: Sharp visuals must be designed to account for quick head movement. Fidelity is not a matter of raw power, but of careful balance.

According to Valve, the new headset offers a “typical user experience” field of view that’s 20 degrees larger than Vive. This is aided by a custom dual-element system in which the user can move the lenses themselves.

For me, this means moving the lens right up to my spectacles. The effect is that I feel way more comfortable playing with my glasses on than I’ve ever felt with previous VR units. It’s a much more intuitive, rewarding design than the Vive’s setup of sliding the entire headset forward and backward. Plus, there’s no outside-the-headset light leakage to impede my virtual world.

Index’s standard frame rate is 120 Hz, up from the Vive’s 90 Hz. Index also offers an experimental 144 Hz mode, which I tried while playing a demo of No Man’s Sky. I’d played this on Vive a few weeks before, during an invigorating demo at GDC. Although it’s difficult to make comparisons based entirely on memory, I feel that Index offered a significantly sharper experience. Even after throwing a spaceship around for 15 minutes, I felt none of the queasiness that I’ve come to expect from even the slickest VR games. And I saw far less blur than I’ve seen before.

Index headset, two Base Stations 2.0, two Knuckles controllers
Index, with all the trimmings: two Knuckles controller and two Base Stations 2.0.
Valve

Index makes use of Base Stations 2.0 for field tracking. Valve says that these are “longer-range” and with a wider field of vision than the originals. My various demos (in the idealized setting of Valve HQ) offered no problems whatsoever. But still, it’s a departure from rival Oculus’ use of headset sensors for the Rift S, which free the user from cables.

When I asked Valve about this stark diversion in design, I was told that the company does not believe that head-mounted displays with built-in sensors are “there yet.”

Index also allows for hardware modifications. A front-mounted space on the headset’s brow, just behind the visor, would allow designers to come up with who-knows-what kind of peripherals, which plays into Valve’s ideals of an open-sourced world. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out as developers get their hands on the unit. Valve is calling this slot the “frunk.”

Index is designed, in all its particulars, to be backward-compatible with Vive. If you want to use “classic” controls with Knuckles, you can. If you want to play first-generation VR games with Index, that’s fine.

You can also purchase just the bits you need. Although the whole kit and caboodle comes in at $999, the headset alone is $599. The head-mounted display plus the Knuckles controllers cost $749. The Knuckles alone are $279. Valve is taking pre-orders starting May 1, with a launch slated for mid-June.

During Valve’s demonstration, a spokesperson said that Index is the sort of thing that is likely to appeal to a virtual reality enthusiast who (a) must have the latest thing and (b) enjoys sufficient disposable income to satisfy that desire. It’s an interesting contrast with Facebook’s strategy for Rift, which is pushing hard for the price tipping point when VR suddenly becomes a mass-market thing, like smartphones did a decade ago.

The fact is that Index requires a powerful PC. It’s expensive. Its software base is currently unknown. If you’re in the market for a top-end VR deck and you’re willing to pay upward of a thousand dollars, Index looks like a good option. But for most people, this may feel like a technological marvel, rather than a fully fledged member of consumer electronics’ mainstream elite.

Source: Polygon.com

Mortal Kombat 11 update makes the game less of a grind

NetherRealm Studios rolled out an update for Mortal Kombat 11 on Monday that addresses the game’s economy and the divisive Towers of Time, two changes that make the fighting game less grindy and more player-friendly.

For players looking for more of Mortal Kombat 11’s various currencies, NetherRealm is now giving them two to three times as much of the post-fight currency rewards (Koins, Soul Fragments, Hearts) than before. In the Towers of Time, for example, battles I played earned me somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 Koins per match, as well as 10 Soul Fragments and three Hearts per match. That’s a considerable boost in in-game currency.

That increased payout is on top of a new “Community Gift” that NetherRealm rolled out to PlayStation 4 players on Monday (the update and the same gift is promised for Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, and Xbox One players soon). The gift includes 500,000 Koins, 1,000 Souls, 1,000 Time Crystals, and 500 Hearts, all of which should make exploring the Krypt more fruitful.

NetherRealm has received blowback over how it implemented Mortal Kombat 11’s in-game currency rewards and how those currencies were used in the game’s Krypt. Players complained that the time investment required to unlock the game’s hundreds of skins was compounded by the random nature of unlockable cosmetics, augments, and other items found in the Krypt. Similarly, the Towers of Time mode has been criticized for pushing players to use consumable items to overcome extremely difficult (and not-at-all-fun) challenges.

On top of the economy, Towers of Time received a major overhaul, in terms of difficulty, payouts, and how Konsumables work. Here are the relevant patch notes from NetherRealm’s update, as posted to Mortal Kombat subreddit.

Towers of Time Adjustments

• Adjusted AI difficulty curve

• Further opponent health reductions in higher level Towers

• Performing a Fatal Blow while standing in an active modifier will no longer sometimes cause unexpected behavior or a crash

• Ice based modifiers will no longer attempt to freeze players during invalid states

• Adjusted and removed modifiers from many Daily Towers

• Increased Koin Rewards for kompleting Towers and Tower Platforms

• Increased Dragon Challenge Koin rewards

• Increased post fight Koin rewards

• Increased amount of Hearts earned from Fatalities, Brutalities, and Mercies

• Lowered modifier damage for many modifiers

• Adjusted the lifespan of several modifiers

• Dramatically increased cooldowns on Tag Assist modifiers

• Fixed a missing Reduced Damage modifier in The Gauntlet

• Several Gift/Curse Modifiers are now considered projectiles allowing them to interact with moves that effect projectiles as intended

• Adjusted Gauntlet difficulty and progression requirements

• Disabler Konsumables now work with all intended modifiers

• Improved targeting for several Konsumables

• Sektor Hunter Killer Protocol Modifier is now disabled by the Rocket Disabler Konsumable

• Corrected some multipliers on Augments for some characters which were inconsistent with others

• Fixed incorrect Armor interactions with some Modifiers

• Decreased Konsumable cooldowns for players

Source: Polygon.com