Tag Archives: vr

Okay, Seriously, Maybe VR Gaming Is About To Have Its Big Moment

I keep thinking about a video game I played in Los Angeles a month ago that’s what you’d get if the renowned covert ops Splinter Cell series required your character to always be in a kayak.

The game is called Phantom: Covert Ops, and it’s pretty cool. The catch is that it’s all in VR.

Please, don’t go away. Keep reading! I’ve even got an interview to share with you involving the guy overseeing games at Oculus.

Talking about VR gaming piques some people’s curiosity. Unfortunately, many others tend to tune out. VR gaming is conceptually cool, but it’s expensive, inconvenient and, to some, nauseating. It’s also something that’s hard to appreciate in trailers, and harder still in the written word. I’ve been writing about understandable gamer disinterest in VR since 2016, when I first heard the snores while covering pretty cool VR games.

Here I go again, because some of the coolest games I saw at the E3 gaming show in L.A. were in fact in VR. Yes, it’s taken me a month to tell our readers about these games, but such is the backhanded praise I’m afraid I always deliver to this scene within a scene.

First, there’s this Phantom game. You sit down, put on an Oculus headset and hold two Oculus touch controllers in your hand. You’re on a river. It’s dark. You paddle toward some bad guy lair that can’t be accessed by air or land, hence the kayak.

A boat is coming. Quick! Paddle over to the reads and wait for it and its bright lights to pass you by.

Paddle some more. There’s a bad guy guard over yonder. Reach down to your side and pick up your virtual sniper rifle. Move it toward your eye. There he is in your crosshairs. Take the shot.

Reach a blockade. Paddle up and toss some C4 on it. Paddle back and blow it up.

Totally wacky premise. Totally fun game. Feels great in VR and is extremely comfortable to play, since you’re sitting down in real life and in the game and you’re moving at the speed of a paddled boat.

Then there’s Stormland, an open-world first-person action-adventure from the great Insomniac Games. That’s the mostly PlayStation-centric studio behind Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man that has made a bunch of VR games not for PlayStation VR but for the Facebook-owned Oculus. In Stormland, you’re a robot. Shortly after I started playing, the game encouraged me to rip off one of my arms, which felt very weird to do in VR. Then I plugged in a new robot arm and started exploring an archipelago of islands. As I played, I upgraded my arm so I could shoot lasers, climb walls and even skate across the clouds. It all felt great.

I capped some footage of Stormland, but you know how it is with VR, right? You’re going to see some graphics that look way less impressive on your flat monitor or phone than they did in an Oculus headset, where they felt as if they wrapped all around my head.

There’s Lone Echo II, a game in which you’re a robot floating around in an abandoned space station while communicating with a captain named Olivia who is also floating around in there with you. This one didn’t grab me as much as the other two, but it still was neat to be floating around with another character, while also trying to figure out how to move through zero gravity.

Some VR games are gimmicky. Some are fun. There’s a wide range in a young field. I’m partial to PSVR’s Astrobot Rescue Mission on PS4 and the multiplatform Cosmic Trip. People love Beat Saber, others go on about the VR version of Resident Evil 7. I recently had a very good time playing a pre-release Iron Man VR game and a VR mode in No Man’s Sky. There’s good stuff out there, but it’s been relatively hard to access due to the expense of VR headsets. Plus, a good amount of it is still spread across various platforms.

At E3, after seeing these games, I chatted with Jason Rubin, who runs first-party gaming at Oculus. He co-founded Naughty Dog and famously looks the part of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. We talked frankly about Oculus, or at least as frank as a person charged with selling Oculus is going to get. “We feel great,” he told me when I asked him how things were going. Then he declined to tell me if Oculus has sold a million of their main Oculus Rift headsets yet.

“You know there are people that are interested in purchasing [VR], but these things always move slowly,” he said.

Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin now runs gaming at Oculus.

The issue for Oculus and for other companies pushing VR is that VR gaming just hasn’t been broadly appealing, though Rubin made a strong case in L.A. that Oculus may have finally figured it all out. The solution and the push is for a device called the Oculus Quest, which launched in the spring to rave reviews, including from us: “The Oculus Quest Is How Virtual Reality Should Work.” It’s a VR headset without wires, without sensors, without the need to be plugged into a PC or console, yet it can still run some impressive games. “Quest is mass market,” Rubin said, telling me it radically changes the VR landscape and has the potential to make VR gaming hot this holiday.

The catch? Well, for one, Quest costs at least $400, so VR gaming still isn’t cheap even if it no longer requires sensors or wires. The other? Two of the three games that wowed me at E3 don’t run on it. The kayak game does run on the Quest, but Stormland and Lone Echo II require the higher-end Oculus Rift. Rubin said that’s because those games were planned before the Quest was a thing. The newest Rift, which also costs $400 and doesn’t require sensors, needs to be plugged into a pretty good PC.

As I chatted with Rubin, he portrayed VR gaming as an inevitability, as well as a tech that wasn’t going away, and one that would work better and reach more people bit by bit. One reason why it’s not going away soon is that it’s backed by big money. Oculus is owned by Facebook, and, as Rubin told me, “Mark is a patient individual.”

The continued frenzy of indie developers to make VR games is another argument for the scene’s longevity. While Facebook funds a lot of VR game development, like Sony does for the PlayStation VR platform, indie developers also just seem genuinely interested in making this stuff. They’re more into it than corporate publishers, in fact, as we’ve seen EA, Activision and others make just token attempts. Even the more experimental Ubisoft, which has produced a slew of VR games in recent years, has shown signs of backing off, including by adding a non-VR mode to their ambitious Star Trek VR game.

Around VR, there are signs of stress. During that E3 week, some indie developers complained about being blocked from selling their games on the Quest’s curated store, something Rubin tried to address and clean up during an end-of-week twitter thread.

While talking to me, Rubin entertained a surprising crossover: the idea of Oculus games on Sony’s PlayStation 4-based PSVR platform, which has its own roster of exclusive games. “We’ve thought about it,” he said. “I would love to make a trade with Sony. You know they have great stuff that they funded, and we have great stuff we’ve funded.” Nothing’s confirmed yet, but it’s still a sign of where things are at that Oculus would even consider putting their games on another VR platform.

It struck me as I talked to Rubin that he’s got a checklist of formidable problems. Better headsets and better games will help, and he’s got to figure out how to get more people playing VR games. Oculus and VR developers overall also could use a breakthrough in how to show VR games off, which Rubin says Oculus is working on. VR games have looked best to spectators when they are shown in a so-called mixed reality format, which integrates a video feed of the person playing the game into the VR game they’re playing. It caught my eye when it was used three years ago to show off the VR construction game Fantastic Contraption.

“We’re pushing to try as best we can to enable mixed reality so that streamers and developers can share that video with people online,” Rubin told me, saying some upcoming changes that he didn’t want to detail yet would make it easier. An external camera will be required, but a green screen would not.

Then there’s sickness, which is still a thing. Numerous staffers at Kotaku can’t even play a VR game when I want to show it to them, because they quickly feel ill. They’re not alone. Rubin says that better lenses in VR headsets, the addition of wider fields of view and drops in latency thanks to more powerful gear will help ameliorate the problem, but he still likened VR gaming to riding a rollercoaster or setting sail. “Ultimately it’s still going to be a boat and there will be some people in some situations that are a little uncomfortable,” he said. (Ah, but what if the game was all about you being in a boat? And sniping bad guys. Right?)

VR gaming will crawl forward. The games I saw are still in development and will hopefully still dazzle in longer play sessions. Oculus is gearing up for a September showcase that will include the debut of a VR game from red-hot Respawn Entertainment (Apex Legends, Titanfall). Rubin thinks the Quest will have a big Christmas, too. It might. It could. VR gaming’s got a lot going for it, but I also won’t be surprised if, a few years from now, it’s still a struggle for gaming’s most awkward platform to catch on.

Source: Kotaku.com

Playing VR Alone Is Terrifying

I recently bought Beat Saber for PSVR and have been playing it with my girlfriend. It’s fun and is a great way to get up and move around more. But when she is out of the house, I still sometimes want to play VR. But I’ve tried playing Beat Saber and other VR games alone and I always end up nervous, paranoid and scared.

I’m already not the perfect person for VR. I don’t have motion sickness or get headaches from 3D or anything, but I do have claustrophobia. So the idea of slipping on a big headset, wrapping cords around my head to use headphones and locking myself away from the real world makes me feel uneasy. But Beat Saber and Job Simulator are too much fun to ignore, so I push past my fears and put that headset on and play. It’s been fine and over time I’ve gotten more comfortable with VR headsets.

That all goes out the window when I decide to play VR alone.

For anyone who hasn’t played VR, it is like shutting yourself off from the world. Especially if you use headphones. Suddenly you aren’t in your living room, but instead, depending on the game, you are standing in the middle of a digital void or convenience store or wintery forest. It’s incredible. And it is very easy to get lost in these new worlds.

I can easily get lost in these worlds when playing with people around me. But when I play alone there is always this part of my brain that won’t fully let me relax or enjoy myself. A part of my brain that keeps repeating the same thing, over and over.

“You have no idea what’s going on around you or if you are alone right now.”

It is completely silly. Of course, I’m alone. I live in a relatively safe and quiet area, I’ve never experienced any crime or incidents here and the apartment is locked up. But the longer I spend in my VR headset, the louder the voice in my head grows.

“You can’t even hear what’s going on near you. Are you really safe?”

This leads to me pulling out my earbuds constantly, listening for any weird noises in my home. I freeze, like a cat who is spooked, and spend a moment listening for anything out of place around me. Whenever I do this my brain momentarily breaks a bit due to the disconnect that happens. I’ll be standing on top of a mountain in Skyrim VR, but I can hear my fan and dishwasher.

Eventually, after a few sound checks, my fear and paranoia will grow too large and I’ll pull the headset off and investigate my surroundings. The moment I stop playing VR and walk around my apartment, I feel like an idiot. Almost immediately my brain flips on me.

“Wow, you really are paranoid. Calm down, dude. It’s 3 pm on a Tuesday in Kansas. You honestly think you are in danger?”

But once I put the headset back on and start playing again, that voice returns and begins making me feel paranoid all over. This all adds up to mean I can only play VR alone for about 20-40 minutes at a time before having to take a break to search my home for a deadly assassin or thief.

The scariest moment of wearing a VR headset alone, for me at least, is in the moments when the real world is shown to me while in VR.

This happens when first booting up a PSVR game or recalibrating the headset, which I have to do often. In these moments, the PS4 shows me a live feed from my PlayStation camera. Every time this happens while I’m playing alone, I tense up. Because what if someone was standing next to me or behind me? What would I do? And do I even want to know if someone is quietly walking around me? (No. The answer is no. Just take what you want and leave.)

Some VR headsets include small cameras on them to help give players a better sense of what is happening outside their VR world. This seems like a great feature to include! Beyond just my own random fears and paranoid thoughts, being able to see your actual world while in VR, without taking off the headset, sounds like a great safety feature.

And it would probably let me hang out, alone, in VR for longer than 15 minutes before freaking out and ripping my headset off because my cat decided to knock over a cup.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Oculus Quest Is How Virtual Reality Should Work

Within 15 minutes of opening the package containing the Oculus Quest, Facebook’s new standalone virtual reality headset, I was playing a game. I wasn’t playing some watered-down mobile phone app or preinstalled demo, but a full-featured, console-quality VR game. This is great.

The Quest is Oculus’ first all-in-one gaming headset. It requires no PC connection, unlike the original Oculus Rift and its recent upgrade, the Rift S. Like last year’s Oculus Go headset, the Quest is completely wireless. But the Go was virtual reality at its most basic, just a headset with a pair of monitors inside. The Quest has all the VR bells and whistles. It can track head and hand movement and room-scale body positioning without the use of external sensors. It’s the full virtual reality experience in one box. Bear in mind the price. It starts at $399 with 64 gigabytes of storage, with a 128 GB version available for $499 (I’ve got 16 games and apps loaded on my 64 GB unit and am only using half the space).

There’s not a lot inside the Oculus Quest box. There’s the headset, an understated design wrapped in textured cloth. The front is matte black plastic with four cameras in the faceplate’s four corners, which are used for the headset’s inside-out tracking. There are a pair of redesigned Oculus touch controllers. The original controllers had rings on the underside to be tracked by external sensors, where the new ones have rings on top so the headset cameras can track them. There’s a pair of batteries for the controllers, a face spacer for users with glasses, and a single wire—a USB type-C charging cable.

All one needs to set up the Oculus Quest is an iOS or Android device running the Oculus app. The app is used for the initial hardware setup, connecting the unit to Wi-Fi and such. A quick setup sequence will pair the controllers (mine were paired right out of the box) and walk the user through adjusting headset position and lens spacing. The user defines a safe play area by tracing empty space with their Touch controller. From there they are free to browse the store, play games, fiddle with apps and explore the Oculus VR environment.

Once the Oculus Quest is configured, entering virtual reality is as simple as slipping on the headset. I can’t overstate how amazingly simple and worry-free the process is. I’ve used the original Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and the biggest obstacle to my enjoyment is the initial set up. I’d have to plug and unplug HDMI cables to and from the back of my PC, set up satellites and sensors, make sure those sensors could see my headset, and keep my headset tethered to my computer via thick cables—tethered to normal reality. The Quest cuts all those cords. It’s full-featured virtual reality that’s easy to transport and easy to share.

Last month I attended the Atlanta anime and gaming convention Momocon as one of the judges of its annual indie game awards. My fellow judge, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, broke out his Oculus Quest in the judging suite late on Friday evening. A group of us had a blast playing Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes, Rami manipulating a virtual explosive device while myself, Destructoid’s Chris Carter and IGN’s Janet Garcia walked him through the defusing process. It was spontaneous virtual reality fun that’s just not possible with a device that needs to be wired to a PC and depends on external sensors.

Freedom from cords is very important to me these days. Last year I found myself paralyzed from the chest down. My days are spent either in bed or in a 470-pound electric wheelchair. Getting tangled up in wires was bad enough when I could walk. If wires get caught up in my wheels, the hardware is going to die. With no wires save the power cord, the Oculus Quest leaves me free to spin about my office with abandon. The defined safe play area lets me know if I am getting too close to obstacles. Should I stray outside of it, the external cameras on the headset automatically kick in to show me where I am and what I am about to destroy. It’s actually quite a bit of fun, being in virtual reality in a wheelchair. All I need now is a Doctor Who game that lets me play as a Dalek, and I am set for life.

My Quest was already too well-loved for the top of the article shot.

Being a self-contained piece of hardware has another benefit. Games and apps made for the Quest can be specifically tailored to its specifications. Developers don’t have to account for an endless array of PC hardware configurations and can focus on delivering the best experience possible. Oculus is curating the Quest store to ensure apps and games for the device are the best they can be. According to the official submission guidelines, Quest apps must be intuitive and polished. They must run at 72 frames per second a majority of the time, matching the headset’s 72hz refresh rate.

This means that Quest games, while not as robust as those for PC-powered headsets, run smoothly and comfortably. My time with Polyarc’s mouse adventure game Moss on the Quest has been much more satisfying that it was on the original Rift. It’s crisper, clearer and more stable. Playing Beat Saber (ducking and dodging obstacles as best one can in a wheelchair) is a joy, blazing fast and fluid. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, warping about each level to get the best angle with my bird slingshot to take out those porcine bastards

The same goes for more experiential virtual reality apps. National Geographic Explore VR, a launch title for the Quest, is one of the more impressive virtual reality learning experiences I’ve come across. Navigating Antarctica on foot or in a canoe, climbing the ice shelf, getting lost in a blizzard—it’s so good.

The downside to a curated store is that some popular virtual reality apps won’t make it to the Quest as readily as they do other VR platforms. I’m bummed I have to wait until August for virtual community AltspaceVR while the developers work to polish the program and bring it in line with Quest standards. But it also means I will be getting the best, most stable version of AltspaceVR. I won’t have to worry about purchasing a game or app only to find it’s a quick-and-dirty VR cash-in with little substance or sub-par technology implementation.

It feels like all hardware leading up to the Oculus Quest has been virtual reality’s beta testing stage, as engineers tried to figure out how best to deliver enjoyable simulated environments and experiences to the end user. Speaking to Stephen Totilo back in 2012, gaming wise man, Doom co-creator and current Oculus Chief Technical Officer John Carmark predicted that in a few years we’d see a wireless headset powered by mobile phone hardware that uses camera for optical positioning. This is exactly that. They lost the wires, stripped away the need for external cameras and got rid of the dependency on external hardware. Now all anyone needs to experience full-featured virtual reality is a bit of space and the Oculus Quest.

Source: Kotaku.com

New Game From Rick & Morty’s Co-Creator Isn’t As Funny As I Hoped

Trover Saves the Universe is my favorite sort of virtual reality game. It’s bright, colorful and weird. It stars me, as a silent seated presence, guiding titular hero Trover in third-person. It can even be played without a virtual reality headset. These are features I like. I also like the crass, stammering humor of Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. Just not so much of it at once.

The twisted tale of Trover Saves the Universe, out now for PC and PlayStation 4 from Squanch Games, begins with a monumental creature named Glorkon stealing the player’s beloved dogs, jamming them into its empty eye sockets to harness their power, and launching into a rampage that threatens to destroy the universe. Soon after, the player, a member of an alien race who live their entire lives seated in chairs, is visited by a purple eye-hole monster named Trover. Forced together by fate (a.k.a. Trover’s boss), the pair embark on a quest to kick ass, find collectibles, and save the universe.

It sounds a little weird and kind of wholesome. It is totally weird, but not at all wholesome. The game opens with Glorkon calling the player a “stupid piece of shit” multiple times. From there it’s an ongoing stream of Roiland’s signature babbling profanity.

Fans of Rick and Morty are sure to be pleased, if they can stand the constant rambling dialogue. Though the stars of the hit animated series aren’t in the game, their presence is always felt. Trover’s voice is a less whiny version of young, put-upon Morty. Glorkon’s minions, one of the game’s most prevalent enemy types, all sound like bedraggled scientist Rick. They get some cute lines, like calling out Trover for murdering their friends when taken out with a swing of the hero’s glowing sword. They also have a lot of random fuck-yous.

Trover Saves the Universe is a very clever game that does many interesting things. In the opening sequence, when two soap opera actors on the player’s in-game television get into an argument that’s actually a disguised tutorial? Hilarious. The game regularly gives the player choices on how to proceed with the story. Early on, an old man blocks the player and Trover’s progress. Trover can hit him with a sword a couple of times to get the old man to unblock the path, while shouting about elder abuse. Once the path is open, Trover can keep hitting the old man, eventually murdering him. That decision pops up in the dialogue much later in the game.

I really like the player interface as well. It’s a game controller, just like the one I hold while playing. When buttons are pressed on the controller in real life, buttons are pressed in the game. The player eventually gains the ability to pop their chair into the air, giving them an overhead perspective. They learn how to grab objects and manipulate them to solve puzzles.

If they are really lucky, they learn how to put up with Justin Roiland going on and on about goofy nonsense. He just never stops talking. There’s a planet in the game that contains an interplanetary zoo that turns out to be owned by Trover’s ex-roommate. Roiland, as Trover, launches into an endless series of stories about how horrible his roommate was. I was trying to figure out how to navigate this new area and he just wouldn’t stop. I started getting a headache, and I wasn’t even playing in VR.

One of the public relations folks for the game told me that Trover Saves the Universe is a seven- or eight-hour game with over 20 hours of spoken dialogue. That’s way too much. Fortunately, there is a way to enjoy the game without overdosing on Roiland.

Mmmm, so much better.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Cool Moments In PlayStation VR’s Blood & Truth Are Far Too Rare

For a few seconds, Blood & Truth, the most-hyped game to hit the PlayStation 4’s virtual reality headset since its October 2016 launch, is as thrilling a VR experience as one could hope for.

You’re in the headset holding PlayStation Move controllers as the game’s graphics wrap around you. You’re a soldier back in his hometown of London, automatically propelled through a casino’s upper floor as you fire a gun at a clown car’s worth of dim-witted suit-wearing tough guys. After all this forgettable shooting-gallery gameplay, your character stands still as you confront a gangster. Then, a door nearby bursts open and some guy in a helmet walks through and machine-guns the gangster to death.

Then, this cool thing happens.

Blood & Truth pushes you forward down a hallway, making it feel as if you’re fleeing from the person with the machine gun. The hallway ends at a window, but it’s no dead end. The game launches you through it. The glass shatters as the action slows down. Suddenly, in slow-motion VR, you’re leaping through the London air toward a neon sign an alley’s width away. Look down and you’ll sense that you’re several stories up. Look behind and you can see the building from which you just leapt. Soon, you’re clinging to the exterior of the building toward which you jumped. With those Move controllers in hand, you can make your character grab a girder and then reach for a handhold. Then another, slowly scaling the wall. Then you can make him reach into an airshaft and crawl through the chute to relative safety.

This brief, thrilling moment is the highlight of the first couple of hours I’ve played of Blood & Truth, a game that mostly demonstrates how little virtual reality can make up for generic action gameplay and unlikable characters. Blood & Truth is mostly off-putting, mostly just a mindless shootout against uninteresting enemies who evade gunfire about as well as a houseplant, mixed with shouty b-grade dialogue. These are shortcomings that may have been acceptable in the first year or two of this current era of mainstream PC and console VR, when the novelty of wraparound graphics and the comfort of a game running well enough to not induce nausea could excuse other faults. Now, it feels far less acceptable, even more so in the wake of the truly great, no-asterisks-needed PSVR game Astrobot: Rescue Mission.

Astrobot, like Blood & Truth, is a first-party Sony game, the ostensible height of what well-backed VR video game productions can achieve. With Astrobot we got a cartoonish game that let players control a little robot from overhead, making him hop, run and tightrope-walk through colorful, secret-filled levels.

With Blood & Truth, we’re soldier Ryan Marks in a first-person shooter that mixes non-interactive story sequences in which Marks is either being interrogated or chatting with his mother, sister, and brother—complete with a lifetime supply of “fucking hell”s—about how to keep his dead father’s criminal empire from falling into a rival’s hands. The family members are annoying, especially Ryan’s brother. He’s especially irritating in an overly long sequence when the two break into a gangster’s art gallery and start screwing with all of these exhibits that just happen to demonstrate various VR gimmicks. Here’s a room full of objects that can collapse all around you. Here’s a room that lights up differently as you move your hands. Here’s a room that’s mostly dark and primed for jump scares when that annoying brother of yours keeps hopping into the light. Here’s a room where you and your brother suddenly have spraypaint cans and can deface art. Here’s a room with a paintball gun that you can shoot at other art as you and your brother cackle through it and snicker about whether any of this is art. The brother is as insufferable as the action is forced. I’d prefer a game without the shooting, without the brother, and maybe with some of these VR art projects fleshed out into a game.

Blood & Truth is best when it’s simply giving you a moment to feel that you are somewhere unusual. This is a strength of VR overall, to convey a simulated sense of presence. I got that in 2015 when I first tried a pre-launch PSVR demo for a demo called London Heist that would eventually ship on the PlayStation VR Worlds compilation and seemed to inspire Blood & Truth. In that one, I saw through the eyes of a character sitting in a chair being berated by an interrogator who loomed over me and puffed smoke in my face. Strangely, the interrogation scenes I’ve experienced in Blood & Truth are not as in-your-face and are, perhaps as a result, not as impressive.

I got that impressive VR-enabled sense of presence in Blood & Truth when I was jumping out of the window in the game’s second major level and felt, for a moment, that I was somewhere I’d never been—dangling mid-leap between two buildings. I got it, too, in part of the casino level, when my character suddenly found himself at the controls of a DJ booth, where I could trigger different lights and sounds while scratching a record on a turntable. I even got that when sitting shotgun in the car as my annoying brother drove us through London and reached out to hand me a vape. Would that the developers could make a game about this kind of presence, rather than offer drops of it between shootouts that feel so unexceptional.

Fair or not, Sony’s VR games carry the weight of justifying the platform and this entire endeavor of virtual reality gaming about which so many people who play games remain skeptical. Some holdouts simply need to get inside some VR graphics and see the generally wonderful experience of video game visuals that surround you. Others should play the kinds of focused indie games that take a concept like swinging lightsabers to a beat and make a great experience out of them. It’s reasonable, though, to think that some might be on the fence until they hear there’s a whole London action movie of a VR game out there to play. When such a game simply oscillates between basic gunplay and shoehorned gimmickry, it winds up being a poor showcase.

I might play more Blood & Truth, just to look for more of its silly or potentially thrilling gimmick moments. I sense, though, that I have sized up Blood & Truth well enough to know what it is. I also know what I wish it was: a game about leaping through windows and crawling through air ducts. I’d happily spend more time in VR doing that. And less time trying to deal with an annoying brother.

Source: Kotaku.com

Smash Ultimate In VR Was A Mistake

In the “Thanks, I hate it” category, Nintendo gave us Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in virtual reality last night. Nobody asked for this, and yet here we are—swiveling our heads left and right and withstanding gut-sinking nausea just to land a couple aerials on a computer-player Peach.

Earlier this year, Nintendo introduced a VR kit for the Switch. It’s a cardboard headset with two lenses, and in lieu of a head strap, players must hold the thing up to their face with their hands. Nintendo recently added VR support for Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, both of which my boss Stephen Totilo tersely described as “not good.” Those two games, plus Smash Ultimate, now have special VR modes where players can dizzy themselves to their heart’s content, following a wandering camera to play games that are plainly more enjoyable in handheld or docked mode.

Just gamin’. In a normal way.
Photo: Author

After loading up the mode in Smash Ultimate’s “Games & More” section, the game suggests players watch the CPUs duke it out before joining in themselves (“You can move the camera around to enjoy the battle from different angles”). If bot voyeurism isn’t your speed, you can challenge a CPU or three on about half of the total available Smash stages. Smash Ultimate VR is single-player only. Those aren’t the only restrictions. Timed mode is the only game option, and there are no Smash balls or items.

There’s a lot of debate over the best way to play Super Smash Bros.—GameCube controller, Pro controller, handheld, connected to LAN—but there will be no debate that VR is the worst. In a game of Smash Ultimate VR, the player must either crane their head to view fighters on a stage’s fringes or push in the C stick, which often fires off an involuntary smash attack. On the Pirate Ship stage, for example, the ship docks on a shore with its bow jutted up into the air. The bot I was fighting refused to leave the bow and fight me on the shore for a long time, forcing me to nod my head up and down for a full scope of both fighters or continuously up-smash. If your character is battling on the bottom levels of a stage with depth, looking down on them through the headset’s Gods’-eye-view may inspire some unwelcome vertigo or nausea.

The screenshots look significantly better than the graphics do in-game.

Somebody more generous than me would compare Smash Ultimate’s VR graphics to Smash 64’s. Yet as one person on Twitter put it, “If you think I won’t use that to look at Samus’ butt you are mistaken.” To that end, Smash Ultimate’s VR does succeed as a cinematic mode for viewing two bots fighting each other in trash graphical quality. Needless to say, holding your hands up to your face to watch that or to rapidly button-mash Smash combos begins to strain your arms after a couple of games. Smash Ultimate encourages you to take breaks.

The supposed appeal of VR is immersion and omniscience, but in my view, the technology is still in its gimmick phase. I’m not creative enough to imagine a version of Smash Ultimate I would regularly play that benefits from the VR treatment. Why the cynicism? In my view, Smash Ultimate is a near-perfect video game which I have played for hundreds of happy hours. It’s great. It doesn’t need VR.

And so I ask: Why did Nintendo make this? Why would we want to hold a cardboard scuba mask up to our faces to fight bots, or watch bots fight, in 1999 Nintendo graphics?

Source: Kotaku.com

Watch Someone Destroy Beat Saber With A Hand Mixer

GIF: hu hu (YouTube)

Beat Saber is a virtual reality rhythm game where you chop red and blue blocks with correspondingly colored lightsabers. It requires a lot of coordination and precise movements. Or you could do what one player did and just strap your VR controllers to a handheld cake mixer.

YouTuber hu hu says he scavenged through his local Goodwill for blenders, fans, and any other appliance that spins. He settled on using a cake mixer because he thought it would be relatively simply to mod. He hot glued the whisk attachment to the appliance before taping his Oculus controller to the end of it. In his video, he proceeds to successfully demolish a player-made level.

The cake mixer hack is so effective on its highest speed that it actually crashes the game. While the practical applications of hu hu’s invention are limited, it’s convinced me that if there is any justice in this world we will someday be blessed with a Great British Bake Off VR experience. 

Source: Kotaku.com

Vader Immortal Finally Makes Alderaanian Wolfcats Canon

The first episode of VR game Vader Immortal was released earlier this week and I’m happy to share this news with Star Wars fans around the world. Finally, Alderaanian Wolf-Cats are truly canon, once and for all. What a relief. Also, some other Easter Eggs and references are in Vader Immortal’s first episode too.

The YouTube channel Star Wars Explained has a wonderful video out that goes over all of the fun little details and references players can find while playing Vader Immortal. This is useful for players who don’t own an Oculus VR headset.

Some other interesting bits of Star Wars lore included in the game include a reference to the city world of Nar Shaddaa, a location seen often in older EU games and books. The planets of Wayland and Bakura, first created for older EU books are mentioned, which makes me wonder if Lucasfilm has any future plans for these planets. Something I found very curious is that your droid partner explains that the Emperor keeps a “storehouse of treasures” on Wayland, which was true in the older EU and is now, apparently, canon.

Players can also find a new artifact that references the planet of Jedha, which was seen in the film Rogue One. The artifact was stolen, but the people on the planet don’t mind because they believe it was cursed.

Finally, my favorite little Easter Egg involves a training droid. This particular droid is actually voiced by Pablo Hidalgo, a member of the Lucasfilm Story Group who has been around for a long time and has a deep knowledge of Star Wars. He has also appeared in episodes of The Star Wars Show.

This is only the first episode, so future episodes of the game will most likely include even more references and details. Will we see the return of Hohass Ekwesh? One can dream.

Source: Kotaku.com

Assassin’s Creed VR ‘Escape Room’ Is More Spectacle Than Puzzle

Screenshot: Ubisoft

Ubisoft has a new “VR escape room” set in the world of Assassin’s Creed that you can play at over 100 different locations around the world. It’s fun, but despite its stated ties to “escape rooms,” Beyond Medusa’s Gate is more of an hourlong VR action game than a cooperative brain teaser.

The first of Ubisoft’s VR escape games was called Escape The Lost Pyramid, which tied in with Assassin’s Creed Origins; this one, set in a cave on the shores of ancient Greece, ties in with Odyssey. Either two or four players are locked together in the cave, and have to team up to face a variety of challenges to get out.

The equipment in the room seems like a fairly off-the-shelf setup; the venue we visited in the San Jose, California area had a small room with a desktop PC mounted on a wall shelf and an HTC Vive with motion controllers attached to it, via wires that were suspended from the ceiling to (mostly) stay out of your way. This is probably why they can roll it out to 100 different places around the world so quickly, but it’s also less exciting than what you’d find at, say, the Shinjuku VR Zone, where you can play custom VR-powered installations with special controllers and other elements that you wouldn’t be able to get at home.

Screenshot: Ubisoft

You begin by going through a basic tutorial. You can walk around in the area bounded by the walls of the IRL room you’re in, and teleport around the virtual world to make bigger movements. You can manipulate objects with your hands, which you learn about by customizing your character’s avatar in a dressing room with a mirror. The other players are milling about in there, too, and you can dress yourself up while goofing around with them.

Once everybody’s ready, you jump into the old reliable Animus and get a brief rundown of your mission, which is to find an ancient ship and get it out of the cave. You then proceed through a series of very basic puzzles: You first have to get out of a small room, which you can do very quickly by manipulating a few objects inside it, like a fiery brazier and some switches on the walls. Then you’ve got to figure out how to open up another door by manipulating three switches and a picture made up of rotating discs (a nice callback to Assassin’s Creed II’s puzzles).

It’s a simple puzzle, and they don’t get any more difficult—it’s all just simple object-manipulation stuff with a clear goal and very little chance that you’ll do the wrong thing. In fact, much of it was action-based, like shooting arrows at targets or climbing across a series of handholds on a surface that another player was manipulating remotely.

There’s a big focus on teamwork; almost all of the tasks require at least two people to accomplish them. But the way these work tends to be asymmetrical, with one player doing the “fun” thing while the other one does the “boring” thing. Just by coincidence and where I happened to be walking when we were messing with the challenges, I always ended up having to do the “boring” thing. My partner was always the one using handholds to dangle over 100-foot drops while I stayed on the ground to make sure those handholds were still active. (I’m being circumspect with these descriptions so as to not spoil the experience for would-be players.) I might have felt better about the experience had the design let both players experience both halves of each puzzle.

As a piece of VR spectacle, Medusa’s Gate is pretty cool; as you get deeper and deeper into the cave, you discover lots of larger-than-life secrets that can be pretty impressive to experience with a friend. Once it’s all over and you get out, the game takes some virtual “photos” of you, and I’m pleased to report that we had the presence of mind to do this:

Medusa’s Gate didn’t really leave me feeling like I had just played an “escape room;” the puzzles were too un-puzzle-y, more like the sort of basic round-peg-in-the-round-hole types of things you’d find in… well, a triple-A action-adventure video game series in which a player getting “stuck” is considered to be an unforgivable design sin. If you don’t have a room-scale VR setup at home and just want to pay around fifty bucks for an hour of finding out what that’s like, you may want to try this; otherwise you should just stick to the real-life sorts of escape rooms.

Source: Kotaku.com

Star Wars Fans Will Love Helping the Dark Lord Achieve His Destiny in Vader Immortal

You’re going to learn much, much more about Mustafar in Vader Immortal.
Image: ILMxLab

For years, we’ve enjoyed watching Star Wars stories from the outside. And typically Star Wars in VR and AR feels more like a very cool tech demo than a full immersion into a galaxy far, far away. But with Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series – Episode I, it seems like ILMxLab has crafted an untold chapter in the Star Wars saga that fans will love. This thing is no tech demo.

Created by ILMxLab, Vader Immortal will be released May 21 for Oculus Quest followed by other Oculus headsets later this year. It tells a canon story set between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, and a few days after Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire (another VR experience at Void locations nationwide). You play a nameless, faceless smuggler who flies a ship called the Windfall with your trusty droid ZO-E3, voiced by Maya Rudolph. All is well in the galaxy until you’re captured by the Empire and brought to Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar. There, you’ll end up face to face with Vader himself and he’ll task you with helping him find an ancient artifact—an artifact which he believes will help him conquer death itself.

You and ZO-E3 on the Windfall, about to be boarded.
Image: ILMxLab

So, no big deal. You just get to be a character who tries to help Darth Vader achieve the goal that actually made him become Darth Vader in the first place.

The question, of course, is will you help the Dark Lord of the Sith or go against him? Through the first 45-60 minute story, you and ZO-E3 will struggle with that decision as you attempt to escape Vader’s castle and, in turn, learn much, much more about what the Sith Lord wants, how he plans to get it, and how it ties into the history of Mustafar itself.

io9 played through the entire first episode of Vader Immortal this week (it’s planned as a trilogy, with the second two episodes still to come), and we can tell you, this is a story Star Wars fans will want to experience themselves.

The Dark Lord of the Sith awaits…
Image: ILMxLab

Vader Immortal is rich with that kind of deep-dive, Force mythology many of us crave (no spoilers, but it does tangentially tie in with the Darth Vader Marvel comics), but it also has lots of the action (lightsaber fights, duh) and narrative tropes (flying a starship, escaping huge fortresses) fans have come to expect from the series. It ends on a cliffhanger that will have you begging to press start on episode two immediately.

But don’t call Vader Immortal a mere “game,” at least according to writer and executive producer David S. Goyer. He and his colleagues see it as more of an “immersive experience.” Like a game, you have to perform tasks and defeat enemies to proceed in the story—but, unlike a game, your character can’t die.

“We really want to make sure this feels like a piece of narrative where you’re not ripped out of it,” said Mohen Leo, the game’s narrative designer, told io9. “The moment where you go like ‘Game Over, Start Again’ you no longer believe that you’re that character.” That said, there are plenty of game tropes. Some scenes in Vader Immortal felt more like Uncharted than Star Wars, which was very enjoyable.

Image: ILMxLab

And yet, a lack of consequence doesn’t mean Vader Immortal is a one-and-done experience. You can tell there was care put into crafting a full, canonical Star Wars story exploring a place fans have been dying to know more about for years: Darth Vader’s castle.

Goyer, who’s been working on the project since before ILMxLab’s first Star Wars experience, Trials at Tatooine, was complete, explained that at the start he was simply asked if he wanted to “do something with Darth Vader in the VR space.” That was all he was given. So he went to Skywalker Ranch, visited the archives, and was immediately intrigued by a piece of artwork made for The Empire Strikes Back, but never used, of Vader’s castle.

Vader’s castle as seen, for the first time officially, in Rogue One.
Photo: Disney

“[As] we were talking about Vader we started talking about ‘What would [the castle] be like? Where does he live’?” Goyer said. “And then the [Lucasfilm] Story Group said ‘We might be doing a scene [there] in Rogue One.’” Yes, planning for this started before Rogue One had even come out. “So we said, ‘Well, what if we build around it?’ Because you only see one room in Rogue One. Then that naturally led to, ‘Okay well, what is in this place? And why is he there?’”

That also started to dovetail with the Darth Vader Marvel comics and even informed the setting of the Void’s Secrets of the Empire VR experience, which came out first but was developed after. “[Vader Immortal] led to Secrets being in this place,” director Ben Snow said. As is the case with Star Wars these days, it’s all connected.

The key art for Vader Immortal.
Image: ILMxLab

If heavy Star Wars mythology isn’t your thing, though, there’s also a Lightsaber Dojo mode where you can face up to 40 levels of increasingly difficult challenges with your lightsaber (aka the Oculus control). But that’s another mode and not really a part of the story. The story is also filled with Easter eggs, as you’d expect. Many of those are on the Windfall, which you get to explore before things really get into high gear. Again, no spoilers, but the words “Boonta Eve” may be referenced.

Ultimately though, whether you try Vader Immortal to discover its story, or to just kick ass with a lightsaber in VR, it checks those boxes and more. It’s a fun, fascinating adventure that gives Star Wars fans a chance to experience their favorite franchise in a brand new way. And, with more episodes to come, it’s only the beginning.

For more on Vader Immortal, releasing May 21, visit its official site.

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Source: Kotaku.com