Q3 2017 marked the first sales have exceeded the million mark for the still-budding Virtual Reality platforms.
Another virtual reality title, another game that feels like a tech demo—only this time it is from Ninja Theory and costs $10. Yay?
The verdict is in for the ZeniMax vs. Oculus (FB 183,29 +4,30 +2,40%) lawsuit and ZeniMax has won the trial.
It’s weird having played Superhot on PC before I played the virtual reality version, because the latter truly feels like it’s everything it was meant to be. Although it’s only available exclusively on the Oculus Rift (much to the ire of previous Kickstarter backers), this FPS is unlike anything I’ve played before on the platform, mostly because of the entire premise of “nothing moves unless you do.” What was once a browser game is now a full-on Matrix simulator, and it’s glorious.
Cards on the table, this might be a new build with different scenarios and mechanics, but it’s still very short. You’ll finish it in roughly two hours, tops, and although there’s a level select option at the end, that’s all you get. It’s disappointing on the surface, but since I’ve beaten it three times already since launch, I clearly got over it. If you have access to the $200 Touch controls for the Rift, you will too.
Superhot VR uses a 1:1 translation of your hands to put you into the role of an action hero. Both hands can be used independently, but instead of having some crutch to accommodate for slow reaction times or some sort of super power, you’re relying on the core mechanic of time to help you out.
As I mentioned, time only moves in Superhot when you do. So waving your arms around, walking about in the small space you’re given (think Time Cop or some other rail-shooter), picking up items, or shooting, punching, or slicing, will move time. Enemies can pour in from any angle, and it’s up to you to look around, assess the situation, give it an ocular pat down, and kill them all. Whether this involves shooting them with standard weaponry like pistols, shotguns, or SMGs, or literally balling up your fist and punching them (which led to several scares involving punching a monitor) is up to you — the entire process is really open-ended.
Many times I’d get down on the ground, and almost breakdance to avoid slow moving bullets, while rising up and upper cutting someone in the jaw. Hardly any other game can replicate that unique control scheme and the rush of actually experiencing it.
Not quote a tech demo but not quite a full adventure, Superhot VR is one of the best virtual reality games you can buy right now.
Almost half a year after its initial release, the Oculus Rift’s status as a piece of high-end consumer technology has been overshadowed by its larger place in popular culture. The nitty-gritty of the Rift itself almost doesn’t matter any more; now you have to consider how it stacks up against its widely available competitors, how you feel about its library of games, and if your computer can even handle VR. You don’t just buy an Oculus Rift; you buy into the idea of Oculus Rift and virtual reality as a whole.
For some, all they need to make a purchasing decision is an assessment of the headset itself, which is fine! Everyone looks at an $850 purchasing decision through different eyes. The headset itself is a striking piece of tech, a singular vision of the future that you can buy from a Facebook-owned website as of this very moment. Installation is ridiculously simple, provided you’ve already hit the recommended specifications on your PC. In the four months that I’ve been using a Rift, I’ve found the headset and its associated software to be very user-friendly, never requiring any undue setup or behind-the-scenes maintenance. Even after a couple weeks of leaving the Rift in the box while I moved across town, I only needed to perform a quick system update and I was good to go. You don’t need to put the headset sensor in the same place every time, or constantly recalibrate.
If any part of the Oculus Rift were a pain to use or navigate, that would be the ballgame for the whole VR experiment. Early adopters will put up with just about anything (something to which I can personally attest), but if virtual reality has any shot with a broad demographic, the act of putting on the headset and messing around has to be as simple as possible. It’s easy to manage your games and apps in the desktop Oculus app or the in-headset Oculus Home. Nothing on the software end should be changed for the next Oculus Rift.
The physical headset itself is another story.
I’ve never been able to get the Rift to fit properly on my head, no matter how much I finagle with the straps. For the most part, I was constantly aware of this giant contraption strapped to my face, and was never fully immersed in anything I played on the headset. The images presented through the Rift are noticeably pixelated, but it’s either that or a headset nobody will be able to afford, so I’m not going to get very upset about that. However, any kind of strong light grabs the space around it like the halo surrounding a street lamp on an incredibly humid night, except all up in your face. When you’re not playing a game or watching a video, the blank space where the bridge of your nose would ostensibly meet the Rift lets in a decent amount of light, but it’s negligible once your eyes have something to focus on.
The Rift isn’t painful to wear, mind you. It’s just that (unless you’re really invested in your game or experience) you’re aware of the headset and its limitations from the moment you put it on your head. Immersion is difficult to achieve when a relatively heavy dual-screen monitor is strapped to your eyes. This will likely be less of a problem for some users (and may be mitigated with regular use), but I’d recommend you find some way to mess around with the headset before you even think about plunking down the cash for one.
Conversely, as someone who’s never been able to watch a 3D movie without suffering from headaches, my eyes adjusted to the Oculus fairly quickly without any noticeable fatigue or discomfort. The problem with the headset is more a weight issue than a tech issue—finding some way to put the majority of the system’s load bearing on the back of the head rather than the front would go a long way.
If you have no issue with the physical aspect of the Rift, you’ll likely be happy with the games on offer. During the course of my testing, I played the free pack-in Lucky’s Tale, space dogfighting game EVE Valkyrie, story-based adventure game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and survival horror Edge of Nowhere.
Lucky’s Tale, although relatively slight, is a fairly enjoyable 3D platformer elevated by having to pull double-duty as a tech demo for the Oculus Rift. It is the first demo I bust out when showing off the headset to friends, and it usually impressed them more than anything else they played. Lucky’s Tale is a fine example of applying virtual reality to well-worn game tropes. Much like with Nintendo’s first-party work on the Wii, a strong, colourful art style can overcome lower fidelity graphics. Plus, the ability to physically look around in-game objects to look for collectibles never got old. I’d recommend it, but it’s free, which almost feels like a crime.
Edge of Nowhere is cut from a similar cloth, although it’s less “adorable mascot platformer” and more “The Thing plus Tomb Raider filtered through a Lovecraftian cheesecloth.” It’s a third-person survival horror game that takes advantage of the player’s forced perspective to throw a couple jump scares right at the camera. I hope virtual reality horror eventually moves beyond getting all up in your grill and hollering a whole bunch, but I won’t begrudge the technique while the hardware is still early. I will begrudge a game that keeps doing the same crap over and over, especially when it’s crap we’ve already seen before (hide from the spotlight, throw rocks to distract big ol’ monsters, climb some precarious environments, are you crazy or what), so I’m not going to recommend Rift owners grab Edge of Nowhere, unless it’s on sale.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter made me believe in motion sickness. At first, I thought I would be able to handle the ‘normal’ control mode, where you control movement with the left stick and the camera with the right stick, with the Rift as an optional secondary camera. That foolhardy enterprise lasted me about ten minutes, during which I almost passed out. No exaggeration, playing Ethan Carter was the closest I’ve come to unconsciousness. Thankfully, I had barely made a dent in the game, since you can’t switch control schemes midway through. The now VR-standard “pick a point on the screen and teleport” mechanic removed the motion sickness and made the game feel like an old-school adventure game, but it felt like an inferior way to experience the game.
EVE Valkyrie is the real star of the Oculus Rift’s early lineup. We’re talking a jaw-dropping level of immersion, where I let myself fall completely into a role I’ve always dreamt of playing: a starfighter pilot. Blazing through space and taking my enemies to fool school felt incredible, even as I staved off minor motion sickness from my ship making a hairpin turn. I hope my nausea eventually goes away, because I could see myself playing EVE Valkyrie for a very long time. I want to hear the hum of my dual machineguns in my dreams. It’s so good, and absolutely worth every penny of the $80 asking price.
So, here we are. That is the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset, appraised with as little outside influence as possible. Even with the iteration of the development kit, the physical discomfort and the low quality of the image makes me believe this consumer Rift is still a very early attempt. It has some neat games, but nothing on the docket worth $850.
The Oculus Rift becomes a much harder sell when you let in the outside world. Right now, at time of writing, you can purchase an HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, both of which currently offer motion controls. I really liked some of the Rift games I played, but even the most immersive gamepad-controlled game has nothing on the worst motion controlled VR game. In fact, after playing one PS VR tech demo, the Rift feels much weaker by comparison. An Oculus Rift decked out with two forthcoming Oculus Touch controllers & a third sensor for room-scale VR will run you around $70 more than a Vive, and $520 more than a PlayStation VR bundle and $160 more if you buy a whole new PlayStation 4 to go with your VR headset. This is even assuming you have a PC that can run VR.
Unless you really love the Facebook brand of products, the many tech loopholes that allow you to play Oculus games on the Vive means there’s no reason to stick with the Rift unless you’re dying to play Lucky’s Tale. Also, maybe you don’t need to buy a VR headset right now? Virtual reality still needs a little more time in the oven, at least to the point where the pixelation has been dealt with. The Oculus Rift is a mildly uncomfortable, barely finished, expensive video game platform with a handful of interesting exclusives. Your friends will love it (mine certainly do), not only because VR is inherently cool, but also because they get to mess around with the Oculus without dropping the cash. Maybe being the cool techie in your social circle is reason enough to entice some people, but it’s not mandatory if you’re only curious about virtual reality.
While one might assume that the title gives away everything there is to know about the game, you’d be wrong. Sure, you’re an eagle and you’re definitely in-flight, but Eagle Flight ends up feeling a lot more like a space shooter such as Star Fox than a carnivorous bird simulator.
Controls are simple and natural yet tight and responsive. Tilting your head to the left or right will cause your bird to pan left or right, but you can also turn to look left and right for the same effect, whichever feels more natural; I found myself doing a bit of both. Over time you’ll unlock the ability to attack other birds of prey via your eagle call, as well as learning how to shield yourself from attacks.
Combat is simple, as one projective eagle call will destroy any enemies that may be in your way, but when combined with the tight controls, the system just works.
The story mode, like all of Eagle Flight, is rather shallow but enjoyable. It takes place in Paris, France, which is now overrun by various animals after the end of humanity. As you might have guessed, you’re an eagle. You start by watching your parents help you hatch from an egg, then suddenly you’re an adult off on your own. What happened to your parents, I’m not sure. You then go about your life as an eagle, learning to catch fish, finding a mate, and taking down other birds of prey and bats. What little story is to be found here consists primarily of isolated plot points with no real development, which isn’t surprising, as the game is meant to be completed in around two hours. If you’re looking for an original or touching story, this isn’t the game for you.
The actual gameplay of the story mode consists of a few different types of missions, most of which are slightly different-looking variants of the same thing. For example, one of the first missions you do has you flying through a series of rings in a specific order in a race against the clock, while another type of mission has you racing through fish jumping out of the water. Sure, they are slightly different, but in the end, you’re just flying as fast as you can through very specific areas. Surprise,surprise: a game called Eagle Flight consists mostly of flying. Other missions have you finding feathers scattered throughout Paris, escorting and protecting other birds, or just taking down a certain number of other birds of prey.
Graphically, Eagle Flight leaves a lot to be desired, as the game looks like an early PlayStation 3 game with a PS2-era draw distance and pop-up graphics. Thankfully, most of the time you’ll be moving so quickly or so close to buildings it won’t matter. Plus you’ll probably be distracted by the game’s amazing soundtrack, which is at times i reminiscent of a Danny Elfman score.
Comfort wise I had no issues, meaning I played the entire game in one sitting and never felt sick or queasy. Ubisoft clearly did its research to make sure players didn’t want to vomit after playing this game, and other developers should take notes.
Eagle Flight also has a three on three multiplayer mode pitting teams of eagles against each other in an attempt to collect and return the carcass of a rabbit to their team’s nest. This mode plays out like a one flag capture-the-flag mode and would probably be pretty fun if you could track down other players to play with. I played during the evening and was only able to find two other players, and even being on a team by myself I still had fun. This seems to be a trend with many multiplayer modes in VR games at this point, as many games have seemingly no population due to the lack of wide adoption of this still fledgling technology.
This being an Ubisoft game means that the company’s DRM in sheep’s clothing, Uplay, is forced upon you, should you choose to play it on a PC. I and others had issues even getting the game to start when purchasing it through the Oculus Store thanks to Uplay refusing to recognize that we purchased the game. This issue had to be manually fixed for me by the publisher. This shows, once again, that Uplay does little more than punish paying customers while merely delaying pirates from getting games they have no intentions of paying for.
Uplay issues aside, Eagle Flight is an alright game. The controls are tight and the combat is serviceable, but for the $40 price tag it feels a bit shallow, as do most VR games thus far. The story mode only takes around two hours to run through, though with the optional collectibles and levels you might be able to squeeze around five or so hours total out of it before finishing it completely. It’s not a bad game, nor a great game, but an enjoyable one that had me entertained throughout, which isn’t something I’ve said about most games on the Oculus Rift.
Today at Oculus Connect 3 in San Jose, Oculus announced a release date and price for their Oculus Touch motion controllers. A pair of Touch controllers will run $199, although if users want to take advantage of room-scale VR, they will have to purchase an additional Oculus sensor for $79. The Oculus Touch will be released on December 6, with pre-orders opening later this month, on October 10.
A report shocked the tech industry earlier this week when Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey was exposed for funding “Nimble America,” a pro-Trump guerrilla ad campaign organization. The story quickly led to developers pulling Oculus support from their games, including Polytron’s SUPERHYPERCUBE. On Sept 23rd, Luckey decided to speak out on his Facebook about the report, clarifying his views and actions. But his Facebook post has sparked a controversy of its own due to disputes over its accuracy.
Following the news that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was behind a pro-Donald Trump NPO, one developer has already distanced themselves from the Oculus Rift.
Polytron Games, headed up by Fez creator Phil Fish, has released an official statement condemning Luckey’s action. In addition to this, they have decided to not pursue an Oculus Rift release for SUPERHYPERCUBE, their upcoming VR title.
“You may have seen the news yesterday that ties Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey to Nimble America, a Trump-endorsing organization Luckey started to defame Clinton via “the power of Internet memes,” the statement reads. “In a political climate as fragile and horrifying as this one, we cannot tacitly endorse these actions by supporting Luckey or his platform. In light of this, we will not be pursuing Oculus support for our upcoming VR release, SUPERHYPERCUBE.”
Polytron went one step further. Without officially endorsing a candidate, the developer did issue a de facto condemnation of Trump and his supporters. “If you are a voting citizen of the United States, please remember to register and make your voice heard this November 8th. Do not let bigotry, white supremacy, hate and fear win.”
Neither Luckey nor Oculus have issued an official response, but one could expect that we’ll hear one at some point in the near future.
This move makes a lot of sense on Polytron’s part. It’s also a bold political statement, as poking the 2016 election hornet’s nest online is a messy affair across the board. Yet it’s something we are bound to see more of in the coming days, considering the divisive nature of Trump’s campaign and supporters. Many developers would rather not have their titles affiliated with that in any capacity.
One wonders if this will go to a corporate level, with larger game companies boycotting Oculus based on these recent developments. Only time will tell.
Palmer Luckey has been called the “face of virtual reality in gaming,” and for good reason: Luckey founded Oculus VR and invented the Oculus Rift, the VR headset that initiated today’s virtual reality boom. After Luckey sold Oculus VR to Facebook, he remained at the company, working on Oculus’ VR technology. But a new controversy has thrust him into the public spotlight for an entirely different reason: Palmer Luckey has been funding a Pro-Trump meme organization.
Editor’s Note: I was requested to hold off on speaking about one of the videos shown off for this event, when that loose embargo lifts, we can discuss it further.
In the gaming world, VR is one of the most exciting things about this current generation. The level of immersion that it adds to an already interactive medium is incredible, at least in shorter playthroughs. But while us gamers live in our bubble of Batman VR, Battlezone VR, and Space Pirate Simulator, VR made its mark in other mediums. More specifically, the contribution of VR to the movie industry cannot be understated. One can actually see how much VR changes movies is through Pop VR.
Running through the tail end of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Pop VR takes viewers on a more personal journey across five short films, all of them played on the Samsung Gear VR headset. The main takeaway from my experience was the level of intimacy with the art presented to me. There was no audience. It was just me and the story. Since the shorts are optimized for VR, it means the creators have a little more leeway in how their creations are presented. In many ways this meant putting me as the viewer in the center of the action instead of in front, or forcing me to look all around my surroundings. Those two tactics were fairly common across the board, but they managed to keep me engaged, even though I banged my knee on a table once or twice. Even with minor injuries distracting me, I was able to appreciate how each short was unique in its own right, showing off how engaging cinema can be in VR.
The first short I watched was probably my favourite. Entitled Ch’aak S’aagi (Eagle Bone), creator Tracy Rector’s story blends freestyle spoken word poetry with ancient lessons and virtual reality. Touching on our individuality and how we’re connected, VR honestly seemed like the only logical way to bring this to people. Its presentation demands your attention, taking the viewer through the Pacific Northwest. From cities to the coast, to even underwater, its blend of traditional storytelling with relatively new VR tech was a juxtaposition I could get behind. And as a fan of poetry, it was a nice surprise even if it was a little short. While it does carry a pretty heavy tone, and touches on the institutionalized dismantling of native culture at points, it was captivating from start to finish, sticking with me long after the video ended.
In a completely different direction however, there is Invasion!. A short animated video by Baobab Studios (a team consisting of ex Dreamworks and Pixar talent), about two aliens that touch down on earth with the intent of taking over. Armed with a spaceship and a ray gun, they try to intimidate some of the local wildlife and it backfires horribly. This story actually inserts you in the story as one of the main characters—a little white bunny. To be honest, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was supposed to be until reading the press release. Still, this was easily the most charming of all the videos at Pop VR. The talent behind it should speak for itself, but everything oozes Pixar charm. It’s adorable, fun, and probably the simplest, yet most endearing of all the films shown off at the event.
After that, the next film was already queued up. Titled Jafri and directed by Michael Beets (known for his work as a writer in 2015’s Beyond the Waves), this documentary follows Jafari Ibra. If the name sounds familiar, he’s the person who made his way in the news cycle by standing in the middle of Melbourne, Au’s busiest intersection holding a “stop racism now” sign. The movie is said to guide us through the life of a man who is taking a stand, showing his most intimate moments, but it came across as sort of preachy. It didn’t really touch on any of the racial issues that led him to do what he does, or even the repercussions of doing so, it was more about the man away from the signs. I was disappointed in how little meat there was on this one. Rather than a movie that could inspire people, I was left thinking Ibra has some kind of God complex. He even states he believes he’s a prophet. It’s sad because there was probably a good story to be told here. Instead, it’s more of a disjointed mess. It makes good use of the VR though. Many scenes jump around in different directions causing you to move as well, and some of the perspectives they give you are interesting to say the least. I was just left wanting more.
The last documentary has the exact opposite problem though. Titled Right to Pray, and directed by Khushboo Ranka of India, this short follows a group of women who are trying to break a centuries old ban of females praying in the ancient Hindu temple of Trimbakeshwar. The story itself was actually captivating, but unfortunately, Right to Pray has a lot of technical issues. VR didn’t really benefit this title. Almost every scene has a clear scar on screen from where two cameras were set up just a little off from one another. It also seemed like a story worthy of a full documentary length instead of the shortened, more compressed route they took. Despite my issues with the presentation, it is an important glimpse into the struggle women still face around the world, and that’s important especially in the West where we live in a blissful ignorance of situations like this. There were many scenes that were straight up shocking, and they’ve lingered in my mind since I took off my headset. It’s probably the most important story at Pop VR, so try to look past some of the more amateur mistakes when watching this one.
Regardless of that issue though, Pop VR is an interesting experiment with VR technology and cinema. By putting on a Samsung Gear VR set, the audience becomes more than a passive viewer, but not quite an active participant like in a videogame. While I doubt VR will ever surpass traditional cinema in terms of the way movies are viewed, it provides a level of immersion that you just don’t get from traditional viewing methods. If you’re in Toronto between Sept 16, 2016 and Sept 18, 2016, I recommend giving this a shot. The only thing you have to lose is feeling in your
Virtual reality headsets are one of the hot topics of 2016. From Facebook’s Oculus Rift to the Nvidia VR Works suite, almost every company has been dying to throw their hat into the VR ring. Even Hideo Kojima has entered the realm of VR technology. But a new study suggests that VR hardware sales may be on the decline among PC users.