Valve’s Entry to VR Targets the Standing Experience

Tested has provided a very thorough review of Valve’s entry into the VR space – the Vine. The main takeaway I got from it all is that base-station approach seems to give a tracking ability to their controllers to the same degree as the head tracking you can get for the HMD. If true, if the steam controllers can track to the same accuracy as the headset, Valve has solved the biggest hurdle facing VR at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still several hurdles to jump, but they all pale in comparison to having a standing experience with some way of properly interacting with the environment. We still need:

  • Enough resolution to make out small text and dials (e.g. menus and flight sims)
  • A way of moving around infinite environments without inducing motion sickness. I feel like a controller could solve this, but no game I’ve tried yet has made the movement natural enough to eliminate motion sickness. e.g. Alien Isolation. Redirected Walking is a great idea I’m hanging my hat on, but it may not be practical if research indicates we need a minimum of a 23-metre-radius area.
  • Haptic feedback. I expect for the first 5-10 years of VR a controller that let’s us interact with objects that behave like air will be acceptable, but it really does make it hard to naturally interact with an environment. Can you imagine trying something that requires even a low amount of dexterity (e.g. opening a drawer) when not only are you unable to feel the handle, but your hand passes straight through it.
  • Better optics. I have taken to putting in contacts when I want to VR – glasses are uncomfortable. It’s enough of a pain to make me not bother some times. Self-focusing lens, manual focusing lens, automatic IPD measurements, a more glasses-friendly fit – I expect all of these things to make an appearance sooner or later, but at the moment they are outstanding issues.
  • General simplification of the hardware and software. When I want to use the DK2, I have to put in contacts, grab the headset (maybe plug it in), fire up the OR software, change my monitor configurations (issues with Extended Mode), somehow fire up and navigate demos and games that are often half-in and half-out of VR (e.g. Windows is out of VR, but in the game the menus are in VR… but require the keyboard to navigate which I can’t see.) A lot of these problems will be solved when more software utilises the Rift’s Direct Mode, but due to limitations within Windows this hasn’t been widely adopted yet.
  • 180 degree field of view. At the moment the FOV of the DK2 is pretty good (and the Vine appears to be slightly worse in that regard), but it would really help presence and immersion if the engineers can get that FOV to encompass all of our peripheral vision. It doesn’t really feel like you’re looking down a tube, but you do find you can’t do some of the things you would in the real world – like catching things out of the corner of your eye. You have to move your head a bit more left-and-right than you would realistically to keep your situational awareness high. I feel like I’m a quarterback scanning the field … all the time.

The haptic feedback might be a tough nut to crack (but it is also something I think we can live without for the foreseeable future) and the rest I fully expect to be quickly solved in the next 12-24 months.

The VR news has been a bit quiet of late … this has me excited once again.

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Massive New Steam Update – Follow me for fun times!

I swear to all that is gaming that I have a massive, huge, bigish post on my experiences with the DK2, and what games work the best coming… but in the mean time Steam has just released it’s huge “Discovery” update.

There’s a lot to like with the update, and it goes some way towards what I had wished Steam had done a long time ago – make it a social network for gamers.

In lieu of that, I have been using Google+, but ultimately it’s not the best fit.

Unfortunately, the update doesn’t quite do everything I want (such as being able to tag people as well as games) but it does have nice improvements to your news feed. An area I’m sure most people neglected, but maybe now will give another look.

Most significantly for me, is you can now follow “curators” who can recommend games to you. In fact, your store page now recommends games to you based on a magic algorithm, part of which is which curators you follow.

So my advice: Give me a follow! I’m not even trying to pad my numbers, I just like giving people the low down on the best games, and now you can get it straight to your Steam box.

http://steamcommunity.com/groups/TheGamesPusher#curation

Oculus DK2 Shipping on the Horizon

So the VR community has been a-buzz lately. There’s Google’s project Tango, as well as their project cardboard, some of my favourite games are coming with VR: iRacing and DCS World.

Perhaps the most exciting news is the hint that DK2 shipping information will drop next week… The Twitter quote in question:

“@Cyber will there still be a shipping update next week?” — “@MikeLen: Yes, there will be a shipping update at some point soon.”

Oh. Did I mention? I was on the first wave of orders. I have a DK2 coming, so this news is VERY relevant.

Latest on the Oculus Rift

Things have been quiet. Between re-writing history in Crusader Kings

(In a minor battle with a rebelling duke, Morgan took a blow to the head and went into a coma. He died a few years later, and the succession did not go smoothly: His son did not have enough land to raise many personal levies, the English throne did not pass to him at all, and the rest of his dukes rose up in rebellions. There was no doubt he was going to be relegated to being a minor duke while someone else sat on the imperial throne (and several someone elses sat on the thrones of the various Kingdoms I’d united.) Ah. C’est la vie.

So either I load up the war with the Duke (leading an army with the Emperor was not something I intended to do) or that’s where my campaign ends)

I have been trying out Company of Heroes 2. I only picked it up the other day on special. It’s got some nice features, but it is very similar to the original – so I expect this flirtation to be fairly short-lived.

I got the same feeling when I played Batman: Arkham Origins. It was a good game – practically identical to the previous game… and I loved that game so it should have been all good. I loved it, but it didn’t have the staying power, because I’d done it all before.

Anyway. I’m a ways into this post and haven’t mentioned anything about the headline yet.

oculus-rift-crystal-cove

The OR has a 1080p version floating around, and, separately, a version that has positional tracking – dubbed Crystal Cove. So let’s tally a score, shall we?

Traditional VR problems:

  • Low field of view, giving “long-distance screen” problem – solved
  • High latency on head-movement – solved

Traditional VR problems, that the OR also had:

  • Poor resolution – solved
  • Low latency, not zero latency – solved (for all intents and purposes)
  • Motion blur – solved
  • Turn and yaw, but no X/Y movement (i.e. leaning) – solved
  • “Screen-door” effect – unresolved
  • Very high resolution – unresolved

That’s doesn’t leave many things left for the OR to solve. You’d want the screen-door fixed just so you can compete with monitors, and 1080p resolution is acceptable, but because our eyes are so close we really do need extremely high resolution to be able to comfortably read text etc. I have a sneaking suspicion they may try and work around it, though (e.g. UI’s that make use of the stereoscopic features to “float” it at a comfortable reading resolution.)

In any case. They could ship tomorrow with quite a successful product. If they can solve the screen-door effect, and combine all these features into one mass-produced device then I’d say they’re ready to go. And maybe they are

 

A friend of mine, and his indie studio, has jumped into the Oculus Rift (OR) with the 2013 VR Jam (https://developer.oculusvr.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=51)

You’re a dragon. In VR. And you fly and burn things.

There has been some pretty damn awesome OR projects floating around – they seem to just get cooler and cooler (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iSoj9EU7pWs) and AAA studios are supporting it, long before the consumer version drops (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-08-21-oculus-rift-based-dogfighting-spin-off-eve-valkyrie-announced) and there has been plenty of flying OR games – but comeon – as a dragon? That’s pretty cool.

It looks relaxing, in a burninating the peasants sort of a way.

You may read about, and download, it here

Thought About Being a VR Dragon?

Thoughts on the Leap Motion

Well my Leap Motion finally arrived today, and my girlfriend and I had a bit of fun with it.

When I ordered the Leap Motion, I thought it looked unbelievable. Possibly a revolutionary new way to interact with our computers. As the waiting stretched out, however, I watched more videos – tech demos and the like – to keep myself occupied while I waited. That’s when I first started to see the cracks. Fingers couldn’t be registered unless close to parallel to the device, slight delay on movements, and “misses” when using the interface.

So by the time it arrived, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. It delivered on that. I know quite a few people are very disappointed: https://forums.leapmotion.com/showthread.php?2703-Unimpressed-is-an-understatement, but I’m not. My hopes just weren’t as high as they originally were.

Don’t get me wrong. The Leap is miles ahead of the Kinect or Move. The originals, certainly, but I’d also wager the new ones coming with the PS4 and XBone will be nearly as useless as the originals. The apps that are designed to use the Leap (basically the little games and things in the Airspace store) all work quite well. It takes a little getting used to.

So – although the hardware of Leap is a smidge less than I’d hoped for, I think with the right software it could do a lot of really interesting things. We might be looking at a over-hype backlash, which would hurt the chances of seeing that software, though. If the Leap Motion can struggle through the initial, rocky, days we might get some talented developers churning out some really useful apps. On the ideas forums, for example, I see an idea for “a boxing game” and gestures for a media controller (i.e. circle forward for fast-forward.)

My ideas basically revolve around cleaning up the interactions. At the moment they seem too wielded to an “invisible touch screen” floating between you and your monitor. It’s pretty annoying and inaccurate to try and break this plane with just the tip of your finger to get the “click” to work. I’d much prefer to see more intuitive ideas implemented. A whole new interface is one common suggestion (i.e. something more like Windows Metro interface) but I think you could, with clever programming, get the Leap working in Windows 7 too. For example a pinching or fist gesture to “grab” a window, so you can move it around. Some ray-casting so you can point at what you want to click, rather than having to “hover” your finger over it. A real “click” gesture, rather than the crude “jab”. Or at least, base the “click” off the acceleration of the finger, not whether it is breaking an invisible plane. And don’t give me any of this malarky about the Leap being unable to recognise a fist. Natively, perhaps. It seems to look for “sticks” and a “thicker stick” for fingers and a hand. But if the fingers curl up and disappear, and you’re left with just your original, shorter, stick — surely the user just made a fist? Besides. It’s just an infrared camera. Unless some of the latency trickery is built directly into the Leap hardware, can’t we have it recognise a fist along with fingers and arm?

My point is – these problems are fixable with clever software. Whether that is Leap Motion improving their Leap drivers, or 3rd party devs making customised recognizing algorithms, I think it’s doable. It will take a few months or maybe even a year or two, to really iron out.

Of course, the main reason to get a Leap, is so you have an interface for the Oculus Rift.