Category Archives: VR

Augmented Empire mini-documentary: Behind the voices

I enjoyed my time playing Augmented Empire, a Samsung Gear VR cyberpunk RPG game from British development studio Coatsink – the same company behind the Esper games. It’s a great game that showcases the company’s skill with VR.

Well, the company has released a mini-documentary called The Voices behind Augmented Empire, which, incidentally, features the voice talent of actors Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and Doug Cockle (Geralt in The Witcher series).

At just a tad over 3 & a half minutes in length, it’s well worth a watch, especially if you’ve only got 5 minutes spare.

Augmented Empire: An RPG trip down the VR looking glass

If it wasn’t for British development studio Coatsink’s Augmented Empire, my Samsung Gear VR would still be gathering dust.

Instead, it’s being used to order around characters in the city of New Savannah, the location for Coatsink’s latest game that’s described as a tactical RPG.

Coatsink will be most well-known for its VR games Esper and Esper 2, and Augmented Empire follows a similar tradition by placing the player in a comfortable chair, this time looking over proceedings, making orders to the six lead characters. The game features an impressive voice cast including Doug Cockle, who voices Geralt in The Witcher series, Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek Voyager and Orange is the New Black and Coatsink regular Nick Frost, who appeared in movies Hot Fuzz and Shawn of the Dead.

Augmented Empire is a turn-based game where you can use either a game pad or gaze-based control to move the character you’re playing: You move two spaces around the play area then any foes in the area move two spaces. Combat follows a similar pattern, although you can dodge in coming attacks via a simple Quick Time event. The game twists the traditional RPG element by having the player viewing goings-on from a bird’s-eye view, letting you get a great view of the play area so you can plan the next move.

Visually, I was impressed with Augmented Empire and its cartoon-ish visuals that have a surprising level of depth and detail that I wasn’t expecting. You don’t expect much from VR visuals on the Gear VR but Coatsink have done a fantastic job in creating an interesting game world. At times the visuals reminded me of the Esper games, but darker and more detailled.

When I first got my GearVR, I couldn’t stop playing it: It was something new and novel and I devoured games like Darknet, Anshar Wars 2, End Space, Gunjack, Land’s End and the two Esper gamesl. After a while, thought I got bored with VR and the sore I eyes it was giving me and the headset sat on a shelf on my computer desk, gathering dust.

Thanks to Coatsink and Augmented Empire, though, I finally have a reason to dust off my GearVR and use it again.

PlayStation VR: my verdict

Despite being in its infancy, for many gamers, VR is the future.

Oculus, HTC, Samsung and now PlayStation have an entrant in the virtual reality market but is it the second coming of gaming? After spending a considerable amount of time with PlayStation’s VR headset, I’m not convinced we’re there yet.

Yeah, that's me using the PSVR at Sony NZ's headquarters in Auckland.

Yeah, that’s me using the PSVR at Sony NZ’s headquarters in Auckland.

I’ve already blogged about my first hands-on with the PSVR: At a controlled event while I was up in Auckland last month. I was wanting to test the headset in a normal home environment where things wouldn’t be perfect so thanks to PlayStation NZ, I got the option late last month when it sent me down a review unit PSVR for a week or so (it has since gone back to Sony).

Set up was probably about 20 minutes, all up from unpacking from the courier box to switching it on,  which I didn’t think was too bad.

I really didn’t appreciate how many cables are involved with the PSVR There are a lot of cables: HDMI cables from the TV to the PS4; cables from the processing box that decodes the signal from the PS4 to the headset; the cables from the processing box to the headset.

Just keep in mind there are cables when you’re “in the zone” and using the headset. You can flick the cables out of the way so you don’t trip over them but I demoed the PSVR to a group of 12 and 13 year olds at my wife’s school and a couple of times children almost got tangled in the cables. Just be aware.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.The headset is comfortable but, for some reason, it just didn’t feel as comfortable as when I wore a headset at PlayStation. At home, I had to have the back part up quite high on the back of my head, meaning at times light crept underneath the front of the unit.

Something I did notice using the headset at home that I didn’t notice during my hands-on with PlayStation was a quite pronounced screen door effect when transitioning between scenes and waiting for games to load. I’ve read the PSVR doesn’t have a screen door effect but I definitely saw it here.

After a couple of weeks using the PSVR the question is: Would I rush out and buy one? Not right now, no, and here’s why.

My reasoning for that is because while the headset is comfortable and PlayStation is making VR accessible to a mainstream audience I still think the price is higher than it needs to be, especially given that in New Zealand you have to buy (or already own) the PS4 camera and Move controllers. There isn’t a pack that contains everything you need. You don’t need the Move controllers for all the games, though,  so you can save some money by not buying any, I guess.

Personally, thought, I don’t think there are enough good games/experiences to make it worth purchasing right now. Eve Valkyrie is a great space sim that really draws you in with its visuals but it’s MP mostly.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

batmanarkhamvrBatman Arkham VR also worth a look (but it’s not long). Job Simulator was a lot of fun but I got bored with Battlezone quickly. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is probably the most impressive experience, and it is genuinely scary and a nice extension of Until Dawn.

The PSVR does come with VR Worlds, but it’s just seemed to be a disc of demos that you can buy to unlock the full experience. It’s a good tech demo of what VR is capable of but won’t keep you occupied for long.

I also played Hustle Kings, a pool game, but for some reason, I had to use the PS4 controller rather than the Move controllers to play. It just didn’t seem right using the controller for a pool game.

After about a week, I was using the PSVR less and less: I was getting less enthusiastic about the games. Until the big titles start appearing, I don’t see the PSVR, as good as the technology is, as a must-have for gamers. It’s good fun, for a bit, but then you’ll put it down and go back to your traditional gaming formats.

Look, give PSVR a year and I think the price would have dropped and there will be an awesome selection of games to show off what it can really do, but right now, I wouldn’t buy one and it’s not going to replace me gaming with my consoles or PC anytime soon.

 

PlayStation Neo becomes … PS4 Pro

sony-announces-playstation-4-pro-147328048462I watched the PlayStation event this morning and, if I’m being completely honest, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a low-key briefing – it only lasted about 45 minutes – with lots of talking, but I didn’t go away from the briefing yelling at the top of my lungs, “Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna pre-order me a PS4 Pro.”

The briefing revealed the aforementioned PS4 Pro  and also perhaps one of the worst kept secrets as far as PlayStation was concerned, the PS4 Slim which everyone knew about weeks ago but PlayStation acted at the event as if it was a surprise when they announced it today. That was just a little weird. The PS4 Slim will launch in NZ from September 16 for $489.95 for a 500GB console or $569.95 for  1TB model (September 29).

The PS4 Pro will retail in New Zealand for $639.95 and launch on November 10. That’s a really sharp price but the owner of a current PS4 that does all I need it to, I won’t be upgrading any time soon.

If you want the technical specs of the PS4 Pro, you can find them here (thanks Eurogamer) but my take on the PS4 Pro is that unless I have a 4K TV, which I don’t (and I’m not planning on buying one soon), I’m best to stick with the launch PS4 I have. I’m fine with that. The games look great on my PS4 and while Sony says owners of 1080p TVs will notice a difference with the PS4 Pro,  frankly, my eyes are getting so bad I can’t actually see the difference between 4K and 1080p unless I’m up really close and my nose is pressing on the screen (OK, I’m not that bad but, you know, old age …)

PlayStation said a firmware update next week will enable HDR (High Dynamic Range) capabilities on all current PS4’s, which is great, but again, that’s pointless on my 1080p TV as I’m pretty sure it can’t output HDR. Right now in my life, 4K and HDR gaming isn’t an option so I’ll stick with my perfectly fine current generation PS4.

frontps4proPlayStation sees 4K gaming as the future (but showing off 4K content over a 1080p stream is never going to do it justice) and the Pro will do 4K content playback but strangely, it doesn’t come with a 4K Blu Ray drive, and that does seem an odd omission, given that the recently released Xbox One S, which I believe is cheaper, comes with one as standard.

My take on this, though, is clearly Sony doesn’t see the future of 4K entertainment in physical media (ie Blu Ray discs), evidence by PlayStation’s Andrew House pointing out how many hours of 4K content would be on streaming service Netflix by the end of this year.

That said, I can see why PlayStation have come up with the PS4 Pro. It’s releasing its entrant into the VR wars, the PS VR, next month and the PS4 Pro will offer better VR performance than the current PS4. (I’m still tossing up whether I’ll get a PSVR so if/when I do, I’ll perhaps contemplate a PS4 Pro)

Also, if you’ve always thought about buying a PS4, but never got around to it, and do own a 4K TV then it seems November will be your lucky month, won’t it? The cynic in me also wonders whether PlayStation hopes that the PS4 Pro will help sell more of its own 4K TV sets …

Part of me can’t help but wonder whether PlayStation has jumped the gun here with the PS4 Pro in a response to Xbox’s Project Scorpio console which isn’t even due for release until the end of next year. Surely the PS4 Slim could have filled the gap until next year when the company could have announced its competitor to Project Scorpio.

The PS4 Pro will almost be a year old when Xbox’s more powerful console comes to market and I can’t help but feel that Microsoft have the upper hand here, given that Project Scorpio is more powerful than the PS4 Pro already – and  it’s hardware configuration could change dramatically between now and the end of next year.

Speaking of Xbox, the company couldn’t help having a dig at PlayStation in this tweet suggesting its own Xbox One S was a better option:

My son and I were talking about hardware announcement cycles this morning and it seems to me that games consoles are almost going same way as mobile phones, with a new model being announced almost every year.

To be honest, I’m contemplating whether might even just invest the money that I might put into a new console into upgrading my PC’s GPU (it’s got an Intel i7 CPU  and 8GB of Ram so I’m OK on that front. My GTX660Ti, however, is well past its use by date), connect it to my 55-inch TV using Steam’s Big Picture mode and do it that way, meaning I can still game from the couch using a controller (and to all those who  bleat “You’re not a real PC gamer if you use a controller!” I say, bollocks to you).

Right now, I don’t see any benefit for me buying a PS4 Pro console unless a 4K TV magically appears in my lounge to replace my two-year old LED screen, and that’s not going to happen.

I may be proven wrong but right now, I’m not jumping on the PS4 Pro bandwagon just yet. I’ll be watching with interest.

 

Esper making its way to Oculus Rift

Not too long ago I reviewed Coatsink’s Samsung Gear VR game Esper. I liked it. A lot (who wouldn’t like being able to control things with your mind?)

Anyway, Coatsink has announced the game that tasks you, the player, with solving puzzles at a government testing facility just using the power of your mind, is now coming to the Oculus Rift as a bundle called Esper: The Collection, which will included both Esper and its sequel, Esper 2. I believe that Esper 2 is already available on the Oculus.

Here’s the launch a trailer showing you what to expect.

No idea on the price yet in our neck of the woods but it’ll be out on September 1. The Oculus Rift version will offer enhanced visuals and positional tracking over the Gear VR version. Head to Coatsink’s website if you want to find out more.

Esper: Moving things with the power of your mind

Ever pretended that you were Magneto from the X-Men movies, using your powers of telekenisis to pick up objects and/or people and fling them around the place as if they were nothing?

Oh, you haven’t – me neither – but while Esper, a game built for the Samsung GearVR from British developer Coatsink, doesn’t put you in the spandex suit of Magneto or any other super hero, it does let you pretend you have the ability to move objects around – with the power of your mind!

Esper1BSet in 1975 (so there’s a lot of brown and beige), Esper places you in the shoes of a test subject at a secret government testing facility where you have to prove your not a threat to society by completing a variety of puzzles.

Controls are simple, which is what you want in a game that involves mind powers: Look at an object and tap on the GearVR’s touchpad to pick it up (the object will glow with a blue outline), look around to place it somewhere then tap on the touch pad to drop it. Simple. If you want to move the object forwards or backwards in 3D, you simply slide a finger backwards or forwards on the touch pad. If you don’t want to play with your right hand on your head the whole time, you can also use a compatible Bluetooth controller (if you have one, obviously).

At their most simple, the puzzles involve things like simply lifting beach balls and Rubik’s Cubes and getting them to their respective destination. Most times, though, you’ll have to negotiate obstacles like glass pipes or other impediments to get to the end goal.

Puzzles start easy enough, but soon enough, the difficulty ramps up when the game throws in things like thickened glass that blocks your telekinesis. The puzzles aren’t difficult enough to have you ripping off your GearVR headset and throwing it across the room in frustration but you’ll have to think outside the square to solve some of them.

Esper2BEsper reminds me a lot like Valve’s game Portal, another game where you have to solve puzzles using the environment around you, except this one is for a VR headset, is a heck of a lot cheaper and, in true British humour, you spend the entirety of the game sitting in a leather office chair, behind a desk, while a plethora of puzzles appear in front of you, thanks to moving walls and opening hatches.

I actually played Esper 2, the sequel to Esper, before I played Esper so I had a pretty good understanding about what to do coming into Esper but some of the latter puzzles still stumped me at first. I never threw my headset across the room, though. Esper, and Esper 2, are great games when you have a few minutes spare and you want to, you know, throw beach balls around an office for a bit.

Esper is a great example of how to do an accessible, fun VR game that won’t break the bank and really shows how immersive VR games can be. Plus it lets you have mind powers. It’s win, win, really, isn’t it?

Recommended if you own a Samsung GearVR (it’s also available for the Oculus).

<Thanks to Coatsink for providing a code for the game. Cheers>

Dark Days is a VR game I will never play – and it’s not why you think

Dark Days is a new game from relatively new developer Parallel Studios, based in France, that released on Samsung’s GearVR headset earlier this week  – and I’ll never play it. It’s probably not for the reason you think, either.

DarkDays-gear-vr-1024x576Dark Days describes itself as a mix between the X-Files and Twin Peaks and has players in the shoes of Jade Lacroix, who checks into a Death Valley motel and suddenly finds things going all crazy when she learns that local residents are going missing.

It all sounds too creepy for me, but friend and fellow GearVR owner Ross McDougall, mentioned he’d downloaded the game so I messaged him, telling him to let me know how it was as I was thinking about picking it up. Depending on what Ross thought, I might download it and play it myself.

So, Ross DM’d me over Twitter on Friday night and his experience helped me make the decision that, yeah, I wasn’t going to entertain the thought of even playing Dark Days. It sounds just too freaken scary for me.

Here’s the conversation that Ross sent through in all its glory. Oh, there are some spoilers about the opening couple of minutes so if you plan to play Dark Days, perhaps stop reading from here.

“First section is you driving in a car.

“”You look at these things to interact with them.

“Horn, glovebox, radio etc

“The character narrating.

“Eventually.

“(And I’m not sure what triggers it).

“There’s a black shadow shaman looking guy with long fingers and a white mask standing on the passenger seat.

“Reaching out to you.

“You only see him once you’re looking the total opposite direction and moving your head back to that area.

I nearly f…… screamed hahaha”.

That’s probably how’d I’d react as well, to be fair. In fact, I’d probably be too scared to turn my head. As soon as I saw the shaman dude I’d probably lose the plot complete. Ross said his wife played the same section – and laughed at it!

Sceenshots_04-1200x630I’ve got no problem with mild horror films and I loved X-Files and Twin Peaks back in the day (I didn’t think much of the recent new X-Files episodes) and while I don’t  go out of my way to watch a horror film, if one’s playing in the background on TV I don’t get freaked.

I think my issue with VR horror games is that because with VR you’re actually inside what is going on, my mind just checks out and tells my body “Nah, mate. I’m outta here.” There’s no way I want to even entertain a  horror game in VR. I’ll stick to space sims or puzzle games, thanks.

Dark Days seems to be getting positive feedback from people who have played it and it’s probably a really good game with jump scares but sorry, Parallel Studios, I won’t be one of the people playing it as I don’t get on with jump scares.

Frankly, I’m just not going to give myself a heart attack in the name of an immersive VR experience.

Here’s the trailer. Who’s with me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

« Older Entries