Tag Archives: Samsung GearVR

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>

VR has me hook, line & sinker

20160526_220240When I bought a Samsung GearVR headset, I didn’t really expect that I’d get sucked into the world of VR so much. How wrong I was.

If I’m being completely honest, I thought I’d play around with the VR for a little bit then get bored and move onto something else. Well, I haven’t. VR has me hook, line & sinker.  I don’t even care how silly I look sitting in my lounge room, on my computer desk chair, wearing the headset. I’m just really digging the VR experience.

I’ve got a handful of games for my GearVR: Minecraft (which makes me a little motion sick, to be honest, if I play it for too long), Eve Gunjack, Land’s End, Darket, Esper 2, and End Space, as well as the Netflix app, Samsung’s Internet app and Oculus Video.

I’ve done videos of Eve Gunjack, Land’s End and Esper 2 on this site already (sadly, without audio as the Galaxy S7’s in-built capture utility doesn’t capture audio: I hope this gets sorted soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll have to come up with a solution) and End Space is quickly becoming my favourite space sim. I’ll get footage of that up when I can. I’ve only had Darknet for a couple of days (it’s a hacking game where you have to infiltrate a computer network by hacking nodes with viruses) so I haven’t made up my mind on it yet but I’m liking what I’ve played so far.

I also bought a Bluetooth controller. A controller isn’t a necessity for a lot of  VR games (Land’s End for example) but for some games, Minecraft and End Space tell you a controller is required. It’s good advice. I wouldn’t even attempt to play either of those without a controller (in fact, I’m not even sure you can?).  You don’t have to spend a fortune on a Bluetooth controller, though: I bought a Nyko Cygnus controller based on a recommendation by an online friend for less than $40 from Amazon. It works like a charm and connects to my Samsung Galaxy S7 every time.

I never thought I’d like the VR experience as much as I do. I don’t think VR is a fad unlike 3D. My smart TV can do 3D and I’ve never used that feature once (the two pairs of 3D glasses that came with the TV are still actually in the box they came with). 3D was a fad whereas VR is actually something that I really think will gain more momentum as it becomes more mainstream. Sure, there’s that slight anti-social aspect to it and the weird aspect with you wearing a screen on your face, but as it becomes more mainstream, it’ll seem less weird and less anti-social.

I’ve found that my eyes don’t always play ball when I put on my VR headset: Sometimes things are blurry so I know it’s not the time to go VR but other nights, I can plonk on the headset, fire up Esper 2 or End Space and complete a mission or puzzle or two then be done for the night. I’m happy.

The thing I like about my GearVR is its portability. I can take it with me anywhere and the VR experience is amazing. It’s really hard to tell people what it’s like without them actually experiencing it. Videos give a far better impression but you really need to experience it for yourself to understand what I’m talking about.

Ultimately, though, I want to get a PlayStation VR but, as much as I’d like one Day One, it’s not imperative that I’m one of first adopters. I’m waiting to see if PlayStation announces any bundles for New Zealand that includes a PS Eye camera and a Move controller or two before I commit. [Oh, who am I kidding? Just myself, probably.  I’ll probably buckle in the next few weeks and pre-order a PS VR. Seriously] Hopefully, with its good showing at E3, PlayStation will announce some competitively priced PSVR bundles.

Look, I don’t know how long VR will remain fashionable or whether VR is going to turn us into the passengers on that cruise spaceship in the movie Wall E. You know, where they’re all fat and sitting in automated chairs and always looking at a screen in front of their face rather than looking at what’s around them. Or whether VR will eventually turn into our reality and we never leave the house to go to work or socialise and just live in VR set-ups (was that in the book Ready, Player One. I can’t remember)

Whatever the answers, and where VR will head in future I have no idea but for now, I’m just having fun with the experiences VR is giving me. Even if I do look slightly stupid wearing a VR headset.

 

 

 

Entering the world of VR: Getting lost in another world

“You look weird,” my wife says as I sit at my desktop PC wearing a Samsung GearVR headset.

“I suppose I do,” I replied – and she was probably right: It does look a little strange sitting in a room wearing a VR headset. It doesn’t look natural. It’s unlikely the norm in many households.

I’d always been fascinated by VR. I remember years and years ago when I was a junior reporter for a newspaper trying out some virtual reality thing that was set up in a suburban shopping mall. From what I can remember it had a bulky headset and the graphics were very Lawnmower Man (for younger readers, that was a movie that dealt with VR).

When I heard HTC and PlayStation were making VR headsets, I was interested and intrigued at the prospects of an immersive VR experience – but when I saw the prices my intrigue turned to disappointment. There was no way I was going to be able to justify spending several hundreds of dollars on a VR headset, no matter how much I wanted one. I needed a cheaper option. Samsung GearVR was that option.

I’ve done a review of the GearVR on this site already (and I was impressed with the few days I had it for) but since getting a Galaxy S7 I decided I wanted to experience VR in a cost-effective way but one that offered an experience better than Google Cardboard. I remember getting a Cardboard-like VR headset on the back of a Kellog’s Nutigrain box. It was pretty rubbish, to be honest, and I think I thew it out. As much as I’d like to have pre-ordered a HTC Vive VR headset, my budget didn’t stretch to the several hundreds of dollars that it would cost and besides, my current GPU – an ageing Geforce GTX660Ti isn’t grunty enough to power the Vive’s experience, anyway.

Since I had a Samsung phone I decided what better way to experience VR than with Samsung’s Oculus-powered GearVR headset? So I bought one.

I’m glad I got it, too. Sure it’s not as powerful at HTC’s Vive (which looks to be an amazing experience from people I know that have one) or the upcoming PS VR headset, both requiring external computing power, and it doesn’t have controllers that let you pick up virtual objects, I’m loving that GearVR gives me an awesome virtual reality experience for a decent price.

Let’s take a deeper look, shall we?

The headset

20160526_220240

Samsung’s GearVR headset – powered by Oculus.

20160526_220258The GearVR looks like a VR headset should, which is a good start. It’s made from white plastic with a three-point strap that secures it to your head and nice thick padding around where it rests on your forehead and around your nose (the top edge of the padding that rests on your forehead was a little rough for my liking, though).

The words “Powered by Oculus” are printed on the left hand side of the headset and there’s a D-pad and a back button on the right hand side. The headset has venting on the bottom and there’s a plate that can cover the phone, which offers venting as well. I haven’t experienced any heat warning from my phone while using the GearVR, but then I’m not using it for hours at a time.

When you put the GearVR on for the first time it feels a little weird, almost claustrophic, but after a few minutes I got used to it and my eyes adjusted to things. You slot your compatible Samsung phone into the front of the headset using two spring-loaded clips (make sure you unlock your phone) and unlike the Google Cardboard, there is a focus dial that lets you adjust the focus so you get things just right to suit your eyes. The Oculus software kicks in as soon as you pop the headset onto your face, taking you to a cavernous room that looks like a luxury home where you’ll find the menu system which shows icons to access your game and application library and the Oculus store.

The software

I’ve used the GearVR mainly for gaming but also for watching movies via Netflix and Oculus Video. I’ve recently bought a controller off Amazon which should arrive early June and I plan to buy space sim End Space GearVR, which needs a controller, and Minecraft VR, which also needs a controller. Some games require a controller, other games don’t. Those that don’t need a controller generally use GearVR’s head tracking to move you around the game world on such as in puzzle game Land’s End where you look at markers and the game automatically moves you there.

Eve Gunjack was the first game I bought for my GearVR and it’s one of the two I play the most. It comes from the same developers that are making the PC game Eve Valkyrie, and uses the head tracking to target enemies and the D-pad to fire guns and missiles and reload weapons. Visually, it’s impressive and the sense of scale as you look around is unbelievable.  I can see a controller good for this game as your arm does get a little tired after a while, seeing as it’s pressed up against the headset. It’s a bloody good game. It looks fantastic (it’s powered by the Unreal 4 engine), it’s fast paced and – importantly – you actually feel as if you’re inside a fighter ship taking on enemy fighters. You can look around the cockpit and it feels immersive (don’t look right behind you, though: You’ll see the empty space where your head is supposed to be!).

The only thing that feels off with Eve Gunjack is that it’s weird seeing “your”  arms but you can’t actually do anything with them. That where I see the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive having the big advantage over the GearVR: They’ve got physical controllers that you hold so that you can pick things up and manipulate the game world. You can move your arms to do things. That niggle aside, Eve Gunjack is perhaps one of the must-have games for Samsung’s VR headset.

Another excellent game is Land’s End, a great puzzle game set in a strange island environment where you use the GearVR’s head tracking to solve puzzles by joining broken lines or lifting stones to complete puzzles. It’s got a real serene feel about it and a real sense of loneliness and space about it. It’s on rails, so you don’t move around freely but instead look at markers that float in the air: Look at it and you’ll automatically move to the next spot.  I got so immersed in what was happening that although I knew that I wasn’t going to fall over the edge of a cliff that I moved close to, I felt as if I was going to.  This game is best played sitting in a chair that you can swing around, hence me often sitting at my computer desk in my DX Racer gaming chair. Land’s End is another must-have for the Gear VR.

 

Watching Netflix on the GearVR is a great experience, too. Once you pop on the headset and start the app up, you’ll find yourself on a couch in a mountain cabin, snowy peaks outside a window and a big screen TV in front of you.  Logging into my account was easy the I just used the touch pad to scroll through TV shows and movies and started watching. It’s in 2D but I was comfortable watching a 1/2 hour TV episode. I haven’t tried a full-length movie yet. It might be a little too much, I’m thinking.

Update: Since first posting this, I’ve bought Esper 2, a neat Portal-like game that puts the player in the shoes of a test subject with ESP. You have to move things with the power of your mind – and to get around the movement side, the game has you sitting in a chair the entire time! I’m liking it very much. Here’s 13 minutes of Esper 2 – there’s no audio though: The GearVR’s native capture utility doesn’t capture audio. I’m working on a solution.

 

Sure, the GearVR has its limitations and I hope developers will keep producing great games for it once the likes of the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR really gain traction with mainstream gamers, but I have no hesitation recommending the GearVR headset if you want to get a taste for VR for a reasonable amount and have a compatible Samsung phone. For less than $200NZ it’s a great investment if you’re a gamer that wants to experience VR.

I’m saving up to get a HTC Vive (God knows when that will happen) at some point, but until I have enough for that, I’ll keep using my GearVR. I’m loving it, even if it makes me look a little weird when I’m wearing it. VR is well and truly affordable.