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.

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.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

E3: The big guns come out to play

Day two of the E3 press conferences before the show proper and Microsoft and PlayStation held their press events. I woke up at 4.25am to watch the Microsoft one and I liked some of the announcements, especially the Project Scorpio console (although I’m tossing up now whether to save for a Project Scorpio console or save for one of the soon-to-be released AMD RX480 graphics cards (and probably a new motherboard to put it in).

Microsoft’s biggest cheers definitely came for the two consoles that had been rumoured but no-one really knew much about. There’s the Xbox One S, which is 40 per cent smaller than the launch Xbox One, has an internal power supply and it supports 4K Ultra HD, there’s the new console called at the moment Project Scorpio which promises “6 Teraflops”of GPU power. There’s a new Elite controller and you can customise your own one-of a kind Xbox One wireless controller but as far as Microsoft’s games went: I thought they were OK but not outstanding. I do like the cross play feature where someone with a game on Xbox One can play someone who is playing the same game on a Windows 10 laptop/PC.

Microsoft had Halo Wars 2 (I loved the first game), Dead Rising 4, Gears of War 4, Rare’s Seas of Thieves (which looks great), Forza Horizon 3 (which is set in Australia!), Recore,  Final Fantasy XV, Minecraft Realms (it was good to see famed developer John Carmack wearing a Samsung GearVR headset for this demo) and The Division Underground. All solid games but nothing really earth-shattering, in my view. That said, indie title We Happy Few looks genuinely interesting as did PlayDead’s Inside (the same developers that created Limbo).

Update: Thinking about things overnight, Xbox has scored a major win in hardware side of things by announcing Project Scorpio.  Yes, it’s 18 months or so until the console will be released (I suspect it’ll be revealed middle of next year sometime) but I’d say announcing Scorpio will really put the heat on Sony and it’s PlayStation Neo console which, I think, is due for release late this year. Microsoft are really gunning to win the console wars and build the “most powerful console ever” and looking at its speaks, it is indeed a powerful machine. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s announcement yesterday has PlayStation worried about its Neo.

As far as games go (and let’s face it, that’s why people buy consoles/play PCs), though, for me, Sony won the battle, if there is such a thing. I love both consoles but personally, I felt that PlayStation’s games seemed a little fresher, a little more exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a much older (but a bit of a dick towards his son) Kratos in the God of War reboot, The Last Guardian which seems to have been in development for decades finally got a release date, Horizon Zero Dawn looks incredible, Hideo Kojima’s new game Death Stranding which featured a naked Norman Reedus (from Walking Dead fame) wondering why he’s on a beach,  there was a very Last of Us-esque game called Days Gone which features zombies in an apocalyptic setting, Detroit Become Human (the next game from David Cage) and then there was the PS VR stuff which, frankly, made my eyes pop. I was even enthralled with the Call of Duty VR stuff that I didn’t know was actually Call of Duty until near the end (oh, and I’d easily buy a copy of Infinite Warfare just for the remastered version of Modern Warfare which has, without a doubt, the best COD mission ever in All Ghillied Up). Oh, and there’s a Batman Arkham VR game [breathe, breathe]

PlayStation has a new PS4 coming out called the Neo but nothing was show at its press event. I wonder whether PlayStation will reveal more at the Tokyo Games Show?

Looks, there’s something for fans of both consoles but for me, if I had to pick a console which had the strongest line up of games coming out, I’d put my money on PlayStation. I also liked how most of PlayStation’s press event was game footage and trailers rather than people standing on stage talking.

This is not an exhaustive list of every game announced but just those that caught my attention. Anyway, enough words. Here’s some moving pictures. Enjoy.

 

God of War (PS4):

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4):

Infinite Warfare (ship assault):

Days Gone (PS4):

Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One):

We Happy Few (Xbox One):

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One):

 

Thoughts on what PlayStation and Xbox showed today?

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.