Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Virtual Reality - Interacting within the game world

I've just been watching a video on the BBC tech news site which features a skateboard device used for simulating movement based on the angle of the tilt of the board and a roller mill type setup for pushing yourself along.  You can view the video here.

Which got me to thinking - how many devices are there going to be when it comes to interacting with virtual environments?  We've already seen a large number of companies vying for the interaction space without any being a clear winner...

The thing about it is that it's a wholly unknown interaction method - we all know that we need to have a VR headset to look around in the game worlds, but how do you feel and touch the items, walk around (without dizzying motion sickness) etc?

Some items I'm looking forward to are:

The Omni Virtuix

A full on omni-directional treadmill which will allow people to walk in any direction in a game.. literally by walking.

This is done with slippery shoes within a bowl that you run and walk inside.  There are a number of videos showing how it works... with a number of games.

Interestingly they have some gun controllers for the FPS examples.

STEM System by Sixsense

There are a number of hands-on devices that are being developed, but one I really like the look of is the STEM System by Sixsense.


It enables both hands to be used independently and accurately within an environment using wireless controllers.  Who doesn't want to be a Jedi in Starwars and able to use light sabres for the first time like Luke in A New Hope?

Both of the above are only allowing the player/gamer/user to interact within the world and, albeit with some feedback (running on the spot, holding something in your hand) don't really actually place the person in the game... but do go some way towards it.

Within Elite Dangerous I use a HOTUS type joystick / thrust system which really does bring me into the game world.  That is augmented by the fact the joystick and thrust controls within the game move at the same time I move them outside (very neat really) to really get you to immerse yourself in the game world.  Interestingly some users have been a little freaked out by the hands in the game moving by themselves once they've been in the game for a while.

I suppose the real "Holodeck" experience will mean being able to feel what is happening in the game world, from being shot... to feeling the wind in your face as you ride a dragon around... and more dubious interactions that I'm sure are coming (no pun intended there).

Interestingly an XBOX Controller is going to be included in the final Oculus Rift consumer version for use interacting within games .. I find that interesting as a mechanism as a controller doesn't feel very good for game control at the best of times, but at least it will enable everyone to be able to control games from the outset!

I'm hoping to try both the Omni Virtuix and the STEM System by Sixsense in the near future and will provide feedback on both once I have!

 community - how do you think people are going to interact in  worlds?  What devices are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Interstellar Marines - a Great Game in the making

As the title of this blog may suggest - I'm a gamer at heart from Strategy games to board games... but I have a particular fondness of First Person Shooters (FPSs).

Going back a few years now I used to play them a lot - specifically a great free game made by the US Government called Americas Army which introduced tactical team-based gameplay to the FPS scene.  In that game those who really worked as a team would often beat those who were "running and gunning".

Interstellar Marines has brought that old feeling of tactical gameplay back to the FPS scene... but with a few added extras.

The game is set in the future modelling the reason for the fighting on an unknown (or, in actual fact, sort of known, but I won't spoil the COOP game) alien threat.  The multiplayer environment is based around training scenarios to try to build up the soldiers experience of fighting in different environments (under different pressures).

A great feature of the multiplayer game is that the training scenario maps change... not change as in load new levels every x rounds, but literally change mid game.  Sometimes the buildings will raise and lower creating new routes through the maps, sometimes it'll start raining or snowing... and sometimes all of the lights will just go out and it'll be (almost) pitch black.

The lighting, weather effects and sound effects in game are great - they really add to the overall feel of the marine being in a "training" environment.

They have a unique respawn system in that you're "down and out" unless another member of your team achieves an objective (i.e. taking an objective location) or, in the case of being the last member of the team, just killing someone will respawn a team mate.

The game isn't yet finished, but is available on steam in an Alpha mode (to be honest, as a multiplayer experience goes, it's worth the £14 it costs) and I'm looking forward to the future full release of the game in June!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Oculus - Underwhelmed and then Totally Sold!

So, at last... it arrived - the Oculus Rift, the gaming device I've been watching from afar like a child in Hamleys coveting all the expensive toys... waiting for the moment I could get one myself...

... that time came in August - I'd been reading up on some reviews of the latest DK2 version of the Oculus and decided that it was time to get one (not least because there was a two month waiting list and my Omni Virtuix was supposed to be arriving now as well (it has been delayed a few months, but that's another story)).  

So I put in an order and heard ... absolutely nothing for two months until a message popped up to say that the payment hadn't gone through.  My bank was being ever-vigilant and had stopped it going through fearing fraud on an international scale.  A quick email to the support team ("Kelly" in particular) and I was soon moving along again with their swift and responsive help everything was paid up and ready...

... I had thought it would be another long wait, but it wasn't and I got a "Shipping soon" message on Monday morning.  Then a "shipped" message later in the day.. with the Oculus arriving by lunchtime on Tuesday.

Typically I had "one of those days" where I was run off my feet so didn't get a chance to sit down and have a look at it until 8.30pm.

The package it arrives in is functional - you can see lots of videos showing how it looks to unbox the thing so I won't go into it... plus it's a bit boring talking about packaging and boxes and everyone is really interested in the games and what it's like.  Setting it all up is fairly straightforward and it comes with a reasonably easy to understand guide - the only thing you really need is the "Oculus runtime for X" to run on your machine to get started, but there are also a few demos that are worth looking at (more on that in a moment).  There was a wee bit of "jiggery-pokery" to get the system screen viewing OK and I got a little bit frustrated because the video output wouldn't work straight from the HDMI output (ended up having to go through a DVI to HDMI converter (which is included in the box I might add!)).

Once set up (and literally the moment it was set up) I stepped into the "Tuscany" demo to look around the villa.  Everything was working fine and the "wow" moment I was expecting didn't happen... I started to examine how everything looked inside the world and the only thing that spoilt things a bit was the fairly obvious black dots on the screen (the resolution really isn't great).  Looking around in the world was fine - there was a bit of blurring into the distance and, given I've got quite a high spec PC set up, I was totally underwhelmed by the look of the demo. 

However, the tech worked - I turn my head, the world display changes ... it works incredibly well and is super reactive.  I tried walking around by using the keyboard but that just made me feel a little bit motion sick (it really does feel odd!!)

On to the next few demos - I downloaded an excellent architecture demo that showed off a much better higher res world and wandered around in there.  Again I got the motion sickness when moving around with the mouse / keyboard.

Next I tried out a few of the rift coaster type demos - one called Atlantis:Infinite Coaster which was reasonably nice and the other was a remake (in HD) of the medieval scene / castle.  Well worth a look and this time I wasn't feeling sick at all (more about being in a chair and stationary)... although I have to be honest the "Infinite Helix" roller coaster is not an experience I'll be rushing to repeat... ever.

On to the game I'd been waiting for "Elite:Dangerous".  On loading the game it was fairly straightforward to set up the Oculus so I could see the world through the headset, but the head tracking would not turn on... I ended up scouring the net to find out how to do it.  There were lots of "just end some processes and it'll be fine" only I didn't have those processes in my task list.. :|

After some time away playing some Destiny on the PS4 I returned for another go.  This time I found a much more useful post that basically said just set these four settings and hey-presto... and they were right.  

At this point it was about midnight but I thought "well, I might as well have a quick go"... 

Late last week I bought a Hotus joystick / controller specifically for playing Elite (and I must say it works really well) so set that up in-game using the in-game menus.  The menus and text are just-about readable... sometimes you have to move your head towards them (that's right, moving closed to things with the headset zooms it in... very natural feeling!)

Then I was into the tutorials for taking off.  Except I didn't.  I just sat there and looked around - it was like I  was there... actually there, in a space ship in a hangar ready to take off.  Looking around the cockpit various menus / hud elements just pop up into existence ready to be interacted with.  You look down and you see your flight suited body... you look up and you can see outside the ship to the ceiling.  It's all very natural feeling.  Finally I got around to taking off and found the ship easy to control (well, ish, those who know me in games know that I have trouble driving, steering, flying anything and this is no different... in the infinite emptiness of space I still manage to crash into the lone floating asteroid...).  Outside the space looks great - flying about I was (in the next tutorial) directed to warp to a star that looked amazing.. and then did a bit of combat (all of this is for another post).

All I can say is that Elite:Dangerous precisely demonstrated what I have been waiting for since trying out one of those GIANT VR headsets in the early 1990s.

I'll post something more once I've clocked up a few more flying hours, in the meantime check out this video of a chap in Elite showing you what the cockpit / HUD looks like.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Future of Video Gaming

I've been an avid video gamer for a long time - for as long as I can remember, ever since my parents bought me an Acorn Electron and there were family competitions to see who could get the furthest in Chuckie Egg (a brilliant game in it's time, but not quite as fun to revisit later on).  Throughout all of the time I've mostly been able to keep up with new gaming platforms and PCs enabling me to play the latest and greatest games...

Looking to the future I'm very excited about the possibilities that the Oculas Rift ( along with the peripheral products that are going to compliment the Virtual Reality revolution that almost seems upon us.

I can't wait for the first day I'll be able to run through an MMO driven world with friends using the Virtuix ( combined with the the Rift, Teamspeak and one of the many options for controls that are coming along (although none (yet) quite look look right).

Here's to a very exciting future!