As usual, VR was a bit quiet at E3 this year. It’s hard to say when that will change. I believe a big part of the problem is still the friction involved in getting these systems up and running. The most successful tethered system is PSVR, precisely because once it’s set up, it’s easier to keep it set up and ready. Yet PSVR in its current iteration is still quite difficult to get calibrated correctly.
There is great power in just plopping something on your head and being ready to play in a few seconds. For that, we need self-contained VR headsets like Santa Cruz, or a new generation of console-based headsets that take the hassle (and hopefully the wires) out of the experience. The best hope for that is probably Microsoft, but they didn’t make a peep about VR this year.
It’s going to take a while for mobile VR experiences to jibe with E3’s star attractions, which tend to focus on flashy graphics. The buzz this year mostly went to a set of ultra-violent, ultra-realistic combat games like The Last of Us Part II. They look amazing, but are these singularly unpleasant worlds places that sufficiently large numbers of players want to visit in VR?
Ready at Dawn’s Echo Combat will begin an open beta test tomorrow, June 21. Echo Combat takes Echo Arena‘s weightless e-sports formula and adds guns, but there’s more to it than that, and early reports are filled with praise.
Oculus Studios and Insomniac Games announced a new game, Stormland, a cooperative multiplayer game in which you inhabit a nature-loving robot that must seek revenge against evil invading robots. The game has a very aggressive locomotion scheme that has players flying, running and climbing over vast procedurally generated environments.
Bethesda brought out the big VR guns at last year’s E3 with Skyrim, Doom and Fallout announcements, so hopes were high this year. While Bethesda says VR sales are good, this year brought much smaller reveals. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot lets you fight Nazis in a fire-breathing mech. Unfortunately, the conceit of the game is that you hacked into the mech and aren’t even inside it, so that seems like its lowering the stakes and immersion right off the bat. Prey is getting new content that includes a VR single player escape room style experience and a multiplayer mode with VR support. The Elder Scrolls: Blades is a mobile-first dungeon-crawling and sword-fighting game for which they promised eventual VR support (the one-handed-screen-tapping control scheme will have to be reworked for 6DoF hand tracking).
Ultimately it was Sony that brought the goods, bringing many promising PSVR demos to the show floor. Other journalists seem to be most excited about Firewall: Zero Hour, a tactical multiplayer shooter in the vein of Rainbow Six, which takes advantage of the PSVR Aim gun accessory.
I found myself a bit more taken with a few of the other trailers. Ghost Giant is broadly similar to Moss. You play a giant ghost interacting with tiny creatures and their world.
Two new platformers (in the vein of Lucky’s Tale) also look like a lot of fun. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission features the cute little robots that populated Sony’s first party AR and VR demos. Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland has been working on a goofy sci-fi themed game called Trover Saves the Universe.
Finally several previously available or announced games are coming to PSVR. Check out this supercut for a quick rundown:
Serious Sam Gattling Guns
DisplayLink and HTC say the Wireless Vive accessory is on track for a late-summer release. Their presence at E3 was particularly interesting because of they provided real spinning haptic miniguns for people to play Serious Sam with.
The long-awaited Portal-esque stealth game Budget Cuts is now available on Steam.
ARKit 2 Details Come to Light in WWDC Podcast
We missed this in the last issue when we covered Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, but there were some very interesting revelations in John Gruber’s interview with Apple’s Greg Joswiak and Mike Rockwell, who happens to the be the company’s Vice President of AR/VR Engineering (“the ‘VR’ is silent”, he joked when prodded on the job title). One of the most fascinating details about ARKit is in regards to the reflection probes feature we discussed in the last issue. I had assumed it merely tried to wrap the camera’s image into a spherical shape, but what Apple actually did is train a neural network to try to generate a new light probe based on the camera image, by using a data set of real light probes and corresponding camera images. That’s how they can achieve amazing results like the reflection of this banana:
Adding shadows to a virtual object was a big step for immersion in #AugmentedReality …now we have “scene reflection” from @Apple #ARKit2 #WWDC18 #iOS12 where #AR objects reflect the real-world scene around them like this virtual bowl reflecting a real banana on the table! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Ouih720AMA
— Helen Papagiannis, Ph.D. (@ARstories) June 11, 2018
Tested took a look at the latest Varjo retina-class HMD prototype, which I’m told was one of the most impressive products at the Augmented World Expo conference. This video also includes even more discussion of Echo Combat.
While it stretches the definition of augmented reality a bit, this new easy-to-use projection mapping system called Lightform is really cool: