There were multiple announcements this week about cross-platform AR frameworks. Niantic, makers of Pokémon Go, revealed their new “Real World Platform”, which will enable developers to make games with contextual awareness of the real world.
In addition to existing features like geocaching that underpin their current game, the new platform will include multi-user shared volumes (a feature that came to ARKit and ARCore recently with USDZ and Cloud Anchors) and a classifier that attempts to identify the objects around the user. For example, a real-life potted plant might attract virtual bees.
It also enables virtual characters to be roughly occluded by real-world objects.
Unite Berlin Brings Project MARS and Nested Prefabs to Unity
Unity announced a new AR toolkit at their Unite Berlin conference. Project MARS is a set of in-editor tools that will make developing AR applications less labor intensive. The major one is a visual layout system that helps determine where objects should spawn in a user’s physical environment based on a set of constraints: for example, the developer might specify that an object should appear on any 1 square meter or larger surface that is between 1 and 2 meters above the floor. The feature works with both Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit.
Two other features take use depth sensors to work with face mapping. One tool allows for the creation of selfie “masks” like the ones found in Snapchat lenses. Another allows the recording of facial animation for later use in a game. The system is extensible, and users can write plugins to support any depth sensor. The demonstrations were performed with an iPhone X. This looks like it could be a nicely productized version of the system that Kite & Lightning has been showing off for a while now.
As exciting as the new AR features are, Unity’s “one more thing” was the preview release of an official nested prefabs system (allowing the easy reuse of objects between scene files, and more importantly, allowing them to be edited en mass after they are in place). They made that announcement with a shower of confetti and a triumphant curtain call. It took 7 years of false starts to get this rather crucial feature into Unity, so everyone is breathing a big sigh of relief to see it coming to fruition.
Github for Unity
Another nice bit of news coming out of the conference was the 1.0 release of GitHub for Unity, which adds the ability to lock files on the Git version control system within the Unity interface. This feature is common in other version control systems but was supported at first by Git, since it is unnecessary for code files, but it was added to the new Git LFS system about a year ago. Git LFS is designed to store large data files that are in binary format or otherwise are not human-readable, so that multiple versions don’t pile up in the downloaded copy of the repository and overwhelm the storage space on the local computer.
This brings Git closer to feature parity with version control systems like Perforce and Plastic that were designed with media assets in mind. While those are both highly capable systems, using them means giving up on a huge number of tools, tutorials, workflows, and troubleshooting guides that have been developed around Git.
Valve Dispatches “Knuckles EV2” Controllers to Dev Partners
We were starting to lose hope that Valve’s grip-free “Knuckles”-style controllers would see the light of day as a public release. This week, Valve surprised us by shipping hundreds of examples of an all new version of the controller to developers. Apparently, there was an intermediate version sent out to preferred developers like Cloudhead Games, who published an op-ed on Road to VR detailing that iteration and the improvement that have been made since the new controller design was first revealed two years ago.
The biggest change is the addition of pressure sensitivity, which allows for squeezing interactions. Valve created a Portal-themed demo called Moondust to show some of the possibilities.
Microsoft Says Xbox Won’t Get VR
Microsoft’s gaming CMO, Mike Nichols, told gamesindustry.biz that there were no plans to bring virtual reality to Xbox after all, saying that PC was a better platform because it allows for more rapid iteration.
This is a big blow to the VR space, because I believe the relative success of PSVR shows that the always-ready-to-play nature of a games console means players have an easier time getting in to VR play than they do on PC. PSVR is still not all that easy to set up and the controllers aren’t great. Windows MR as it stands is seeing little use, but it is much easier to set up than any other wired headset, with more-reliable tracking, and I think it would be a great fit with Xbox.
Microsoft erred with their hardware partner program; with the possible exception of the Samsung Odyssey, the headsets have subtle, fatal flaws, and there was never going to be a big enough market to support seven only-slightly-differentiated products. Microsoft knows how to design good hardware and they should have gone it alone. Xbox VR would be a good way to right that wrong.
Leap Motion Shows Project North Star Table Tennis
It’s an impressive demo as you can see below.
Tracking is provided by what appears to be a full OptiTrack setup. It looks like the latency is close to flawless.
There are more details and videos in this blog post.
Highly-Anticipated New Betas
Two long-awaited space themed VR shooting games have started sign ups for closed betas: Space Junkies and Seeking Dawn.