GDC Europe – Roccat’s Power-Grid and a HD Oculus Rift

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We’re at GDC Europe today ahead of Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. While Gamescom is the huge, flashy and open to the public games exhibition, GDC is focused squarely at developers and members of the industry, with allowances for press too. It’s less about playing games and more about moving the industry forwards, whether that be through technology, careers, or marketing.

Several of the larger companies are here such as Valve, Nintendo and DICE – but there’s just as much interest with some of the smaller technology providers. Here are a couple who have caught our eye today.

 

Roccat

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Roccat are known for creating gaming peripherals for the PC. Purveyors of incredible light show producing keyboards, they’re moving in an interesting new direction over the next few months with ‘Power-Grid’. Power-grid is essentially a program that runs on your PC in conjunction with an app on your smartphone or tablet. It lets you run macros, display information or receive notifications on your mobile device while you play. So far so Smartglass right? Well Roccat are going one further, within the PC side there is an easy-to-use editor that will allow users to create profiles for certain actions or games, and then upload them to a kind of free marketplace where they can be shared amongst users.

Roccat demonstrated apps that provide extra functions for Borderlands 2, letting you access your inventory or skills menu or map from your phone. They had a version for Civilisation V with commonly used shortcuts bound to big buttons on the screen. While there is certainly potential for some useful things there, more interesting was a version that sent your PCs running information to the phone screen. While playing you could easily see temperatures, clock speeds and voltages as well as frame rates and CPU/RAM usage. All of this is customisable on a clear grid and could be of benefit to anyone who is interested in all that kind of technical information about their PC.

Power-Grid will be heading into an open beta in the next few weeks and will be completely free, so we look forward to seeing what we can do!

 

Oculus Rift

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We’ve used the Oculus Rift before and sung its praises. It’s incredibly immersive and completely different from anything we’d seen before. It’s the true next step for gaming. One of the big problems when it was being shown at Rezzed was that the screens were in an irritatingly low resolution. Nothing was clear within games and while the 3D effect worked, it was hard to believe you were really in those environments due to the abundance of jagged edges and muddy textures.

At GDC OculusVR have brought along a special new model, the HD version. Running at something along the lines of 1280×800, the screens make a world of difference and coupled with the lenses that shape the world around your perspective, the technology is much more convincing. Framerates seem perfect and everything looks crisp and clear.

We were treated to a demonstration of iRacing – a hardcore racing simulation title. Apparently due to the difficulty of the game, turns would take too long if visitors were allowed to get behind the wheel so instead there was a demo where you simply sit in the passenger seat as a driver takes you round the track. That might sound boring but it gives you the time to appreciate the technology. Driving is a natural fit for the Rift, since you’re sitting down anyway there’s less nausea-inducing disconnect between the way you move and the fat your legs are doing nothing. 3D works brilliantly in a way that it never has in all of our experience with cinema and home-based 3D glasses. The world looks just like you could reach out and touch it, only the presence of crowds around me prevented my arms from flailing wildy at buttons on the dashboard to see what they did.

The increased resolution brings about new problems for designers, chiefly that the uncanny valley suddenly seems very apparent. For those who haven’t heard of it, the uncanny valley represents the idea that as artificial humans look more and more real we get more comfortable with them. As realism goes up, so does comfort. But when you get very close to real, it suddenly drops away horrifically. You can watch Soap in Call of Duty move in an unnatural way without blinking an eye, but when you’re sitting net to a life-size race car drive who never looks at you and only moves in jerks and twitches, things start to get very scary. I sincerely hope OculusVR never provide the makers of Amnesia with a devkit, it’d  be horror beyond imagining.

I’m sure as games are specifically programmed for the Rift it won’t be an issue, but it’s an interesting example of how fidelity in design needs to keep pace with technology, and that technology has just made a colossal leap with the HD version of the Oculus Rift. We can’t wait to get our hands on one.

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