Tag Archives: VR

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality Review

If you’re a fan of Rick and Morty and have a HTC Vive, chances are you’ve already played Accounting. If not, go play it, it’s ok, I’ll wait.

Right, great wasn’t it? From the writers of Rick and Morty, Accounting combined their zany and tasteless humour with some interesting uses of the VR medium to create something truly special. Virtual Rick-ality promised to be an authentically Rock and Morty experience in the same vein, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s just a shame that Accounting was actually better.

We won’t spoil anything but in Virtual Rick-ality you are a character within the Rick and Morty universe and the whole game takes place almost entirely within Rick’s garage lab. There’s three areas you can move between, and there’s even a mechanic to interact with things you can’t reach, but can see. The game is very aware of its own limitations, highlighted by restrictions like trying the door to get out of the garage, only for the door handle to fall off.

In the garage you can interact with plenty of objects from the show, most of which work exactly the way you’d expect them to. There’s plenty of hidden items in the way of tapes that can be played, and there’s loads of hidden achievements for doing particularly strange things with the tools at your disposal.

There’s also a campaign of sorts, a series of missions and quests that involve you searching the garage for the right tools, or taking part in a few minigames. Some that involve shooting are pretty dire, like the most bare-bones shooting VR games, one that involves a kind of Simon-says is actually a lot of fun and could almost be a game by itself.

The thing that holds this title back is that you’ve seen it all before. Despite VR being a relatively new medium for gaming, this title seems to borrow lots of other ideas without really introducing its own. The licence is leaned on heavily to make stale mechanics feel fresh, but even the writing just feels like a Rick and Morty clip show, with beats from episodes of the cartoon, rather than a real story in its own right. Generally the jokes are likely to raise a smile rather than a laugh and just like the Simpsons 3D games, seeing Morty’s family in three dimensions is unnerving more than it is familiar.

There’s some little moments in this title that any Rick and Morty fans will really enjoy, particularly the inclusion of a reasonably hefty game within the game, and once you’ve finished the campaign you have access to everything to do what you want with, but after the two or so hours you’ll spend with it, there won’t be that much more you want to see.

For £22.99 – there’s not a lot of value in this title. Two hours to see almost everything and no incentive to go back to it after that. I imagine there’ll be a lot of Steam refunds because it’s possible to get everything you’re ever going to get out of it so quickly. This feels like a missed opportunity. If this was a single episode, with more taking part in other locations, or if there was some kind of multiplayer side based around the multiverse, they could have made something really special, but this is just another little VR sandbox to play with, but this one happens to have a hefty price tag attached to it.

If you’re a big Rick and Morty fan, wait for a sale, if you’re not interested in the show, this is a VR title you can safely give a miss.

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The Wonders of Werewolves Within on PSVR

Werewolves within is an adaptation of a board-game where you sit around a campfire with seven other people and lie to them. It’s also the best game currently in VR.

 

Taking the general structure from games like ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’, Town of Salem, and Mafia (the card game, not the open world video game), Werewolves Within has a devastatingly simple premise. Eight of you are all given roles in secret, each with their own (individually useless) power, and you have a few minutes to work out who is lying and actually a werewolf.

There’s no visual signs to look for, no way of knowing for sure who you can trust, just a random selection of weak powers and your own powers of deduction, and a lot of name-calling and the occasional spot of begging.

Balance is key in any multiplayer game and although there’s a random element that can stack the odds for or against team werewolf, there’s very rarely a game where you can be absolutely sure you’ve made the right choices. The Saint, for example, does get to know exactly who one of the werewolves is, but if the werewolves all vote for him, the werewolves win regardless of whether they die or not. This leads to a precarious game where you try and push the rest of the group in the right direction, while keep your true identity a secret. It forces you to lie, which makes you suspicious, which might make the village inadvertently turn on their only saviour. Houndsmen are powerful as they can whisper with the players either side of them and discover their true roles, but the werewolves have the exact same power, so you can never be sure if a houndsman is really who they say they are.

Every game starts with the group going round in a circle announcing their roles and inevitably some people will claim the same role. What do you do if someone claims your role? They could be a werewolf, so you should get everyone to vote for them. They could be a Turncloak, who is working with the werewolves but wins if they die instead of the werewolves. They could be a deviant, who wins if they get killed. They could be the saint! It’s an incredibly complex psychological game that runs lightning fast thanks to the simple rules and fantastic community.

Players quickly learned to adopt certain unenforced rules, like everyone praying at the start to hide who the real saint is (they have to pray to find out who the werewolf is). While the community is small (you’ll often run into the same players night after night), that leads to friendships and vendettas. I play nearly every night and I know who’s a good liar, who’s a lot of fun, and who to avoid.

Thankfully the number of players you want to avoid is incredibly low, as players can be kicked at any time. People who are racist, homophobic, or just can’t play by the rules get kicked mercilessly, leaving lobbies full of like-minded people to play with.

In terms of the actual VR, it’s used in a subtle but effective way creating an effect you couldn’t really get any other way. Only your head is tracked, and whenever you talk your mouth moves and your character gestures. It’s surprisingly convincing so it’s easy to tell who is speaking and who people are looking at. You can also use a set of emotes if you’d like to emphasise a point or hint at someone. All of the games take place in various different environments around a small town, and while they become quite repetitive, they’re appropriately atmospheric and well designed.

If you’ve got a PSVR, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, you owe it to yourself to try this game. It’s entirely a seated experience, the VR will never make you the slightest bit nauseous, and the gameplay is almost entirely unique to videogames (Town of Salem is a little similar). Check out the video at the top of the page if you’d like to see a game, then come and join us to hunt some Werewolves!

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HTC Vive Initial Impressions

Thanks to the generosity of all the people who donated on the stream, we managed to pick up a HTC Vive last weekend and we’ve put some serious time into trying out everything we’ve been able to get our hands on.

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Setup

Much has been made of the Vive setup being difficult or a hassle but we found it much better than we expected. As long as you take your time to find a good place in your house everything will run smoothly. If you haven’t done your research though you might be in for a surprise as the Vive requires a pretty specific space.

First of all you need physical space. You can get by with 1.5mx2m for room space but we’d recommend more than that. Our space is around 2mx2m but was really pushing up against the boundaries of how small it could be and at first it didn’t believe us that we could do what the VR setup calls ‘room space’. If you don’t have the space you can still play most games by selecting ‘standing space’ in the setup, but you’ll be missing out on some of the most exciting features in games. Don’t forget you need overhead room too. Try to make sure you’re not easily going to hit anything if you try to throw overarm, it’s unbelievably easy to get absorbed into a game and completely forget where you are. We’ve taken out the lightbulb from the overhead light fitting for just this reason. I would recommend that you find a space that you can leave set up like this for as long as you want. If you have to move furniture every time you want to play I doubt you’ll be playing very much and that’d be a shame for something so expensive!

The next thing you need to look for are plug sockets. In the area you want to play you’ll need two sockets, one for each lighthouse. Of course you can use extension cords etc but you want a minimum of clutter that you could potentially trip over in the space you’re using. You also need to make sure your PC is close enough. The cable from the breakout box is about 5m long and the USB cable and HDMI cables that you need to plug into the PC are about 1m long (remember you’ll need ports for these too or a powered USB extender if you want to use your own longer HDMI cable). While all of these restrictions might sound imposing, in practice it all seems pretty reasonable. Basically the more space you have, the better, but it’s quite accommodating if you’re in small accommodation.

Setup is quite simple really once you’ve got everything. You simply plug the base stations into the power and make sure they sync up (they just sync with each other and not with the PC, all they do is bathe your room in infrared dots that your headset can pick up, much like the Wii U sensor bar). Then you switch the wireless controllers on and make sure the headset and breakaway box are plugged in then you go through some room setup including calibrating the controllers with the space and tracing the boundary (this later becomes the wall you see if you get close to it in games) then you have an in-VR vaguely portal-themed setup that introduces you to the main controls and is a lot of fun. We’re not big fans of the tiny headphones you get but other than that using it now is easy as anything. We simply turn the controllers on and put the headset on in the tracked area. Even if you’re not in the area as long as one station can see you the VR will work for seated experiences.

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The Hardware

The hardware feels premium as although it’s plastic the matte finish and foam sections all fit beautifully together and are grey and black so it’s easy to ignore when you haven’t got it on. Of course the screens inside and lenses aren’t perfect yet, it can be hard to get them entirely focused and the resolution and light bleed leave a lot to be desired, but they are industry leaders at this point. HTC have got the form factor basically perfect, it’s just a matter of time before the screen technology improves in later generations. The breakaway box is tiny and unobtrusive too, like a little lozenge roughly the size of a Steam Link.

The controllers are worth special mention. Their weird hoop-on-a-stick shape is unusual but it feels great to hold and within VR every button is easy to reach and it feels perfectly natural whether the game has skinned it as a variation of the controller, a gun, a torch, or even a lightsaber. The haptic touch pad on top can take on many functions but works very well as both a button and a joystick and the triggers feel every bit as good as those on the Xbox One pads

The Experience

Right now, nothing comes close to the Vive. Yes the Rift has a decent screen but the lack of room-scale VR is really harming its position in this competition. The VR might be a tiny bit blurry but it’s incredibly responsive (even just running on a 970) and once you get into a game you forget about the low resolution quite quickly.

Being able to move around in a game like FPS military shooter Onward is revelatory in terms of gaming. If you need to lean around a corner, do it for real. If you need to go prone, go prone. Suddenly kids have an advantage of me on the battlefield not just because of their quicker reflexes, but because they can get up with having to be careful about their clicking knees and aching back, but I love it. Throwing things like discs in Rec Room feels as natural as anything and projectiles coming towards you in game like Audioshield and the Star Wars experience feel incredibly real and elicit a surprisingly genuine response. Even cardboard cutout zombies in Zombie Training Simulator can make you feel genuine fear as you get swarmed by hordes of the paper-maché undead.

Right now there is a much-reported limit on the number of AAA games, but there’s more and more each week and there’s already plenty of adventure games and decent shooters alongside the plethora of tech-demos to keep you busy. We’ve found our gametime is limited more by the hot weather than running out of things to do and with nearly every new experience we can’t wait to show it to someone. In a genius stroke every game produces a 2D image of what you can see on your monitor so other people can still watch what you’re playing. This alleviates some of our worries about how antisocial VR would be, but we’re still hoping for some more asymmetrical multiplayer games to take advantage of this like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

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Conclusion

We’re a long way away from making any final decisions on this hardware yet, but we’d say if you have the money this is definitely an incredibly exciting and compelling taste of the future. It’s expensive for what it is, and the technology is very immature, but you can have a lot of fun with VR already and if you’re looking to be blown away by the next big thing, you owe it to yourself to try the Vive.

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Derren Brown’s Ghost Train Spoiler-Free Review at Thorpe Park

Last night we were treated to the press event for Derren Brown’s Ghost Train at Thorpe Park. The ride is a new take on ghost trains with heavy use of virtual reality. We’ve come away unimpressed by the use of VR on Air – now Galactica – at Alton Towers, but they were using the cheap and underpowered GearVR headsets. Can Thorpe Park do any better?

Right out of the gates Thorpe Park got something right by choosing to use the HTC Vive as their headset of choice. With each of these going for nearly £700 for consumers and each train ( I think there’s probably three in the building) having 50 seats, along with spares that must be needed, that’s quite the investment, but it’s clearly the way to go if you want convincing and immersive VR. With a better framerate and most importantly full positional tracking, we’ve been amazed by what the Vive can do elsewhere with video games when attached to a high-spec PC.

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We’re not going to spoil anything on the ride beyond the fact that it does use VR (something that’s in most of the advertising and repeated throughout the queue).  In the first section of VR some quite clever effects are used to make it seem more realistic with lighting and some live actors that have clearly been recorded then inserted into the VR. It’s very convincing and while the environments are still a little low res and clearly more like something out of a video game, when scares come you find yourself immersed enough to be more than a little freaked out. This isn’t the sort of attraction where you can walk around with the headsets on so they have somewhat of a captive audience, forcing you to just sit there while some strange things happen. This section of the ride definitely qualifies as a new take on the Ghost Train and we’d love to see more uses of VR like this. It’s well integrated into the theme of the ride (there’s a reason for you to be putting the headset one) and it can be genuinely frightening, even if the quality isn’t quite good enough to trick you into thinking it’s completely real.

In the second section things are a little worse. Here there’s no live-action, just plenty of CGI and sadly it doesn’t work well enough to be immersive. The environments and things you see all look like something out of a PS3-era game at best and after the quite unsettling first part, this is quite a letdown. The creators of the VR section were perhaps a little too ambitious with what they wanted to achieve here and the tech simply isn’t up to it. Also while things go close to your face, the Vive’s positional tracking might actually be a negative as I was able to lean forward and put my head inside something else, where I just clipped through it and rendered it invisible. Throughout the journey on my first go it all ran well, but on our second there were a few glitches with the headsets where suddenly the geometry would freak out and have to reset itself, sometimes defaulting to a bright blue grid, others to just a static video with no head tracking.

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Overall we’re impressed with the Ghost Train. It’s definitely a new take on an old genre of ride, and it’s worth the experience just because there’s nothing else like it at the moment. We’re not convinced even the mighty Vive is up to the task of a high-throughput mainstream ride like this, where resolution and immersiveness isn’t quite good enough to do something completely in CGI, but as something a bit different that we’ve not seen anywhere else in the world, it’s got a thumbs up. Thorpe Park definitely needed a decent dark ride and now they’ve got one of the best in the world.

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Vr Ping Pong Preview (PC)

VR Ping Pong is a fun game. Let me get that out of the way, what I am not convinced of yet is whether it should really be trying to be a Ping Pong game. In these early days of VR the best experiences so far have been completely new ones, designed to take a new idea into a VR space, rather than take a traditional idea or game and adapt it to VR. The danger with taking something like Ping Pong and making a VR experience out of it, is that it will be competing against your own real life perceptions of Ping Pong as well as how much you may enjoy it as a VR experience.

Continue reading Vr Ping Pong Preview (PC)

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Gear VR Review

Virtual Reality is going to be big news at this year’s E3, with Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus confirmed to be in attendance as well as likely appearances from Microsoft’s Hololens, HTC and Valve’s Vive and perhaps even Totem. Sadly, as the Oculus Rift pre-E3 conference proved, it’s not easy to sell Virtual Reality on a stage. If you want to try it yourself, you’ve currently got three real options. Google Cardboard is very affordable (£6 or even cheaper if you make it yourself) but uncomfortable and quite limited. The Oculus Rift Developer Kits aren’t very user friendly and need a beefy PC to run them. The third option is the Samsung Gear VR.

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The Gear VR requires either a Galaxy Note 4 or a Galaxy S6 to run (there are different models for the two different phones). You buy the headset for around £160 and then slot your phone into the front, where it plugs into the headset and is held in by a solid plastic folding clip. Then you just put it on your head and you’re away. Everything is managed by an Oculus app on your phone (the Gear VR was developed with Oculus) and although the headset has a touchpad, some buttons, a focus adjuster and some sensors, really your phone is doing all of the hard work in producing the image and sensing your movements. Currently it is being sold as something particularly for early adopters and developers and that’s advice to take seriously, there’s not many games or apps and many aren’t all that polished. That being said it’s possibly the most convincing access point to VR that you can own right now.

The simplicity of the system is a huge bonus. You’re not tethered to a PC, the app has an incredibly simple UI (look at what you want to select and tap the touchpad to select) and focusing seems to work well enough even for people with glasses. Apps are split into Games, apps and experiences. Many of the best programs seem to be simple 360 3d videos like the excellent Cirque de Soleil showcase that puts you into the center of a live performance. For demonstrating VR’s possibilities to the uninitiated, it’s a spectacular entry point and gives you enough of a sense of ‘presence’ with you having to do anything.

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The screen on the S6 (the version we have) is incredibly high res but since you’re so close to it you’ll still be able to see individual pixels. Sadly the refresh rate and resolution isn’t quite there yet and is the weakest part of the whole deal, while things can look ‘good enough’, it never looks perfectly clear. Developers also seem to be keen to keep file sizes to a minimum so many of the videos available have very low resolutions themselves, it’s worth seeking out some high res versions to see what the system can really do.

In terms of games it’s currently a mixed bag. There’s plenty of free demos and cheap games but we’ve found we get quite intense motion sickness from anything that involves running around. Sitting down games like tower defense, racing and space based games work much better and our current favourite is VR Karts. It’s a Mario Kart style racer where you can go up against the AI or real opponents online and blast around a handful of fairly simple courses and shoot each other with powerups. You can look all around you, the performance never falters and you can even use the rear view mirrors in a way that feels unbelievably natural. When racing online you can see the characters’ heads moving in sync with the other players so an odd form of speechless communication often begins, like in Journey, where nods and shakes of the head manage to signal so much in between and during races.

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We’re incredibly impressed with the Gear VR and with plenty more support promised between now and the launch of the consumer edition of Oculus Rift, it’s simply the best way to get into VR until the big hitters come out over the next year. If you can stomach spending £160 on a bit of a novelty and already have an S6 or a Note 4, we heartily recommend it.

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