Virtual reality in search for killer gaming app

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Butterflies and bullet trains: Oculus Rift’s emotional demos will kick you in the heart.

Although it seems like a no-brainer this news is peculiar on a couple of levels, the first being that Oculus Rift support was added for free by Doom creator John Carmack.Minecraft will be one of the first games to make its way onto the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset when it goes on sale in Spring 2016, it has emerged. Microsoft, who now owns everything to do with Minecraft, didn’t pay him for the work, but as the head technology guy at Oculus VR he felt it was important enough to be worth his time. ‘I think [Minecraft is] the single most important application that we can do for virtual reality, to make sure that we have an army of fanatic, passionate supporters that will advocate why VR is great,’ he said. ‘This is why you want to do some of it every single day. But do look at it, because it’s the product of 10 minutes in Oculus’ new tool Medium — a remarkably natural sculpting system that uses the company’s Touch motion controllers.

On stage, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said that “every platform has to have a paint app, and this is our paint app,” which positions Medium a little bit like MS Paint. Everybody that work on that at Oculus and Facebook, you all have my deepest thanks for making this happen.’ The other reason it’s weird is because Minecraft creator Notch was originally working on Minecraft VR Edition for Oculus Rift, but stopped when Facebook bought company Oculus VR for $2 billion. Over the last three years I’ve flown spaceships and waved at aliens, batted UFOs out of the sky with my elephant trunk and watched military training exercises.

Valve’s competing SteamVR platform already includes a third-party app called Tiltbrush, a three-dimensional painting system whose brushes can create things like stars and fire alongside more traditional materials. So I guess it’s appropriate that for a last hurrah, Oculus showed me some of the most ambitious Rift experiences in development—an epic subway battle, a huggable hedgehog, and a complex sculpting tool. The announcement marks a u-turn by Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, after its founder, Markus Persson, backed out of a partnership with Oculus VR in 2014, citing unease over Facebook’s purchase of the company. “I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Tiltbrush and Medium’s control schemes both use the metaphor of a virtual palette and a virtual brush, but everything in Medium is made of a material that looks and behaves more like clay.

You can see his reaction to today’s news in the tweet below, with the reference to Quiet and D.D. implying he finds playing Metal Gear Solid V more interesting. There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me,” he said at the time. “People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.” However, Mr Persson’s departure from Mojang last year, prompted by a Microsoft buyout, apparently reopened negotiations between Mojang and Oculus, and saw Minecraft expand to several new platforms, including Microsoft’s own Windows 10 and Windows Phone operating systems.

As with Toybox, Oculus assigns someone to join you and explain the system’s tools, appearing as a disembodied pair of hands and a featureless head — it’s always a little surprising how expressive these simple features can be. The Minecraft announcement was made at a Oculus Rift press event last night in the US, where they were showing off the Oculus Touch controller and the new Oculus Medium virtual sculpting tool. Oculus Rift – which started life as a Kickstarter project in 2012, promising to “take 3D gaming to the next level” – is currently scheduled to start shipping to consumers in the first quarter of 2016, with pre-orders beginning later this year. You can use the second trigger on either hand to grab and move them, and pulling or pushing with both hands is the equivalent of “pinch to zoom” in a touch interface. (In otherwise empty virtual space, it’s also perfectly reasonable to assume this is inflating or shrinking the object.

That’s apparently not the case, since the underlying mesh stays the same.) There are a few simple variations — you can create square or round clay, and pressing a button on your other hand pulls up a color wheel. Medium is organized so that you select a tool by using the non-brush controller, and you tweak the settings of that tool by hitting the analog stick on your brush hand. As a final touch, you can move or change the intensity of a spotlight placed above your creation, which gives the whole environment a gallery-like feel. It’s not totally clear how you can export these objects for outside use, but the lighting can make a big difference when you’re capturing pictures of sculptures from inside Medium. It’s completely mundane, but it’s also surreal to close one eye and adjust your position to get the right shot — it starts feeling like your eyes are literal cameras.

Here, for example, is a piece made by digital artist Bay Raitt: At this point, it’s hard to say whether Medium will make a viable tool for serious 3D modeling, or how much time non-artists will want to spend in it, once the initial excitement has worn off. Or you can teleport towards an enemy, hit him in the face with your pistol, throw it to the side, and steal his rifle out of his hands and shoot the three guys behind him.

And it all culminates in a battle against a massive flying robot which fires rockets towards you—rockets which you, of course, snag on their way towards your face and return to sender. It’s the first time this has happened to me (though I’ve teared up once before), and I quickly learned crying doesn’t mix well with “having a thing strapped over your eyes.” There’s something magical about Henry though: Eye contact. It’s a small thing I don’t necessarily think of in normal games or in daily life, but having Henry glance over at you as the story unfolds—seeing the joy in his eyes when he finds friends, or the fear when a blue spirit flies around the room—it connects you to the character.

I haven’t seen Henry on a normal screen obviously, but I don’t think the fourth-wall breaking would be quite as poignant or effective on a normal TV screen/monitor. I have no doubt—or, even if Medium doesn’t catch on, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before other artistic/creation software hits the Rift. And they’re quality experiences—while Henry, Bullet Train, and Medium still feel more like proofs of concept than full-fledged software, we’ve come a long way from the demos I used to mess with on the original dev kit.

Valve and HTC currently has better hardware with the Vive, but has showed next-to-nothing as far as games and software is concerned—and we’re only two months away from the Vive’s launch.

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