How Virtual Reality is Going to Change the Gaming World

Virtual reality (VR) has the potential be as ubiquitous as the television set or smartphone. The technology for these immersive headsets has drastically improved over the last four years, and for the first time, VR is available to the consumer at a price point that does not break the bank. This has…

The following is a virtual reality feature given to RPadTV by author Geoff Blough.


Virtual reality (VR) has the potential be as ubiquitous as the television set or smartphone. The technology for these immersive headsets has drastically improved over the last four years, and for the first time, VR is available to the consumer at a price point that does not break the bank. This has led to an explosion of new virtual reality technology that will open the door for VR to be a part of everyday life.

“People are going to stop having guest bedrooms and start having VR rooms,” said quality assurance analyst for Personify and VR expert Hunter Kent.

Statista, an online statistics website, projects significant growth in the VR industry. Projections are set to see an increase in VR hardware and software sales from $90 million in 2014 to $5.2 billion in 2018. Statista also projects that the VR industry will reach 171 million active users by 2018.

Sensorama
Sensorama

The origin of virtual reality can be traced back to the 1950s with the Sensorama, a cabinet similar to an arcade game. The user would sit down and be surrounded by screens. Video, sound, and even smells would be manipulated within the hood of the machine. Fast forward to 2016, many of the same elements are being used to create a sensory experience. The cabinets have now morphed into headsets that can track movement in a three-dimensional environment.

Though games have been the most common application of virtual reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to what virtual reality can provide. Enterprise applications currently drive most of the profits for VR. With 360-degree cameras, VR can be used to transport a user to famous historical landmarks around the globe. Users can even enjoy a live concert in New York while sitting on a coach in Los Angeles. Wheelchair-bound individuals can now visit places through VR that were impossible in the real world. Additionally, virtual reality now has medical applications. Surgical training has typically been practiced on cadavers, but now a simulator can give a medical student the same experience without access to a cadaver or a real patient.

“I envision the future VR as kind of the way smartphones changed people’s relationship with technology. I think VR/AR (Augmented Reality) will be even quicker to adopt once we hit the critical mass threshold, and will start becoming integrated with many, if not all, areas of people’s lives. There is so much potential in the non-gaming space, that I think we’ll probably see corporate adoption of VR before we see gamers embrace it wholeheartedly,” said Fox Buchele, developer and CEO of Fox Game Studios.

One example of embracing virtual reality in the non-gaming space is TheWave. It’s virtual reality music software that creates an interactive experience for both the performer and the audience. TheWave allows the performer to not only control the music as most DJ software does, but also create light shows that change depending on the frequency, beat, and tone of the music. A performer in TheWave can even take tracker and physically give them to the audience members who are watching the performance in their own virtual reality headsets.

Finn Staber, chief technology officer and co-founder of WaveVR, Inc. said, “We want to avoid ‘gamification’ with TheWave, and allow people to perform in their virtual venue as they would with a musical instrument or DJ interface in a real world venue.”

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Gamers are still the target market for virtual reality. Videogames being released specifically for virtual reality are allowing gamers to finally enter the world they could only see on televisions in the past. The Void is a company that is creating a completely new experience. Not only is it creating the world that gamers can interact with a virtual environment, The Void is building real world sets that translate directly to the software. This allows for a completely interactive world that players can feel as well as see.

“This is going to replace laser tag venues,” said Kent.

Job Simulator is a game that not only allows players to interact in a fictional parody of everyday cubicle life, it allows for the player to set up cameras so others can join in the action. This kind of interaction was only dreamed about before virtual reality.

Augmented Reality has the ability to bridge the gap between current technology in smartphones and computers to the world of virtual reality. AR differs from VR as it overlays the real world, instead of creating an immersive world under a headset. Google Glass was an early example of AR technology. Typically, AR is created with glasses that have screens integrated into the design. These devices can provide the user information vital to their day. Google, Microsoft, and Magic Leap are companies currently developing AR technology.

“Imagine what you see in Minority Report, being able to manipulate numerous folders with gestures. What took several monitors now only takes one AR headset,” said Staber.

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard

The most basic virtual reality headset available right now is Google Cardboard, a cardboard box that accepts almost any smartphone, and the Samsung Gear VR which only works with the newer Samsung Galaxy phones. According to economics website The Motley Fool, Google Cardboard has been downloaded from the Google Play store over 10-million times. Samsung recently offered a deal for consumers by giving away free Gear VR headsets to all new pre-orders of the phones. This has allowed Samsung to reach an audience that may not have been excited about the idea of virtual reality in the past.

“I got it for watching movies and TV shows and demoing how far VR tech has come to people who aren’t familiar with it. Whether you have anxiety flying or get motion sick while riding in a car, people are already using Gear VR to deal with these issues. You can zone out on a flight or watch movies, which is what I do,” says Kent.

Recently, two new virtual reality headsets have hit the consumer market. The Oculus Rift was released on March 28 while the HTC Vive went to market on April 5. Both of these headsets require powerful personal computers to work effectively. These headsets provide a completely immersive experience that the smartphone headsets are unable to provide. These headsets have similarities, but differ on how they provide motion tracking.

The Oculus Rift started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 as a development kit. The campaign earned $2.5 million in order to produce and ship the development kits to backers. Though mostly purchased by software developers, many VR enthusiasts purchased the development kit as a way to preview the technology. In 2014, Oculus was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. This gave Oculus the capital to push their consumer level Rift to market.

The Rift includes a VR headset with basic head tracking and integrated speakers for sound, a head tracking camera, wireless remote, and an Xbox One Wireless Controller. The Rift is priced as $599 and is available for purchase on the Oculus website with turnaround time of about three months. On May 6, the Rift will be available at Best Buy for retail purchase. This headset has been popular because users do not need to move around the room in order to experience the immersion of VR.

HTC Vive
HTC Vive

HTC Vive is the major competitor to the Oculus Rift. The Vive also ships with a headset but this headset also has an external camera so the user can see the outside world while wearing the device. The Vive comes with two wireless controllers with tracking capabilities. Also included with the Vive are two tracking sensors that provide full room tracking. This allows the user to move around and manipulate the three-dimensional world created by the software. The HTC Vive is available on their website for $799 with a similar turnaround time as the Rift.

Sony also has plans to release a virtual reality headset for its PlayStation 4. The PlayStation VR, only works with Sony’s platform and will be released in October 2016. The headset bundle comes with the VR headset, two motion controllers, a tracking camera and a game that showcases the abilities of the platform. The bundle will be available in retail store for $499 and is also available for $399 for just the VR headset.

Developers are excited to work on both of the major platforms. Currently, most are aiming toward the Oculus Rift. Developing software on the Rift is easily ported over to the Vive as the motion tracking are not required in Vive software. The reverse is a bit more difficult because of the tracking not being as capable on the Rift. Because of this, publishers are a bit more apprehensive to develop for the Vive. “Publishers think developing a game specifically for the Vive is much more of a risk right now. Whereas most games developed for the Rift are playable on a normal monitor,” said Kent.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are moving at breakneck speeds. Developers, gamers, and non-gamers alike are excited for the possibilities that VR/AR can bring to the world. As the adoption rate increases, the prices will start to come down allowing for even more people to afford the hardware. VR/AR has potential in the creative and enterprise spaces in ways that have only been seen in science fiction. One day, there may be technology that will rival the holodeck in Star Trek. This kind of innovation drives the human race to places no one has gone before.

Leland Yee Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

Former California state senator Leland Yee was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in a corruption scandal involving guns. Longtime gamers will remember Leland Yee as an outspoken politician that attacked videogames. Over the course of his career, he sponsored several bills that hurt the gaming business. He was particularly outspoken against Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and claimed that the ESRB knew about the controversial “Hot Coffee” mod before the game was published. Additionally, Leland Yee held numerous anti-gun stances while in office.

With his games-are-violent and anti-gun positions in mind, it’s hilarious that Leland Yee was caught in an arms scandal. While trying raising money to run for California secretary of state, Leland Yee was busted. According to The LA Times:

The San Francisco Democrat was caught in an FBI sting that recorded him promising votes and guns to an undercover agent who was funneling him contributions. He pleaded guilty last year rather than face a trial.

I’m thrilled that Leland Yee has been legally declared a scumbag, but I’m disappointed that his sentence is only five years. What he did was deplorable and an abuse of the public’s trust. To me, five years seems light for a matter involving the illegal distribution of heavy ordnance. According to this CNN story, he was dealing crates of guns, shoulder-fired missiles, and rockets acquired from Filipino rebels. This kind of gun running and arms dealing leads to tremendous loss of life. Five years seems…light.

In a perfect world, Leland Yee would be sentenced to 20+ years in Federal Pound Me in the @ss Prison. He’s a liar, a thief, and a frickin’ arms dealer. He should be behind bars for the rest of his life. A five-year sentence, which I imagine will be cut short for good behavior or some other nonsense, isn’t enough for this piece of crap.

That’s my professional opinion, anyway. What do you think of Leland Yee’s sentence? Does the time fit the crime? Or does he deserve harsher punishment?

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Alina Gingertail Hearthstone Theme Music Cover

Embedded below is an excellent cover of the opening theme for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft by Alina Gingertail. It reminds me of Fredde Gredde’s stellar cover of the theme from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. If you dig Alina’s cover then check out her YouTube page for more excellent music. She does acoustic versions of music found in videogames like Chrono Cross and The Witcher 3, as well as favorites from nerd television shows and movies. I’m particularly fond of her banjo version of “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back.

Anyway, please give Alina Gingertail’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft opening theme cover a listen and let me know what you think of it.

Hearthstone The League of Explorers Hands-On Preview

At BlizzCon 2015, I played five games of the new Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft adventure, “The League of Explorers.” Featuring an Indiana Jones-style theme, an early portion of the “The League of Explorers” was playable at the show. I was able to play as the rogue (twice) and shaman (thrice) characters in a collapsing-temple setting. The game was an exercise in survival; the goal was to exit the collapsing temple after a certain number of turns. In addition to the standard battle gameplay, there were a few twists in this level of “The League of Explorers” that added a different type of fun to Hearthstone.

In between rounds, you’ll have to make a number of choices. Some of them are a matter of strategy and some are a matter of luck. Here are some examples of the choices you’ll have to make in “The League of Explorers.”

  • Gain a mana crystal or draw a card
  • Take 5 damage or take a chance of receiving 0 or 10 damage
  • Restore 10 health or draw 2 cards
  • Get one turn closer to the exit and face a 7/7 golem or do nothing

 

Adding to the fun are a number of events that occur as you get closer to the exit. From what I played, these events happen on the same turn every game, so they can be played for and around. Here are some of the “League of Explorers” events I saw.

  • A 0/4 boulder card appears on your side of the battlefield. It runs over all minions to its left.
  • The temple ceiling collapses and clears the battlefield.
  • After hearing, “Why’d it have to be bugs?”, a pair of 10/3 bugs appear as opponent minions.

 

Naturally, the most exciting part of any Hearthstone addition is the new cards. “The League of Explorers” adds 45 new cards in total. Here are some of the ones that I used.

  • Everyfin is Awesome: This shaman card gives all minions on the battlefield +2/+2 and costs one less for every murloc on the battlefield
  • Murloc Tinyfin: This is a scrub card, but the art is adorable. It’s a cute baby murloc with a sword.
  • Sir Finley Mrrgglton: This is a fun 1-cost legendary card. It lets you change hero power, giving you a choice of three others.
  • Elise Starseeker: This card shuffles a map into your deck. If everything pans out, it leads to an opportunity to play with a ridiculous amount of legendary cards. Sadly, it never panned out for me.
  • Unearthed Raptor: This card lets you choose a friendly minion and copy its deathrattle effect.
  • Huge Toad: I almost didn’t mention this card because the ugliness of the art scares me. It also has a deathrattle that deals 1 damage to a random enemy.

 

All told, I had lots of fun playing “The League of Explorers” for Hearthstone. I can see myself playing the adventure a few times, but I’m really excited about getting the new cards and figuring out how to incorporate them into my decks. Since my priest deck is the only that’s worth a damn, I’m wishing that “The League of Explorers” has some nifty priest cards. Get ready for an all-new, all-different Hearthstone exploration adventure when “The League of Explorers” hits on November 12, 2015.

Blizzard Announces The League of Explorers For Hearthstone

Just when I was getting “barely” competent with “The Grand Tournament” cards in Hearthstone, Blizzard went ahead and announced “The League of Explorers” at BlizzCon 2015. “The League of Explorers” expansion adds a new adventure and 45 new cards. Available on November 12, 2015, the expansion should add more depth and diversity to an already deep and diverse game.

Here’s a clip from the official press release:

The League of Explorers introduces four intrepid adventurers — Elise Starseeker, Reno Jackson, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, and Brann Bronzebeard — and invites players to join their journey through a series of exotic destinations, some familiar and some new, to recover an artifact of immense power. These brave explorers will face many perils as they navigate through the Temple of Orsis, Uldaman, the Ruined City, and the Hall of Explorers in hopes of discovering lost artifacts that will lead them closer to the relic. Escaping giant boulders and emerging from all of the locations in one piece will reward adventurers with a combined total of 45 treasured new cards, bringing a slew of new tactics to the game.

For many Hearthstone players, “The League of Explorers” will make the game even more fun and addictive. Completionists love when new cards come out and will stop at nothing to acquire them. Advanced and competitive players will enjoy finding new ways to tweak their decks and crafting new strategies. As for me — a habitual Hearthstone player that stubbornly refuses to spend money on the game — I foresee a frustrating month where everyone I play has the new cards and I don’t. I’m excited to see, learn about, and (very slowly) acquire the new cards, but I’m also prepared to hate them while everyone else has them I don’t. I’m bratty that way.

I’ll be getting some hands-on time with the game and will write about my experience with “The League of Explorers” for Hearthstone in a followup story. For now, enjoy some artwork from “The League of Explorers.”

Edit: Hands-on preview is live here!

Warcraft Trailer: So What Do You Think?

The Warcraft trailer was met with great fanfare at BlizzCon 2015. Attendees went wild over the clip, released at the show by Blizzard Entertainment and Legendary Pictures. Naturally, a high level of enthusiasm was expected at BlizzCon, as the show if full of ardent Blizzard fans. I’m curious to hear what you think of the trailer. The clip is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

What do you think of the costumes and special effects? How about the story? Kindly share your feelings (like a Care Bear) on the Warcraft trailer in the comments section. For now, here are some random (and probably silly) observations on the Warcraft trailer (with convenient timestamps!).

00:13 — The eagles from The Lord of the Rings have defected to the world of Warcraft (see what I did there?). Tired of taking orders from senile wizards and providing Uber service to hobbits, the eagles are moving onto bigger and better things in the Warcraft movie.

00:16: Phallic towers are mandatory in fantasy films…but you already knew that.

00:23: There’s your hero, Anduin Lothar played by Travis Fimmel.

00:28: When orcs attack….

00:37: I spy a racist white lord.

00:40: The orc story is explained. See, they’re not bad. Their makeup and CG just makes them look that way. Also, there’s your other hero — Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell.

00:47: You know orcs are badass when they’re completely comfortable with canine creatures that dwarf them.

01:02: Ah, that’s what Paula Patton has been up to since divorcing Robin Thicke. Is it weird that I think she makes a sexy orc?

01:15: The heroes meet! Obviously this is the part where they come to respect and understand one another…which is followed by the part where their people think they’re nuts and the warring continues. I learned this in college in Hackneyed Contrivance Plots 101.

01:24: See, a white man is behind all the trouble.

01:44: Blatant Moses ripoff! *snicker*

01:48: Climactic battle looks climactic.

01:55: Anduin pulls a Legolas.

 

Underworld Ascendant Paul Neurath & Joe Fielder Interview

The followup to the highly influential Ultima Underworld games from the early ’90s, Underworld Ascendant aims to dazzle gamers with an atypical style of fantasy role-playing. The original games were lauded for their sense of immersion; they are considered the first RPGs to offer first-person action in a true 3D environment. While many modern RPGs bombard players with millions of words of text, Underworld Ascendant will attempt to captivate gamers with environmental immersion and unscripted player-driven narrative. In many ways, the game is a throwback in the sense that the developer wants the player to put himself or herself in the game, as opposed to following the adventures of a heavily scripted character.

Underworld Ascendant will give players all kinds of choices, whether it’s character development or puzzle solving. As far as character creation goes, there are three types of skill sets that players can draw from: fighter, rogue, and mage. The skills can be mixed and mashed, accommodating a wide variety of player styles. Similarly, encounters with monsters and environmental puzzles can be handled in drastically different ways. Again, the emphasis is on player choice. You’ll be able to play Underworld Ascendant with the character you want to be, adventuring in the way you want to adventure.

Occupying the Stygian Abyss are three rival factions. There are dark elves, dwarves, and shamblers to encounter. The developer was quick to note that these races don’t fit into typical RPG trappings. For example, the dwarves in Underworld Ascendant will not have Scottish accents. The shamblers are particularly interesting — fungus-like creatures with mushroom heads that operate in a hive-mind society. The way you interact with and help (or not) these factions will alter how you experience Underworld Ascendant.

The interview below was lots of fun for me on several levels. First off, Otherside Entertainment founder & CEO Paul Neurath is a frickin’ legend. The man founded Looking Glass Studios, one of the all-time great game developers. Looking at the list of games Paul has worked on is mind blowing. He should be put on exhibit at The Smithsonian. Also in the chat below is design director Joe Fielder. I met Joe in the late ’90s when I was a corporate hack at Ziff-Davis and he was heading up GameSpot. He was one of the first videogame journalists I met and it’s awesome watching his career in game development burgeon.

Anyway, check out my chat with Paul and Joe below for more details on Underworld Ascendant, as well as lots of gameplay footage.