Doctor Who is coming to VR this September – Don’t Blink!

I bet there is a play on ‘Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey’ somewhere.

Yesterday I told you about a VR experience that I hopefully have running by now. This week, there was another bit of VR news that had me fanboying all around the place.

Doctor Who is coming to VR, and includes the voice talent of the Doctor herself Jodie Whittaker.

Take a look at the teaser below.

Gameplay wise not much is known.  As the player, you will be helping the Doctor by collecting some Time Crystals (Discovery technobabble anyone?) to repair the fabric of Time and Space as we know it.

Basically, I am thinking another escape room type scenario with the Doctor giving you the background and the crystals the prize.  We will have to wait and see though 🙂

And the wait shouldn’t be too long apparently – it looks like it is all coming this September to PC (Vive, Rift and now the Steam Index I guess?) as well as PSVR.

The screens look quite good so far, but I am guessing these will all be from the higher res PC versions.

The original need of Police Boxes may have passed, but we all hope they are bigger on the inside
I am unfortunately not up to date with the latest series, but the inside of the TARDIS looks amazing
An everyday Laundromat. What could we find here?
Ahh. Play with the timeline, and find out.

But with promises of bad guys old and new and support from the BBC, hopefully The Edge of Time will shape up to be a quality Doctor Who experience.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Beat Saber VR Early Access Review

Beat Saber Feature
Beat Saber Feature
Released Early Access Release 2018
Developer Hyperbolic Magnetism
Publisher Hyperbolic Magnetism (Website)
Category VR Rhythm Game
Homepage beatsaber.com

Feel the beat, let it flow through you…

So I have been having a ball in Virtual Reality.  There are still a heap of games to be played, and a heap of games that I wish weren’t quite the ‘tech demo’ quickies they are.

That said, Virtual Reality is now closer to consumer-friendly than ever before.  PlayStation VR or PSVR is something you can get into for $1,200.  It wasn’t long ago that was the asking price for most of a headset.

VR still has problems.  PSVR tracking is good enough most of the time.  Oculus has had some interesting legal issues.  Oculus and Vive both have high entry points (although this is getting better).

On the whole, I have seemed to do OK introducing people to VR.  For younger people or those I think will suffer from motion sickness, I have VR movies like Invasion!.  For those that don’t mind a horror theme, Rush of Blood on the PSVR is a blast I still occasionally boot up.

But I think I found a game that I can show everyone as an entry to VR.  You stand fairly still, with targets coming towards you.  You cut those targets with lightsabers.  Everyone instinctively knows how to hit the thing, right?

That game is Beat Saber.

There are a number of people that will look at Beat Saber and just think ‘another gimmick game’.  And to a degree, they are right. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were gimmick games though, and look how much they sold.  Just saying.

The idea is so simple you really have nothing to teach.  Cubes come towards you in time to the music.  They have an arrow on them.  Slice them in half in the direction of the arrow.  If they have a circle on them, just hit it in direction.

Rules done.  And that satisfying vibration feedback and sparkles when you hit a cube is instantly a feeling you want again.

Beat Saber Hitting the Cubes
You can watch people playing, but nothing compares to the feel of cutting cubes yourself

You have to avoid cutting mines.  This catches people the first time.  It’s amazing how naturally ducking and sidestep walls is as well.  But even people that swing at a mine with gusto have that ‘Oh.  Makes sense’ look on their face when you add that rule.

But you don’t have to drag it out.  When someone cuts a mine and usually yells “What?!?!?!” all you respond with is “Yeah that was a mine.”  Not hitting them is instantly understood.  Someone doesn’t get out of the way of a wall?  Just say the red glowing thing is a wall.  Natural instincts just take over.

Beat Saber Wouldn't you just duck
In a situation like this, you may hear "What's that?" Just reply wall and watch them duck.

You can just kinda swing your arms and get through, and when practising is not a bad idea just to get the feel of a level.  Another reason why a lot of people kind of overlook Beat Saber.

I am hoping the scoring algorithm they posted disproves this though.  Yes, you can get through the game just waggling your wrists, but you won’t get a high score or rank.

Instead, for optimal scoring, you want to swing your saber at least 90 degrees to hit the target.  This gives you 70 points.  Then follow through the cut with an additional 30 degrees movement.  This gives you another 30 points max.  Finally, if you cut the cube close to perfectly in half, you can earn an additional 10 points.

I only learnt this algorithm this week, but it did confirm what I was experiencing playing.  Do a ‘proper’ cut and get high points.  The downside of this knowledge though is it made the number of cheats apparent.

So the scoring from the creators shows that the maximum score per cube or note is 110.  As you continue combos, you also get a multiplier.  As you consistently hit notes, this multiplies increases to 2x, 4x, then maxes at 8x.

So the first song $100 Bills has 264 notes.  Let’s be generous and add up the maximum score of 880 per note – maximum score possible is 232,320.

There is a problem though.  This score still isn’t possible.  It assumes you start on an 8x multiplier, which doesn’t happen.  So how is the leaderboard top 10 filled with scores higher than this?

Beat Saber The Maths Doesn't Work
$100 Bills on hard. 264 notes. 880 x 264 = 232,320. Hmmmm.

For the leaderboard, cheating seems to be a problem.  Now Beat Saber is still early access and anti-cheat maybe something that is coming, but here today now it isn’t happening.

Because it’s early access, I am OK with this.  I can continue to play and try to reach the coveted SS rank – the highest rank in the game.  But it did take the shine from my highest achievement to date.

A few days ago a secret song was unlocked – Angel Voices.  It is three times as long as any other song, and only has Hard and Expert modes.  I thought I was doing REALLY well, then I found out about the cheating.

I haven’t hit an S rank (yet) but looking at the player ranks I had cracked the top 500!  I did a little dance and felt immensely proud.  My scores in Angel Voices are playing all the other songs on Hard one after another.  I felt a push to do better – not by starting the song fresh, but by beating my score after playing through everything again.

Beat Saber Angel Voices
Angel Voices - the most difficult song in the game. Not even an S rank and in the top 500 players!

But now I know someone can essentially cheat an unobtainable score.  I am still going to go for SS and try to beat my previous scores, but it does put a damper on things.

Seriously, Beat Saber is a game that anyone can play, but people can work themselves to an elite level of play with.  This could easily become an eSport.  It’s amazing watching people in the mixed VR filming seeing just how much they put into getting the perfect form for the song.

And that’s what Beat Saber instantly reminds me of – kendo and kenjutsu kata.  Anyone can pick it up, but practice and master the song and the top scores are yours.

There is also another benefit to this – you really pushing your upper body for maximum movement.  You work up a real sweat when you throw yourself into this game.  There is even evidence to suggest that Beat Saber burns almost as many calories per minute as tennis.  Now Beat Saber wouldn’t be able to replace your entire workout regimen, but it is a workout if you treat it the right way.

You can extend the side steps or even begin marching to the beat to increase the whole body workout side and get the heart beating faster.

But this one game aside, it does show the potential for VR fitness.

Beat Saber Fitbit
The Fitbit registers Beat Saber as an Aerobic Workout - if you didn't believe you worked before, here's how I went this morning

At the moment Beat Saber is available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Mixed Reality.  The easiest place to get Beat Saber on PC is Steam, but your VR store should also have it.

And it was announced just prior to E3 that Beat Saber is coming to PSVR!  I can guarantee I will be buying it again just to have more people playing it at the same time.  I just hope Hyperbolic Magnetism can nail the tracking with the move controllers, and I will miss the haptic feedback.  Maybe some peripheral upgrades Sony?

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

HTC Vive Pro Preorders and Vive Price Drops

HTC Vive Featured

Do you think of VR as Lawnmower Man or more Ready Player One?

In the early 90’s, I remember being massively excited because Timezone in Melbourne City got the Virtuality VR arcade machines and the FPS shooter Dactyl Nightmare.

It was blocky, choppy, expensive – but it was AMAZING.  You got to stand in this massive contraption and wear a helmet that should have come with a health warning due to the weight, but everyone that went in came out grinning like a fool.

Just to prove it, below is a video from Piku’s Junk YouTube channel showing the machine at Retro Revival 2013:

There were a few other attempts at VR, but on the whole, it kinda quietly died as soon as is came to be.  The idea was amazing, but the tech wasn’t quite there yet.

Then in 2012, something amazing happened.  A dedicated group took to Kickstarter to look for funding to bring Virtual Reality to everyone.  Even people that didn’t know what a Kickstarter was soon learned that Oculus meant Virtual Reality.  Oculus managed to raise almost USD$2.5 Million dollars largely from gamers with the desire to see VR in their homes.

This massive success made many other companies suddenly jump up and take notice.  Over the following couple of years, many companies started to announce their own versions of VR and more commonly Augmented Reality (AR) looking to join in the success of Oculus themselves.  A lot of these companies pretty much based their work on the first Oculus Development Kit (DK1) and interest reached such a pitch that in 2014 Facebook acquired Oculus for USD$2 BILLION dollars.  Not only was this a staggering amount of money, you also have to remember at this time Oculus had only produced Developer Kits – no ‘product’ as such had been achieved yet.

Oculus DK1

Cut to 2015 and VR Gamers had a great year of announcements to look forward to.  HTC made an announcement that had many gamers frothing to hand over their money.  Known as the HTC Vive, this was a VR headset with great specs on paper and even more importantly a release window!  Just this little ray of hope was enough to turn people watching the Oculus from the wings looking squarely at the Vive as a solid and almost preferred alternative.

There was one other fact that bought many others not currently following the VR world on board though.  The Vive was being developed with Valve, the company behind Steam and many great games.  This gave the Vive something that the Oculus was currently lacking – an inbuilt ecosystem of games and support.

HTC Vive Headset

Like many others, the Vive had me excited but I knew the cost would be high.  Like AUD$1,500+ high, and that was just for the headset and controllers.  The fact you also needed a high-end PC was also a factor.  Now I have always had beefy rigs, but my equipment wasn’t built with VR in mind, so while I could run things another $1,000 or so was going to be needed to bring my graphics card up to scratch.

Then an answer came from an unexpected place – Sony.  Project Morpheus was announced as the Playstation Virtual Reality solution, and even more people turned in interest to what might be possible.

Later in 2016, Sony stunned everyone with a single announcement at E3.

PSVR E3 Price Announcment

The price was key to Sony essentially ‘winning’ the VR battle at the moment.  For about the cost of a competitors headset, you could get a Playstation 4, PS VR, Camera and Move controllers giving you everything you needed.  This is a large part of the reason I decided to back the PSVR.  Back in 2015, developers were still trying to decide which headset to back – Oculus or Vive.  Vive was starting to come out ahead, but developing for the new tech was still considered a gamble.

By buying the ‘mass market’ option in the PSVR, the gamble was developers would work on the headset with the most sales, even with some technical drawbacks to it.  And to a large degree, I was right.  In 2017, over 2.5 million PSVR headsets sold – far and above more than any other unit, and the headset I purchased for myself in 2016.  This is more than Oculus and Vive combined.

PSVR has a low price of entry, it’s simple to install and use, and a growing games library that continues to excel.  Like any games library, there are some decidedly below average games, but some amazing ones as well.  Resident Evil 7 blew me away playing it in VR, and the new Moss shows what people can do with the unit.  Initially, there were the more ‘tech demo’ experiences just like the Vive and Oculus, but overall the library is getting stronger all the time.

It does have it’s drawbacks as well.  With the reduced price and console power, there are compromises made in the experience.  The Move controllers, while overall fine, do not have fine control and tracking is easily lost.  The game forgets which way you are facing at times, and restarts for longer sessions is pretty much guaranteed.  A lot of these things have improved, but after using the Vives controllers the difference in experience is real.

It’s like driving your Hyundai which is great and gets you around reliably and comfortably.  Then you get in a Tesla and drive for a day, then get back in your Hyundai.  Your car is still great and costs a fifth of the Tesla, but you know what you would rather be driving 🙂

The Vive, Oculus and PSVR all share one annoying feature – cabling.  When you are playing something that has you seated, this isn’t really a problem.  You can arrange the cable like an oversized headphone cable.  But if your playing a more active game (say Superhot VR), the cable can get wrapped around you pretty easy leading to some interesting positions and damage to persons and/or equipment.

HTC Vive Manual Setup

And that is where this little tale comes to the point.  Yesterday, the HTC Vive Pro was made available for preorder, for the little sum of AUD$1,200.  This is just for the headset, all of the other units like the base and controllers need to be purchased on top of this, as well as your high-end computer system to run it.  But this is the Virtual Reality System I have been waiting for, even if I still have to wait for it a little while longer.

HTC Vive Pro Headset

The Vive Pro is the first unit to officially support a wireless setup.  I say officially as there have been third-party adaptors around for a while, and some have varying degrees of success, but updates don’t keep this hardware in mind so improvements to the headset with firmware updates can kill these adaptors.

This wireless support won’t come until later this year, and will be another purchase, but it’s this wireless functionality that will give users the freedom in VR that is required for true immersion without fear of damaging some very expensive equipment.

Other features are the integrated headphones, increase in screen resolution, and a few other bits of hardware geekery.  The main feature that has me intrigued though is the front-facing cameras built into the headset.  This could allow an Augmented Reality experience similar to Microsoft’s Hololens, which has applications wider than simple gaming.

So I think it’s pretty clear I will be getting a Vive Pro eventually as my VR setup of choice.  I will wait until I can get it with the wireless adaptor and equipment all at once though, so I won’t be preordering the system soon.  But for people that have been on the fence with the Vive and hesitant with the costs, there is some great news.  You can purchase the complete VR set (minus the PC of course) for AUD$879 from the Vive store.  This is an amazing price, and if I didn’t have the PSVR I would be seriously considering purchasing this now.  If you already have a PC with a Nvidia 1070+ or equivalent, this is a great investment at an amazing price for a whole new experience.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD