Tag Archive: Oculus


It’s never easy to try to find a foothold in an established field like racing simulators. Despite entering a market already dominated by Forza and Gran Turismo, however, the original Project CARS was able to not only compete from a technical perspective in terms of the racing experience it provides, but offered up a unique enough take on how you would approach races to carve out a slice for itself amongst gearheads. Building on that initial success, Slightly Mad Studios went to work on a sequel, and after my hands-on last week at CXC Simulations here in Los Angeles, Project CARS 2 is primed to move into the pole position of this genre.

It needs to be prefaced that my time with the game will likely not be quite indicative of the final experience most people will have, since I got to try the game out via Oculus VR on a $50,000 simulation rig that CXC offers to professional racers to prepare before big races. (That was the beauty of this demo, however.) Already loaded and ready to go for us was one of the brand new tracks featured in Project CARS 2, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, just days ahead of the actual race itself was to be held. While being jostled around as if I was taking hairpin turns at breakneck speeds was definitely new, the immersion I felt from the VR was even more intense, showing off the meticulous detail Slightly Mad has given to this new track.

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I also got to run the course in two different cars—the Acura NSX GT3 and the Dallara Honda Indycar—and moving from one car to the other was a tremendous extreme. It was hard enough learning a brand new track in VR (although I was able to adapt after a few laps), but the Acura’s top speed paled in comparison to when I sat in the driver’s seat of the Indycar, as turns came up faster and I had to be far more cognizant of my shifting as I reached higher speeds more quickly. But while new tracks and cars are always expected with any racing sequel, it was the last machine I hopped in that was particularly exciting.

Projects CARS 2 unveiled Rallycross mode to us for the first time. Yes, the off-road sprint-oriented series of races will debut this go around in Project CARS 2, and that means not only even more new cars and tracks, but new paths for your career drivers to take and brand new surfaces to drive on. Gravel and dirt will combine with asphalt on these tracks just like in real life, and although Rallycross tracks are smaller that most other tracks, the shifting terrain combined with how differently the cars handle will provide entirely new challenges for players to overcome—and I can speak from some limited experience.

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If going from the Acura to the Indycar was night and day, going into a rally-fitted Honda Civic Coupe was like going from April to August. Drifting at high speeds is a must here, and as unintuitive as it may be, taking corners almost sideways can actually be beneficial (and even preferred) in order to best position yourself for the next straightaway. But knowing how to take those turns is only the beginning, as your car will handle completely differently on dirt than gravel or asphalt—and it’s extremely easy to spin out if you’re not careful or underestimate the ground beneath your wheels.

When you combine this new mode with the realistic tire degradation and fine vehicle tuning of the first game, you’re starting to get into the grittiest of details that will have you almost smelling the engine grease on your hands. Adding Rallycross on top of new tracks and cars is a huge boon for Project CARS 2, and if Slightly Mad gives this mode as much attention as they gave everything from the first Project CARS, then this racing series will have more than earned its place at the table alongside Gran Turismo and Forza—and may even be in position to get ready to overtake them.

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If you’ve seen Epic Games’ Couch Knights or Showdown demos, or were one of the lucky few that attended GDC last year and saw the Unreal 4 powered Thief in the Shadows demo they did with WETA Digital, it is easy to tell that Epic is excited about the potential of Virtual Reality. The studio’s years of bringing us some of the most over-the-top gaming experiences could easily transition into VR, and each subsequent demo they’ve released has pushed the potential the tech holds a little farther. So, it was no surprise that I was blown away by their latest VR experience, Bullet Train, when I recently got to try it out for the first time.

Bullet Train starts off on a futuristic subway train, teaching you the basic mechanics of how to survive in the demo. Picking up, firing, and reloading your guns comes intuitively with the Oculus’ dual-hand controllers, with appropriate buttons for pulling triggers and actually holding onto the weapons. Besides using guns, your character can also slow time down Matrix-style, catching bullets out of mid-air and throwing them back at enemies with super speed. As well, your character is equipped with a teleport power, which is how you also move through the world.

Once I had familiarized myself with the controls and completed the tutorial, the subway train came to a stop at a station with large glass windows and pristine floors, giving off the vibe of a possible near-future setting. I quickly scanned around the area and noticed guns, grenades, and teleport points littered around the station. With nary a moment to collect myself in this new virtual world, though, red armored hooligans carrying their own weapons started pouring in from escalators and elevators—and I was their target.

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I grabbed the nearest two pistols and immediately began firing, hoping to get a jump on my foes before their superior numbers overwhelmed me, as new threats replaced the ones I took out as quickly as I was killing them. When my clips ran out, I used the slow time feature and tried my hand at grabbing bullets out of the air one at a time. As I hurled them back at my enemies, some would go flying off in a direction I did not intend, which left me wondering if it was pure human error or calibration issues. It didn’t matter, though—enough of my throws hit their mark, providing me an opening to teleport across the area to an assault rifle.

With a higher-powered firearm, I began whittling the enemy forces down more consistently, painting the station in a hail of bullets until again my clip ran dry. This time, I grabbed a nearby grenade and lobbed it at soldiers who had taken cover in the train track trenches below the platform. Again I teleported, this time snagging a pump-action shotgun. Instead of firing madly, however, I warped closer to my targets, where I’d be in position to perform headshots from close range. This continued for nearly ten minutes, jumping from teleport point to teleport point, slowing time as necessary, and changing weapons when I ran out of ammo. Finally, the unending horde of enemy soldiers came to a halt—and this was when an airborne drone joined the fray.

I had no weapons that could penetrate the steel hide of the drone, and so instead, I had to rely solely on my ability to catch enemy fire. The drone used missiles instead of bullets, but by turning its own firepower against itself, I downed the flying menace.

Bullet Train provided the most exhilarating demo I had played yet in VR from any company. It’s fast, frantic action and mostly responsive controls left me feeling as if I had truly just left the middle of a domestic warzone when I sorrowfully had to pry the Oculus off my head. It was the first time I had seen a demo in VR come close to not just replicating the experiences I have with modern action games, but surpassing them. If Epic could provide a full gaming experience centered on this gameplay, with a story and actual characters, Bullet Train could be the basis for the first major hit in VR gaming and it has me crazily anticipating what Epic does next with this new technology.

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For many in the gaming world, virtual reality is the hot topic of conversation right now—and understandably so. After years in development, Oculus is on the verge of releasing their headset at retail, and many suspect Sony will unveil the release date and price point for PlayStation VR in the coming weeks. Coming up hot on VR’s heels, however, is the concept of augmented reality. First demonstrated via headset with Microsoft’s HoloLens at last year’s E3, augmented reality differs from virtual reality in that VR will put players in the game world, whereas AR puts the game in ours. And, much like how Oculus quickly had competition from every corner of the gaming industry, Microsoft’s HoloLens is no longer alone in the AR race.

Founded by former Valve employees Rick Johnson and Jeri Ellsworth, castAR is a tech company on the forefront of AR. They were in the news recently for returning the one million dollars they had raised via Kickstarter after getting $15 million from Playground Global, an investment fund run by Android creator Andy Rubin. After having a chance to actually play around with castAR’s first headset last week at the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas, and being blown away by what I saw and experienced, it’s no wonder Rubin thought they were a sound investment.

Before the demo began, I took stock of the equipment we were using. castAR’s headset may not look like much, but the experience it provides—and could potentially provide—shows that big things can come in small packages. The headset looked like a pair of Blues Brothers sunglasses with a silver projector bar on top. Connected to this was a Wiimote-like controller, and the entire package was hooked up to a small laptop running the software I was trying. Once the headset was placed on my head, I found it far lighter than what you’d experience with Oculus or PlayStation VR. In front of me was a two-foot-by-two-foot square of white retro-reflective material that could be broken down into four smaller pieces for easy storage. It was on this surface, and only this surface, that the games I would play would appear.

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And right off the bat, that was the great thing about AR. I could play games in an immersive setting with the 3D hologram-like projection castAR could create, but could also turn away without affecting the action to look at someone as we had a conversation—which I often did with Rick and castAR CEO David Henkel-Wallace during my demo time. It was while speaking with these gentlemen that I also learned that castAR is aiming for a retail release by the end of 2017, but the hope was the setup I saw before me would be more streamlined with less wires and—potentially—not even need a laptop to run the games. Yes, castAR has the goal of making the entire package able to run independently of other technology, so that you can take whatever components out of the box, quickly set them up, and jump right into a game.

One of the more exciting things was the idea of additional retro-reflective material, allowing you to expand the potential game world. While I was playing an isometric view arcade shooter demo, Rick added a fifth segment of game space at one point, set up perpendicular to the original sheet. Suddenly, the map expanded, and I could see more of the level ahead of me. It may sound crazy right now, but could you imagine what a set-up with 10 or 20 retro-reflective squares would look like? I could see people lining entire sections of rooms with the material to further enhance immersion—although, at that point VR might be more practical.

Other demos I got to play with castAR’s headset was some two-player games, such as competing with a friend of mine in a game of Battleship, where we each saw completely different game boards, and Jenga, which offered up a fully-realized 3D tower of blocks stacked in front of us. My favorite demo, though, may have been the solo Marble Madness-like game that I tried, as it really showed off more of what castAR could do. As I moved my ball through the course, the world spun around me, or I could get a better look at the virtual environment from different angles by walking around the 3D space. I never lost track of surroundings due both to the game being confined to the retro-reflective material, and my being able to see my actual physical environment.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a while until we’ll get to own a device for ourselves, as castAR is looking to stay in development until at least 2017. At the same time, I’m immensely excited to think of how far the tech can come in that time, and what other, more complex games can be added to the system before its eventual launch. It’s also clearer than ever before that the world of video games is changing. Whether you find yourself on the AR or VR side of the fence, or are trying to toe the line between both, game immersion is increasing at an exponential rate to the point that it’s hard to predict exactly where the next great experience will come from—but I now wouldn’t be surprised to see castAR’s work become one of the major players in that new world of entertainment.

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When you think of virtual reality, you probably think of immersing yourself so deeply in a game you could almost leave the world you exist in behind. But when Oculus VR releases at the end of March, one of its least-involving launch titles may also be one of its most fun. While at the annual DICE Summit last week in Las Vegas, I had a chance to sit down and go hands-on with the Oculus port of Defense Grid 2.

Now, a port of a 2014 tower defense game may not sound like the most thrilling use of VR, but what Defense Grid 2 lacks in bombastic action, it makes up for in allowing players to focus on the task at hand and bringing them closer to the game like never before. After placing the retail Oculus headset over my eyes and grabbing the Xbox One controller, instead of feeling like I was in an alternate reality, I felt like I was lording over an elaborate playset, able to see the entirety of the level at once in what has become known as “God view.” If I wanted to look at the level from a different angle, I could simply get up and walk around, or slide my chair into a different position. Sure, when turning my head and craning my body, the hotel room around me had changed into what looked like a sci-fi boiler room, effectively placing me in the game like all other VR experiences. The core gameplay of Defense Grid 2, however, had remained entirely the same.

By using my sightline as a surprisingly intuitive cursor, and the controller to then interact with what I was seeing and to select options, I could perform the same actions I would in the console and PC versions of the game. I placed and upgraded towers of varying purpose as I saw fit all along the set, trying to protect a collection of power cores that invading waves of aliens wanted for their own nefarious purposes. With the Oculus headset closing me off from the outside world, I was able to sit down, concentrate, and plan out winning strategies with the greatest of ease.

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The Oculus version of Defense Grid 2 isn’t just a straight port, though, and does feature some upgrades over the console and PC original. A handful of new challenge levels have been incorporated to further lengthen the experience. Each level also has five collectibles on them, which often require you to get in close to the playset and peer around every corner before using the controller to snatch them up. As well, many levels now feature special interactive elements—some are for cosmetic purposes, while others can actually change the layout of the map.

The biggest addition, however, may be the ability to jump into any individual tower and change the game’s perspective in an instant. Although not as intuitive for implementing strategies as one might hope due to the limited range of sight, this view provides a front row seat for all the fighting once your towers have been placed to your satisfaction. Seeing the detail of the aliens and the world up close is actually kind of breathtaking, giving you a sense for that over-the-top action you may still be craving in VR.

With Defense Grid 2 acting as one of the Oculus’ launch titles, it also serves the important purpose of offering us another way to enjoy virtual reality. It shows that various game genres that might not leap off the page as obvious choices can work just as well, if not better, in VR, and that creating immersion doesn’t necessarily mean putting you squarely in the shoes of a hero character and building a new world around you. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing if the install base for Oculus will be there to take advantage of this fun, re-imagined experience.

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