Tag Archive: VR


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.

Every year, Titmouse Animation (Venture Bros., Metalocalypse, Son of Zorn) throws a bacchanal in Hollywood called the Smash Party, where they invite family and friends to drink, be merry, and smash obsolete appliances with sledgehammers. Television sets, microwaves, potted plants, computers, and anything else that will explode with a satisfying bang when hit with a heavy, blunt object are brought into a batting cage, and revelers take turns letting out any pent up aggressions.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the event. I was able to attend for the first time, though, because in order to help mark the celebration, Titmouse announced a partnership with Viacom NEXT to bring the idea of the Smash Party to virtual reality.

Smash Party is an HTC Vive free exclusive launching by the end of the year, and just like the real-world festivities, you step into a cage surrounded by pottery and appliances ready to succumb to your barbed-wire baseball bat like Glenn did to Negan (too soon?).

Using one of the Vive’s controllers, you swing at breakable objects, needing to completely decimate everything in the cage in order to advance to the next stage. The game utilizes the bright, beautiful animation style that Titmouse is known for—anyone who is familiar with the shows they’ve brought to Adult Swim will recognize the style immediately—and it gives everything a fitting, surreal feel. With multiplyers and a timer constantly working against you, after playing Smash Party myself I can attest that the game has a satisfying arcade feel. There are even bonus rounds where an enraged squid will break down a wall of the cage and start soft tossing items at you like in an actual batting cage—but instead of balls it’s usually pieces of a tea set—again adding to the insanity of it all. Each experience is also short enough that it could be a fun party game as you pass the headset and controller around, everyone trying to reach that new high score.

While it’s not something that would make me want to run out and buy an HTC Vive, my short time with Smash Party has me feeling it would be another enjoyable group experience that the headset is becoming known for. We’ll have to wait for a release to see what kind of legs the game actually has, but as a free download to let off some steam, Smash Party is shaping up to be my kind of distraction. And I can’t wait to see what Titmouse rolls out for next year’s actual party now.

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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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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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The Launch Day crew talk through some of their favorite games at E3 2015, including Sony’s line-up led by Uncharted 4’s incredible demo and more VR insight (now with more zombies!).

Starbreeze Studios may have had one of the more shocking announcements of E3 2015, and it happened before the show even officially started!

As part of a pre-E3 preview event, the developer behind the Payday series, the Syndicate reboot, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and many other games unveiled their brand new virtual reality headset called StarVR yesterday evening.

Being the resident EGM VR junkie, I was fortunate enough after the announcement to be the first person in the world outside of the studio to actually go hands-on (head-on?) with this new piece of hardware.

The demo we were given was based on Overkill’s The Walking Dead, which was also announced to be the first game for StarVR. It was explicitly stated, however, that the demo we played would not be part of the final game, but instead would convey a feel for the title, while more importantly, showing off what the headset could do.

In the demo, I was a recently infected person who was on his last legs. The pair of people I had been traveling with did not want to leave me behind, or at least not until they could get my car and some supplies from me. So, they strapped me into a wheelchair and gave me a shotgun. As they pushed me through the halls of a hospital, I would have to cover them. It was an absolutely beautiful looking rail-shooter experience, but I felt it was a tad too heavily scripted for my tastes. At the very least, though, it gave me a solid sense of what StarVR was all about as it really let me put the headset through its paces.

Starbreeze global brand director Almir Listo stated beforehand that the StarVR headset provides a 210-degree horizontal field-of-view, which is easily the largest of any VR headset revealed to date when you look at the 120-degrees of Microsoft’s Hololens, the 110-degrees offered with Oculus’s Crescent Bay and Valve’s ReVive, or Morpheus’ 100-degrees. I can confirm that in my experience, StarVR provides more peripheral vision than any headset I’ve tried (just Hololens eludes me at this point), and only when I looked to the extreme right or left could I see the very edges of the displays.

Speaking of display, StarVR touts a 5K resolution due to dual 5.5-inch screens. The picture for The Walking Dead was crisp, clear, and had no framerate drops, but I can’t definitively say it was better or worse than the others without putting them side-by-side. StarVR also features orientation and positional tracking, so every time I moved my head around during the demo, my character in game would do the same.

This was critical because at this moment, StarVR lacks more traditional input devices so at least moving my head around gave me a sense of being in the world until I finally received my shotgun. In regards to controllers, Starbreeze CTO Emmanuel Marquez admitted they were still working on them, and were keeping an eye on what other companies in the VR marketplace, like Valve, do in that regard. It was also mentioned that they would love to be compatible with a wide array of devices, including those of their own design like the prop shotgun I was able to play around with and that was featured in the above video.

The idea that Starbreeze could come out with a special line of prop weapons for shooters like The Walking Dead is intriguing, and it’d be far from the first time we had large plastic guns in our hands to play games with. The prop shotgun, even with some sensors attached to it, felt like a real gun (minus the lack of kickback). Every time I did the pump-action, it responded in game. I could fire blindly behind me as we ran down an alley, or I could look down the sights to make sure I put each and every zombie down with a single shot. I’m just concerned how much it would cost to package extra sensors and a large toy shotgun with every copy of Overkill’s The Walking Dead. And what about other weapons? It was an interesting idea, and having a prop in my hands helped with immersion, but I honestly don’t know if it’s completely sound to think every gamer would collect prop weapons to play VR games with.

In terms of plug-ins, StarVR features a USB 3.0 port and a 3.5mm headphone jack so players can use their own headphones for comfort and ease. Of course, unlike Oculus with their built in headphones, this means that, for the moment, positional audio is not a part of StarVR and was noticeably absent from the demo I played.

A nice surprise from Starbreeze’s headset, though, came in how comfortable it felt on my head. While it’s a bit bulkier and larger than an Oculus Rift in terms of shape and size, it felt about the same in terms of weight and the cushions on the inside really kept it from feeling like it was pressing into my head at all. I actually think it may be my favorite headset so far when it comes to just how it feels on top of my head. It should be mentioned, however, that the headset was tethered to a nearby PC, but I was told wireless functionality is on the docket for future versions of the StarVR.

No potential release date or price point was set for StarVR during the event. Lionel Anton, Starbreeze’s lead VR hardware designer, said that what I got to go hands-on with was “a first prototype”, leading me to believe that, along with everything I saw yesterday, that Starbreeze is still some ways off from being ready to stand toe-to-toe with Oculus or Sony. They certainly seem to be on the right track, though. Expect more info and insights about StarVR this week at E3, where it’ll be fully on display.