VR-only flight simulator VTOL VR, recently received a substantial update that includes a mission editor and a pilotable fighter jet. The sim is designed specifically around the use of VR motion controls, and is available in Early Access on Steam.
Since our early hands-on in August, VTOL VR has enjoyed several rounds of improvements and fixes, including a move to a newer version of the Unity engine, GPS targeting and guided weapons, rudder pedal support, and compatibility optimisations for Windows VR headsets and controllers. Update v0.0.7 is probably the most substantial yet, with the early makings of a mission editor, an all-new plane to fly, and further performance improvements.
The work-in-progress editor enables the creation and sharing of scenarios similar to the game’s Island campaign, with placement of units, waypoint setting, objective configurations, and more. Following an open discussion with players on the VTOL VR Discord channel, developer Paolo Encarnacion chose to design the editor with a desktop interface, for comfort and ease of use.
“Generally, people wanted to have a lot of control and options when creating a mission, and this would be cumbersome in VR especially during long editing sessions,” he explains to Road to VR. “We also considered having an in-VR editor for quickly creating a very simple mission, but so far I don’t think it will be necessary.”
Much like the game’s first plane, the AV-42C (AKA the VTOL), the new F/A-26B fighter jet is a fictional aircraft with specific considerations for VR operation, such as a slightly larger-than-life cockpit and instruments for more clarity and ease of use with motion controls. Encarnacion used feedback and experience from developing the VTOL in designing the new aircraft, bringing the main instrument cluster closer and avoiding placing buttons too low where tracking can sometimes lose accuracy. The VTOL might see these kind of improvements in a future update.
Vertical take-off and landing presents a unique set of control and simulation challenges, and the AV-42C continues to be the primary aircraft in the game, but Encarnacion wanted to offer more variety, and the fighter seemed the logical choice having worked so well in his early testing.
“The VTOL is focused on ground attack, so I wanted to add something that could take on air targets,” he says. “The fighter has a radar system which I think that will add some interesting mechanics that aren’t present in the VTOL. I actually had a prototype a fighter jet back before the early access release and it was a blast to fly.”
Overall performance has improved significantly over the past few months, and the latest optimisation is another important step. Distant objects are now less demanding, thanks to mesh LODs on all AI vehicles and improved weapon scripts, ensuring that high-count objects like missiles and rockets aren’t taxing the CPU unnecessarily. Encarnacion says it is now possible to run scenarios with more than 40 units smoothly, where previously the game struggled with 8 planes taking off from the carrier in one of the missions.
Further improvements and additions are planned for the months ahead. The mission editor will see more friendly and enemy units, and new features that will allow more variability in missions. Encarnacion also plans to convert the existing campaign missions to use the new system, allowing him to finish the rest of the campaign with the editor tools. This is also laying the groundwork for a random scenario generator. After that, Encarnacion says map upgrades are in the cards. “As soon as that’s squared away, I’d like to look into ways to improve the island map, creating new maps, and possibly allowing players to generate their own maps.”
VRChat, the social app for VR and non-VR users popularly known for its recent boom in meme-driven notoriety, seems to have leveled off somewhat in terms of install numbers and concurrent user rates following its exponential upswing back in December and January.
According to Steam Spy, downloads of the app are hovering somewhere around 3-3.4 million owners (not to be confused with users), although this month alone saw 400,000 installs, an encouraging thought as the more popular memes inevitably wane is relevancy.
The daily user rate however has cooled to around to ~8,000 daily concurrents on the busiest say of the week—a far cry from the ~20,000 players at it height of popularity in mid-January—but a much more consistent usership overall. You can check out the publicly available breakdown on Steam DB.
Since the app is only available through Steam, the figures seen above tell more or less the whole picture in terms of players per day. Take a look again at what the graph when the number of Twitch viewers is added (seen in red), one of the major sources of free publicity outside of YouTube.
Here we can see the bulk of Twitch views actually happened preceding the highest moment in daily users, bringing in the masses before cooling off to current viewership rates. And while raw downloads, daily concurrent user numbers, and Twitch views gives us a good idea of how VRChat is performing, it doesn’t specify the breakdown of what devices players are using, as VRChat supports both traditional monitors and VR headsets such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
While those numbers aren’t public, as a free app open to anyone with a computer with even a half-decent GPU, it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion at this point that VRChat’s numbers are heavily influenced by desktop users. At the same time though, there isn’t really anything out there like it. As an app that provides a space for both VR and non-VR users to hang out and import their own wild (and sometimes horrible) avatars and worlds, it’s basically providing a free-for-all space of self expression—the perfect conditions for meme-ing (whether you like it or not). It’s also a space for conversations about VR, and a place to show off motion controls and realistic body language, possibly enticing desktop users to take the VR plunge too.
In any case, a large and healthy usership is something many VR apps can’t boast at these early days in the first consumer product cycle. And when a game creates a culture, people generally stick around to see what’s next.
Following a week of teasing from Italian developer Kunos Simulazioni, their new racing sim has been revealed, Assetto Corsa Competizione, which is planned to enter Steam Early Access this summer. Announced as “The Official Blancpain GT Series Game”, the sim brings many technology upgrades over Assetto Corsa (2014), thanks in part to the move to Unreal Engine 4.
While the development focus appears to be on bringing the FIA GT3 homologated championship to life, the title clearly represents a new chapter in Kunos’ simulation technology as a whole. Perhaps they took a leaf from the Polyphony Digital playbook in avoiding a numbered sequel, instead selecting a name that acknowledges a stronger leaning towards eSports.
Assetto Corsa continues to be one of the most popular racing sims on the PC, but it is reaching the end of its life cycle, and the team has been looking to move the technology forward. The time is right for a graphics engine upgrade, and the teaser trailer above highlights the benefits of moving to Unreal Engine 4, enabling rain and night scenes for the first time. The new systems will allow full 24-hour lighting transitions and dynamic weather.
Further improvements over Assetto Corsa include driver swap support, motion captured pit animations, and a “well-structured ranking system” for multiplayer. This follows a recent trend towards higher quality online racing competition, with GT Sport (2017) and Project CARS 2 (2017) taking inspiration from iRacing’s (2008) class-leading matchmaking technology.
In the description on the game’s Steam page, VR support is also confirmed. “Designed to innovate, Assetto Corsa Competizione will be VR Ready and set to promote eSports, bringing players at the heart of the Blancpain GT Series and putting them behind the wheel of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens and many other prestigious GT racing cars, all reproduced with outstanding level of detail.”
Assetto Corsa‘s existing VR mode on PC is solid, but also limited by the current engine, with no full VR menu system and compromised rear view mirrors. Unreal Engine’s comprehensive VR support could benefit the new sim in these areas. Assetto Corsa supports Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Kunos aren’t explicitly calling Assetto Corsa Competizione a direct sequel to Assetto Corsa, but it seems that it could become exactly that, depending on the terms of the licensing agreement. “This announcement represents a dream come true for us,” says co-founder Marco Massarutto. “The Blancpain GT Series license is just the tip of the iceberg. By combining the potential of Unreal Engine 4 and the feedback received from our community, we are producing a completely new simulation aimed to redefine the racing game genre, improving the features that made Assetto Corsa so popular, and introducing those demanded by players for a high-level racing simulation game – with no compromise, and remaining loyal to our philosophy.”
Rec Room (2016), the social VR app from Against Gravity, is getting a new quest soon that promises to shiver ye timbers.
Rec Room is one of the leading social apps out there. While it offers plenty of games for VR users to play such as disc golf, paintball, and laser tag, the charmingly-styled Rec Room is probably best known for their multiplayer quests, a minigame that allows up to four players to fight their way through enemy-filled levels – usually a comically re-dressed, sprawling gymnasium where these’s plenty of atmosphere, loot to collect and an end-stage boss to battle. Even through it’s all free and only a single level a piece, the production quality is above many paid games, giving users more of a reason to come back and populate the servers.
Now, the company released a teaser for its next big quest, a pirate-themed affair called Isle of Lost Skulls, which is due out March 1st, 2018.
Isle of the Lost Skulls will be Rec Room’s fourth quest, coming after Quest for the Golden Trophy, The Rise of Jumbotron, and The Curse of the Crimson Cauldron.
Rec Room is available for free on PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Qualcomm today revealed a new ‘VRDK’ standalone reference headset based on their Snapdragon 845 chip. The reference design—which serves as a blueprint for Qualcomm customers who may want to build their own VR headsets based on the design—boasts an impressive set of specifications.
Companies building headsets based on the 845 VRDK may make changes to the reference design before creating their own product, but the VDRK essentially represents the best of what Qualcomm can offer to those companies, and their latest headset is quite impressive on paper.
In addition to a claimed 30% increase in graphics performance & power efficiency, and twice as much display throughput compared to the 835 VDRK, the new 845 VRDK offers eye-tracking and Qualcomm’s own ‘Adreno Foveation’ solution, which renders in high resolution at the center of your vision where you can see in high detail, while reducing the detail outside of that region, thus dedicating more of the headset’s rendering resources to where they’re most needed.
Eye-tracking and foveated rendering solutions within the VR landscape have been in the works for several years, but it’s proved a challenging nut to crack. Though promising progress has been made, so far we haven’t seen any consumer-available VR headsets with inbuilt eye-tracking. We’ll be interested to see if Qualcomm has managed to pull it off.
Beyond eye-tracking and performance & power improvements, Qualcomm claims the 845 VRDK is capable of pushing some impressive resolutions, up to 2,000 × 2,000 pixels per eye, at, According to Android Authority, 120Hz. That’s the rendering potential, though it isn’t clear exactly what resolution of display (or displays) are present in the 845 VDRK; we’ve reached out to Qualcomm for confirmation.
The current top-of-the-line displays used in consumer VR headsets, like Samsung’s Odyssey, top out at 1,600 × 1,440 per eye, so it isn’t clear if an appropriate 2,000 × 2,000 display yet exists to take advantage of that horsepower, but presumably the 845 VDRK is ready and waiting (and in the meantime, hopefully using any GPU overhead for supersampling).
Like previous versions of the VDRK, the new model uses a pair of on-board cameras for inside-out positional tracking, meaning you don’t need external sensors for the headset to be able to track your movement through space. New for the 845 though appears to be the addition of SLAM—Simultaneous Location And Mapping—which Qualcomm says “maps and detects obstacles in the user’s physical [world],” and allows for “integration real-world objects into the virtual world.”
Expect to see new standalone VR headsets announced later this year which are based on the 845 VRDK.
Charm Games, the developers behind the fantastic (albeit fairly short) otherworldly puzzle game FORM (2017), today unveiled their next upcoming VR title. Called Twilight Path, the puzzle game will take you on what Charm calls a fantasy adventure “to meet wandering spirits, enchanted sentries, and mischievous gods.”
Slated to arrive summer 2018, we don’t have a good idea yet what headsets will be supported. FORM, a game which we gave a solid [8.5/10], supports both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – something the studio could repeat if they don’t go the exclusivity route, be it via PSVR or Oculus.
If the cinematic stylings, visual polish and clear intention behind FORM’s design is any indication, than you can color us excited for more information on Twilight Path.
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While there’s still not much out there yet about the game, we found this quick blurb in the description of the teaser trailer.
Use your wits to solve puzzles, restore ruined structures, open sealed passageways, and rescue a host of magical creatures from danger
Explore a gorgeous and vibrant world, only possible in virtual reality
Brass Tactics (2018) is a node-based real-time strategy game that comes with a bit of a pedigree. Created by Hidden Path Entertainment, the minds behind the Defense Grid franchise and Age of Empires II, you’ll probably enter the world of Brass Tactics like many others – dropping in after getting your fill of the free-to-play multiplayer demo Brass Tactics: Arena. What you see in Arena is basically what you get in the full version, save the game’s 20 maps, campaign mode, and 3 AI to play against.
Your tiny table-top army is essentially composed of a balanced selection of 12 unit classes, each with their own upgrade tracks that can render them with different abilities such flame add-ons, durability, and rush ability. Upgrades are only obtained during the match in question, so the only difference between a newcomer and an RTS monster is the player’s familiarity with the mechanics and maps. There’s a pretty cool variety of units, from weakling warriors to flying units like mechanical dragons. My favorite without question is the dual hammer-wielding Titans, who lurch towards targets and basically wreck the shit out of everything on land.
Like many RTSs, there are two fundamental currencies in the world, which in Brass Tactics’ case is jewels and ore. Jewels are obtained at special jewel mines scattered on both sides of the map, and are used to buy buildings, make upgrades and train some of the more destructive and expensive units. Ore, which is collected at miner, is instead used for training all units.
Because it’s node-based, you have to first conquer an area by placing a land unit in the predefined zone, which then gives you access to build on whatever nodes the area may hold – usually just one or two slots to build buildings. One or two additional slots are typically available for a turret in each node area.
Directing units is painfully simple. A full activation of Touch’s trigger gives you the ability to highlight any or all units by waving your hand over them. A half pull of the trigger will allow you direct individual unit clusters, something I found took getting used to, but some became very intuitive once I did.
image captured by Road to VR
image captured by Road to VR
Brass Tactics boasts 6 hours of story mode, and while your mileage may vary depending on your difficulty setting and your individual ability, I found this to be true on the ‘normal’ setting for me, clocking in just under 6 hours to complete the 8 missions. There is an easy, normal, hard and epic mode to choose from however, which could lengthen (or shorten) your campaign playtime.
In terms of the AI’s ability to present a challenge, the campaign mode was a fun way to basically learn about every unit in a logical sequence and see them in extended action, sort of like a long tutorial for the multiplayer portion. For this reason though, the campaign mode largely felt like a missed opportunity. Much of the story unfolds before you as dialogue between two AI right before the mission starts, offering only a tiny glimpse into the larger world around you. Because there wasn’t a world I could observe or influence outside the tabletops in front of me, the effect this had on me was obvious; the only thing I wanted to do was win the match ahead of me, and I didn’t really care why. This may seem like par for the course, but when you inhabit a space in VR, you expect a greater degree of agency than a flatscreen game.
While you can also bone up on your skills in skirmish mode, which gives you access to 3 different AI and more than 8 tables, I found the meat of the game was in online multiplayer. There, your opponents fill the gaps. During campaign, Brass Tactics proves itself to be a competent and well-balanced RTS, but multiplayer predictably dislodges you from whatever notions you had about creating a style during campaign and forces you to not only react, but in a way interact.
I found that during online multiplayer, I didn’t actually like talking during the game. I was always too busy strategizing and balancing the spinning plates of creating and maintaining my war machine to really delve into any meaningful conversation. But afterwards was a different story. There, I would hang out for a few minutes before exiting and get to know my opponent some – see what they did, and have a little better understanding of how I could improve, or what sneaky thing I should learn next.
As far as I can tell, there’s no ranking system yet, which may hinder how newcomers perceive multiplayer mode farther down the road, but right now it’s one of the most engaging parts about Brass Tactics and can really be a blast if you get in with the right competitor.
The world of Brass Tactics is visually stunning, and is probably some of the best character design in the VR RTS genre right now. It certainly doesn’t hurt having such detailed miniatures (those always look great). Seeing the little cogs churning, and your castle rise up Game of Thrones-style might just be worth the price of admission to some. Units and buildings are easily distinguishable, which isn’t always the case in VR RTSs.
Because of the implied urgency of trying to win, you’ll probably get pretty engrossed in all of the duties of commanding your tiny armies across the game’s 10 square foot (3m²) table top. Without the game clock overhead, it would be really easy to lose time playing. This is possible due to BT’s responsive and fluid controls, and rock solid character interactions, which all help ground you in your new reality. Because of the relatively unusual locomotion style (see in the ‘Comfort’ section), I can’t say I was ever really ‘Present’, but I don’t see how it would be possible with this style of game anyway short of making me physically walk to the other side of the map; something I’m very glad I didn’t have to do.
Since the campaign is such a large part of the overall game, I should mention I was a little let down with the main villain Zavolto, a character voiced by Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen (Lord Petyr Baelish, aka ‘Little Finger’). To my surprise, I found his performance lacking the range I grew so accustomed to in GOT, feeling more like halfhearted sound bites than an actual interaction.
Here’s a quick clip of Zavolto admonishing me for quitting a battle.
The last niggle I have about the campaign mode is how the game feels when you finish a match. Instead of getting the option to continue on, or binge for the next ‘episode’ to experience more about why you’re fighting in the first place, you’re unceremoniously returned to the main menu where you then have to click through to the next stage you unlocked. It’s a bit of symbolic of the entire story mode in general. “You win. Now leave.”
Although you can play standing, this is definitely ideal for players looking for a seated experience.
Locomotion is accomplished in one way alone – by grabbing the map from under you and ostensibly flinging yourself in the desired direction. Personally, this proves to be extremely comfortable despite the relative speed that you glide along, something you can chalk up to the fact that you’re not actually flinging yourself, but rather moving the table from underneath you. To achieve this, you’re actually always central under the columned monopteros and its skybox while the table is repositioned below you.
That said, on the rare occasion I would end up focusing too much on the board, making my brain revert to the assumption that I was indeed flinging myself and not the table below me, which at moments led to some faint discomfort.
That $60 yearly membership to PS Plus is definitely paying off for US-based PSVR owners this time around, as this next batch of discounts is putting over 100 PSVR items on sale including games and DLC. The sale lasts until February 27th
Notable titles coming in hot with at least 70% off are DiRT Rally Plus, Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within, I Expect You to Die, Windlands, Thumper, and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
You’ll also find plenty of sub-$10 games worth considering including Darknet, Pinball FX2 VR, Statik, The Brookhaven Experiment, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
When it comes to VR headsets, one of today’s most noticeable bottlenecks is visual fidelity. When we talk about and compare the visual fidelity of VR headsets we often touch on three key elements: Screen Door Effect, Mura, and Aliasing. Often times we see people mixing these three up, so here’s a quick guide explaining each element and what they actually look like.
Screen Door Effect
In first generation VR headsets like the Rift and Vive, this is perhaps the most noticeable. Technically the result of a display with a low ‘fill factor’, the Screen Door Effect (sometimes abbreviated SDE) gets its name because it often looks as if you’re viewing an image through the fine grid of a screen door.
Pixels are small, individually lit elements laid out in an array to create a display. For various reasons, pixels are sometimes hard to pack tightly together, resulting in gaps between them which are unlit. A display’s ‘fill factor’ describes how much of the display’s area actually lights up vs. how much is unlit. The unlit spaces between the pixels, which are easy to see on displays with low fill factor, causes the appearance of the Screen Door Effect.
For various reasons, it’s challenging to make each pixel display exactly the same color, even if the computer output to the display is a frame consisting of one singular color value. Mura is the result of poor color and brightness consistency from one pixel to the next.
Some display technologies have a natural advantage when it comes to color consistency between pixels. LCD for instance tends to be quite good when it comes to minimizing Mura. Other technologies, like OLED (which is favored in VR headsets for other reasons), struggles when it comes to mura, and requires careful calibration to achieve decent performance.
Because displays are made up of (generally) square pixels arranged in a grid, it’s easy to display straight horizontal and vertical lines which align with the rows of the pixel grid. But when it comes to displaying diagonal or curved lines, you’re essentially stuck trying to draw a curved line with square blocks that can only be placed along a grid. That means that anything but straight lines will naturally reveal the underlying shape of the pixels and the pixel grid.
Of course, increasing the pixel density of a display means that aliasing is reduced because the resolution of the display allows the pixels to more precisely fit the curved or diagonal line being rendered.
Anti-aliasing can reduce perceived aliasing by using different colored pixels along the edges of the line to create the appearance of a smoother line.