Game Highlight: Ocean Rift

Game overview

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Ocean Rift, from Llyr ap Cenydd, is more of an experience than a game, and it is a very engaging one. Choose from ocean animals such as dolphins, orcas, or giant prehistoric reptiles, and you’ll be transported to an underwater exploration site with them. Propel yourself around to swim and interact with the variety of ocean life in the soothing underwater sounds. Turn on text or audio facts to learn more about the animals, or just enjoy the swim through the deepest parts of the ocean.

Difficulty 

This game is extremely easy to get into. Because it is an open world, you simply select an animal by reaching your controller through it, and you’re instantly swimming with the eels, sharks, or turtles. An easy to access menu will let you switch environments or turn the facts on and off at any time.

Most fun moment

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People like to swim with dolphins in real life, and it makes for an incredible moment in Ocean Rift as well. Pushing the touchpad while swimming with them will drop a hoop for them to do tricks with, which is fun to watch, and propelling yourself along with them is quite relaxing. If that doesn't sound quite exciting enough to you, then you’ll probably prefer hanging out in an underwater cage with a great white shark rattling the bars from only inches away.

Ideal audience

 You can choose to read or listen to educational facts, or you can turn them off and just swim around

You can choose to read or listen to educational facts, or you can turn them off and just swim around

Due to its ease of use, Ocean Rift is a good choice for anyone looking for a introductory VR experience. Young kids who might have trouble manipulating controls or adults who aren’t into swinging around swords or shooting guns will enjoy the exploratory nature of Ocean Rift.

Bottom line

Ocean Rift is not going to have you spinning around wildly and getting physically involved with the game in the way that some of our options will. However, it is an excellent choice for someone who wants to see the potential of VR for exploration and education, or who is looking for a relaxing escape from reality.

Game Selection, Part 2: Immersion

For part 1 of how we choose games, head here. This is a continued discussion of our game selection process.

Use the hardware

 The HTC Vive

The HTC Vive

Our 6 stations all use the HTC Vive. This hardware has the ability to be tracked with 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF). Without getting too technical, this means that you can move in the 3 dimensions (left-right, backwards-forwards, up-down) and that you can rotate around each of those directions. For a more thorough explanation of this, head here. In our space, we have 10’x10’ spaces set up that take advantage of the Vive’s room-scale capability. While the Vive can be used in a seated or standing mode if a player requires that, room-scale VR allows free movement within the designated space, and helps players forget where they are as they get fully immersed into the game.

 This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

This "dog" greets many of our players in The Lab.

Essentially, the Vive allows for a lot of detail to be placed within a small space along all dimensions.  A game or experience that takes advantage of this capability will generally be more immersive than one that doesn’t. We want to get people fully engaged within their space, whether they’re playing fetch with a robot dog on a mountaintop or spinning around wildly to blast monsters.

 

Interactivity

 In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

In Space Pirate Trainer, you use your guns to interact with the menu.

A game that provides a distinctly-VR experience, beyond that of PC and console gaming, will rank more highly for us. Something as simple as a welcome menu screen where you actually have to reach out and grab levers or push buttons to select options rather than “clicking” on them really makes a VR experience unique from the beginning.

Picture a cutscene in your average PC or console game. It may have tried to implement interactivity using a quick time event: something like “press A to take the sword” or “press X to dodge the punch” pops up on screen partway through the scene. In VR, that can be taken to the next level. We don’t want to see games that say “press trigger to take the scroll.” We want to actually reach out and take the scroll. Or, a game can combine the full use of space and tracking with this - dodge the incoming punch by literally ducking down to dodge it.

 A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

A player casts this spell in The Wizards by thrusting their hands forward with the triggers held.

Another great way to make a game interactive is to include the use of actual hand gestures to trigger certain events. The Wizards is our best example of this: to cast certain spells, it requires you to move your hands in a particular way in relation to each other, and it feels incredible the first time you find yourself holding a fireball or launching frost arrows just from moving your body and hands. This is a particularly powerful VR-specific mechanism.

Full immersion

 Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Having that plank under your feet makes you feel like you're actually there.

Small ties to reality really do make a huge difference in VR. Plank not Included is one of our most popular experiences because it is extremely immersive. When we put out that actual wooden plank, and you can both feel it under your toes and see it in-game supporting you over the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s very hard to convince your brain that you’re not actually there.

Or take a first-person shooter game. If a developer integrates a realistic ability to crouch behind cover to protect yourself from incoming fire, that’s going to make the game stronger. Or perhaps certain weapons have scopes that you can actually hold up to your eye to use, rather than hitting a button to zoom into scope view. These small touches really serve to increase the immersion of the game.

Finally, one thing that we find occasionally breaking immersion for players is an inability to match the in-game character to race and gender. Games may have users play characters that are genderless, like robots, or they may not show hands and arms in-game. However, if you look down from a first-person view in a game and see hands that don't match yours, this can cause a disconnect in the immersion. Games that offer even the slightest of customization options that are easy to modify are likely to allow greater immersion for a wider audience.

Part 3 of game selection: how we decide if games are arcade-ready.

Event Highlight: Seeing is Believing

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Last Friday, we co-hosted Seeing is Believing: An Immersive Media Festival with Department of Creativity. It was a lot of fun to feature something different from our usual games: these were artistic expressions, historical explorations, immersive educational experiences, and unique film narratives, all created specifically for VR. Most were created locally, so we were able to invite in creators and artists to share their work personally on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.

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For this post, we're sharing a few photos of the crowd enjoying the unique content. It was a great turnout, and we'd love to feature more content at a future event! Are you a VR/AR creator of games, art, film or anything else? Let us know what you're working on - feel free to get in touch at info@augmentalitylabs.com

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Game Selection, Part 1: Access beyond reality

We often get questions on how we select our games. Of course, what makes a game great is highly subjective and debatable. However, as we choose games, we tend to evaluate certain key areas, which we’ll cover across a few posts starting with this one.

Game topics

 Rec Room uses a wrist watch to access all game settings and selections.

Rec Room uses a wrist watch to access all game settings and selections.

Many games fit into existing game genres and concepts, but modify details in a particular way that suits them for VR. For example, a game that would typically use a heads-up display or a menu on a PC/console version might switch to a wristwatch in VR. We generally aren’t going to offer a game that hasn’t received any modification to become VR-appropriate (which is the case for several racing games - a common request we get).  

 

A great VR game should provide access beyond reality in one of 3 ways, and we do our best to balance these so that everyone can find something they’re interested in.

 VR Furballs: Demolition is a ridiculous, fantastical concept that's a lot of fun.

VR Furballs: Demolition is a ridiculous, fantastical concept that's a lot of fun.

Fantasy

Perhaps the most obvious way to access something beyond reality is to actually become part of a fantasy world - something that otherwise requires imagination and storytelling. Want some classic fantasy, like casting magic spells? Something silly, like launching little furballs to destroy giant towers? How about horror, such as blasting away zombies and monstrous creatures? All of these things can be created and experienced with VR.

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Based on Reality

VR can transport you into a real experience that you are unlikely to have otherwise.  This could be used to build empathy, as in the “I Am A Man” experience that we’re featuring tomorrow night at Seeing is Believing: An Immersive Media Festival. It’s based on portions of the Civil Rights Movement. It can be used for humor: people love getting into Drunkn Bar Fight with us, but hopefully most of them aren’t going out for real bar fights afterwards. Maybe you can’t afford a helicopter tour over NYC, or you just aren’t physically built like a quarterback. With VR, you can step into any of these experiences or many others.

Social

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Finally, VR has the power to put you right next to someone that could be hundreds or thousands of miles away. Sure, online gaming has allowed you to play with distant friends for years, but in VR you can stand right next to them. Some games mimic real life, but allow you to do it with an avatar that can high five or make facial expressions at other players. For example, in parts of Rec Room, you can play paintball, dodgeball, or laser tag. Sure, you can go out and play those things in real life, but not with your friend who lives across the country. Some games are also adding spectator modes, where everyone gets a front row seat to watch the action from a great vantage point after they are “out.”

Part 2 covers immersion and interactivity in VR games and Part 3 discusses how we decide if a game is arcade-ready.

Superhot VR Tournament Winners

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We spent our Friday night watching competitors duck, dodge, and return fire all over their mats. Everyone began with 5 lives in Superhot VR's endless mode, and 2 players quickly rose to the top, managing to get an exact tie of 135 kills each at the end of round 1.  After a break to catch their breath, the 2 stepped back into the headsets for another 3 lives. In the end, our reigning tournament champ, Aaron (pictured on left), claimed victory at the end of the night!

Game Highlight: Trickster VR

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Game overview

Trickster VR, from Trickster Games, is a fantasy adventure which has both single player and cooperative multiplayer modes available. Defend against waves of orcs or travel through varied campaign missions to take on hordes of challenging opponents.

Difficulty 

While many of our players have loved it as their first VR experience, Trickster is slightly more challenging to immediately pick up than some other games due to its use of more buttons on the controllers. However, once you’re in there with friends, you’ll be able to hear each other and help each other out. If you’ve played other adventure games, you’ll likely have no trouble, and if you haven’t, then our staff is happy to give extra assistance with controls until you’re stabbing orcs like a pro.

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Most fun moment

Archery often feels extremely satisfying in VR, and Trickster is no exception. Launching arrows from afar to protect your teammates who rushed headfirst into melee combat is rewarding, and the triple-shot arrow power-up is a fun bonus. If standard longbow isn’t your style, the double crossbows are a great ranged weapon backup!

Ideal audience

We’ve seen many groups enjoy Trickster: kids’ parties, family groups, bachelor parties, work events, and more. It’s a great go-to for groups who have different experience levels, because cooperative multiplayer means that more experienced players won’t make the game less fun by constantly winning. Instead, everyone gets a share of the orc-slaying. If you’re into fantasy and want to experience multiplayer VR, it will definitely be our top recommendation to you.

Bottom line

There’s a reason that Trickster has been on our game list since we opened: it’s an immediately engaging experience that takes full advantage of room-scale VR. Check it out on your own or, better yet, with friends!

Will VR make me feel sick?

With any new technology, it’s easy to have concerns about the repercussions. Just to clarify: at Augmentality Labs, we’ve observed that it has been rare for customers to get motion sickness on our HTC Vive setups.

That being said, it can take people 5-10 minutes to get their “sea legs” as they get acclimated to a VR experience. We also tend to recommend different games with less motion while people who are prone to motion sickness get adjusted.

What is virtual reality sickness?

VR sickness is what happens when you’re exposed to a VR environment and it causes symptoms similar to motion sickness.

It’s different from motion sickness because real motion isn’t needed - it’s caused just by feeling like you’re moving in a simulator. VR sickness is also different than what’s been called simulator sickness, as simulator sickness is what pilots can get in flight simulators and can be more intense than just the disorienting feelings from VR.

The changing hardware

Things are significantly better now due to the HTC Vive and other high-end pieces of equipment.

There’s better optics, better tracking sensors, and more importantly - better response time/frame rates and resolution that help a majority of users. Framerate is typically tied to VR sickness so the better framerate a system can handle, the better off you’ll be.

The changing software

 Plank Not Included has no in-game locomotion and doesn't include visualization of any of the player's body, which prevents VR sickness. Yet it's still one of our most engaging experiences!

Plank Not Included has no in-game locomotion and doesn't include visualization of any of the player's body, which prevents VR sickness. Yet it's still one of our most engaging experiences!

Developers are also doing their part when it comes to minimizing VR sickness. The slower and more predictable the camera is, the less sick people will feel. And there have been a few good tricks generated along the way. Putting a user in a static environment, like putting them in a cabin or a capsule or a cockpit, helps people feel more stationary. Teleportation is also a locomotion concept that helps get rid of movement visualization which therefore helps people get rid of motion sickness.

Not creating a full visual of the body also helps with perception and disorientation - developers not visualizing or animating parts of the body that can’t be tracked helps reduce cognitive dissonance.

To read more, check out this overview by Oculus for some techniques that developers are using to minimize VR sickness, or this great post from ARVI Lab.

Give it a chance!

Virtual reality systems have come a long way since the 90’s and even in the past 2-3 years, advancements have been massive. And the more you experience VR, the less likely you are to experience VR sickness.

If you’re going to try VR for the first time, make sure you’re doing it with a very high-end system like an HTC Vive. This will help minimize the chances of you feeling VR sickness and overall guarantee a better experience.

Playthrough Gaming Convention

We had a great time demoing VR at the Playthrough Gaming Convention in Raleigh last weekend, so this week we're sharing some of our favorite clips from it! Participants loved trying out Space Pirate Trainer, Plank Not Included, and Superhot VR.  Do you want us to bring a traveling VR setup to you? Don't hesitate to get in touch using our event request form

Protonwar Tournament Winners

  1st:  Aaron Dooling,  2nd:  Ben Kirchner,  3rd:  Mikayla Armstrong

1st: Aaron Dooling, 2nd: Ben Kirchner, 3rd: Mikayla Armstrong

Our first multiplayer tournament was a ton of fun! Everyone got a chance to practice ahead of time, so the competition got off to a great start with players trying out their best tactics while zipping around the arena. Aaron quickly took the lead, however, and continued to stay strong while Mikayla and Ben battled it out for second and third. At the end, the players posed with their prizes and mimicked their in-game winners' pedestals, with Aaron reveling in his victory.

VR team-building: sports, cooperative quests, and more!

We often get questions about how corporate team-building events work with us. Experiencing VR is sure to be a unique activity for your team! We’ll help you escape the daily grind - or, if you love work that much, you’re always welcome to play Job Simulator...

What else can we play?

We are happy to cater to your team’s needs and interests. Looking for some friendly competition in mini-games that are sure to make you laugh? Check out Loco Dojo. How about team-based paintball, but without the mess? Rec Room is for you. Or, if you prefer cooperation, Trickster VR and Drunkn Bar Fight have been favorites of many teams. These are just a few of our many games and experiences that you can choose from.  You can swap in and out of the options as much as you choose, so there’s no need to commit to one up front.

How can strapping on headsets be a social, team-building experience?

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Several of our game options are multiplayer, so even though only 1 person can use a headset at a time, everyone can be in a virtual world together. You can hear and see each other just like in reality - except you’ll be able to do all kinds of things that you can’t do in real life. You can work together to stop an onslaught of monsters, or compete in a giant soccer match (no running required).

Also, we usually recommend bringing more people than the number of stations that you’ve booked. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, each VR station has a TV attached so that everyone else can see what the person in-headset is seeing. It’s a lot of fun to watch your teammates dodging paintballs and throwing punches in their own world, and we have several couches, chairs, and tables so that you can relax and enjoy spectating. Second, many VR games can give you a bit of a workout! It’s nice to swap out and take breaks in between experiences. When you’re out of the headset, you can check out our retro gaming systems, because Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and Mortal Kombat will never go out of style.

What if we’ve already spent our fun budget for the year?

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Many work teams consider visiting us to be research! While we focus on VR gaming and entertainment experiences, VR has potential in industries far beyond that. If you don’t already use it in your workplace for education and training, long-distance communication, data visualization, or another purpose, then it’s likely coming soon. Get a headstart and come explore the technology with us.

What are my booking options?

With our variety of package options that adjust both the number of stations and the length of time, you can easily select an option that suits a group of anywhere from 4-30 players. These packages can be booked for any day of the week and any time of day. If you’d like a recommendation specific to your group, would like us to come to you instead, or have questions about booking, don’t hesitate to get in touch.