A FUTURE IN VR?

By now you’ve probably heard about and possibly had a go with one of the various VR devices slowly creeping into the digital market. Personally I have been waiting for this for a long time after seeing YouTubers using the Oculus Rift while playing vr games. Right now I’m waiting to get my hands on my own triple gaming headset (which will be the Playstation VR system), but in the meantime, I got myself a ‘Google Cardboard’ headset which is a very basic version of a VR device that you can use with your mobile.

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Literally after using for just 5 minutes, I love the idea of VR even more and being a 3D artist, my imagination of what could be possible in and out of games got me excited. But to really understand the concept and capabilities, I needed to see what’s out there to experience what works. What I found is a minefield of hit and misses when it comes to VR. And when choosing a device, price can also be an important factor.

So here is, my definitive guide to do’s and don’ts when dealing with VR.

Google Cardboard
Admittedly, this is the only device I’ve personally tried. However I watch an obseen amount of ‘let’s plays’ on youtube, and here the same comments from many people of what is good and bad in the world of VR.

I’ve got to say, Google CB is absolutely amazing! A simple cardboard box with some plastic lens that holds your iPhone or Android device. For the low low price range of £3-10 (depending on where from), you can be up and running instantly. I got mine from Amazon for £10, but you can also get them from ebay for even cheaper. Mine had a head strap which some don’t and really it needs it to feel the full effect. You then download apps from your app store and start playing.

Most of the apps I found on the Apple app store were free to play! Although 80% of them are just awful. There are some real gems too but you have to sift through so much rubbish.

Calibration Settings
Calibration is probably the most important part of having a good VR experience. Most apps have a built in QR code scanner, so you can scan the code on the side of your headset which changes the screens layout to make sure your eyes can focus correctly on the screen magnification. However, some app don’t have any calibration settings or sometimes they do and it’s still doesn’t work correctly. Meaning you see double vision or just can’t play. Mine always came up as ‘Cardboard V1′ and I think if you’re going to make apps for different platforms, you MUST have calibration settings built in.

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Controls
Another real annoyance, is that some apps have controls that need you to touch the screen. This is obviously ridiculous while it’s stuck to your face. In the app designer’s defense, there are other VR headsets like the ‘Samsung Gear’ and the Android phone, that have useable screen controls that the iphone doesn’t. Still, this was really annoying as an Apple mac and iphone user, which I’ll get into more later. A lot of the apps I played were shooters, where staring at the enemy would fire, which was much more fun than I expected. Space games especially work very well.

Controls that really don’t work… walking around! Not all versions of this failed, but there was one game where nodding your head (which simulates walking) would move your forward. This was terrible, and I gave up on the game after 5 minutes. This is the same on the Wii and Kinnect consoles, in that walking on the spot is not an intuitive way to move about.

Below are a list of the essential apps you must try if you have a VR system and an iphone.

Google Cardboard App
Naturally, you should download the official cardboard app which showcases some basic uses for various Google APIs within the VR environment, like street view. However it’s made for an Android phone so there’s some annoying screen touch controls you need to deal with. Not a great app, but worth a play.

CedarPoint VR – Free
This was the first app I downloaded. A simple rollercoaster experience of a real life ride in the U.S. Not for everyone, I tested it on a friend and they instantly felt sick because of the height and fast movements. But how is that different from a really coaster? 😀 For a bit of free fun to test out VR this is a must, as other coaster apps I tried didn’t come close to the quality of this simple app.

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GeoBots VR – Free
Walking and first person shooter game. I would have said pre-vr that moving around a level like someone walking would be a bad idea, but this game blow me away. Probably the most visually believable app I tried, you slowly glide around an industrial city, simply looking at robot enemies with your target. High quality, free and surprisingly fun.

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End Space VR – 99p
This is my most played game. Not free but at 99p you can’t go wrong. Floating in an asteroid belt, destroying various sized ships. You’ll be surprised how scary it is to get up close to other vehicles, especially the huge carriers. This game is pretty and fairly relaxing, with a challenging feel to last as long as you can. I could happily play this for 10-20 minutes straight. A must try!

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Insidious 3 – Free
I like my normal horror games, but I don’t think I could handle a full blown PS4 horror VR game as the one thing that VR is great at is immersion. Add headphones to complete your gaming experience and you’re basically there. Jump scares and setting a spooky tone works amazingly for VR. After a few seconds, you instantly feel the dread of your situation. This app was a short 3 minute promo for the release of the film (like the projects I used to work on) and is perfect for VR. Not the best calibrated as my vision was slightly out of focus but still worth a play to experience how scary future horror gaming will be.

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Vanguard V – Free
I didn’t expect much from this game, but thanks to the fluid motion of flying through space to epic music, I loved it. It has it’s draw backs as a game as you can’t fire due to it having controls on screen but you can still complete the level by dodging the enemies. But really it just feel amazing to control, I only wish there was more levels.

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Hometown Zombies – Free
I had to try a zombie game and this app didn’t disappoint. Really quite easy and basic but I still found myself playing again and again, just to complete that ‘God like’ level which is impossible until you level up. This game felt the most like a game out of this list rather than a test environment, as I leveled up to defeat the later levels. It really is quite freaky to have a minecraft style monster eat your face off.

in360 – Free
Now let’s get into the issues I had using VR. Don’t ask me why, but it turns out Youtube used to have a 360 viewer and Cardboard VR option on all of it’s videos within the iOS app a while back which has now been removed! If you’re on Android, you’re fine, but on iphone, you can no longer use this option! Straight away after using VR apps, my first thoughts were how I, as a 3D animator, could make 360 and VR experiences and went searching for examples. There’s plenty out there, not that I can experience them!

in360 is an app I found days later by accident (could find in when looking!) that allows me to search 360 videos only. It appears that a VR option is available through this too. So if you’re an iphone user, you need this app.

Steam + Apple + VR Issues
So, after trying out 20-30 apps, my next thought was “Can I use my Mac games on VR!?”. The short answer… not on a Mac. Over the years, gaming has been getting pretty good on Mac, with systems like Steam, more and more games are becoming available. Most games on the ‘Source’ engine (Halflife, Portal, L4D2) are playable just fine on a Mac through Steam. And in today’s age of multiple platform connectivity, getting your iPhone and Mac to talk together is easy. So I can play the games but use my iPhone as a VR screen right?

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Well after 4 hours of investigation, I finally got it working… but it was awful! No head tracking, no cardboard support and the view was cropped. Turns out, if you have a PC, thanks to other VR products, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, Windows users are ready to go with the help of Steam VR. A product built just for the use of VR viewers. But not for Macs >:(

Secondly I tried other products, to create a VR display desktop then broadcast it to the mobile… eventually this worked but it wasn’t easy to setup and it was just nauseating. My conclusion is get a proper system setup for this and don;t bother on a Mac setup… for now.

Triple A Gaming?
From the reviews I’ve seen. Playstation VR and HTC Vive deliver the best experiences… but both have hefty prices attached. HTC is pretty much out now but with prices over £600. And the PS-VR out in Oct 2016 for £360, but you’ll also need the PS camera (£60) and possibly move controllers too depending on games. You also have the Oculus but I hear mixed reviews due to platform options mostly.

What next?
Well for me, if I can, I want to making a test animation in 3D to try out a VR 360 animation. I’ve also looked into how to do this for the Google Cardboard and in theory it’s totally doable, but not very straight forward. If I can work it out (and find the time), I will give it a ago and post it here.

In conclusion, love it or hate it, you should totally get hold of a Google Cardboard device and play with some apps just to experience it. I don’t know if it’s the next big find or the next big gimmick, only time will tell. But right now I’m excited just to play games, but I would love support to be able to produce my own VR animations.