'Audica' Update Addresses Early Feedback, Harmonix Talks Launch Roadmap

VR ‘rhythm shooter’ Audica from legendary rhythm game studio Harmonix is now available in Early Access on Steam and the Oculus Store. The studio has already pushed a v0.1.1 patch addressing early player feedback. The studio has also revealed some of what’s in store for an eventual full release.

Following three prior VR titles, Audica is Harmonix’ latest entrant into the VR category, and this time mashes up VR shooting and rhythm gaming into something quite unique.

Our recent preview walks through the game’s mechanics and some of our initial thoughts about the game design, including the top-notch music, strong visual and audio feedback, but also several missteps which prevent a strong feeling of flow as you blast your way through the beat.

Responding to player feedback (aligning with some of our own), Harmonix released a v0.1.1 update just one day after Audica launched in Early Access, bringing the following changes to improve the experience:

  • Melee hit detection is now more generous, and the game now re-centers you upon the start of a song to give you the best melee position. (NOTE: we don’t re-center you after choosing “Restart.”)
  • Added a “Choose Difficulty” label to Difficulty selection for clarification.
  • A setting has been added (“Audio Filtering on Miss”) so that, if unselected, song volume is no longer reduced when missing a target, as some users expressed a preference for this.
  • The song’s title is now listed on the Song Leaderboard panel.
  • Reduced particle density to improve target readability.
  • Tutorial text no longer references specific colors to accommodate players who change their weapon colors before playing the Tutorial.
  • Adjusted tutorial text to explain how to avoid arm fatigue.
  • Made ‘cue darts’ more noticeable, to better draw your eyes to the area where off-screen targets will be coming from.
  • Made authoring adjustments for sections that felt unfair in the following songs:
    • 1788-L & Blanke “Destiny”
    • Noisia “Collider”

    While these changes are a good first step (especially reduced particle density and more visible ‘cue darts’), it feels like broader changes will need to be made before Audica really finds its groove.

    Luckily, Harmonix says it’s “looking forward to working closely with you, our community, to shape the course of [Audica’s] development.” The studio promises to monitor player feedback to continue to hone the game throughout the Early Access period. To that end, the studio has created a public task board to show players what’s in development, and is encouraging players to reach out via the official Harmonix Discord server to share feedback.

    It isn’t clear yet when Audica will launch out of Early Access, but in addition to responding to player feedback, Harmonix tells Road to VR that it plans to have the following features ready for the full launch:

    • 25+ Song Soundtrack (the Early Access launch includes 10 songs)
    • Campaign Mode
    • Practice Mode
    • Additional environments and weapon sets
    • Expanded leaderboard functionality
    • And possibly other new gameplay mechanics

    The Trello board further shows the following features planned:

    • Song Previews
    • Local/Party Mode
    • Achievements

    The studio expects that 80% of its launch songs will be licensed tracks, with the rest coming from friends and family of the studio. Harmonix hasn’t announced any plans for custom song support in Audica.

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Deal Alert: Mario Odyssey, Diablo III, Skyrim, and More Switch Games on Sale

If you buy something through this post, IGN may get a share of the sale. For more, read our Terms of Use.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2 are no longer on sale, but that doesn’t mean the chances to save on Nintendo Switch games are over. There are plenty of other games discounted right now to help build your collection, including the excellent Octopath Traveler and Pokemon, Let’s Go: Eevee, among others.

There’s also one of the best Nintendo Switch deals going since the Black Friday bundles. You can still get a new Nintendo Switch bundle at Walmart for the Mario Day-sale price. That’s your choice grey or neon Nintendo Switch, plus one of five Mario games, plus a carrying case and Mario enamel pin.

Skyrim for $50.99

This classic game is made even better on Nintendo Switch. Sure, you might have put a few hundred hours into it on another console or PC, but now you can loot on the bus. Plus it has an exclusive Ganondorf armor set.

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Octopath Traveller for $44.99

This is a must-have for old-school JRPG fans. The gorgeous tilt-shift graphics are like 16-bit papercraft, and the battle system is one of the best and most inventive in ages.

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Super Mario Odyssey for $48.66

 

The Mario Day savings event has ended, but you can still pick up this modern classic for less than list price. If you haven’t grabbed this one yet, it’s a 10.

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Bayonetta 2 (Digital Code) for $49.99

 

One of the best action games of all time is on sale and you can start playing it almost immediately with the digital code. This is something of an odd-ball for Nintendo but the game is so undeniably fun you can see why Nintendo had to secure its exclusivity.

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Sid Meier’s Civilization VI for $44.99

 

Having Civilization VI in a portable form is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you can play it anywhere. A curse because… you can play it anywhere. Good luck going to sleep when you can make just one more turn in bed.

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Pokken Tournament DX for $49

 

This is Pokemon battling at its most visceral. Well, really it’s an extremely competent fighting game, and one you should definitely check out.

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Valkyria Chronicles 4 for $39.95

Having this on the Switch is perfect because you can pick it up and put it down whenever you feel like it. The special Memoirs From Battle edition, which includes extras like a model tank and art book, is also on sale for $59.97.

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Dragon Ball FighterZ for $49.99

 

A fantastic and fun fighting game set in the Dragon Ball Z universe, it’s made even better on Switch by virtue of the take-anywhere hybrid nature of the console.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Starter Pack for $25.39

This criminally overlooked game is even better on Switch, because it comes with a model Arwing and Star Fox content not found on the other versions. And during the February 13 Nintendo Direct, Nintendo revealed new Star Fox content is coming this spring. The price is amazing right now, and the game really is a lot of fun.

  • Amazon

Fire Emblem Warriors for $31.88

You’ve met them in Smash, but if you haven’t played them in Fire Emblem, you can pick up the excellent Fire Emblem Warriors on sale right now.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for $19.79 (Digital)

 

Back on sale and you can start playing as soon as it downloads, Mario + Rabbids is a great way to switch things up for Mario, and is a ton of fun.

  • GameStop

Rayman Legends Definitive Edition for $19.93

One of the most charming side-scrolling series of all time sees its latest entry on Switch on sale right now. This is a wonderful game with wonderful style and should be a part of everyone’s library. The physical version is also on sale at Amazon.

  • Walmart

LEGO DC Super-Villains for $33.05

LEGO DC Super Villains lets you create your very own custom super villain, as well as take control of some of DC’s most famous and nefarious evil-doers.

  • Amazon

Looking for more great deals? Check out our regularly updated guide to the best Nintendo Switch deals of 2019. Also be sure to check out our guide to every 2019 game release date, as well as our guide to every DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray and theatrical movie release dates.

Nintendo eShop Gift Cards:

These aren’t on sale, but they’re a fast and easy way to start filling up your new Nintendo Switch with games.

  • $50 Nintendo eShop Card
  • $25 Nintendo eShop Card
  • $10 Nintendo eShop Card
  • $5 Nintendo eShop Card
  • Deal Alert: Mario Odyssey, Diablo III, Skyrim, and More Switch Games on Sale
  • Bluetooth and Surround Sound Speakers, Stereo Receivers and More Audio Deals Live at Amazon
  • Get Ready for Google Stadia Game Streaming with These Chromecast TVs from Vizio and Philips
  • Xbox One Deals: Kingdom Hearts 3, Far Cry: New Dawn, and More Games on Sale
  • Deal Alert: Get 1-Year of PS Plus on Sale, Save Big on Games Through the PlayStation Store
  • Samsung Monitor, Corsair Keyboard, More PC Gaming Accessory Deals

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Castle Crashers Remastered coming to Nintendo Switch and PS4

The Behemoth’s Castle Crashers is coming to Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 this summer as Castle Crashers Remastered, the developer announced today.

The Behemoth first released Castle Crashers Remastered on Xbox One in 2015. The remastered version of the beloved beat-’em-up features five times the texture resolution as the original and 60 fps gameplay. All existing DLC and a new mini-game called “Back Off Barbarian” is also included in the remastered version of the game.

In his blog post, The Behemoth developer Dan Paladin revealed that the PlayEveryWare port studio helped create the two new versions of Castle Crashers. The Switch version utilizes HD Rumble, Switch Online, and supports four-player local Joy-Con use. The PS4 version will display the player’s character color in the DualShock 4’s lightbar.

Paladin also addressed why The Behemoth hasn’t made a sequel to Castle Crashers or any of its other games. A sequel to Castle Crashers would need to be “vastly improved” over the original, rather than “more of the same,” according to Paladin

“Another thing to consider is that there would be no Castle Crashers 2 if we started out by making sequels,” said Paladin. “You’d have Alien Hominid 2 instead of Castle Crashers 1. Or, alternatively, there’d be no BattleBlock Theater if we made Castle Crashers 2.”

Paladin also teased that the studio is working on a new title, codenamed “Game 5.” The Behemoth released its most recent game game, Pit People, into early access over two years ago. Paladin said The Behemoth hopes to reveal more information about “Game 5” later in 2019.

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Red Dead Online’s next update adds more story, world events, and anti-griefing

Red Dead Online’s beta continues apace, with the last patch adding new showdown modes and a law and order system. While individual parts of the patch were fun, like the Spoils of War game mode, the update didn’t solve the main problems of the open world; namely, a lack of content and a surplus of griefing. Luckily, today, Rockstar announced a series of new additions to Red Dead Online due later this spring that look much more promising.

Rockstar noted that Red Dead Online is still in an early state, saying that the beta period has allowed them to “lay the groundwork for the more advanced aspects of Red Dead Online still to come”, and that the game so far is “a more evolved foundation” than the ones crafted for titles like Grand Theft Auto Online.

The spring update update promises to continue the main storyline of Red Dead Online, where characters work with Jessica LeClerk to hunt down her husband’s killer. These missions, and the assorted morality choices, have been the best part of the beta so far.

Rockstar Games

In addition, there will be new, free-roam missions and new mission givers located around the map, adding more variety to one of the game’s major game play loops. As players navigate the map, they will also encounter dynamic events that require them to come to the aid of innocent folk, fight off ambushes from rival gangs, and initiate rescues. These seem similar to the random encounters Arthur experiences in the single player mode of Red Dead Redemption 2.

The next update will continue to refine the anti-griefing systems introduced in February. The new Hostility system will track players who inflict damage and those who are defending themselves, allowing players to act in self-defense without incurring a bounty while roaming the open world. Players with high hostility and aggressive actions can die without penalty, allowing for better bounty hunting and organic encounters. The Hostility system will not be applied to missions or events, but will help regulate unstructured encounters with other players in the world.

Rockstar also unveiled the Playing Style system. There will be two Playing Styles: Offensive and Defensive. While the Offensive Playing Style will be similar to the existing version of Red Ded Online, the Defensive Playing Style will be focused on allowing players to navigate the world, fish, hunt, and travel without worrying about hostile contact with players like xXWeedLord420Xx.

Defensive players cannot be lassoed, and other players cannot lock onto them. In turn, they cannot lock onto other players to fire and lassoing other players will put them in Offensive mode with a bump to their hostility. They also can’t be critically hit, meaning even a headshot won’t serve as a one-hit kill. This will allow Defensive players to defend themselves and engage with other players in a more cinematic, narrative fashion.

This update will also contain a host of smaller quality of life changes, including new Daily Challenges, the LeMat revolver, and updates to the character creator. There is no currently no release date for this patch, but Rockstar will release more information in the weeks to come.

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Splatoon 2 demo comes to Nintendo Switch, plus 20 percent game discount

Splatoon 2, the cartoonish online (ink) shooter for Nintendo Switch, is getting a free “Special Demo.” Nintendo announced Monday that the demo is available to download at the eShop now, with access to the game starting at 7 a.m. PT on Tuesday, March 19. It will last one week, ending on Monday, March 25.

The demo grants access to four game modes: four-on-four Turf War battles, the “classic” mode where teams compete to cover the largest area of the battlefield with their neon ink; Salmon Run, a co-op battle against the evil Salmonids; and competitive League and Ranked Battles. It does not appear that the single-player story mode will be available in the demo.

Polygon Deals is on Twitter!

Since a Nintendo Switch Online account is required to participate in online ink battles, Nintendo is providing Splatoon 2 players free access to the service during the demo period, even if they’ve previously redeemed a Switch Online trial. After downloading the demo, a Switch Online code will be delivered via email. It can be redeemed immediately, but it won’t activate until the demo goes live.

Of course, Nintendo hopes that players will get hooked on the demo and then go out and buy the game. To sweeten the pot further, Splatoon 2 will be 20 percent off at the Switch eShop while the demo is active, bringing the price down to $47.99. Though that’s not the lowest price we’ve seen on Splatoon 2, it’s not too shabby for a first-party Switch game. Plus, any progress made during the demo will carry over after purchase.

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Oculus Go Review: Standalone VR Priced for the Masses

Nearly seven months after its announcement back in October 2017, Oculus Go, the company’s first standalone VR headset, is finally here. The company’s thesis is that this affordably priced unit, which doesn’t rely on a docked smartphone, will make for a more seamless mobile VR experience. But does it go above and beyond Gear VR? Read on to find out.

As usual, we’ll start with a summary and then dig into the details below.

Oculus Go Review Summary

Launching today in 23 countries, Oculus Go is the company’s new take on mobile VR. Aimed for affordability and ease of use, the headset is priced at $200 for the 32GB model and $250 for the 64GB model. The headset shares the same Oculus content store and overall software experience as Gear VR.

Rather than relying on a docked smartphone like Gear VR, however, Go has everything built right in, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice your phone’s battery (or your ability to easily access texts, calls, and the like) just to scratch your VR itch.

Hardware wise, Go runs a less powerful chip than what you’d find on the latest Gear VR compatible phones, but Oculus says the standalone design means they can crank the performance higher thanks to better thermal performance, and a handful of other optimizations.

Oculus says you can expect two to two and a half hours of battery life while watching video, or one and a half to two hours of battery life while gaming. Anyone hoping to use Go as the ultimate personal media escape on long haul flights better pack an external battery. But be aware, Oculus doesn’t recommend charging the headset while using it, likely due to added heat buildup.

Compared to Gear VR, the Go uses a different type of lenses (Fresnel) and display technology (RGB-stripe LCD). The result is a slightly wider field of view, and generally improved overall clarity despite a few drawbacks. Unfortunately, few apps are optimized enough to truly take advantage of the lenses and display, leading many experiences to look and feel worse than the kind of gaming content you’d expect to find on a smartphone.

The headset comes with a spacer which increases the distance between the lenses and the user’s eyes to more comfortably fit glasses. There’s also clip-on brackets around the lenses which Oculus says will eventually be used for a prescription lens add-on.

The Go headset feels solid and well built, and is roughly the same weight as Gear VR. Thankfully Go includes stereo speakers hidden in the headstrap which offer decent enough audio to keep you from bothering with headphones in most cases. However a 3.5mm jack means you can plug in for more discrete listening and better audio quality any time you’d like.

The Go headset and controller offer 3DOF tracking (only rotation), which makes the headset best for seated use. Both have very little latency. The controller’s shape feels more refined than the Gear VR controller that came before it, but generally works the same—you’ll see it inside the headset where it will be used mostly for laser pointer-like interactions, as it is limited to 3DOF tracking.

A new companion app for Android and iOS devices helps to set up the Go headset, and also allows you to browse the Oculus content store and install apps without putting on the headset.

Working from the same library of apps as Gear VR—which has been around for a few years now—Oculus says Go has “more than 1,000” apps to choose from, but the number is a red herring—apps that look and play well are few and far between, and Oculus’ convoluted Home interface makes finding them a chore. There’s also a lot of traditional ‘flat’ and 360 media available, but the former doesn’t greatly benefit from being in a headset, and the latter has few truly compelling offerings which end up being spread out across various 360 content apps, many of which don’t offer pre-downloading for maximum quality.

With few standout apps, and an experience which isn’t appreciably different from what Gear VR has been offering now for several years, Oculus Go’s hardware and ease of use improvements feel like they would have been more alluring in VR’s early days—meanwhile in 2018, Go looks like a tough sell against other compelling portable entertainment devices like Nintendo Switch.

Oculus Go In-depth Review

Hardware

Compared to its Gear VR brethren, Oculus Go makes a big change in lens philosophy, moving from smooth lenses to Fresnel lenses. Oculus calls these lenses “next-gen,” and says that they’re an improvement across the board over the lenses in the Rift. Practically speaking, the shape is refined and the Fresnel ridges are more pronounced than those on the Rift.

Looking through the lenses, the field of view is a bit larger than the 2017 Gear VR, and feels comparable to the Rift. It’s clear that distortion (warping), which is easily visible with Gear VR’s lenses, has been almost entirely eliminated on Go, though it isn’t clear if this is due to the new lenses or something in software. In place of the distortion however, Go’s lenses introduce ‘god-ray’ artifacts, which look light faint streaks or glares of light that are most noticeable when looking at bright objects against a dark background. The god-ray artifacts do seem to be a bit more subtle than they are on the Rift.

The focus ‘sweet spot’ (the area where things appear sharp) feels adequately large on the Go. Like Gear VR, there’s no IPD adjustment, but unlike Gear VR, Go doesn’t have a focus wheel. Presumably Oculus felt the eye-box of the lenses was large enough to remove the focus wheel, and that seems to hold true for my eyes at least; things looked perfectly sharp for me (though I don’t wear glasses).

Speaking of glasses, Go comes with a glasses-spacer: a rubber gasket which can be inserted behind the headset’s facial foam, increasing the lens-to-eye distance to make room for glasses. It’s a little awkward to install, so you won’t be putting it on and taking it off for each user if you’re passing the headset around, but it’s good to have the option. The lenses now also have detachable plastic brackets which Oculus says are designed to allow perception lenses add-ons to be attached; they say partners will be making prescription lenses for Go, but haven’t offered much detail on that just yet.

Because I don’t wear glasses, I tested it with two pairs of sunglasses. Even without the spacer, these seem to slide nicely into the Go, whereas one of them doesn’t fit in the Rift, meaning there’s generally speaking more room for glasses overall.

Chromatic aberration (a slight separation of colors) on Go feels about the same as Gear VR—which is pretty bad compared to higher-end headsets (though it isn’t clear if either Go or Gear VR are doing any software correction for this)—and actually you’ll probably notice the chromatic aberration in your peripheral view before the focus falloff. When it comes to chromatic aberration, red appears to shift the most as it moves from one end of the lens to the other, causing large red objects to visibly shift as you move your head. Generally this isn’t an issue but may stand out in a few specific cases.

Then there’s the display, which is also a pretty big change—while both Gear VR and Rift use OLED displays with a PenTile subpixel arrangement, Oculus Go uses an LCD display with what appears to be a typical RGB-stripe subpixel layout. It’s the same 1,280 × 1,440 per-eye resolution as Gear VR, but the Go’s screen has better fill factor (less unlit space between pixels) which serves to reduce the screen door effect (the grid like pattern that’s seen when there’s a low fill factor).

However, even though there’s less unlit space between pixels, the RGB-stripe subpixel layout is more uniformly aligned, and that means the screen door effect takes on a more defined grid-like appearance compared to PenTile where the subpixel layout prevents perfectly continuous black lines. So while the fill-factor improvement helps reduce the screen door effect, the Go’s subpixel layout causes the improvement to be a bit less than it would be otherwise.

But, there does appear to be another slight benefit to RGB-stripe over PenTile on the Go, which comes in the form of what ultimately looks like a slight increase in sharpness. RGB-stripe tends to be a bit better for text and edge rendering in many cases. Furthermore, Go’s LCD screen has essentially zero ghosting, whereas the OLED displays on Gear VR and Rift show lots of ghosting in high contrast scenes.

Like Gear VR, the Go’s display runs at 60Hz, but can optionally be pushed to 72Hz, which can increase brightness and saturation. However, this mode is more demanding from a performance standpoint so it’s likely only to be used by highly optimized and lightweight applications. Compared to Gear VR and Rift, the Go’s display is lacking some contrast in both brightness and color.

Even though both Gear VR and Go run at 60Hz generally, I noticed occasional flicker on Go which I don’t generally see on Gear VR. Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to flicker, but especially in very bright white scenes, I could see and feel the flicker on my eyes with Go. This becomes more pronounced as you increase the brightness, so don’t crank it all the way up if you can help it. The more visible flicker could be due to the Go’s screen, or it could be due to the increased field of view (as your peripheral vision is more sensitive to flicker), or perhaps a combination of both.

LCD displays typically have very minimal mura (inconsistencies in color and brightness from one pixel to the next), while OLED generally has worse mura. Knowing that, I was surprised to find that Go’s display does show some notable mura, maybe even slightly worse than what’s seen on Gear VR. Thankfully, neither are glaring, but mura doesn’t influence clarity.

So between the new lenses and new display, there’s a number of tradeoffs being made. The net change is a slight improvement in overall clarity when comparing Gear VR to Go, and a slightly larger field of view too. I would prefer the view through the Go, but it isn’t a night and day difference.

Design & Ergonomics

Not surprisingly, considering its standalone design, Go feels more solid than Gear VR. It’s a combination of slightly more premium material feel and less moving parts. The biggest hardware differences between the two are that the Go lacks the side trackpad of Gear VR (which has largely been overshadowed by the Gear VR controller anyway), and also adds built-in stereo speakers.

Gear VR could technically play audio out of the docked phone, but as you can imagine, the quality was poor and it was mono only. Headphones were essentially required for an immersive experience. Go, on the other hand, has hidden speakers which emit sound from small slits in the headband, and sounds surprisingly good considering that the sound is resonating through a plastic chamber before reaching your ears. It’s not going to hit the spot when it comes to pristine music-quality audio, but for general gaming or media consumption, you can definitely skip out on fiddling with a pair of headphones. For movies, highly immersive games, or more private listening you can still plug in via the 3.5mm audio jack.

At 468 grams, the Go is slightly lighter than Gear VR’s ~500 grams (varies based on phone), but the difference feels mostly negligible. The Go uses a similar head-mount strap which goes around and over the top of the head, except the back part is split into two sections which cups the back of the head a bit more and generally helps the strap stay in place. The hard arms that connect the strap to the headset rotate completely around, making it easy to vary the weight distribution between your brow and your cheeks, or to rotate the strap out of the way for quick and easy ‘hand-held’ viewing without having to fully remove it.

Go is notably front heavy (as is Gear VR), but comfortable enough for me to way for long spans of an hour or more without needing to remove it. Adjusting the tilt of the display housing, the top strap, and ensuring that your side straps aren’t overly tight is key to achieving a comfortable wear. I found that the Go’s foam better fits the contours of my face compared to Gear VR, and also leaves more room for my nose to breath (literally and figuratively). The roomier nose area comes at a price—you be able to see out through a small gap, but I found it easy to ignore this (and actually found it handy to peek at my phone on more than one occasion without removing my headset).

All in all, the Go is a bit more comfortable for me (though your mileage may vary based on the shape of your head and face), and the built-in audio is a smart addition which makes the headset easier to use.

Tracking & Controller

Like Gear VR, Oculus Go is a 3DOF headset, which means it can only detect rotation; turning and tilting your head work fine, but if you lean forward or try to duck down, you’ll find that your perspective is fixed in space, which makes both headsets most suitable as seated devices.

Go may be 3DOF, but the tracking latency is effectively imperceptible, just like Gear VR. I didn’t have any overt issues with drift, but that’s probably because I was frequently recentering my controller anyway (which also recenters the headset).

After a few years of using the side-mounted trackpad, Gear VR eventually launched a 3DOF controller which most apps now treat as the expected input device. Go lacks the trackpad entirely, so its controller is indeed the primary (and only) input device. Just like Gear VR, Go’s controller is 3DOF, and functions almost identically, offering a trackpad on top, a trigger, and a few buttons.

Inside the headset you’ll see a model of the controller, and as you rotate it, it swings around in space almost as if it were 6DOF, but really its movement is just being interpolated as if it was connected to a static elbow joint. Since it isn’t truly positionally tracked, you can expect that it will regularly drift, especially if you’re moving it around a lot. Get used to recentering the controller by holding down the Oculus button, because it will become part of every experience.

Go’s controller shape feels more ergonomic to me than Gear VR’s, and the trigger actually has a little bit of trigger action (rotation around a point), rather than being a big button. It doesn’t mean anything in practice, but just adds to the overall slightly nicer feel. Unfortunately, the Go controller doesn’t have the volume buttons that the Gear VR controller does, which would have been handy. Instead, there’s volume buttons on the Go headset itself, but they’re a little awkward to push; having them on the controller would have been better.

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Nvidia bringing new ray tracing tech to GTX graphics cards

Nvidia has spent the past year trying to make the case for its newest graphics cards, the expensive GeForce RTX line of GPUs. The biggest selling point of Nvidia’s RTX cards has been support for a powerful new feature known as real-time ray tracing, long considered the “holy grail” of graphics rendering technology. When Nvidia announced the feature — which it calls Nvidia RTX — a year ago at the Game Developers Conference, the company said that the technology would run only on its RTX GPUs, which wouldn’t be available until September.

Next month, that will no longer be the case.

Graphics cards like the RTX 2080 use that naming convention because they were designed for RTX. But with a driver update that’s scheduled to be released in April, Nvidia will bring its RTX technology to 10 different GTX graphics cards that are already on the market — some of which are nearly three years old. The list runs the gamut from the 6 GB GTX 1060 up to the GTX 1080 Ti. It also includes Nvidia’s newest GPUs: the GTX 1660 and GTX 1660 Ti, two cheaper cards that the company released this winter. And this applies to the laptop and Max-Q equivalents of these GPUs, too.

The new driver will allow the GTX cards in question to play games with real-time ray tracing features. Game developers won’t have to do anything to add support for the GTX cards (although, of course, this will only apply to games that already offer RTX functionality).

Adding RTX support to GTX cards is undeniably a positive step for Nvidia and the advancement of graphics technology. Real-time ray tracing is a very promising development, and it represents the future of gaming graphics. But as is often the case in software development, there’s a chicken-or-the-egg problem here.

Few games currently support real-time ray tracing, since the technology is so new; Nvidia’s RTX lineup launched just six months ago. Without a larger library of games that offer DirectX ray tracing (DXR) enhancements, there’s little reason for customers to upgrade to an RTX GPU — especially since they’re more expensive than similarly capable non-RTX cards from both Nvidia and AMD. Game developers might be more inclined to support DXR if there were more customers out there who owned GPUs that can take advantage of the technology.

For that reason, it’s a big deal that Nvidia is extending ray tracing support to GTX cards. This represents a massive increase in the install base of ray tracing-capable gamers: With the release of the new driver in April, there will be “tens of millions” of customers who’ll be able to play games with “some level of ray tracing,” said Justin Walker, director of GeForce product management at Nvidia, during a conference call with the media on Monday. And with the announcement at GDC 2019 that two of the most popular game engines — Epic Games’ Unreal and Unity Technologies’ Unity — are integrating support for real-time ray tracing, it’ll be much easier for many game makers to develop with the technology in mind.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/bzZG4iEFVac?rel=0

What will ray tracing look like on GTX cards?

It’s worth noting that “some level” is the operative phrase here. There’s a lot of variation in the RTX enhancements that different games offer: EA DICE used it for reflections in Battlefield 5, Crystal Dynamics focused on shadows in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and 4A Games went with global illumination and ambient occlusion in Metro Exodus.

The different applications of RTX require different levels of computational horsepower. Nvidia’s RTX GPUs are equipped with two hardware features that the GTX chips don’t have: RT cores and tensor cores, which are specifically designed for ray tracing. Without those cores on the silicon, GTX cards will only be able to support a reduced implementation of ray tracing. And in some cases, they won’t be able to support a game’s RTX features at all.

“You can get reflections off of a limited number of surfaces if you turn down the ray tracing setting, with really good playable frame rates, and that’s still a pretty cool ray tracing effect,” Walker said. “Now, of course, if you want to layer on more ray tracing effects, or higher-quality ray tracing effects, you’re going to want dedicated hardware to do it.” (In this case, “dedicated hardware” refers to the special cores on the RTX cards.)

Considering that ray tracing has been limited to Nvidia’s more expensive RTX GPUs — the cheapest being the RTX 2060, which starts at $349 — it’s not inconsequential that the lower-priced GTX cards will soon support the feature. The brand-new GTX 1660, which runs on the new Turing architecture, has an MSRP of just $219.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/WoQr0k2IA9A?rel=0

But GTX owners may have to do a decent amount of homework if they want to figure out what kind of ray tracing performance they’ll be able to get. For instance, Battlefield 5’s RTX-powered reflections are a relatively simple ray tracing effect, and GTX cards should be able to handle them. But global illumination in Metro Exodus is a much higher lift.

“Look at [ray-traced] reflections on Battlefield 5 at the low setting, and it’s not bad,” said Walker. “I mean, I’d rather have that on than off. And so that kind of basic level of ray tracing that’s better than not having it will be playable on GeForce GTX cards in a lot of situations.” However, Walker told Polygon that global illumination as a feature is simply too resource-intensive for GTX, saying, “I think the quick answer is that generally speaking, you’re going to want RTX for global illumination.”

Related

Nvidia’s latest tech will enable ‘cinematic-quality’ graphics — on unannounced GPUs

Sony and Microsoft ran into a similar issue when they launched their 4K-capable consoles, the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, respectively. Since developers can use the hardware’s extra power however they want — or not at all — there’s no guarantee of what kinds of enhancements you’ll get. Microsoft does a better job than Sony on the messaging front: The company maintains a list of all “Xbox One X Enhanced” games, with notes on whether they support 4K and HDR. How will it play out on the PC gaming side?

“We will do our best to help try to communicate exactly what you can expect as the games come out, but the best I can say right now is: Basic, single effects, GTX can generally do,” Walker explained. “Some of the more complex effects, or multiple effects, you’re going to want RTX.”

Giving gamers with less capable GPUs the ability to get a taste of ray tracing is an admirable goal. All the people who already own recent Nvidia GTX cards will actually be able to see for themselves what the technology can do — before they consider a future upgrade to an RTX card. And more importantly, the move will likely result in greater support for ray tracing across the board. But it seems like this nascent technology remains decidedly in the early adopter stage, with all the associated growing pains.

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Validating an Experimental VR/AR Shortcut Interface with Flaming Arrows & Paper Planes

Last time, we detailed our initial explorations of single-handed shortcuts systems. After some experimentation, we converged on a palm-up pinch to open a four-way rail system. Today we’re excited to share the second half of our design exploration along with a downloadable demo on the Leap Motion Gallery.

Guest Article by Barrett Fox & Martin Schubert

Barrett and Martin are part of the elite Leap Motion team presenting substantive work in VR/AR UX in innovative and engaging ways.

We found the shortcuts system comfortable, reliable, and fast to use. It also felt embodied and spatial since the system didn’t require users to look at it to use it. Next it was time to put it to the test in a real-world setting. How would it hold up when we were actually trying to do something else with our hands?

We discussed a few types of potential use cases:

#1. Direct abstract commands. In this scenario, the system could be used to directly trigger abstract commands. For example, in a drawing application either hand could summon the shortcut system – left to undo, right to redo, forward to zoom in, or backwards to zoom out.

#2. Direct contextual commands. What if one hand could choose an action to take upon an object being held by the other hand? For example, picking up an object with your left hand and using your right hand to summon the shortcut system – forward to duplicate the object in place, backward to delete it, or left/right to change its material.

#3. Tool adjustments. The system could also be used to adjust various parameters of a currently active tool or ability. For example, in the same drawing application your dominant hand might have the ability to pinch to draw in space. The same hand could summon the shortcut system and translate left/right to decrease/increase brush size.

#4. Mode switching. Finally, the system could be used to switch between different modes or tools. Again in a drawing application, each hand could use the shortcut system to switch between free hand direct manipulation, a brush tool, an eraser tool, etc. Moreover, by independently tool-switching with each hand, we could quickly equip interesting combinations of tools.

Of these options, we felt that mode switching would test our system the most thoroughly. By designing a set of modes or abilities that required diverse hand movements, we could validate that the shortcuts system wouldn’t get in the way while still being quickly and easily accessible.

Mode Switching and Pinch Interactions

In thinking about possible abilities we’d like to be able to switch between, we kept returning to pinch-based interactions. Pinching, as we discussed in our last blog post, is a very powerful bare handed interaction for a few reasons:

  • It’s a gesture that most people are familiar with and can do with minimal ambiguity, making it simple to successfully execute for new users.
  • It’s a low-effort action, requiring only movement of your thumb and index fingers. As a result, it’s suitable for high-frequency interactions.
  • Its success is very well-defined for the user who gets self-haptic feedback when their finger and thumb make contact.

However, having an ability triggered by pinching does have drawbacks, as false triggers are common. For this reason, having a quick and easy system to enable, disable, and switch between pinch abilities turned out to be very valuable. This led us to design a set of pinch powers to test our shortcut system.

Pinch Powers!

We designed three pinch powers, leaving one shortcut direction free as an option to disable all pinch abilities and use free hands for regular direct manipulation. Each pinch power would encourage a different type of hand movement to test whether the shortcut system would still function as intended. We wanted to create powers that were interesting to use individually but could also be combined to create interesting pairs, taking advantage of each hand’s ability to switch modes independently.

The Plane Hand

For our first power, we used pinching to drive a very common action: throwing. Looking to the physical world for inspiration, we found that paper plane throwing was a very expressive action with an almost identical base motion. By pinching and holding to spawn a new paper plane, then moving your hand and releasing, we could calculate the average velocity of your pinched fingers over a certain number of frames prior to release and feed that into the plane as a launch velocity.

Using this first ability together with the shortcuts system revealed a few conflicts. A common way to hold your hand while pinching a paper plane is with your palm facing up and slightly inwards with your pinky furthest away from you. This fell into the gray area between the palm direction angles defined as ‘facing away from the user’ and ‘facing toward the user’. To avoid false positives, we adjusted the thresholds slightly until the system was not triggered accidentally.

To recreate the aerodynamics of a paper plane, we used two different forces. The first added force is upwards, relative to the plane, determined by the magnitude of the plane’s current velocity. This means a faster throw produces a stronger lifting force.

The other force is a little less realistic but helps make for more seamless throws. It takes the current velocity of a plane and adds torque to bring its forward direction, or nose, inline with that velocity. This means a plane thrown sideways will correct its forward heading to match its movement direction.

With these aerodynamic forces in play, even small variations in throwing angle and direction resulted in a wide variety of plane trajectories. Planes would curve and arc in surprising ways, encouraging users to try overhanded, underhanded, and side-angled throws.

In testing, we found that during these expressive throws, users often rotated their palms into poses which would unintentionally trigger the shortcut system. To solve this we simply disabled the ability to open the shortcut system while pinching.

Besides these fixes for palm direction conflicts, we also wanted to test a few solutions to minimize accidental pinches. We experimented with putting an object in a user’s pinch point whenever they had a pinch power enabled. The intention was to signal to the user that the pinch power was ‘always on.’ When combined with glowing fingertips and audio feedback driven by pinch strength, this seemed successful in reducing the likelihood of accidental pinches.

We also added a short scaling animation to planes as they spawned. If a user released their pinch before the plane was fully scaled up the plane would scale back down and disappear. This meant that short unintentional pinches wouldn’t spawn unwanted planes, further reducing the accidental pinch issue.

The Bow Hand

For our second ability we looked at the movement of pinching, pulling back, and releasing. This movement was used most famously on touchscreens as the central mechanic of Angry Birds and more recently adapted to three dimensions in Valve’s The Lab: Slingshot.

Virtual slingshots have a great sense of physicality. Pulling back on a sling and seeing it lengthen while hearing the elastic creak gives a visceral sense of the potential energy of the projectile, satisfyingly realized when launched. For our purposes, since we could pinch anywhere in space and pull back, we decided to use something a little more lightweight than a slingshot: a tiny retractable bow.

Pinching expands the bow and attaches the bowstring to your pinched fingers. Pulling away from the original pinch position in any direction stretches the bowstring and notches an arrow. The longer the stretch, the greater the launch velocity on release. Again we found that users rotated their hands while using the bow into poses where their palm direction would accidentally trigger the shortcut system. Once again, we simply disabled the ability to open the shortcut system, this time while the bow was expanded.

To minimize accidental arrows spawning from unintentional pinches, we again employed a slight delay after pinching before notching a new arrow. However, rather than being time-based like the plane spawning animation, this time we defined a minimum distance from the original pinch. Once reached, this spawns and notches a new arrow.

The Time Hand

For our last ability, we initially looked at the movement of pinching and rotating as a means of controlling time. The idea was to pinch to spawn a clock and then rotate the pinch to turn a clock hand, dialing the time scale down or back up. In testing, however, we found that this kind of pinch rotation actually only had a small range of motion before becoming uncomfortable.

Since there wasn’t much value in having a very small range of time-scale adjustment, we decided to simply make it a toggle instead. For this ability, we replaced the pinch egg with a clock that sits in the user’s pinch point. At normal speed the clock ticks along quite quickly, with the longer hand completing a full rotation each second. Upon pinching, the clock time is slowed to one-third normal speed, the clock changes color, and the longer hand slows to complete a full rotation in one minute. Pinching the clock again restores time to normal speed.

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The 5 Best PSVR Games You Should Definitely Play – Road to VR

So you picked up shiny new PlayStation VR and you’re ready to dive into VR. Here’s our breakdown of the best PSVR games that you should definitely check out.

The 5 Best PSVR Games

5 – SUPERHOT VR

Though it was created first as a non-VR game, SUPERHOT’s unique ‘the world moves when you do’ slow motion mechanic just so happened to translate beautifully to VR. The world and everything in it is still as long as you are, but as you start to move, everything else does too, including the baddies trying to kill you. In SUPERHOT VR this creates a totally unique experience which plays somewhat like an action game, but with the ability to stop and think about your next move before you actually do it. The game encourages lots of movement and dodging, so you’ll want to maximize the size of your playspace and you’ll also want to play the game while standing.

4 – Farpoint

Sci-fi shooter Farpoint was the debut game to launch with the PSVR Aim controller—an optional, first-party VR gun peripheral—so it’s no surprise that the game plays best with it. In Farpoint you’ll find yourself battling for survival on an alien planet. With strong production values, rich gunplay, and an interesting set of enemies, the game successfully melds traditional ‘space marine’ FPS fundamentals with the rich immersion that comes from playing in PSVR. Farpoint technically supports the PS4 gamepad, but we highly recommend the PSVR Aim controller for the best experience. If you’re thinking about picking up the game but don’t have a PSVR Aim controller, skip the bundle—at this point it’s usually cheaper to buy the game [Amazon] and PSVR Aim [Amazon] separately.

3 – Firewall Zero Hour

If you’re looking for a tactical multiplayer shooter on PSVR, this is the one. Built from the ground up for multiplayer and the PSVR Aim controller, Firewall Zero Hour delivers all the trappings you’d expect from a tactical multiplayer shooter: a gritty, contemporary setting, familiar weapons and weapon classes, and round-based 4 vs. 4 gameplay where you only get one life. It’s tense and tactical, and demands teamplay to succeed. While the game technically supports the PS4 gamepad we highly recommend the PSVR Aim controller for the best experience; especially with all the main weapons being two-handed, playing with the gamepad often feels awkward. If you’re thinking about picking up Firewall Zero Hour but don’t have PSVR Aim yet, consider picking up the game and controller bundle [Amazon], which (unlike the Farpoint bundle) is cheaper than buying them separately.

2 – Beat Saber

Yes, Beat Saber is a rhythm game, but even if you don’t think you like rhythm games, you deserve it to yourself to give this one a try. Where traditional rhythm games are typically about pressing buttons to a beat, Beat Saber is about moving your body in a way that turns out to be very satisfying and uniquely suited to VR. It’s very easy to play—which makes it a great game even for non-gamers or quick pass-and-play at parties—but maintains a high skill ceiling which means you can sink hours into refining your technique, and get some exercise while doing it. One warning: if you hate electronic music, Beat Saber probably isn’t for you; the game’s original soundtrack is (currently) just about entirely electronica. On the other hand, if you do like electronic music then you’re in for a treat of memorable original songs. Either way you can sample the soundtrack on Spotify.

1 – ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

Interestingly, Astro Bot Rescue Mission is the only sit-down gamepad-only PSVR game on our list, and yet it takes the number one spot thanks to its delivery of an expertly crafted, polished, and playable platformer that makes use of VR in unexpected ways. While it might look like ‘just a platformer’ from the outside, Astro Bot actually makes very clever use PSVR by allowing the player to interact with the main character and the world in novel and immersive ways. For instant, the PS4 gamepad is tracked in the game world and throughout the game several ‘controller gadgets’ will attach to it for your use (like a grappling hook, water cannon, or flashlight). While longer levels mean it isn’t quite as suitable for pass-and-play like Beat Saber, the game is firmly rooted in traditional platforming game design language which means even casual gamers who have never tried VR can jump right in and pick it up as they go. That’s a double-edged sword because it means family, friends, or significant others might want to steal some time in your precious headset to play.

Honorable Mentions

  • Electronauts [our review, PC]: While it’s less of a game and more of an accessible music creativity tool, Electronauts can make anyone feel like a master DJ. If you like EDM or have any interest in mixing or making music, you’ll have a great time expressing your inner musical creativity with Electronauts.
  • Moss [our review]: If you liked Astro BotMoss should be next on your list. It’s a slightly more ‘serious’ VR platformer, but follows a similar premise of controlling a little character in a big world while occasionally interacting directly between you and the character. It’s also a rather beautiful game world worth experiencing.
  • Sprint Vector [our review, PC]: If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping (and get in a some exercise to boot), definitely check Sprint Vector. This game’s totally unique movement system has you racing and flying around huge courses while managing to keep most players totally comfortable. You won’t find speed like this anywhere else on PSVR unless it’s inside of a cockpit.
  • PlayStation VR Worlds: Consisting of a series of polished VR experiences, PlayStation VR Worlds was originally bundled with PSVR and served as a thought-provoking sampling of where virtual reality gaming is heading. Back in its heyday it was some of the best VR content out there. Today it’s still worth checking out and having on hand as some of the best demo content for showing off PSVR to VR first-timers, especially at the excellent price of $15.
  • Skyrim VR [our review]: While unmistakably a port of a (great) game from 2011, if you love RPGs you’ll find no greater depth in a VR RPG today than Skyrim VR. It remains quite clunky despite being adapted in several ways for VR (including Move support for things like swinging your sword, blocking with your shield, and shooting your bow and arrow), and it isn’t easy on the eyes, but if you can overlook its flaws, the game’s sheer depth of content will keep you content in virtual Tamriel for a long time to come.
  • Batman Arkham VR [our review]: Something of a hidden gem from the PSVR launch era—Batman: Arkham VR was made by the same studio (Rocksteady) which developed the excellent Batman: Arkham series. And though it’s very different from those games—focusing instead on Batman’s gadgets and crime scene investigations)—it was far ahead of its time in VR game design and still represents some of the best licensed superhero content available in VR today. If you’re a fan of Batman, give this one a go.
  • WipEout Omega Collection [our thoughts]Years before PSVR was released—back when it was still just a prototype called Project Morpheus—people were already fantasizing about how amazing the storied zero-G racing franchise, WipEout, could be in VR. The dream finally came true in 2017 when the WipEout Omega Collection, a remastered bundle of several WipEout games, launched with optional PSVR support, deeply enhancing the game’s adrenaline-fueled arcade racing action. Don’t push yourself though; while the VR mode has been adapted with several options to maintain comfort even at the game’s breakneck speeds, not pacing yourself could lead to nausea. Good thing there’s a free demo available to see if this one’s for you.

Did we miss something? Let us know your top recommendations in the comments below!

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OpenXR Ratified, Microsoft, Oculus, & Others to Release Implementations

OpenXR is a royalty-free standard for cross-platform VR and AR development. It’s backed by many of the biggest names in the VR and AR industries and has been in development by the consortium for two years now, organized by Khronos Group. The group today announced the ratification of OpenXR 0.9, a provisional version of the specification, which is now available for feedback from developers and implementers.

OpenXR is a work-in-progress standard that aims to unify the underlying connections between VR and AR hardware, game engines, and content, making for a more interoperable ecosystem. The standard has been in development since April 2017 and is presently supported by virtually every major hardware, platform, and engine company in the VR industry, including key AR players like Magic Leap. OpenXR’s ‘working group’, under which representatives from member companies are actively developing the standard, is facilitated by Khronos Group.

Today the group announced the ratification and release of OpenXR 0.9, a provisional version meant for evaluation by developers and implementers in the industry. The OpenXR working group plans to gather feedback to put the finishing touches on the standard before releasing OpenXR 1.0.

Along with the provisional release of the specification, Microsoft is releasing an OpenXR runtime for testing, which can enable OpenXR content compatibility with Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Oculus says they plan to provide runtime support for apps built for OpenXR on Rift and Quest later this year.

Collabora, an open-source consulting company, is today releasing Monado, an open-source SDK and runtime built for OpenXR on Linux.

OpenXR has both an application interface which sits between an XR app and platform, and a device interface which sits between the platform and the headset. Building apps, platforms, and headsets which target the OpenXR standard (instead of a proprietary interfaces) makes for a significantly more interoperable ecosystem.

For instance, it means that an app built for one OpenXR headset should run on an entirely different OpenXR headset with zero changes to the underlying code. Additionally, it means that a new entrant to the game engine market could swiftly add support for all compatible headsets by implementing support for OpenXR.

Granted, OpenXR does not necessarily mean that apps and content from one platform will work with a headset from another. Each company, even if a supporter of OpenXR, still has control over where their content is made available and which platforms support which headsets. Simply put, OpenXR is a technical foundation for interoperability, but business decisions still dictate content, device, and platform strategy.

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