Announcing The 35s! A Jog-In-Place VR Game

The 35s is a small game that I built from the ground up around one of my favorite locomotion styles in VR to date, jog-in-place. And what better way to stress test a locomotion system than to be chased by an ever growing mass of… creepy doll monsters? That’s the basic premise of The 35s.

Locomotion is one of the most fascinating problems VR faces today. Over the course of the last 5 years or so we’ve seen two major camps form in the locomotion interface landscape, teleportation and smooth locomotion. Each have their own set of trade-offs and each have an equally vocal base of advocates more than happy to explain why they find it the most suitable option.

Teleport tends to be the most comfortable option, it also can encourage players to physically engage with their playspace as more finite movement tends to be a little easier and takes a little less time. But it’s also a very unnatural locomotion style that isn’t cohesive with the way humans move through a space.

Smooth locomotion works like most traditional first person games; push the analog stick and your character will start gliding around the world. This movement style tends to feel more immersive as we can explore an environment in a much more natural way. It has a major trade-off though in that it can cause a lot of user discomfort in the form of motion sickness. There are tricks developers have found to mitigate this effect, like occluding the user’s peripheral vision during movement (what I use in the 35s). Also games like Echo VR have found a 1:1 motion with your arm and flinging yourself around a zero G environment can be surprisingly comfortable. The other and I think more concerning issue with smooth locomotion is that it tends to discourage user’s from physically engaging with their playspace. Our instincts drive us to solutions that require the least amount of energy to achieve a certain goal and in the case of movement, it’s a lot easier to stand still and glide your way closer to something, than it is to take a physical step forward even if that step forward would be more immersive or satisfying, like for instance stepping out from around a corner to take a shot in Rec Room paintball.

Jog-in-place is a method of locomotion designed to bridge that gap. The core concept is to listen to the headset’s positional movement in the Y direction (up and down) to derive when the user is jogging and how fast they are jogging and slide the character in tandem with that. The effect can be surprisingly convincing and it has a couple of advantages over the main two methods. We’re tying motion to a physical action which can feel more comfortable and the jostling of the inner ear helps mitigate motion sickness slightly. We also can now explore an environment in a more natural way while still engaging with our playspace physically.

Jog-in-place isn’t without it’s own tradeoffs though, namely, we are assuming when the headset is moving that the user must be jogging when they could be enacting a myriad of different actions. This means we have to filter out unwanted headset motion noise, and this isn’t an exact science, there are certain motions that are hard to distinguish between jogging and something else. Luckily there’s a lot we can do to mitigate this issue. There is another issue with jog-in-place which is that it is not compatible with disabled people, or people who simply prefer to play VR sitting down. There are work-arounds for this using a technique called arm-swinger which can be used as a fall-back system and further still you could fall back to a slowly ramped smooth locomotion (similar to Mirror’s Edge).

I hope that this, admittedly derpy attempt at a game might inspire other developers to consider adding jog-in-place or other similar more physically based locomotion methods to their VR experiences because I think it can add a lot of value for players who appreciate the physical aspect VR provides as a medium.

You can download and play the game for free here.

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there travelers!

Building the Cheapest “VR Ready” PC

 

 

 

The Cheapest VR Ready PC

 

Inspired by the article posted here wherein it loosely states that you will spend a minimum of $1000 to build a VR Ready machine, I was curious to see just how cheap you could get away with, while still technically meeting the recommended specs provided by Oculus and Valve.

 

First we’ll make a build directly adhering to the Oculus Recommended specs (the more demanding of the two), and then build, no dignity spared, the cheapest possible VR Ready machine. As a note to that, just because it is the cheapest doesn’t mean you should actually build it. This is more just for fun, and I’m making a lot of sacrifices that I personally would not make in my own VR build (e.g. SSD instead of HDD, more expandable motherboard, AMD vs Intel, ect.).

 

Recommended Specs and Bundles

Turning first to the recommended specs, let’s see what kind of price you can get away with on these components.

  • Motherboard: BIOSTAR B85MG Ver. 6.x $45
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590 $200
  • RAM: Mushkin Enhanced Silverline 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 $27
  • Storage: WL 500GB $30
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 970 $250
  • Power: EVGA 100-B1-0500-KR 500W $40
  • Case: DIYPC MA01-G Black/Green USB 3.0 Micro-ATX Mini Tower $20
  • OS: Windows 10 $100

The total comes out to $712 before tax and shipping. Not too unbearably pricy, but ideally we’d want to get the price down to around the cost of an xbox one or PS4 ($400).

Oculus have also partnered with a number of different companies to bring VR ready machines to market. You can find them here. The cheapest option available this way is the ASUS G11CD at around $800. Also interesting, Cyberpower has a VR Ready PC listed at $674 on Newegg, considering you wouldn’t have to build it yourself, this might be the most convenient option out there right now.

And without further adieu,

 

The Cheapo VR…o Build

  • Motherboard: MSI 760GMA-P34 $45
  • CPU: AMD FX-6350 $130
  • RAM: Mushkin Enhanced Silverline 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 $27
  • Storage: WL 500GB $30
  • Graphics: AMD RX 480 $200
  • PSU: EVGA 100-B1-0500-KR 500W $40
  • Case: DIYPC MA01-G Black/Green USB 3.0 Micro-ATX Mini Tower $20
  • OS: Windows 10 $100

The total comes out to $592….. Not. Very. Cheap. x___x

 

Some Final Thoughts

All in all, you’re realistically looking at a $1500-$1600 for a headset and a PC to power it… I’m thinking, people have a hard enough time justifying the price of a new gaming console. Desktop VR makes that seem like chump change.

That being said, when you take that cost and compare it to the current, mid tier iMac model, which starts at $1500, the price could be seen as more reasonable. The potential utility of VR far outweighs the formidable iMac for roughly the same cost. But the problem is, VR really isn’t that useful just yet. It’s main focus has been entertainment, but it’s the practical everyday use cases that will really sell VR to everyone. When we start to realize that VR breaks the shackles of typical window viewed applications and opens up whole new ways of processing and interacting with information.

Rant done, hope this was somewhat informative/entertaining. Stay safe travelers.

Under the Microscope: Metroid Prime > Part 2

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Welcome to Under the Microscope with your esteemed host, Doctor Bambi! Under the Microscope is all about walking through great games and dissecting elements of the level, game, and sound design. As an aspiring game designer I thought this would be a good way to learn from the best and also contribute to the community.  I’m sure there are points I’ll misstate or perhaps you have more you’d like to add, so feel free to speak up if you feel so inclined. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride!

So today we begin the opening scene. The first text appears on screen telling you why you’re here. A distress beacon picked up on a space pirate research facility. Oh man, we’re just asking for trouble. What horrors could await us?? Cue eerie music. Fade up on space. Then we pan to a planet. And then…. Samus’s ship zips into view. The music picks up as she moves in and docks. Popping out from a porthole atop her vessel, she does a completely necessary quadruple front flip and busts a move up onto that platform. We hear the familiar soothing music sting as the camera swoops into Samus’s visor… Brace yourself, for it is time.

So one thing to look at, is why did they have her do that dramatic entrance? I believe this is the first exposure we’ve had of Samus in 3D. Also, at the time, Gamecube graphics were absolutely amazing. I think Retro knew that if they were going to get players engaged and excited about controlling Samus in 3D, they needed to convey just how much of a bad A she really is. When she hits the deck, there’s an audible thump that gives off a sense of power and presence, you definitely don’t want to get in a bar fight with this lady.

Now we should take a moment to address the heads up display, cause who doesn’t love a great HUD and this game definitely has one. In most games, I hate a lot of information on the screen, blocking me from the important moments unfolding before me. In the case of this game though, all of the HUD elements not only feel good, but they actually help immerse the player in the role of Samus. She most definitely would want info on her visor. Also, all elements are at least slightly opaque. In no time your brain will have adjusted to them and, for all intensive purposes, be moved to the back of your conscious. Also also, when you turn your head, the display lags behind for a split second, which just feels awesome.

So the first obstacle that we run into is a force field. It’s quite apparent, the developers want us to understand how shooting is going to work in this game. Four glowing targets are to be shot before you can proceed. This teaches you how to lock onto targets and how to fire. I found it interesting that you absolutely cannot jump back onto your ship at this point. There was no plot point to explain this and it feels a little impractical. But I think they didn’t want the player jumping up onto the ship where a collision box is set up, firing the save menu. Something kind of Easter eggish is that you can shoot the chunks of rock floating overhead and they’ll explode into tiny pieces. A very nice touch.

Well, I’ll have to leave it there for now Glen Mates. There’s so much to talk about at every step of the way. Hope you got something out of it. If you haven’t already, you should head to my facebook and give a like there and share with your friends. 🙂 Okay, okay, next time I promise I’ll actually get to playing the actual game *audience gasp again* and dive into the depths of this space pirate research facility. Those danged pirates!