Monthly Archives: May 2019

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite AR Game now available in Australia and New Zealand

Augmented Reality company Niantic has announced the beta launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite in Australia and New Zealand. In development since 2017, this new AR game offers gameplay similar to Niantic’s other games Pokémon GO and Ingress. According to the developer:

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite combines content and characters you know and love from both the original Harry Potter series and the Fantastic Beasts films in a unique Wizarding World experience. It’s up to you to ready your wand, prepare your potions, brush up your spells and help prevent The Calamity from exposing the secrets of the wizarding world.

As you step outside and explore the world, the Map will reveal Traces of magic, highlighting the location of magical Foundables. While these Traces can be found all around you, certain Foundables may be more likely to appear at various types of real-world locations including parks, banks, municipal buildings, college campuses, libraries, monuments, zoos, art galleries, and more. Cast a variety of spells to overcome the Confoundable magic, keep the magical Foundables safe, and send them back to the wizarding world. By returning Foundables, you’ll earn unique rewards that can be tracked in the game Registry.

More information and signups are available at the website.

Capture

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

VR Review: Vader Immortal on Oculus Quest

When the original launch titles were announced for the new Oculus Quest VR headset, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Vader Immortal. As a lifetime Star Wars fan, the idea of entering the Star Wars universe in virtual reality is extremely appealing to me. Having played countless video games in George Lucas’s universe, it’s only natural to want to have a Star Wars experience in VR.

Last year, I was fortunate to have tried Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire at The VOID in Orlando, Florida. That was my first experience of Star Wars in multi-player VR, and I was not disappointed (see my review).

Vader Immortal is a single-player game, which takes plays in the same setting as Secrets of the Empire. Set mainly at Vader’s home base on the planet Mustafar, this is an episodic story (currently Episode One is the only chapter available), in which you play a smuggler who gets captured by the Empire. Brought to Vader initially as a prisoner, you are  eventually revealed as having inherent abilities which are key to the story.

Interactive Story

I will not spoil the plot here, but I will say that this initial episode hits on many of the iconic moments and experiences that fans have always wanted to participate in. Be the captain of a smuggler ship? (Check.) Use a lightsaber? (Check.) Escape from a detention cell? (Check.) Meet Darth Vader up-close? (Check.) There are more moments like this in the hour-long experience, some of them surprising and unexpected. Suffice to say this is a very satisfying experience of “living a Star Wars story” that you could not have in any other medium (books, films, or non-VR games). If you are a Star Wars fan and have not experienced virtual reality, Vader Immortal is the best way to do it.

The new Oculus Quest has been reviewed elsewhere, but I will say that the graphical quality and performance of Vader Immortal are fantastic. I experienced no glitches or technical problems, and the gameplay was easy enough to be enjoyable but not overly challenging. In fact, the main story mode had little if any gameplay elements, but mostly involved interacting with objects in the environment in order to advance the story. This was perfectly fine for me, as I embraced the experience more as an adventure rather than a challenge. (I also want to mention that the voice actor playing Vader gives an amazing impression of James Earl Jones. I really thought it was him, until I watched the credits.)

Lightsaber Dojo

Fortunately for those who are looking for more of a challenge, Vader Immortal also includes a wave-based game mode called “Lightsaber Dojo.” This mini-game involves lightsaber combat with training remotes (the floating drones which Luke Skywalker used on the Millennium Falcon). Highly replayable and offering rewards for completing different challenges, this mode provides more than an hour of additional gameplay. My only complaint would be that there is no combat versus other characters (only robotic opponents). Hopefully this will be included in a future update, or in an entirely new game.

For the price of only $9.99, Vader Immortal offers one of the best VR experiences currently available on the Oculus Quest (if not the best). I’m really looking forward to future episodes of the story!

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Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Growing Pains: VR Ecosystem Changes for 2019

In the first four months of 2019, we have already seen significant changes within the virtual reality ecosystem. Although there is much anticipation and excitement for the Oculus Quest standalone headset (releasing on May 21st), other developments have raised warnings and concerns about VR in general.

The first of these concerns relates to social VR. Both High Fidelity and Sansar have decided to back off from VR in their respective platforms. Many VR enthusiasts believe that social VR is critical for the creation of the “metaverse” — essentially a virtual reality version of the Internet, where people will communicate, work, and play in VR.

Not all social VR platforms are going away. AltSpace VR, Bigscreen Beta, RecRoom and VRChat are still active at the moment. Facebook also remains committed to its social platforms such as Oculus Rooms and Oculus Venues.

Changes are also happening for Mobile VR. Since the release of the Oculus Go standalone headset last year, the appeal of smartphone-based VR has steadily declined. Mobile headsets such as Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR have essentially gone by the wayside. Originally a stop-gap solution, they inevitably became obsolete when the all-in-one mobile headsets became available.

Gear VR2

Finally, Facebook continues to make changes in their management team, while remaining enthusiastic for standalone VR (and possibly re-thinking their approach for high-end tethered headsets such as the Oculus Rift S.)

All of these changes are essential growing pains for a technology that is still seeking its “sweetspot” with consumers. Perhaps the Oculus Quest will be the device that finally causes VR to go mainstream. If not, it’s only a matter of time before there will be another.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Oculus Quest Review Round-up

The Oculus Quest standalone VR headset will be available on May 21st. Many reviewers have already given their take on this exciting new device. See below for a collection of the latest reviews:

c|net: Facebook’s new VR headset it the best thing I’ve tried this year

Digital Trends: With the cord-free Quest, Oculus finally makes high-quality VR easy

Engadget: Oculus Quest review: VR freedom comes at a cost

Game Informer: Oculus Quest review: The next step for VR

GameSpot: Oculus Quest review: No PC? No problem

IGN: Oculus Quest review: A new reality

Mashable: Oculus Quest review: A new milestone for VR

PCMAG.COM: Oculus Quest Review and Rating

PIVIRAL: The Best VR Headset of 2019

Pocket-lint: A cable-free VR experience that’s surprisingly satisfying

RoadToVR: Oculus Quest Review: The First Great Standalone VR Headset

TechRadar: Oculus Quest review: An all-in-one virtual reality system for everyone

Tom’s Guide: Oculus Quest Hands-on: The New King of Mobile VR

Trusted Reviews: The Oculus Quest offers an exciting future for VR after shaking free its wired shackles

The Verge: Oculus Quest review: a great system with a frustrating compromise

Wareable: Goodbye wires, hello total freedom

WIRED: Oculus Quest review: VR has never felt this free

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Gymnasia VR Review: Unique and Creepy Stop-Motion Puppetry

Gymnasia, the latest project from Felix & Paul Studios, recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s also available for viewing at home on Oculus VR headsets, for the price of $4.99.

Clocking in at around six minutes, this short film is strange but engaging, presented in a gothic style that is creepy but not scary. Fans of Tim Burton will definitely enjoy the experience, but it’s worth seeing by anyone interested in cinematic VR and/or animated films.

Although there is not much of a plot, this VR experience is very atmospheric and effective. Set in an abandoned school gymnasium, creepy music plays while children’s shadows appear on the walls around you. Soon a basketball starts bouncing on its own, followed by many more of them, as their sounds reverberate from the walls. Eventually, you are introduced to a pair of animated dolls dressed in gothic outfits, who engage in a bizarre musical performance.

Gymnasia

As with any stop-motion projects, it’s clear that a lot of time and creative energy was spent on this project. The attention to detail of the miniatures is remarkable, and VR enables a close-up view of the artistry at work. I only wish it was longer, with more of a story. Hopefully there will be more to come in the future.

Here is a behind the scenes look at the making of this project:

More information is available at the Oculus Store:

Step into the stillness of an abandoned school and enter GYMNASIA, a place where the ghostly ephemera of a lost childhood await you. Recall the particular sights and sounds of a child’s world through the echoes of ball games, school lessons and choir recitals. GYMNASIA reanimates the memories of those forgotten days.

This ground-breaking, cinematic VR experience is the first collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada, Felix & Paul Studios and Clyde Henry Productions. Blending 3D 360-degree video, stop-motion, miniatures and CGI, GYMNASIA pushes the art of puppet animation into uncharted territory. The first VR experience to induce the elusive anxiety that occurs when the lines between what’s real and unreal are blurred beyond belief, GYMNASIA is a dark dream–unsettling and weirdly wonderful. Duration: 6 minutes 29 seconds.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.