There’s Always Money in the VR Money Pit

Road to VR’s Ben Lang:

For VR to succeed in the consumer space, an ecosystem of developers making content that users want to buy is an absolute must. Oculus for its part has attempted to kickstart that ecosystem by investing hefty sums in content developers, and now the company says it’s starting to pay off.

This is immediately followed by three different bolded UPDATES: (with three months in-between some of them) desperately assuring us that yes there is money in VR, supposedly more than eight games have made over one million dollars. They might even be able to fund their comeback game if there’s no money in VR. Sure glad I didn’t name this site “Road to VR.”

Star Trek: Bridge Crew Looks Cool As Heck

In the 90’s I went to Star Trek conventions with other nerds who wanted to look at nerd things and circulate pirated tapes of Red Dwarf. With that context in mind I will now tell you that I am extremely psyched to play Star Trek: Bridge Crew because who hasn’t wanted to be on the bridge of a spaceship gesticulating wildly with a bunch of other lunatics in VR space to accomplish whatever Trek bullshit the game calls for.

James Davenport for Windows Gamer (who also produced that incredibly silly animated gif in the top there):

None of us know what we’re doing, and that’s the primary thrust of Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Four people work together on different substations of a ship, moving it around dangerous anomalies, scanning for threats, and shunting power to different systems.

However, it sounds like you’re going to have a difficult time getting the best out of the game as you need many friends with VR setups and even though the game’s multiplayer is cross-platform it’ll still be a hassle to get going according to Games Radar’s Andy Hartup:

You’ll probably never play Star Trek Bridge Crew. At least, not how it’s really meant to be enjoyed. That’s not because this is a poor game, or that it lacks features or fan service – it’s just too rarefied an experience. While you can crew both the USS Aegis and the Enterprise with fewer than four human crew members, it really isn’t the same experience. And while you’ll be able to find randoms or players from LFG groups to boldly go with, Bridge Crew is infinitely better when played with friends. So that’s four of you, with VR headsets, and a copy of the game, and the will and time to role-play Star Trek. Even we, a website that writes about games, VR, and Star Trek really struggled to put in the necessary playing time and overcome the technical hurdles to squeeze the best out of this wonderful game.

One thing that might make a fun multiplayer Bridge Crew experience slightly more likely is that anyone who buys an HTC Vive in June (you’re not going to wait for some kind of revision and price drop at this point, really?) will get the game for free.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew is $50 and available now for Windows with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive HMDs on Steam, or Playstation VR on the Playstation 4.

Owlchemy Labs Scooped Up By Google

In your latest sign that VR software development is totally unsustainable as a standalone business, Owlchemy Labs has been bought by Google:

Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Owlchemy Labs to Google. They’ve created award-winning games like Job Simulator and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality which have really thoughtful interactive experiences that are responsive, intuitive, and feel natural. They’ve helped set a high bar for what engagement can be like in virtual worlds, and do it all with a great sense of humor!

This doesn’t bode well for Owlchemy’s future output. I look forward to their shares vesting and the developer’s inevitable exit back to independent companies who actually make games again.

Building a Gaming Computer in 2016

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This year I set out to replace my aging i7-2600k-based Intel gaming machine. Virtual reality games are incredibly demanding on your computer’s hardware and must reach a very high framerate or you will puke if the framerate drops while playing around in VR. They require the latest generation of processors at a minimum, and although I probably won’t have a first-generation VR HMD, I had access to a deal for about half-off a new processor from Intel and wanted to be ready for the second or third generation.

If it were possible, I would have bought an off-the-shelf computer from Apple. At various points Apple has made hand-waving gestures in the direction of orienting towards computer gaming only to drop support later on. It must not be a business they’re interested in because they do not build a decent gaming computer. The closest option Apple has is the Mac Pro which was last refreshed in 2013 and it costs over $3000 to start with an ancient workstation graphics card. It’s a beautiful computer that would handle everything I want to do with it besides gaming.

I’ll keep using Apple laptops for managing free software projects, writing, photography, and a billion more non-gaming tasks, but for gaming there is no substitute to a desktop computer. I know many people buy gaming laptops, but they’re difficult to keep up-to-date when you can’t replace the video card. That might be changing with the latest iteration of Thunderbolt, but you still won’t be able to alter much else internally if you want to keep many other components of the system up-to-date without replacing the entire machine. Not the worst thing in the world, it works for some people, but working on computer guts for the past 20 years is a habit that it’s nice to keep going with until there is a better option.

There have been some changes since I last built a gaming computer in 2012.

Component selection

The last time I built a computer PC Part Picker wasn’t around. It’s a fantastic site that has made it much easier to be sure that the components you pick out will fit together and aren’t the worst decisions in the world thanks to their user reviews from other people who have tried the same components and similar configurations. Using their compatibility checker helps you be sure that your CPU cooler fits in the case you’ve chosen, that the power supply has enough wattage for your other components, and that you don’t miss out on a required component that you’ll need. For example, unlocked processors from Intel no-longer include a CPU cooler and you might miss out on that if you hadn’t built a computer in the past four years.

Even with PC Part Picker there are still too many choices when selecting components. Motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte’s has over 20 different Z170 options that support the current line of CPUs. All almost completely identical to each other under two different categories of “Ultra Durable” and “Gaming.” I’d like to play games and not have my motherboard explode, thank you. There are hundreds of other options for power supplies, memory configurations, and every other component. Here’s what I picked.

CPU

Although the recommended specifications Oculus put out for their VR HMD included the lower-end i5-4590, I wanted to go with something that would last for a while longer. There are two processors that you might want to choose if you’re building a higher-end gaming computer, the Skylake i7-6600k and i7-6700k. I went with the 4GHz i7-6700k. It’s a step up from the four year old 2600k</a,> and gets a bunch of upgrades in jumping from Sandy Bridge‘s chipset features to Skylake. Skipping Ivy Bridge and the LGA 1150 socket’s Haswell family entirely makes it feel like a real transition to get to DDR 4 memory.

I chose the unlocked k model instead of the cheaper regular i7-6700 because the unlocked model is clocked significantly higher with a base clock of 4Ghz. The locked i7-6700 starts at a base clock of 3.4 GHz and has to hit a turbo boost (remeber that from your 486?) to get to 4 GHz.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

CPU Cooling

Water cooling is almost the default now when building your own system. It used to be that if you wanted to use water cooling you would have select various components of a water cooling system and fill it yourself. Hoping all along that you put everything together correctly and that the system wouldn’t spew water all over your other expensive components once it was assembled and turned on.

You can now buy a closed-loop water cooler that is preassembled and filled. The downside to a closed-loop water cooler is that they only work with one component, CPU or GPU, and it isn’t as flexible in terms of configuration options as you could have configured one system to work for both with an open-loop. If you want to configure it for a GPU you would also generally need to purchase another bracket that matches your GPU to fit and most likely void your GPU’s warranty. Many cases look large enough these days that you could install two closed-loop water cooling systems, one for the CPU and one for the GPU, but that sounds like a ridiculous idea in practice.

The upside is that whichever you attach it to will run cooler and not expel heat directly into your case like traditional CPU heatsink/fan coolers do. Still, there isn’t much reason to choose a water-cooler over air cooling if you aren’t going to overclock. There’s at least some increase in upfront cost and a significant increase in risk that even a closed-loop system might leak and ruin components. That risk is why I still chose to go with air cooling this year and picked out the Phanteks PH-TC12DX CPU Cooler to match the case and its components.

The model name is completely goofy and not at all useful as a description of the product to a normal human. The cooler is so enormous that it has a special support structure that wraps around to the back of the motherboard with plates and connectors to help it remain attached since it’ll be constantly pulling that entire weight on the processor and motherboard if your case is at an angle. When I was first assembling the computer I missed one step in the incredibly poorly laid-out instructions and the cooler was not securely attached which cost another few minutes to re-attach it after it started to tip over like a shortsighted billionaire idiot’s rocket.

The cooler has good reviews, and despite the ridiculous support structure and poor manual it really isn’t that difficult to install. I’m not the kind of person who overclocks their computer and the current ambient temperatures in my workspace are too high to even think about it, that is why I am satisfied that this cooler is both efficient and quiet enough while playing games or just working at regular CPU clock speeds. It also includes thermal paste in a tiny syringe just like your typical Arctic Silver.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Memory

Although there are some Z170 motherboards that support DDR 3, why not get the most performance by using DDR 4 if you can?

DDR 4 memory might also be compatible with future processor chipsets, saving us a cost down the road when DDR 3 isn’t an option. There is some debate as to the performance improvements of overclocked memory, but I still went with what I thought was relatively safe 3200MHz memory choice from G.Skill. Their model name is, I hope you’re sitting down for this, F4-3200C16D-16GTZB.

Since practically every case is now another opportunity to measure the size of your e-penis through a window on the side, every component has to look ridiculous and memory is no exception. Red and brushed metal fins make these stand out as best they can if you care about that. I don’t, G.Skill is just a well-respected RAM manufacturer that reviews well and these modules honestly look less silly than some other choices like everything from Corsair.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Form-factor/Case

Small form factor computers aren’t just from Shuttle anymore, there are a wide variety of micro ATX and mini ITX compatible cases, motherboards, and power supplies designed to have full-sized graphics boards installed alongside. I really wanted to use NZXT’s Manta case. It’s beautiful and different from every other boring black rectangle computer case, but in the end it doesn’t make sense when I will need to plug in expansion boards and the mini ITX format of the Manta only allows for one expansion, the graphics card.

What about Micro ATX? Similar problem. These motherboards generally have two slots for graphics cards and one pci-express expansion card slot for other types of cards. You can plug something beside a graphics card into a graphics card slot, but doing so slows down the graphics board connectivity.

In the end, I’m back to full-size ATX with the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX. A ridiculous product name from Phanteks but at least it is a proper name instead of a series of letters and numbers. Just like the CPU cooler, the Enthoo Evolv also had major issues with poor grammar choices in its manual, which didn’t help when I was trying to understand their design decisions while making my decisions in building this computer. The good news is that it is pre-configured so that you only have to connect one fan cable to your motherboard thanks to the modern convenience of a built-in fan controller. This is only a downside if you want your motherboard to be able to individually control each fan in your case and you can always go back to that though you’ll be able to have fewer overall cooling fans if you do so.

This isn’t really a fault of the manufacturer, but when I received the Enthoo Evolv ATX from Amazon it was delivered with the case’s exterior cardboard box as the only protection and that was completely soaking wet. Thanks to what I otherwise would have thought was excessive usage of plastic bags around the case itself, it was thankfully undamaged.

The case is the component that I think most people put the most aesthetic thought into, and I did the same. It was very difficult to pick something and there wasn’t anything as unique as the Manta in a full ATX option. While the Enthoo Evolv ATX is more understated than the Manta (what isn’t?) it fit in better next to my Macbook Pro by sharing a similar silver color option. Overall I am very happy with the aesthetic choice of the slightly tinted window being less e-penisy than a totally clear one and it is the sturdiest case I’ve ever owned.

The front panel of the case has no option for installing disc drives or anything else. It has a small door that hides two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and a tiny reset button. Fewer cases sold today have the option to install a disc drive and I’m not going to miss it. I don’t watch movies on my computer via discs and it’s been a long time since I’ve had to use one for anything but older games that aren’t on Steam or gog yet. Windows ships on USB thumb drives by default. If you’re even slightly interested in using a disc drive you do have options, but I think I’ll be happy with running over to Best Buy to pick up an external drive if I need it. Welcome to 2016 fellow computer builders, my 2013 laptop doesn’t have a disc-drive either.

Perhaps the only real downside to the Enthoo Evolv ATX is that the windowed side-door has a tendency to come off when it is opened and the case is laying on its side. The side-door is only held on at the joints by two metal pins which don’t have any kind of cap on the top end, and it is nice to be able to remove it. Maybe this is just an issue with the one I received. It’s not a big deal and if you were to pick the same case I would just recommend that you take off the side-panel while working on it on the case’s back.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Data Storage

You’re probably already familiar with solid-state drives now, if not here’s what you need to know: They’re faster at everything, more reliable, and still more expensive per-gigabyte so you’ll probably want a secondary spinning-disk drive if you intend to store more than a few hundred gigabytes on your computer.

I picked the Samsung 850 Evo 1 Terabyte. It’s fast, reliable, and in hindsight I probably should have picked a more reasonably priced option from Sandisk which is almost $100 cheaper (Amazon link) though also slightly slower. Normal humans are not going to notice the performance difference between the two.

Samsung’s Magician software has an incredibly silly name but is absolutely required to install even though it attempts to override some of Microsoft’s settings for Windows. It has become essential if only as a firmware updates delivery mechanism for the SSD at some point. Their last major SSDs had a performance-loss issue that was solved with new firmware and other Samsung tools. I’m still not sure if I trust Samsung’s Magician software to adjust various Windows settings, but at least it can update SSD firmware without much of a hassle.

There is also the option of a newer SSD connection technology that skips SATA altogether and connects directly to the pci-express bus. While performance is important to gaming and especially virtual-reality gaming, this is absolutely not a requirement today and if it were somehow to become incredibly important you could use this SSD as the secondary drive and get the new technology as long as you pick a motherboard with m.2 connectors and enough pci-express slots if it ends up being something else. There are caveats to m.2 depending on the configuration of pci-express lanes supporting pci-express slots in addition to m.2, which cuts down on the speed of your graphics board’s connectivity. I wouldn’t worry about this for now, but it might become more important in the future.

It would be great if motherboard manufacturer’s had more options for people who do not care about SLI for video cards and instead focused on expansion options for other components.

If you decide to go with the Samsung 850 Evo as well, here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

For my secondary storage option I chose this 2TB Seagate SSHD. It’s a hybrid drive that has a small solid-state cache as well as the spinning discs we’re used to. The hybrid part is probably not strictly useful, but it should offer some small performance boost when I have a game installed to that drive.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link for the Seagate 2TB SSHD.

Motherboard

This is one of the craziest things to pick. There are so many options that offer so many different choices of feature sets and aesthetic designs. I looked at options from MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte, and other smaller motherboard manufacturers. My last build had a Gigabyte motherboard, and in the end my current research indicated that Gigabyte is still a good choice.

Out of their 20+ Z170 options to match the Skylake processors, I chose the GA-Z170X-Gaming 7. It does claim to be “Ultra-Durable” as well as suitable for gaming. It also had a number of features that matched what I needed in a computer that should work for virtual reality headsets.

The Oculus Rift HMD currently requires 4 USB ports, and although the HTC Vive requires only 1 I wanted to be prepared for whichever headset would come down the line. This motherboard has plenty of regular USB 3.0 ports in addition to a reversible 3.1 USB Type-C port if it becomes more useful to have that down the line. Right now that port also supports Thunderbolt 3 which lets you daisy chain many devices so that’s why you might only need one of them.

This was also one of the few motherboards that has decent hardware for audio instead of some garbage realtek sound chip. If you’re planning to use an external or internal sound card it might not seem important to have good onboard audio, but I think it speaks to the overall quality of the board that it does have a higher quality option.

The downside to all motherboards with the 1151 socket for Skylake Intel chips is that the pins are in the socket. That might be good because it is generally cheaper to replace a motherboard than it is to replace the processor if the pins get bent or broken. This issue caused some headaches when my computer wouldn’t boot and I thought the problem was memory incompatibility due to the error the motherboard displayed on its handy two-digit hardware code display. My motherboard arrived with a few pins that were slightly out of position (you can see them in the bottom right of the picture up above) and putting them back into position was more difficult than doing it to the processor. As soon as the pins were back in place the computer booted right up with the 3200MHz memory at full-speed. Maybe we could move to a pin-less socket in the future with contact-pads on both the processor and motherboard.

Gigabyte’s software is frankly awful, but is still an improvement over my last motherboard. They have one utility to download that can download all of the other utilities. What is kind of crazy is that Gigabyte still ships the GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 with its software on a disc instead of a USB thumb drive. I ended up having to use one of my own thumb-drives to copy the networking driver over to the computer. This is probably an issue for all of the motherboards you buy today. I hope they can change this as every computer still has USB ports.

There are many cheaper motherboard options, I don’t believe that there is a similar level of value in many of the cheaper options.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Video Card

Both of the new Nvidia cards, the 1080 and 1070 are now available but almost only in the expensive “founders edition” until supply meets up with demand. You’re not a founder if you are paying for something and not receiving a share of the profit the company makes. For the first few weeks with this computer I was still using an older 970, 3.5 gigabytes of RAM and all. I just got a 1070 and don’t have much to say about it besides that it is faster than the 970. It might not be a big deal today, but it is the final component you need to be ready for virtual reality. HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift both require at least a 970. The 1070 should be good for a few years more than the 970.

The 1060 was just announced and will be cheaper than the 1070 and still faster than a 980 when it is released later this month. It sounds like a great deal for playing games today if you aren’t interested in virtual reality.

The one issue with this card is that the display port connector supposedly doesn’t work with the HTC Vive. Nvidia is investigating the issue. It is kind of ridiculous that it doesn’t work out of the box and that this wasn’t discovered and resolved by Nvidia earlier. VR support is a big deal for people buying these cards.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link for a search for 1070 cards.

Power Supply

Brands of power supplies supposedly vary greatly in quality from model to model due to differences in which manufacturer actually built model x versus model y for brand z. I say “supposedly” because I have not personally run into an issue with a power supply in the past decade. These days I think you are fine as long as your power supply has some kind of brand attached to it that you have heard of previously.

There are, however, a few things you do want to be picky about when selecting a power supply.

I try to stick with around 650-750 watt power supplies for my computers because I never have more than one graphics card, which is generally going to be the one item that draws the most power. One graphics board and a good processor like the 6700k might not need 750 watts, but if somehow you were to get a not-so-great power supply what you would end up with is one that cannot meet the advertised wattage. By how much? A few hundred watts.

The other thing that I now care about that I did not before is the advertised efficiency of the power supply. That’s where you get your bronze or silver or gold rating. I’m not an electrician, so take what I say here with a few dump trucks of salt. My understanding of a power supply’s efficiency is how much of the wattage input into the supply is converted to waste heat, and how much is legitimately used for the output. So, if your 1000 watt power supply has a demand of 500 watts from the other computer components and the power supply actually uses 950 watts to supply those 500 watts to the components and the rest of those 450 watts are expelled as waste heat, well, then you’ve bought an incredibly shitty power supply and should have just gotten a more efficient 650 watt unit.

The final thing that you are going to want to look for in a good power supply is that it is modular. Modular power supplies let you choose what cables you need. So you could choose to hook up two hard drives, one video card, your motherboard, and you won’t have cables that aren’t connected to anything laying around your case.

All that to say, don’t cheap out on power supply. It’s a component that ages well and if you get a good one today you can easily take it on to your future computer builds.

I chose the EVGA SuperNOVA 750 G1. It’s the most boring component in the system, but it meets all of these criteria. This SuperNOVA is 750 watts, it’s got “gold rated efficiency” which equates to 90% efficiency “under typical load” according to EVGA, and it is modular.

Here’s the manufacturer’s page and here is an Amazon link.

Conclusion

Picking the right components for a do-it-yourself gaming computer takes more research and work than putting those components together. I actually tried to go to a Microsoft store and see what off-the-shelf options they had before buying this, they had no desktop computer towers. I tried Best Buy, they had nothing comparable in-store and every option they had online was way more expensive than building it myself and had lower-quality components. The same was true for all of the system builders available online.

After building your own computer there are many points of failure and many different warranties to keep track of. If one component fails and you do not have a backup you will be without your gaming computer for weeks. On the rare occasion when I have had Mac hardware fail I have been able to make an appointment and get the issue resolved or the computer replaced, by Apple, with a newer model at no cost to me. Sometimes on the same day.

All that said, this computer is great. It’s going to work well for virtual reality gaming whenever I’m able to get a headset in the next year or two, and I’ll be able to upgrade the components that need upgrading for the next 4-5 years without a complete rebuild.

The current recommended specification for VR is almost identical between the Oculus Rift and the SteamVR HTC Vive. It’s based on an i5-4590 and a GTX 970. Oculus even partnered with system builders to make systems that are VR-ready. That should be what developers are targeting as a recommended specification for their VR games for a few years. This build is based on the i7-6700k and GTX 1070, it should be good for a few more years after that.

Bethesda’s E3 2016 Press Briefing Notes

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Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb are back for the pre-show from the old Rev 3 and TechTV days to present the Bethesda pre-E3. It’s kind of refreshing to watch people who know how to act on camera as opposed to the awkward executives of other E3 presentations.

Glad to see Bethesda acknowledging the horrible massacre by wearing rainbow ribbons instead of pretending it didn’t happen. EA

They’re opening with a DOS screen booting and it’s launching… Quake!!! All pre-rendered, non-ingame footage but I am very happy to see characters returning from Quake 3. It’s called Quake Champions.

Here’s the trailer:

Tim Willits is coming out on stage to talk about how much he loves talking about Quake: Champions. Competitive, arena style first person shooter. Looks like per-character abilities. Undoubtly using the finest ioquake3 engine fork. More seriously Tim Willits is talking about the technical details in that it’ll support 120hz framerates and responsiveness.

Tim walks off stage after announcing that there will be more info at Quakecon. Haven’t been since 2008, wish I could go.

Pete Hines is onstage now to let us know about how successful Bethesda has been at making and publishing games.

Pete Hines is talking about The Elder Scrolls: Legends, a CCG. There’s a trailer Wake me up when it’s over.

It’ll be coming to iPad, Mac, iPhones, and shitty Android tablets.

A trailer demonstrates Fallout 4: Contraptions, which is going to add elevators and all of the components you need to build a rube goldberg machine.

The trailer moves on to Nuka World?! A theme park in Fallout 4?

Video continues on to Fallout: Shelter coming to Windows later on.

Skyrim is getting a big overhaul, graphically, and mods will be on the new console versions of Skyrim: Special Edition. As rumored.  Out October 28th 2016.

Here’s that long video:

Raphael Colantonio is here from Arkane to talk about another project they’re working on. He doesn’t get very far in before we’re watching a trailer for a game that looks to have a time travel component. Somebody named Morgan keeps waking up in a kind of short groundhog day scenario. Every time he looks in the mirror things change back and it’s actually Prey. Cool.

Raphael is back to tell us a few details and that the game will be out next year for Xbone, PS4, and Windows. More details at Quakecon.

Prey Trailer:

Marty Stratton from id is trapped in a pre-recorded blurry tan office world. He’s talking about Doom and thanking everyone for making Doom a success. Snapmap is done taking a snapnap and will receive a bunch of new upgrades, all will be free. He’s talking about two new multiplayer maps now. They’ll be free. He’s also talking about the first paid DLC coming to Doom multiplayer which will add new game modes, a weapon, and more.

 

Pete Hines is back to tell us that you can now download the first level of Doom for free on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. This week only.

Matt Firor is here to talk about The Elder Scrolls Online MMORPG. He’s talking about how the game sold, how the community is doing, and leads us into a trailer. If I don’t make it out tell my wife I love her. Tell my son I’m glad he can never kick me in the balls again.

On June 23rd ESO will launch into Japan. Some people in the crowd are way too loud. The Dark Brotherhood DLC will be out soon and a launch trailer plays. It looks fine, but this voice over is kinda bad? “Sweet mother” over and over again as gravely voiced dude narrates. Some guy gets stabbed in the nuts. A Hans Moleman production.

This is pretty cool. ESO gets this “One Tamriel,” players will be levelled to match the content they’re playing. So you can group with your friends once they get out of the tutorial and play together. Very, very smart move. I’ve long been frustrated by online RPG systems like in The Division where if you’re not at the same level you’re either dragging the team down or gliding through and trying to keep your buddies from dragging you down. I can’t praise this enough.

Pete Hines is here to tell us about refreshments and Blink-182.

Pete tells us about Bethesda VR. Holy shit he references Doom 3: BFG. The VR version of which never shipped due to Bethesda being butthurt over Carmack leaving for Oculus. Whatever happened with that lawsuit with Oculus? Anyway, you can take a “virtual tour of hell” or Fallout 4 in VR. Bet they won’t be using Oculus headsets! Ah Fallout 4 is coming to the HTC Vive in 2017. Exciting.

Harvey Smith is on stage to tell us about Dishonored 2. I loved the first one, not super excited for a sequel yet. We’ll see if Harvey can convince me. “Welcome back to the Empire of the Isles.” Harvey narrates the video. A camera pans through the streets. The engine has some big upgrades to audio and graphics. It looks more detailed. They’re calling it the Void engine. Name almost doesn’t matter since it won’t ever be released for others to use.

Harvey Smith is talking about who Emily Caldwin from the first Dishonored has become after she has grown up. Corvo is her father? Must have forgotten that from the first Dishonored. It looks like we’ll have the option of playing as Emily in Dishonored 2 and the in-game trailer is from her perspective. You could choose to play as Corvo, still.

More in-game footage and Emily is owning some fools. The weather changes, Emily comments on it and Harvey tells us that many machines are powered by wind. Emily turns off a turbine that was powering a field of light (forcefield to you and me) so that she can progress. The skill trees are new, as are many of the abilities for Emily.

More skillful murdering. There will be some time travel business in another level where you are inside a mansion that blocks your abilities. You can swap between two different timelines using a device that also allows you to view whats going on in the other timeline. So you could walk through an area, see enemies in the alternate version, and then step behind them so you can murder them.

Release date is November 11th, 2016, for Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbone.

Harvey Smith bids us goodnight after introducing a more traditional gameplay trailer. I like the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman  You can watch that here:

 

Pete Hines is back. A collector’s edition is announced with Corvo’s mask and Emily’s ring along with over items. Pre-orders will temporarily include a remastered version of Dishonored 1 including all of the DLC.

Pete gives us a live stream look in on the teams at various studios and thanks them for their work. Nice way to humanize the company.

Pete bides us adieu as the showcase ends and we’re returned to Adam Sessler who is interviewing Matt Firor for the post-show.

My major disappointment is that id software will probably never release source code again without John Carmack. I wish their split had been amicable. They’ve been surprising us lately with the quality of Doom but I don’t know if their parent company would let them release source or if anyone at id has the will to fight for it. We’ll never see a Brutal Doom 2016 or anything like that without code.

Build Your Own 1/10th of a Pinball Cabinet

Jeremy Williams at an awesome VR Pinball cabinet or the newest episode of Black Mirror got real weird.

Jeremy Williams has an awesome guide up on Tested for building the first eight inches of a pinball cabinet, suitable for playing pinball in VR, and this video below demonstrates an older version of it in action:

It’s a pretty great build, even has an accelerometer for tilting the table.

HTC/Steam VR Vive Pre-Orders Priced at $800

The Vive HMD

If you thought the Oculus Rift was expensive at $600, then you’re going to want to sit down for this. HTC and Valve’s Steam VR kit, the  Vive, is priced at an eye-watering $800 before tax and shipping. Pre-orders go up on the 29th at 10 AM Eastern Like the Oculus Rift, it ships in April.

Like the Rift, the Vive will come bundled with software. Owlchemy Labs Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games. Both look like good fun that demonstrate the differences between Valve’s VR solution and Facebook’s Rift though Job Simulator isn’t exclusive to the Vive and will also be available for other VR setups.

Unlike the Rift, which is shipping with an Xbox One controller, the Vive custom controller setup is ready at launch and is designed for manipulating objects in 3D space. The Vive does not seem to include any audio solution, where the Rift had a built-in headset.

There is also a benchmark program available on Steam to find out if your computer is ready for the Vive before pre-ordering.

The price isn’t anywhere near as bad as it might have been, some people were expecting the Vive to be over a thousand, but it’s still out of reach for most people at $800.

 

If I were wealthy enough to pre-order either the Vive or Rift, and had a room to dedicate to the experience, I’d choose the Vive over the Rift. The Vive just has more to offer and the holodeck type of experiences it has in addition to the cockpit-style experiences of the Rift as long as developers support OpenVR instead of just the Rift SDK.

It doesn’t change anything about the announcement, but I wanted to point out that the language in HTC’s announcement is ridiculously bad:

We are proud to announce, in partnership with Valve®, the unveiling of the consumer edition of the ViveTM virtual reality system powered by Steam®VR.

[…]

Taking Vive one step further, with refreshed branding and an updated head strap, the Vive consumer edition builds upon the innovative features that were introduced into the Vive Pre. 

Calling it the “consumer version” with “refreshed branding” is just insulting. It is useful to differentiate this version of the Vive from the versions developers have had access to in the past, but people do not give a crap about the logos or iconography of a system changing. Call it improving the hardware design if that actually changed, but don’t call people “consumers” in your announcement post.

The Difference Between Two Realities

Speaking of VR, the two leading virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMD) are very different in how they’re intended to be used.

Although the Oculus Rift has head-tracking, it is intended more for playing games in a seated or standing position with extremely limited amounts of head movement. You can think of this as being limited to a cockpit in a jet or the passenger area of a car or mech. The player can look out, and control movement of the vehicle they’re in with a gamepad, but if they get up and walk around they’re still trapped inside that vehicle or cockpit. This is perfect for games like Elite: Dangerous and the Eve: Valkyrie game that will be included with the Rift.

You can also display something with a more traditional third-person camera viewpoint outside of the avatar and have player movement bound to analog sticks on a gamepad or some other controller. That is what you have with Lucky’s Tale:

Many traditional 3D games involve a lot of player movement and a first-person perspective, so being limited to one position in the physical world isn’t quite as immersive as being able to move in a physical space and have that movement be reflected in the virtual world. This is more of the holodeck, or room-scale style of VR. I received a brief demo of this at Valve a few years ago. It is amazing when experienced in action. Valve’s SteamVR system offers this in addition to the ability to play cockpit-style games in a seated or standing position. It’s the main difference between the two headsets. Some games can work on both types.

Holodeck experiences have their downsides. Players need a fairly large space that is empty of obstructions in which to move. You’ll also need to install devices that Valve and HTC are calling lighthouses to define the physical space in which you’ll move and track your physical movement in that space. It’s not something everyone has space for, and although you can adjust the amount of physical space for use with this system you basically need a multi-room house or office to set up that experience. Valve had a few dedicated rooms for it.

It’s been almost impossible to demonstrate that room-scale experience without using it. The Northways, Colin and Sarah, have a video up that demonstrates the perspective of a player in the HTC/SteamVR Vive HMD while playing their Fantastic Contraption:

That’s a clip from a longer stream that you can watch here. The only difference between this and the real thing is that she can’t see the people on the couch while playing, and it’s way more fun to play in-person than watch on a stream.

Oculus Rift Pre-orders At Pricey $600

The only head-mounted displays (HMD) for virtual reality games and other activities available last year were pre-release versions for developers only (the $350 Oculus Development Kit 1 & 2, limited quantities of the HTC/SteamVR Vive), through crowdfunding campaigns, or scraped together garbage used to fill in the features and benefits lists of terrible smartphones.

This year the HTC ViveOculus Rift, and Playstation VR are supposed to be more widely available and will be of a higher quality level than the versions developers had access to. We’ve been warned that they will be expensive, and so they are. Facebook’s Oculus is the first to announce the price of their Rift HMD and make their product available for purchase at $600. Though it won’t actually be available to anyone before June at the earliest. When it does ship, it will include two games (3D platformer Lucky’s Tale, starfighter Eve: Valkyrie), an Xbox One controller, external sensors for head tracking, removable headphones, and a simpler remote control option.

People who participated in the original crowdfunding campaign will receive the first public version of the Oculus Rift HMD for free, everyone else who was interested and didn’t participate is kicking themselves right now.

The price is high, but the Rift device is going to be at a higher quality and performance level than the development kits that preceded it, and it is cheaper than the PC you’ll need to run it. As the internet’s Daniel Gibson points out, the Rift is even more expensive after including the cost of shipping, taxes, and other fees. To get it in Germany, the total price goes up about $200 to $808, and the total after tax and shipping just to California’s Oakland is $688. This is all after you acquire the correct hardware to match the specifications in the downloadable compatibility checker. I expect many people will be very disappointed when they attempt to use the Rift with an underpowered computer having ignored the system requirements. Even my gaming computer’s CPU is not up to the task according to the compatibility checker. PC gaming is not cheap, and although I expect the price of all of these components to drop, I would be very surprised if the Rift’s price lowered before 2018. It is unlikely that the HTC/SteamVR Vive will be cheaper or have more limited hardware demands. The only device that could possibly be less expensive is Sony’s Playstation VR, and then it would be a more limited experience in terms of technical capabilities than anything on the PC.

It’s exciting that we’re finally going to have widely available HMDs, even at that price, but there are still unresolved issues.

Oculus first announced cross-platform support for their platform during their extremely successful crowdfunding campaign with logos for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. The pre-order campaign only includes a downloadable compatibility checker for Windows and though it would be ridiculous to expect the hardware to work with the limited power available on devices without active cooling systems like smartphones, it is kind of outrageous how quickly they’ve dropped support for Mac and Linux. Linux is promised to be supported post-launch, and OS X support is supposed to be limited by the hardware currently on offer from Apple.

Software availability is going to be an issue. Besides the two games shipping with the system, and a broad range of technical demo software, it isn’t clear what compatibility will be like for software between headsets and what complete software will be available soon after launch. Most complete games take 1-3 years to develop, and the software that truly takes advantage of hardware available through the SteamVR system might not be compatible with the Rift at all. Valve is trying to resolve compatibility with their OpenVR program, but theVive hardware developed with HTC is more like walking around a holodeck than the limited-to-a-cockpit experiences of the Rift.

Finally, as an expectant father, I cannot imagine a scenario in the next two years where I will be able to use a completely-detached experience like the Rift while my family needs my attention. This product seems to be only targeted at people who are either totally alone or have no responsibilities in the outside world for extended periods of time. Awareness of the world around you is going to be a big problem with every HMD. The only ones that are looking to avoid that issue so far are Microsoft with their Hololens augmented-reality HMD and a few other companies developing AR devices instead of VR. Augmented-reality will be for completely different, less immersive, kinds of experiences from virtual reality.

I recommend that anyone considering the purchase of this headset wait until more of these issues are resolved, especially the software availability and compatibility as that is going to be the largest roadblock.

Valve’s VR Headset Announcement

HTC and Valve announced the HTC Vive today, a headset similar to the Oculus Rift. The differences are in the head tracking, a slight increase to resolution compared to the Oculus Rift DK2, and a custom game controller.

Similar to the VR room demo Valve had at Steam Dev Days, the HTC Vive will have tracking for your location relative to the physical room you’re in. The VR room demo used something similar to QR codes printed out on the walls to do this, the HTC Vive uses SteamVR base stations. The SteamVR demo at dev days was super impressive when I got to try it, and kind of ruined the experience of trying the Oculus Rift. Nothing on the Rift could match the feeling of scale I got from the SteamVR demo. It must be even more impressive on this new hardware.

Developer kit ships this spring, user version late in the year. Between this, Oculus, Nvidia announcing something soon, and Sony’s headset, some standard API will need to emerge to support all of them and I bet that’s what Valve will focus on fixing.