The Ghost Howls’s VR Week Peek (2019.08.25): Lots of new VR content previewed, Sony acquires Insomniac, Matrix 4 in the works and much more!

Another hot week of Summer has just gone, with lots of my friends in real vacation and me working and only travelling vi in the pauses!
I have just ended my testing period with the Valve Index (thanks Guido for giving me it for few weeks), and in the next two weeks I will be writing the review of this very interesting device. If in the meanwhile you have any questions on it, you can ask them in the comments of this Patreon post. I will be happy to answer you 🙂

Top news of the week
(Image by Fast Travel Games)
Lots of new VR content is being previewed and reviewed

I can say that this week we had no disruptive news about XR hardware or software, and most news that I’ve read on the most popular VR magazines have been about content, mostly games. This week, the content has been really the king of VR 🙂
 Let me guide you through the most interesting articles.
Of course, the king has still been No Man’s Sky, that with its Beyond update has added VR support, transforming it in the biggest VR world to this date. After an extensive trial of the game, the VR journalists have produced very long and exhaustive reviews on this game and the verdict is more or less positive. Everyone was overwhelmed by the greatness of the game’s universe, everyone loved the immersion, but also highlighted lots of glitches, performance issues (there was a huge optimization error fixed lately with a patch) and problems with the UX. So, pros and cons, as with every adaptation of 2D content to VR.

More info (No Man’s Sky VR review on Road To VR)
More info (No Man’s Sky VR review on UploadVR)
More info (No Man’s Sky PSVR review on UploadVR)
More info (No Man’s Sky VR optimization error)

This has also been the week of the Gamescom in Cologne, and there there was the possibility of going hands-on with upcoming interesting VR games, as the six ones from the Games VR Showcase I talked about in a previous post of mine.
Here I have mostly to compliment my friend and Road To VR journalist Scott Hayden for the great coverage of Gamescom he performed! He tried titles like:

  • Down The Rabbit Hole, that makes you live an adventure inspired by Alice in Wonderland;
  • Budget Cuts 2, that is a fantastic stealth game;
  • The Wizards Dark Times, that is the next chapter of The Wizards that introduces more complex weapon mechanics;
  • The Curious Tale of Stolen Pets, that is a cute puzzle game;
  • Paper Beast, that has a very original graphical style where all the world seems made of origami;

Also, Upload VR has done a good job, creating some roundup videos of the experiences they had there and also writing a nice hands-on review of Iron Man VR.

More info (Down The Rabbit Hole Review)
More info (The Wizards Dark Times Review)
More info (Budget Cuts 2 Gameplay video)
More info (Budget Cuts 2 Hands-on Review)
More info (The Curious Tale of Stolen Pets Review)
More info (Paper Beast Review)
More info (Iron Man PSVR Review)
More info (Upload’s Gamescom Day 1 Recap)
More info (Upload’s Gamescom Day 2 Recap)

Groundhog Day VR is coming soon. On September, 17th, you will be able to buy this VR game inspired by the classic movie featuring Bill Murray. In the game, you will impersonate the son of the main character of the movie, and you will be stuck in living-the-same-day-loop exactly as your father, and you will have to solve puzzles to come out from it. I hope it will be a ton of fun since it should cost $30.

More info (Groundhog Day release date and trailer)
More info (Groundhog Day hands-on session)

Westworld: Awakening is already available on Steam for $29.99. From the reviews I have read, it is a very good game, that is worth that amount of money: it seems that the atmosphere is similar to the one of the series and you will live intense moments of fear while playing it. HBO has worked on the project closely with developers to obtain such a good result.

More info (Westworld Awakening Review)
More info (How HBO Worked With The Devs For Westworld Awakening)

Golem, one of the most awaited games for PSVR (also because we had no news about it for a long time) should release this fall. But don’t say that too loud, or the dev may disappear for another year 😀

More info

At Disney D23, people got the first preview of Vader Immortal 2, the sequel of the very successful game for Oculus Quest. It seems that in this episode, Darth Vader will be your master, teaching you how to use the Force to move objects just with your brain. Having Darth Vader being your “master Yoda”, seems overly cool and in fact, people that tried it are very excited about this game!

More info (Vader Immortal 2 description)
More info (Vader Immortal 2 hands-on session)

Other relevant news
(Image by Oculus)
Facebook details its Insight technology

In an interesting post on its blog, Facebook has detailed its Insight technology, the solution that performs the inside-out-tracking on the Oculus Quest.
The post is full of fluff, but it is interesting for two reasons:

  1. It explains very well how the Insight technology works, with a very explicative video;
  2. In the end, it teases a possible future use of Insight for “trendy AR glasses”. This mention of AR confirms that Facebook is working on AR glasses, and in my opinion is also a hint to the fact that most probably they will be teased at the next Oculus Connect (the conference that, according to Oculus, should show the “future of AR and VR”). Anyway, don’t expect an AR glass very soon, since Insight, to work on lightweight AR glasses, should reduce its power consumption to 2% of current value :O

More info (Facebook’s post on Insight)
More info (Insight on AR glasses)

Sony has acquired Insomniac Games

Sony has acquired Insomniac Games, one of the most talented game studios among the ones focused on Virtual Reality. The studio will so become part of the Sony Worldwide Studios.
Insomniac is the company behind popular titles like The Unspoken and Edge of Nowhere. It is very interesting to notice that it is one of those studios with which Oculus partnered for its exclusive titles and in fact, it is still working on the much awaited Stormland.
Jason Rubin says that he is not worried by this acquisition and Insomniac Games has confirmed that Stormland will still be released for Rift during these holidays. But honestly, I think this is bad news for Oculus. While Stormland will surely be released, it is not clear what kind of future will have the game: it is hard to think that it will have some expansions in the future. Furthermore, for sure Sony won’t allow Insomniac to develop exclusive titles of a competitor like Oculus in the future. Oculus has many other talented partners, like Ready At Dawn, but for sure it has lost one of its best ones.

More info (Sony buys Insomniac Games)
More info (Sony buys Insomniac Games)
More info (Jason Rubin says he is not worried)

MRTK 2.0 has been released

MRTK 2.0 has been officially released on GitHub.
MRTK, not to be confused with VRTK, is the official SDK to develop for Microsoft HoloLens and HoloLens 2. Actually, it is a cross-platform SDK, and it could also be used to develop for virtual reality headsets (especially the WMR headsets), but it is not very popular in that sense (people still prefer VRTK or SteamVR plugins).
This week, the MRTK 2.0 SDK has finally been released on GitHub. The community working on it has made a massive work, creating a full framework that lets you create very natural interfaces for the HoloLens 2 in an easy way. If you watch the video linked below, you can see a lot of examples of amazing UI elements for augmented and mixed reality that you will be able to produce with this SDK. You will be able to use all the controls in a natural way just by using all the ten fingers of your hands!
It’s really impressive. I can’t wait to try it!

More info (MRTK 2.0 release video)

Max Cohen leaves Facebook

After Nate Mitchell, another Oculus executive leaves Facebook. Max Cohen, that was the head of mobile, has abandoned the company. Neither Facebook nor he has commented on the news.
Cohen joined Oculus in 2014 and has accompanied the company in all its mobile adventure, starting from Gear VR, transitioning to Go and then arriving at the popular Oculus Quest. It is not clear why he left, most probably because with the end of this cycle of VR devices, his job there was done. For sure, inside Oculus there has been a lot of changes inside the management team, with the VR company always becoming more absorbed into the social media mothership.

More info

Google releases an opensource library for hand tracking

Google has released opensource a library for tracking your hands on a mobile device. The solution is part of Mediapipe, the framework to create machine-learning-based solutions, and offers 21-points hand tracking on your mobile phone. This can be overly interesting for AR applications.
You can try the solution yourself by going on GitHub and download the APK for Android. I’ve tried it and I think that it is good, but not perfect. Currently, it tracks only one single hand, and when the tracking works, it is impressive, because it can detect the 3D position of the palm and all the fingers, even in some weird positions. It is also very fast. But on the downside, sometimes the tracking glitches, and anyway can’t detect all the possible pose of the fingers. I tried it at evening in a cluttered environment, and it lost the tracking and never recovered after that.
The work behind it is surely impressive, but we need more accuracy and more resistance to all the ambient conditions, to make hands really usable as an input device.

More info (MediaPipe Hand Tracking)
More info (MediaPipe Hand Tracking)
More info (MediaPipe Hand Tracking Video on Twitter)

News worth a mention
(Image by Warner Bros)
The Matrix is going to have its fourth chapter

Yes, you’ve read it well. The cult trilogy of The Matrix, is going to have a new chapter, that will still feature Neo, Trinity and will still be directed by Lana Wachowski. We have no further details on it, apart from the fact that the shooting should start in 2020.
Personally, I’m not happy with the news. I think that some cool things of the past should remain in the past, and that the movie industry should invent new masterpieces, instead of recovering popular franchises of the past (e.g. Star Wars or The Matrix). As John Gaeta, the genius behind the special effects of The Matrix, told me when I interviewed him “Today the movie industry is a zero-risk one”. A masterpiece like the Matrix has come out become there was someone willing to take risks. If we just continue betting on sure brands, we will continue living in great stories of the past and will never create new ones.

More info

Valve Index now ships immediately to 30 countries

Valve is expanding the market of the Valve Index, that is now available for immediate purchase in 30 countries. That’s great, but there are still big countries like Canada and Australia that are excluded from this possibility. Anyway, while the headset is becoming available immediately, the controllers have still some delays.

More info

Lindsey Stirling is going to perform in VR

The very famous violinist Lindsey Stirling is going to perform on Monday, August 26th for the Wave virtual reality platform, and all people will be able to enjoy her performance from PC VR headsets. For the unlucky people not owning a VR device, there will be Twitch and Youtube live streams.
Always during this week, Oculus has announced that the famous pop artist Billie Eilish’s performance in Madrid will be available the evening of September, the 3rd in Oculus Venues.

More info (Lindsey Stirling in VR)
More info (Billie Eilish in VR)

Someone made Google Lens work in VR

Developer Phasedragon has developed a VR experience where you hold a virtual smartphone in your hand. The interesting stuff is that this smartphone actually portraits the virtual world in front of it and understands the virtual environment by using Google Lens! :O
He explains that has managed to make this by using “Sparkocam to capture the desktop and export as a virtual webcam, android studio emulator to run google lens, and OVR toolkit to display it in VR”.

More info (Google Lens working in VR)
More info (How he made Google Lens work in VR)

Wolves in the Walls and Age of Sails have just won the Emmy Awards

Wolves in the Walls, that I described in my review as one of the best VR experiences I have ever tried, has just won an Emmy award in the Outstanding Innovation In Interactive Media category. Age of Sails, produced by the now shut-down Google Spotlight Stories, has instead won as Outstanding Individual Achievement In Animation.
It’s great to see amazing XR experiences winning such important awards!

More info

Decentraland is growing

Decentraland, the blockchain-based virtual world, is performing pretty well. According to New World Notes, even if the virtual world is still in closed beta, it has already 15,000 unique users, with peaks of around 100 concurrent users. Considering that it is still in beta, the numbers are encouraging: it is already performing better than Sansar. I’m curious to see how it will perform when it will be opened to the public: will it be able to become the new Second Life?

More info

Dreamworld AR launches the Dreamglass Air

Chinese manufacturer Dreamworld has just launched Dreamglass Air, an AR-like headset that uses your smartphone to let you see movies in full privacy in a big virtual screen in front of you. If you are into video glasses, you should check it out. It has been funded in 5 minutes on Kickstarter :O.

More info

VR training may have saved the life of some Walmart employees

We all know that Walmart is employing VR training for its employees and its managers. According to Walmart, during the El Paso shooting, Walmart employees have been able to react very well and fast to the difficult situation, because they had been trained in VR and so they knew exactly what to do in real life in a similar situation. That fast reaction may have saved their life during the shooting.

More info

Some XR fun

What we VR veterans say to people that have just started playing with Quest

Funny link

A game dedicated to Mark Zuckerberg

Funny link

The hidden evil side of VR no one is telling you about

Funny link

This indie game about chair-racing in VR should be amazing during parties!! I love it 🙂

Funny link

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(Header image by Insomniac Games)

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AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I'm not giving up: I've started an AR/VR agency called New Technology Walkers with which help you in realizing your XR dreams with our consultancies (Contact us if you need a project done!)