While I relax a bit after having delivered another project, I enjoy the sun and the news from the XR world. And this week I think we had many cool news that are worth a mention, so let’s dig immediately into them!
Top news of the week
Sony invests $250M in Epic Games
Sony has announced that it has made a big investment of $250M in Epic Games through one of its subsidiaries. The investment gives Sony a minority stake in Epic that now is evaluated at more than $17B.
It is hard to predict what exactly this means for both companies, but the impression all the analysts have is that these two big corporates will have a stronger partnership in the future. And all of this comes in a period when other partnerships between tech giants are happening: remember that some weeks ago, Microsoft closed its streaming service Mixer and allied with Facebook Gaming to fight the quasi-monopoly of (Amazon-owned) Twitch.
The long-term results of these partnerships are unforeseeable, but we can still play the speculation game. Ben Lang has written a very interesting editorial on the topic, and for instance, he imagines that this may mean that all Sony-owned game studios will all start using Unreal Engine as their game engine, unifying the production processes among them all. This could lead to the creation of common APIs and tools that all these studios can use and exchange, unifying the research process, making them all advance faster in creating better games. And since virtual reality is a rather new topic, and UE4 already supports VR, this means that all these studios could advance together in creating a VR toolset for their future games.
Epic is not only Unreal Engine, but it is also Fortnite, that at this point will for sure be optimized for PlayStation 5; and Epic Store, even if it is highly improbable that it will ever reach PlayStation. It is interesting that when speaking about this alliance, Sony doesn’t only talk about games, but it mentions “the rapidly evolving digital entertainment landscape”. In Fortnite now there are concerts (like the one of Travis Scott) and UE4 is used to shoot movies: all of these are themes in which Sony could be interested, considering that Fortnite has just demonstrated to be not only a game but the prototype of a future metaverse. And Sony for sure wants to have a stake in the metaverse.
Other relevant news
Rockstar is working on AAA VR open world game
Video Games Deluxe, the Australia-based studio working exclusively with Rockstar that has worked on L.A. Noire: The V.R. Case Files has posted on Linkedin a post that states it is hiring developers for the development of an AAA VR open world game for Rockstar.
After this news, the VR community got obviously hyped. What will this game be? Will it be a porting or a new game? And if it is a porting, is it GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2, or what else? We have no answers and Video Games Deluxe is tightlipped on this.
What we know is that another AAA title is coming to VR, and this together with Medal Of Honor, Star Wars Squadron, Half-Life: Alyx and others will make the VR gaming ecosystem always more interesting for gamers. AAA studios like Ubisoft, EA, Rockstar, Bethesda are entering VR in a way or another, and this was unthinkable 4 years ago. This is the clear sign that the VR market is becoming successful and big studios are seeing its potential. And if everything will go as I hope, these cool titles will attract more players, that will attract even more AAA studios, and so on…
Discover the secrets of Valve in latest documentary
To keep the hype high on Alyx, this week Valve has authorized the release on Steam of Geoff Keighley’s “Half-Life Alyx — Final Hours”, a documentary about Valve and the processes that lead to the creations of Half-Life: Alyx. Everyone that has seen this documentary (that costs less than $10) has told me that it is very interesting and it is full of anecdotes and curiosities.
It actually reveals some details that are cool to know, like for instance:
- Valve has an internal team working on a secret project since 2018. We have no idea if it is about hardware or software, but this intrigues us nonetheless;
- The hardware projects are not over with the release Valve Index, but the company plans to improve this headset in future iterations;
- At a certain point, there was the idea of releasing a no-compromise VR headset that was very small and had a very high resolution, codenamed “Vader”. The project was abandoned also because the final price would have been around $5000 (Yikes!), but some of the inventions made for the Vader were later on used to design the Valve Index;
- There have been many Half-Life-themed internal projects that have been canceled. One of these was a little shooter inside The Lab, that was removed because of strict timing constraints.
If you are a Valve fanboy, this documentary is a must-watch.
Ready Player Two is coming this fall
Fans of Ready Player One, rejoice! Ernest Cline, the author of the top-seller Ready Player One has announced that his book Ready Player Two, that is the sequel of RPO, is coming to all bookstores on November, 24th.
The book will continue the story of Ready Player One (the book, not the movie) and for sure will make us dream again about a big metaverse of the future while having nostalgia for our past. I can’t wait to read it.
Linden Research to be acquired
Linden Research a.k.a. Linden Labs is in the process of being acquired. According to a blog post on the company’s website, Linden Labs has already been sold to an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager. The acquisition is not complete because Linden owns Tilia Pay (a virtual currency service), that is licensed as money transmitter, and so the sale is waiting for regulatory approval by financial regulators in the U.S.
Since Linden is the owner of Second Life, this means that Second Life, that is still a very popular metaverse, is going into new hands. What this will mean for it is unknown. Sansar, that was created as well by Linden, had already been sold to mysterious startup Wookie Project and will so be unaffected by this transaction.
(Thanks Gianluigi Perrone for the tip!)
Peggy Johnson is the new CEO of Magic Leap
Magic Leap has finally a new CEO: Peggy Johnson. Ms. Johnson has a long career as an executive at Qualcomm and Microsoft, and will so be able to bring some experience and pragmatism to the Florida-based Startup, that until now has made countless business mistakes. It is also good to see a woman become the CEO of such a well-funded company.
Ms. Johnson will have the not easy task of deciding a clear route for Magic Leap, making the company become profitable in the enterprise market after so many failures in the consumer one. She will also have to decide what to do of all the products that Magic Leap had created for consumers, like games and storytelling experiences, especially the ones that have not been released yet, like the very promising The Last Light.
News worth a mention
Catan is the next big AR game by Niantic
Niantic has officially announced its upcoming AR game and it is “Catan — World Explorer”, based on the very popular board game Catan. The game will have a structure similar to Pokemon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and will let you “harvest, trade, and build in the real world as cities and landmarks transform into settlements where you can collect resources, construct buildings, and score points for your Faction”.
Catan fans can already sign up to a specific page so that to be informed when the beta of the game will be live. According to Niantic, this moment is coming pretty soon.
HP Reverb G2 preorders open in more countries, release date maybe teased
The HP Reverb G2 is one of the most awaited VR headsets of the moment, and this week we had a handful of info about it.
First of all, HP has opened preorders for more worldwide countries. Then, the website of an HP distributor has teased the release date for the headset for September, 15th. HP has not confirmed not denied the date, just saying again that the release will happen in “Fall 2020”. A reader of mine has made me notice that while usually release dates on vendors’ websites are reliable, September 15th is before the beginning of fall, so probably this date is not correct.
In all this mess, Sebastian Ang from Mixed Reality TV has made probably the most thorough review of the HP Reverb G2 to date, and I advise you to give it a look to understand if this is the headset for you. For sure what comes out is that this is a great device.
Some tips and tricks for the new Quest runtime
It is impressive the speed at which the Quest is updating, and the new v19 runtime now lets the users select what kind of graphical quality they want for the Oculus Link, that is if Oculus must prioritize performance or graphical quality.
Upload has also spotted some useful tricks to let you grab immediately a screenshot on Quest by using a special shortcut and to let you change your Guardian boundaries when you are using the Link by tapping the Oculus button four times.
A short review of the StarVR One
Popular Youtuber VoodooDE has reviewed the StarVR One headset, highlighting its pros and cons. It seems that the pros are that the headset is comfortable, and has no lens distortions, while the cons are that many games are not compatible with it and the resolution seems a bit outdated. The verdict is that it may be good for enterprise applications, if a high resolution is not needed.
The finalists for the VR Awards 2020 have been revealed!
The nominees for the best VR people and companies for the prestigious VR Awards are out! And even if I haven’t been nominated for anything :(, I make my biggest compliments to all the people in the lists!
Unreal Engine can now use your iPhone to record facial animations
Thanks to the companion Live Link Face app for iOS, Unreal Engine can now exploit the great facial tracking offered by ARKit and iPhone depths cameras to let developers record facial animations with a phone and apply them to their game characters very easily. This is great for little indie studios, that so can spare lots of money for recording animations for their games.
A new tool can help you in recording grip poses for your hands
Developer Luca Mefisto is going to release an opensource tool to let indie developers record grip poses for hands for various objects. The tool is very straightforward: it uses Quest hands tracking to let you put your bare hand in the right pose to grab the object that you have in front of you. When the position is correct, you can record it. After that, every time you try to grab that object virtually with your hands or your controllers, your virtual hand will always assume that pose. If you repeat this operation for every object of your game, every object in your game will be associated with a realistic grip position of your hands.
This is a very simple idea that can help many developers in offering more realistic interactions in their indie games.
Foxconn puts lenses for Apple Glasses in “Trial Production” stage
According to a report from The Information, Foxconn, the company that manufactures the iPhone, has now put some lenses that are producing for Apple in “Trial Production” stage. “Trial Production” means that they are testing the production and refining the production processes before the actual production. Considering that these lenses are most probably for the Apple Glasses, it seems that we’re getting closer and closer to the moment X of the launch of Apple AR goggles.
Enjoy PlayStation Summer Sale
If you have a PSVR, you had better know that until July, 23rd the PlayStation Summer Sale is going to offer popular games like No Man’s sky and The Walking Dead: Saint and Sinners at a discounted price! Don’t miss them!
The next update on Neuralink is scheduled for August, 28th
Elon Musk is going to host a press conference on August, 28th to talk about the latest development of its BCI company Neuralink. Last year he said that in 2020 Neuralink would have started the tests on human beings, and I’m very curious to discover if this has really happened.
Ubiquity6 closes DisplayLand
With a completely unexpected statement, AR Cloud company Ubiquity6 has shut down Displayland, the social network of 3D spaces that you could scan with your phone and share with your friends. But the company is not closing activity and even teases exciting news for the future, to be revealed in the upcoming months.
The Under Presents “The Tempest”
Tender Claws is going to host a representation of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare inside its crazy VR experience “The Under Presents”. Real actors will perform live on stage with you (that will impersonate a role in the play), in a perfect mix of theater and immersive realities. If you are into VR and art, I really recommend you to read more about this interesting project.
Some news on content
- Vertigo Remastered is coming on July, 21st
- Mega Man VR is coming to a VR arcade in Japan
News from partners (and friends)
Lucas Rizzotto has made a fantastic video about a massive experiment of his in recreating a VR memory machine. He has recorded his life for a year, and then he has coded a VR application to re-live the memories of exactly the date and time that he chooses.
The video is not only technically interesting but also very very funny. Spend 28 minutes of your life and watch it.
VR Professional Alessandro Schillaci has built an opensource plugin for Blender that lets you export your Blender scene as a perfectly working A-Frame VR world with just one click! If you are into WebVR, give this plugin a look.
Some XR fun
I asked the community to photoshop a green-screen face of mine and the results have been pretty hilarious!
Expectations vs reality for 2020
If you have ever modeled an avatar for VRChat, you know the pain.
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