Half of the VR titles I am most eager to try are not games

While a look at the SteamVR Game titles coming in 2016 seems quite promising, the coolest things I’ve seen demonstrated over the last year weren’t traditional games at all – but rather “experiences”. That’s not to say there aren’t some really great games coming to VR, because there are, but while game developers tackle bringing current gen game themes to VR space, others are turning heads with original content so immersive and mind-blowing it challenges how we define a VR title.

Let’s start at the top – of the world, that is. Take Sólfar and RVX’s “Everest VR” teaser as a perfect example of a non-game VR experience, despite being built with one of the most powerful gaming engines.

Another room-scale VR experience that captured a lot of attention at recent road shows was Wevr’s “theBlu: Encounter” , which simulates a deep ocean shipwreck and a profound meeting with wildlife there. Here is a link to one of their blogs from behind the scenes on that project.

A glance at the Wevr company page shows the wild diversity of VR content in development, everything from the Sundance Film Festival, music concerts, Sports Illustrated to the mind-bending space-themed “Irrational Exuberance Prologue“. Wevr also provides a platform for VR producers, which looks promising.

Another announcement coming out of the Sundance Film Festival was a partnership between traditionally game-focused Ubisoft Montreal and a VR venture co-founded by Elijah Wood called SpectreVision that will focus on interactive VR Horror titles. The short teaser that accompanied this announcement was a chilling 360 stereoscopic ride through a scary scene in Assassin’s Creed “Jack the Ripper” add-on, although their production project is likely not related to that specific Ubisoft franchise at all. In any case, any VR “interactive horror” to get air time at Sundance has my full attention.

Google’s Tilt Brush is a cross-platform VR painting tool that has also been an enormous success at VR road shows. It supports room scale VR, and watching an artist paint a three-dimensional object while walking around it in real life is a poster of a new generation of immersive, non-gaming content. Nvidia sponsored a VR art contest last year, here are some video highlights from that event.

I am excited to see Virtual Reality break through into the mainstream in 2016 – as much for rich sensory experiences as the ridiculously awesome looking games, the latter which I may cover in another blog entry. What I see in terms of new ways to produce and deliver art is as large a leap forward as the television was for the radio – that is, a once in a century leap in communications-enabling technology, although 2016 is probably just a quiet beginning. I believe developers are only at the tip of a world-changing technology, specially for the field of education, perhaps even medicine, one where fantastic games are just a by-product. Just imagine the recent Star Wars movie – but in VR. Or a tour of the Louvre from your living room. Or a show like MythBusters – (I’ll miss this show!) – but one where it feels like you’re actually there, but completely safe. Confront fears and travel to other places you may never have the opportunity or desire to see in person – like inside a volcano, aboard the IIS, or like the teaser above, atop the world’s tallest and most dangerous mountains.

I’m ready. The HTC Vive debuts in April, shortly after the release of the Oculus Rift.

Report: PS4 can’t make toast.


Or, how consoles grew up and got day jobs.

Since the 1994 debut of the Playstation, Sony releases a new version of their flagship gaming platform roughly once every 6 years. The Playstation 2 was released in 2000, and the blu-ray powered PS3 was released in 2006. The recently unveiled PS4 is due holiday season 2013, about 7 years after the still-relevant PS3. Unlike their cartridge-powered competitors like Nintendo, The Sony Playstation and other disc-delivered home gaming consoles have always done a little bit more than just play games.

Although the original Sony Playstation had horrid in-game load times absent in the cartridge gaming world, it could do something the others could not: play music CDs. For a gaming console this was hardly worth the trade, but this is when gaming consoles first started to develop noteworthy differences in total home entertainment utility. Of course, in 1994 you probably knew more folks with musical doorbells than musical phones, and gaming consoles were still primarily just that: for games.

Leap forward a generation of consoles, and the Sony could also play DVD movies. Marginally useful when a lot of home videos were still VHS, it still showed a growing divide between their console and the competition, a division that was also increasingly evident in the types of game developers attracted to a specific gaming console, and the age of each console’s target audience. Sony commanded a larger portion of the mature gaming audience. Nintendo, for a long time the face of family-safe games and games designed for younger children, steered clear of games with mature content until an awkward, ineffective about-face in 2001 featuring an adult-rated game about a heavy drinking squirrel with strong suggestive content. Eyebrow-raising failures aside, Nintendo survives to maintain its core brand and lead its ahead-of-its-time gameboy innovation to command a lion’s share of the handheld gaming market today.

Around the same time, Microsoft decides to get a piece of the pie with the XBOX gaming console, going from zero to awesome in an instant with genre-defining titles like Halo. By 2006, Sony and Microsoft pull ahead of Nintendo with local hard drives and native High-Definition Video support, each betting on opposing players in the blu-ray vs HD DVD war. Both the XBox 360 and PS3 supported additional features like “why do I need a camera SD slot in a gaming console” or “who would use a game console to surf the internet”, but the features remained and grew to include social media integration, youtube, streaming home video on demand (RIP, Blockbuster) and most importantly, the ability to play with friends over the internet. Yet, these were still just gaming consoles, right?

Nintendo bets against it. Boldly racing away from anything that resembles high-definition video, it debuts the Wii, with balance-board and gyroscope outfitted controllers that turned gaming into personal home fitness, dance-along gaming, and a whole new generation of immersive entertainment. It may have missed the giant demographic bullseye that had become FPS-obsessed, but it succeeded in other ways. In addition to its celebrated, kid-friendly core titles like Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Donkey Kong, the Wii today is also used to help the elderly maintain coordination and as treatment for degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Sony and Microsoft each follow in suit with motion tracking add-on devices for similar gaming experiences, like the Microsoft Kinect, which requires no handheld device at all to play.

Despite growing to be educational and physical therapy tools and home entertainment powerhouses, a recent CNN article suggests “console gaming is dying“, citing a four year decline in the market, emergent mobile gaming, and other economic factors. If true, lead game pioneers aren’t letting us see them sweat. Activision-Blizzard is wagering the opposite, launching their historically PC/Mac-only Diablo series on the PlayStation 3 and 4 later this year. The PS4 supports the new 4K HD video output most homes don’t event have yet, and next-gen blu-ray native support. No word yet on the competing offering from Microsoft, tentatively called the Xbox 720, but both are likely to feature highly social online gaming experiences along with the next generation of on-demand, streaming “cloud” gaming.

In the last year, we have seen Microsoft’s Windows 8 desktop and tablet OS evolve to look more like gesture-friendly home gaming consoles – almost exactly like the Xbox 360 – instead of the other way around. We’ve also seen tighter integration between our smartphones and tablets with the home gaming consoles. For systems like the Xbox 360 that are already more powerful than most cable “tivo” boxes for movies and tv, I’d say the PS4 and Xbox 720 are poised to take more (not less) of the non-gaming streaming content, potentially biting into the immovable broadcast giants themselves. Oh wait, I’ve watched all of my pay-per-view cable events on Xbox Live… not to mention the Mars Rover landing. If my internet provider were on the list, I could get ESPN Sports on it too. Microsoft points out that 40% or more of Xbox Live traffic is non-gaming today.

They may not brew coffee, do dishes, fetch beer or make very good toast (I strongly recommend against it, no matter how hot your unit gets), but they certainly do way more than just games and have risen to be the hardest working component of our home TV, movie and entertainment setups.

I believe the reports of console gaming’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Below are some clips from the PS4 announcement trailer showing off the next gen graphics.

12_destiny 246183-dc1 ps4-killzone-shadow-fall-gameplay-video-4 gaming-deep-down-screenshot

Moar Dwarves!

He wasn’t kidding. A rumor that started as a Peter Jackson sound byte on the floor at Comic-Con is official: “The Hobbit” will be three movies. Prior to the announcement, “An Unexpected Journey” and “There and Back Again” would be released Dec 2012 and 2013, respectively. The third is tentatively set for summer 2014. The title has not been announced.

Three movies may sound too long for the classic children’s book, but reading further it seems much of the material will come from the lengthy appendices of the Lord of the Rings that had not been previously adapted into a movie. Some may argue that more isn’t better for the franchise, but it must depend on who you ask.

Watching the production video diaries, it is hard to see them as simply interested in printing more money (while the mill is still hot, right?), but I doubt they will regret that extra paycheck. They would be in good company too, given the other movie series that have split the finale into two parts recently.

Either way, from what we have seen so far on set it should be good news for fans.

Read the Announcement on the Hobbit Facebook page here




look on the bright side – Greedo still misses

Starwars fans upset with Lucas, again? Nooooo!

Seriously, who is surprised Lucas made additional changes to the Starwars Trilogy for the blu-ray release? Are they really worse than the initial changes made to “A New Hope” and “Return of the Jedi”? Are all of the changes so inexcusable? Changes in this release include adding a single, shouted “Nooooo” to Vader’s dialog in the final battle with the emperor in Return of the Jedi, as he saves luke and sacrifices himself. Other changes were to replace the ewok eyes with CG rendered eyes, and a jarring change to the sound Obi-wan makes in A New Hope to scare off the sand people.

Fans have been particularly critical of the changes Lucas made to the Starwars trilogy, even though the business of changing movies for a re-release is not new business at all. There are FIVE versions of Blade Runner in the collectors edition. Lion King has been changed three times. Rob Zombie changed the entire ending of the newer “Halloween 2” in the DVD release. Peter Jackson changed his Lord of the Rings once between the theater and DVD and again for the butt-numbingly long (but good) extended editions (nevermind the changed between the print and his retelling….).

Don’t like it? When in doubt, don’t get your wallet out.

I am among the fans who did not like many changes to the original Starwars trilogy – my favorite catch-phrase after all is “Han Shot First”. I didn’t like the additional, poorly done scene with jabba the hutt, nor the changes to the hologram of the emperor and dialog. I am indifferent to the changes to the spirits shown at the very end of Return of the Jedi. (put your pitchforks down, guys). On the other hand, the numerous subtle improvements to image clarity and cleanup of special effects glitches were actually a big improvement, notably in the epic battle of hoth and pretty much every space battle scene in all three episodes. The sound is better in the new(er) editions – and being a bit of an audiophile it is hard to pass up the 7.1 stereo enhanced effects in favor of the barely two channel classic just in the name of protest.

I won’t get the blu-ray editions, but I’m not roasting Lucas and the franchise over the recent changes either. I am content with the DVD set that included both the special editions and original format bonus disks. If I want to relive A New Hope as it was meant to be seen, I can. If I want to enjoy my newer TV and stereo equipment, I’ve got the updated version. That’s good enough for me.

Concerned fans should speak with their wallets.

Christmas with the Baggins

Tis the season for elves and jolly bearded men in boots, and chain mail.


Some years back, we were treated to Christmas with Frodo three years running, four if you count the following holiday extended-edition DVD sales; I know I did. Today, Peter Jackson and team are busy on the December 2012 and 2013 releases of a two part “Hobbit” movie, and they have their work cut out for them.

Mr Jackson has the tall task of bringing to life each of the 13 dwarves, numerous supporting characters and the reluctant hairy-toed hero himself. Furthermore, to provide franchise continuity a handful of the recognizable characters from the Lord of the Rings are worked into the story, at least briefly, presumably to introduce the context the prequels are told in.

To be sure, just like in the Lord of the Rings, there will be some changes in this retelling of the Hobbit. Some of the changes are bound to anger fans of the cartoon and novel, others may even introduce new characters and content not in the classic at all. Fans are left to guess how it will play out, but we do know that the titles of the movies are based on the book Bilbo writes, “There and Back Again”, which in the story was given to Samwise at the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings, who was to finish the remaining blank pages. Who knows if the latter unwritten bit remains symbolic or is related to the pair of movies or not.

No matter how faithful to the beloved Tolkien text, the movies are sure to turn a few heads. They are being shot with equipment unlike most movies made today and will be shown at a stunning 48 frames per second in 3D, double the 24 fps standard of HD movies today. Those close to the project have spoken very highly of the improvement, and other notable movie producers (Cameron, Lucas) are showing interest in similar technologies.


Good, bad or irreverent, I am excited to see how it turns out. And yes, according to the early production video diaries, we get to see singing and dancing dwarves. No word yet on singing orcs 🙂

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