Today (June 12) was yet another fun-filled day at the expo. Having knocked out most of the West Hall on Day 1, today we focused primarily on the South Hall and the numerous exhibitors there. Wargaming.net had a large spread there, as well as Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision, and a number of other big names in the industry.
We had three meetings scheduled for the day: Oculus VR, Bohemia Interactive Studios, and Zeiss Cinemizer OLED. In between meetings, we scoured the floors for booths or displays that might have interesting products or information but might not be immediately recognizable from their exhibitor name or display theme.
I was able to sit in on a detailed presentation and walkthrough of Tom Clancy’s The Division, an upcoming title for both next-gen consoles. Jaw-dropping graphics surround a pretty solid looking gameplay system. Success in combat and completing objectives provides experience points to fuel RPG-style leveling up and unlocks. In addition the game has a feature that enables mobile players to join in and provide support to the console players on the ground. While not a tactical shooter, the game looks like it will provide satisfying squad interaction in a co-op environment. Mum’s the word on whether or not the tablet app has to be purchased separately from the console game.
I also came across Focus Home Interactive‘s booth, which had a number of arcade action titles on display. At first I at first inclined to just walk on past, but Chunx pointed out that the loop on the widescreen TV included gameplay video from Wargame – Airland Battle, an RTS that seemed like it could be pretty interesting. Talking with the booth rep, Shannon Drake, I learned that Focus also distributes Farming Simulator, an agricultural industry simulation that seems pretty intriguing.
Head tracker systems, like Track IR are considered essential equipment in our industry, and Oculus VR‘s Rift wraps the display around your head so that it moves with you, taking visual immersion to the next level. Even these early prototypes wrapped a 100 degree field of view into a relatively comfortable and easy to use package. I had a little difficultly taking the headset off and on around my eyeglasses, but once I had myself adjusted, I really enjoyed the experience.
The current developer’s kit prototype has a lower resolution (640×800 per eye) than the final 1920x1080p expected in the final version, but we were able to demo the HD hardware as well and were impressed with the improvement in image quality. The test software was a prototype package of the Unreal 4 engine, which includes Oculus Rift support in its core.
The 1,000 samples-per-second gyros and accelerometer-based stabilization system made for consistently smooth head tracking, even as I whipped my head around trying to disrupt it. LCD screens keep weight and cost down in the Rift, but the long refresh times made for some disorienting blurring which could be real killers in a tactical shooter or combat flight sim. The Oculus representative, Brendan Iribe, assured us that they were working to reduce the overall latency in the system, but this unintended feature could be a serious handicap if present in the final product. Something to keep a virtual eye on.
The Unreal 4 Engine demo didn’t offer much other than walking around, but Brendan let slip that CCP Games was giving demos of Eve VR using the Oculus Rift just a few doors down, so we all bolted down the hall to give this new hardware a practical test. The experience cast away any doubts that the Oculus Rift significantly adds immersion to the gaming experience. Tracking missiles coming in over my shoulder, scanning the horizon for enemies, or trying to shake that bandit on my tail was intuitive and seamless. The system is a ways out from release, but the price point of the developer kit is $300 – the final version will probably be in the same range.
Take On Mars
Martin Melicharek of Bohemia Interactive Studios gleefully walked me through his Take On Mars project and it was clear from the very start that a lot of passion and love has gone into this game. Take On Mars puts players in control of various rovers in pursuit of specific objectives on the Martian surface – taking chem camera samples, color photographs of areological features, etc., earns players money to buy/unlock more rovers and landing sites on Mars. The rover controls are simple WASD-style and there have been some deliberate departures from stock NASA rover configurations and capabilities to ensure gameplay satisfaction, but the current package promises to have some real gameplay value. Martin also indicated that they were looking at adding scalability features to enable a full-real rover. Look for this product later this summer.
Jiri Zlatohlavek showed me the latest Arma 3 which is planned to be released as a beta in a few weeks. The newest features include adding vehicles back into the mix, bringing Combined Arms to the Arma 3 engine. Jiri did confirm that the amazing flight dynamics of the Take On Helo series will *not* be included. Too bad.
In addition the team is updating a number of features including updating the 3d models of some scopes, adding training drills and challenges, and some additional missions.
Dave Hodgson and Chris Mahar in the Zeiss booth showed us their Cinemizer OLED, another virtual reality solution. Similar to the Oculus Rift, the Cinemizer brings the monitors to your eyes, enhancing immersion. The Cinemizer itself is a head-worn monitor system, but an optional head tracker system converts the display set into a virtual reality headset.
Unlike the Oculus, it was quite easy to peek above or under the glasses, making it easy to find controller buttons or keyboards – a real must for tactical shooters or combat flight sims. In fact, their demo platform was 777 Studio’s Rise Of Flight, a perfect test for the system.
The 4-color OLEDs of the Cinemizer made for a sharp picture, but the 30 degree field-of-view felt pretty limited, especially after having experienced the 100 degrees of the Oculus. Instead of feeling into the game I felt like I was sitting 20 feet away from a large screen TV. The head tracking was very smooth, although the system acts as a mouse-look input to the game – occasionally the view would get out of sync and the only way to reset it was to fiddle with the mouse. The price point was the real shocker at over $1100 for the glasses and motion tracker set (~$790 for the glasses alone).
A real gem in the show today was the Stinkyboard booth, tucked away in South Hall. Stinkyboard is a foot-activated controllers that is deceptively simple and amazingly useful and nowhere near as smelly as the name implies.
The current model is basically a beefy four-position rocker switch that you operate with your foot (or feet). As a demo, they had BF3 running with a Stinkyboard that was mapped to sprinting, crouching, going prone, and switching to the primary weapon. It took a few minutes to get my foot used to being an input, but I quickly realized the value in the controller – normally your feet just sit there, not contributing anything to the battle. With the Stinkyboard you can assign critical functions that would otherwise take your hands or even your eyes off the action and finally put those lazy dogs to work.
The USB-connected HID controller comes with software to program the buttons with any keystrokes you wish, making it compatible with any game. The representatives at the booth shared that they are planning on introducing more advanced macro programming capability to the board and are looking at ways to add analog axes to the controller. The $119 price point seems a bit high for essentially a four-button controller, but I can’t deny I want one. I’m just going to make sure I at least have my socks on.
Now on to day 3!