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Virtual reality is poised to be the next big thing in video games since motion controls. Remember those? The goofy sticks everyone was waving around in front their TV’s. Those were huge… but they’re also pretty much dead. The problem with being the next big thing in video games, and technology in general for that matter, is how fast something can catch on and how fast it can fade into obscurity. It’s nearly impossible to say how the technology will be adopted and used over the next few years. Arguments for and against VR’s potential in the gaming industry make valid points. I for one am optimistic. Virtual reality has the potential to truly change and shape how play and experience the medium. For that to even happen, this technology has to stick around for the long haul: overcoming its high price point and creating long term value for gamers.

Despite ever advancing technology such as graphics cards and sophisticated system architecture, the only thing to truly change how we play games was the universal and widespread adoption of the internet. Last generation’s motion controls were limited to a single console generation. PC gaming didn’t even bother with the tech. Now, VR technology is being adopted by both PC and console gaming, by companies both inside and outside of the industry, and will likely be incorporated into other industries as well.

Right now we don’t have any clear indication on whether VR is here for the long haul or a passing fad. That’s a bit of a self-explanatory, ‘well duh!’ statement, but it still needs to be said. Why? Due the amount of money, time, and resources companies are putting into VR. Quite literally every major player has jumped into the ring (except Nintendo); Valve & HTC (HTC Vive), Sony (PlayStation VR), Microsoft (HoloLens), Facebook (Oculus Rift), Samsung (Samsung Gear VR), and Google (Google Cardboard… it’s literally cardboard FYI). Even Apple who, according to Time Magazine, is ramping up their own VR R&D if their recent hiring practices are any indication. But will gamers actually buy into VR, both figuratively and literally? It might live on and thrive outside of gaming, but never be more than a piece of fancy tech on the shelf next to the Virtual Boy. Is VR fated to go the same route as motion controls? Will it be a one-generation wonder?

It’s often said that the only way to understand virtual reality is to try it yourself. As luck would have it I had the chance to slap an Oculus Rift over my eyeballs two years ago at PAX. I came in a skeptic and walked away a believer (cue The Monkees). Despite only being able to play two games with it, both were able to convey why VR had potential and why it was a technology to pay attention to. Even now, I wholeheartedly agree that the only way to ‘get’ VR is to try it for yourself. So… I’m going to do the only logical thing I can do… explain my experiences to you with words.

Vertiginous Golf

The first game I got my hands on was a steam-punk golf game Vertiginous Golf. Golfing through VR was different in a good way, it was different and it was fun. However, it wasn’t the main point I took away from the experience… and it wasn’t because I was terrible at golf (spoiler: I was). Before the golfing portion, you’re able to walk around a room, do minimal interactions, and sit in a chair. This minor segment drove home the potential possibly that developers can harness VR and deliver some truly powerful first-person games. It’s a bit of a stretch, but if the first thing I thought of in a VR golf game was future first-person applications, that says a lot about the technology. It’s not just FPS either, but something more simplistic (gameplay wise) liked Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. This also opens the doors for adventure games, puzzle games (i.e. The Witness), and more. It is a different way of experiencing the game, emphasizing you as a character more so than it can do on a television screen.

The second game I was able to demo was another indie title called Aztez from Team Colorblind, a black and white (and red) a side scrolling beat-em up from a third person perspective. Aztez gave me insight to how VR doesn’t have to be used with only the first-person games. A third person view didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the demo and with VR effectively cutting me off from everything but the game (excluding the cacophony of show floor hullabaloo) added a layer of immersion I haven’t had before. All I had was the game and my visual experience of it. VR effectively eliminated the buffer zone between the game’s display and my face. Playing games on a television means you need to sit a certain distance away. Maybe you have posters behind the TV, maybe you like to play in the dark but it’s never quite pitch black in the room, or maybe your cat just wants attention and sits in front of the TV. There’s no such distraction when VR cuts off that visual excess and plunges you into the game’s world. For the first time, you can actually be there.

Aztez

So where does that leave us? Right now may companies both inside and out are throwing their hat into VR ring. The technology has wider applications and will certainly end up in other industries as well, especially with Facebook calling the shots for Oculus. Movies, television, next-level Skype calls, military use, the inevitable adult feature film, or even used for education are all viable paths VR could take outside of gaming. Even if the technology doesn’t catch on and resonate with gamers, it’s not going anywhere. Regardless of how it’s applied, these headsets have major problem right out the gate. Unsurprisingly, it’s their high prices. If Ocular is any indication VR will set you back several hundred dollars. In terms of gaming options you’re looking at probably somewhere between $400 to $600+ dollars.

I’m not here to discuss which the better buy is, or the most advanced tech, or speculate on the exact prices. When talking about $400 and up, the semantics don’t really matter. The point is that price is going to be a major issue going forward in how fast, or how extensive the technology is adopted by gamers… which will ultimately determine VR’s success as a product. Let me put it to you this way: if the PlayStation Vita flew off shelves during the first year of release, would we have gotten that Bioshock Vita game? The issue for VR, like its distraught forefathers the PS Move and Kinect, is that this isn’t a console. But it’s priced like one. At the very least the hardware will be as expensive as their console brothers. For PC gamers, it will be cheaper your fancy rigs… if you already have one. Price still becomes a big factor for PC gaming as well, since Oculus won’t be able to be used without a high-end PC. Sorry regular PC gamers, but I suspect the HTC Vive will also run into the same problem.

This is the first barrier to clear, but how do we do it? Companies are aware of the situation and understand they need to price it as low as possible. The new technology, with new manufacturing, and all the other aspects to creating a radically new hardware product is expensive. Understanding their situation doesn’t make the problem go away for either the company or the consumer. Why would I buy a $400+ PS VR, when I can buy an Xbox One? Or Nintendo’s NX? Or upgrade my PC? What would sway my wallet towards VR versus any of the other options? It has to be done through adding more perceived value to the VR headset. Gamers get more bang for the buck and companies get a faster and higher adoption rate. That begs the question, how can additional value be added to VR?

 

Consoles have generally followed the razor-razor blade model when it comes their products: where they sell a console at a loss (or close to even) and make the profits based on software sales, similar to how razor blades make the money and not the razors themselves. The worst decision to facilitate early adoption and continued use of the product would would be to only create, or only allow VR specific games and software to run on their products. They cannot follow the razor-razor blade model with VR… at least not exactly. If so, VR will end up like motion controls. What would work is a pairing between the existing libraries of Steam, the PSN, Xbox Live to their respective products. Buying a game (i.e. blade) that can be used with multiple devices (i.e. razors). They need to pair it with existing games. That’s the added value.

The first thing that may come your mind is, “That’s impossible. They would have to go back in and provide support to enable VR use.” Well that’s not necessarily true… they don’t have to. Fallout 4 doesn’t have to support the motion aspects of VR, it just has to be Fallout 4. If companies can create the technology that enables their VR devices to display a game… any game, on the headset as seamlessly as it can on the television… virtual reality will replace the television for gamers. Not every game is going to be a VR game, because not every developer wants to make a VR specific game. Finding a way to enable the transition of a game to VR, whether it incorporates motion or not, would make every game a VR game. There is your added value, there is your selling point.

This makes sense when we determine why gamers are excited for VR in the first place. Is it to play games in new and interesting ways? Yeah, probably. Is it excitement behind brand new technology… technology we’ve all dreamed about but never thought we’d actually get to play? Yeah, probably. Is it the increased level of immersion that VR brings? Yeah, probably. Two of those reasons affect our actual experience of the games; immersion and new experiences. Both are tied closely together: playing a game in a way we’ve only dreamed about is a direct result of both the motion aspect and increased immersion acting in tandem. It’s a bit of a cop-out to say we’ve excited about VR because of the whole package. However, that’s’ not truly the case.

 

I stated earlier that with the exception of the internet, nothing has radically changed how we play and experience a game. The all-encompassing immersion has the potential to do that. Strip away the motion aspect of VR and you have greater visual and auditory immersion. Strip away the immersion aspect of VR and you have motion controls… we’ve already done that. Therefore, I’d argue that the immersion is the main draw to VR.

Gamer’s love their freedom. Just look at the massive popularity of open-world games at the moment. We also love to play how we want to. This may mean playing with or without motion controls. I understand that motion is a major aspect of why VR exists and that VR is a natural evolution of the motion controller technology. However, when looking at why someone would want the technology, at the most basic level, increased immersion is the bigger factor. To further state my case and to draw a parallel to VR’s current situation, I want to bring your attention to a different piece of gaming technology: the 3DS.

3D was the initial draw to the Nintendo DS successor. Before hitting the market, it successfully established itself as something different. Their 3D technology worked surprisingly well for a handheld device that didn’t require any peripherals or wacky 3D glasses. Did every single gamer love the 3D? No, probably not. Did everyone always use the 3D? No, probably not. The beauty of Nintendo’s choice to allow the 3D to be enabled or disabled was the gamer could experience games in the best possible way that suited them. Some gamers decided that they loved 3D and while others didn’t. Maybe it hurt their eyes after longer play sessions, or maybe they just wanted to play their games without it. Some gamers might just flip between the two depending on what game they were playing. The point is that even if they hated the 3D, really and truly despised it, they could still use and play the games on that system with no problems whatsoever.

Virtual Reality headsets should be the same way. Virtual reality should support the next step of gaming immersion, without the need for to be used with motion control head-tracking or peripherals. It should give the player the freedom to experience what they want to, how they want to. I’m not here to demean head-tracking, use with other motion peripherals, or the use of motion controls at all. The most immersive experiences may in fact be those games that fully utilize all the motion control wizardry at the developers’ disposal.

 

However, I believe that limiting the headset to a select sub-section of games specifically for VR will hinder the success of the technology in gaming. It can potentially hinder sales… which means developers won’t want to waste resources to make VR specific games… which means gamers won’t get a Bioshock VR… which means without those big titles many gamers won’t want to buy one in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

Providing the additional value through existing games played in deeper, never before experienced immersion will convince consumers to purchase more units early on. This can only be done by providing gamers with the freedom to play how they want to; enabling or disabling the motion aspect: flip it on to play a VR specific release, flip it off to play Fallout 4. Right now, HDMI cables are needed to be hooked into a PC or a console to use the 3D. We just need the technology to take that existing game and translate it to fit the viewing angles and differences in display of a headset versus a television. Human beings can smash atoms together, I certainly believe translating video is within the realm of possibility.

It’s unlikely, with the devices so close to launch, that this will occur. To my knowledge, I don’t believe these first generation VR devices will be able to do convert existing games and format them for the device’s viewing range/angles. However, it is something that needs to be looked at for future iterations of the devices. Incorporating these devices into their respective eco-systems in this fashion makes them a part of the razor-razor blade model, instead of separating the product with specific software. It will only help ensure the success of the product in the long term and give gamers a better experience, more freedom, and added value. It’s a win-win.

Virtual reality’s success is still shrouded in mystery. No amount of tea-leaf readings will be able to tell what is going to happen five years, or even one year from now. Will VR stick around for the long-haul or will it be a one-gen wonder? The technology faces a common hurdle often seen in hardware launches: high price points. A slow start may be bad for its future in gaming. PC gamers who don’t have high end PCs may be out of luck anyway, unable to use the Oculus Rift, and quite possibly the HTC Vive. For VR to be a success it has to sell and be adopted by gamers. At the same time it has to provide a value to them that meets the price of admission. That’s the challenge. The solution is both simple and complicated. Leveraging the existing libraries is the simple answer (more games, duh) but the hard part is creating the technology that allows for it to occur. Incorporating on-off motion controls enables VR to be more of a 3DS and less of a PS Move or Kinect. The existing games, even with the lack of motion controls, are likely to be more immersive on a headset than on the big screen. It also avoids the potential pitfall that developers may face; having to shoe-horn in VR controls in their games to be VR compatible. The ultimate end for gamers is the VR headset replacing their televisions… and every game becomes a VR game.

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Sea Of Solitude Review

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Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude is a game which was developed by Jo-Mei Games and was published by Electronic Arts. It is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC via Origin. It is a single player third person adventure game. The game has the player control a character named Kay who explores an abandoned and flooded city.

This was a game which caught my eye only very recently when I first heard about its release. After watching the trailer, I thought the art style, strong colours and animations looked very interesting. Also as a person who went mad one day and subscribed to EA’s Origin Premiere late last year so that I could play some games I had missed out on over the years, I was pleased to see something new added to the store that wasn’t a typical Electronic Arts style major franchise game. Knowing I could get this one for free was enough to give it a go. But if you’re not part of that program to get it for free, I’d say that the $26.95 asking price for this digital title is certainly worth it.

The game isn’t too long, most hardened gamers will probably be able to finish this one in a single session, which I actually managed to do yesterday morning. I didn’t time myself, but I’d say to expect about 3 or so hours out of it, a bit more if you look around for collectables.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

On the surface, Sea Of Solitude is about a young girl named Kay, who is searching through a city, which is for some reason flooded. You start the game all alone on a tiny boat, way out at sea on the water. You make your way to the city, where you find a monster clad in darkness is blocking your path. Through exploration and activating certain things, Kay brings light to an otherwise dark city.

Underneath the main plot though, is a game with strong messages and themes related to loneliness and relationships. Kay as a character is someone who has become lonely, isolated and quite depressed after issues with her family and her boyfriend. The game sends the player on a journey to free Kay and other characters from suffering from the effects of loneliness and related themes. What I didn’t expect this weekend, was to play a game which seemed to have the objective of tackling these mental health issues in this way and I never expected to play something this weekend from the gaming genre with such deep meaning to it.

In many ways, Sea Of Solitude reminded me of my experience with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which was also a game that focused on mental health issues and is still a game I hold in very high regard. Both of these games were experiences that I could not put down once I started playing as I just had to find out what was going to happen with my character. Games tackling these mental health themes and the issues involved are quite rare in this medium, so when an experience like this does come along, it’s very unique and interesting. The difference between Sea Of Solitude and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is that Sea of Solitude is a little lighter in tone and not the intense gruelling experience that Senua’s was. This makes a player’s time with Sea Of Solitude one that is peaceful to experience.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

The art style in Sea Of Solitude is something I enjoyed looking at. The animations are very rounded, colours stand out on the screen and the use of blacks in contrast with visibly bright blues, whites and orange was what I loved the most. The music and also the voice acting, was soft and did fit in well with the tone of the game’s themes and art style. All together, visuals and audios seemed to be just right.

The gameplay in Sea Of Solitude is something I’d say is probably a little simple. It’s essentially a platforming game where you will jump, swim, drive a boat and shoot flares onto enemies. There aren’t any button combinations to learn or any level up systems. The game is accessible to people of most ages and even to people new to gaming could easily pick this one up and get through it.

Overall coming out of playing Sea Of Solitude, I was filled with positivity and happiness. The story is quite heavy when playing through it, but very warm in the end. The art style and animations are nice to see and the sound and voice acting was just right. I do like to see that the games industry can use the medium to tackle such heavy topics and release games like this which show how well this medium can tell a story and provide its audience with something of great meaning. I’m happy to recommend Sea Of Solitude for your gaming collection.

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Stuber Review

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Stuber Review

Stuber is a film which comes directed by Michael Dowse and stars Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani and Betty Gilpin. The film is an action comedy adventure about an Uber driver and a policeman who go on a wild ride together.

Going in to see Stuber I didn’t really know where to set my expectations. Knowing only that the film was a comedy, meant I went in for the lols and didn’t expect all that much from the story. But coming out of the film, I’m sorry to say, but it’s not really that great.

The film starts off okay and the opening scene features both Vic (Dave Bautista) and Sara (Karen Gillan) engaged in a dangerous shootout with some bad guys. Both are seriously injured and Vic loses his eyesight, which means he gets some urgent surgery. His eyes need time go recover, but as soon he’s able to walk he calls for an Uber and continues on with his police business, which is catching the bad guys who got away in the opening scene. This is where Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) comes in and the journey between this awkward duo begins.

I wish I could say that it was all good once the Uber ride began but it wasn’t. The film is only really mildly funny. Dave Bautista who I do really like in action films really isn’t great at comedy. Kumail Nanjiani basically was just screaming and yelling the whole time and talking about his Uber rating and reviews. I admit I did find some of the bad reviews he got from his previous customers in the film funny when they were shown, but that’s about it. Some of the jokes were also drawn out way too long. Dave Bautista’s character being blind was kind of funny in the first minute when you saw him trying to walk around without being able to see. But it’s only funny once and they did this joke over and over again almost all the way until the end!

In addition to this, for quite a bit of the film, I wondered if this was some sort of product placement or advertisement for Uber. There were so many mentions of Uber, Uber reviews and the difference between Uber products and services. What are we paying to watch here? Who cares about Uber!?

In the end I would suggest avoiding Stuber at the cinema this week and choosing literally any other film currently showing. After leaving this I instantly thought that Stuber needs to be on my list of worst movies of 2019 which I created just after seeing this and that says a lot because I was not compelled to make one after seeing X:Men Dark Phoenix.

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The Biggest Album Debuts of 2019: Updated Chart

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Biggest Album Debuts of 2019

The Biggest Album Debuts of 2019 – Billboard has been publishing a list of the most popular albums in America every week since March 1956. They include the “equivalent album units” for the albums in the top ten. What’s not included is a way to view the biggest debuts for each year.

For anyone else who is curious, here is a chart that ranks the biggest album debuts of 2019.

NOTE:

  • This only covers first-week album sales in America that debuted in the top ten on the Billboard 200 chart
  • EPs are included in this list
  • “Equivalent album units” factor in traditional album sales, concert ticket/merch bundles and streaming numbers

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL AND UPDATED LIST

ArtistAlbumFirst Week “Units”
Jonas BrothersHappiness Begins414,000
Ariana GrandeThank U, Next360,000
Billie EilishWhen We All Fall Asleep313,000
Backstreet BoysDNA234,000
BTSMap of the Soul: Persona230,000
KhalidFree Spirit202,000
Juice WRLD

Tyler, the Creator

Death Race for Love

Igor

165,000 (1) (2)
Vampire WeekendFather of the Bride138,000
DJ KhaledFather of Asahd137,000

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL AND UPDATED LIST

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