BOOK REVIEW – LITTLE NIGHTMARES VOLUME 1 GRAPHIC NOVEL

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Needless to say, this graphic novel is based on the game Little Nightmares and contains the first 2 comic books in the series. The series was initially announced to consist of 4 comic books, however at the time of this post book 3 and 4 unfortunately appear to have been cancelled.

Anyone who has played Little Nightmares will know that the world of the game is a dark and mysterious place, with a lot of unanswered questions. This graphic novel builds on this world and provides some additional bits of information about the greater world that was not directly shown in the game.

I really like the ascetics and feel of Little Nightmares and part of its appeal is this sense of unknown, and the graphic novel does not spoil this, providing just enough information to get the reader more curious. For example, the comic books explain how the kids end up on The Maw, the fictional ship on which the game and its DLC takes place, but gives no additional details about the mysteries surrounding the Maw itself.

The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated with amazing artwork, in line with the graphic style of the game.

It is however important to mention that this graphic novel will not make sense to someone who has not played the game. It is very much a companion piece to the game and builds on the world that was established therein. But if you played Little Nightmares and loved the world it built then this will be a great read.

BOOK REVIEW – LITTLE NIGHTMARES VOLUME 1 GRAPHIC NOVEL

WINDOWS MIXED REALITY

Today we will have a look at a Windows Mixed Reality headset, more specifically the Lenovo Explorer. First let us have a look at what Windows Mixed Reality headsets are. Despite their naming, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are not a mixed reality technology like the Microsoft HoloLens, but are Virtual Reality Headsets and Motion Controllers based on technologies developed by Microsoft and manufactured by OEMs like Lenovo, HP and Dell to name a few.

Each of the manufacturers made minor changes to their headsets, for example the HP Headset introduced detachable cables, which is a great feature, however also reduced the field of view to 95° (Compared to a 110° field of view for most of the other Windows Mixed Reality Headsets) which results in a rather terrible binocular effect. So, part of the challenge is selecting a headset that meets your requirements based on the differences between the headsets in a variety of areas, such as field of view, fit, comfort and weight.

Below are the high-level results of my research for each headset I considered:

  • Samsung Odyssey: Great headset, however at time of making my purchase it was over double the price of the other headsets.
  • HP WMR Headset: Detachable cables are a great feature, however the field of view (95°) is a deal breaker.
  • Dell Visor: Has a terrible fit and has the worst light bleed of any of the headsets from the headset not properly sitting on the users’ face.
  • Acer WMR Headset: Good all-rounder, however I really did not like the visual design of it.
  • Lenovo Explorer: Good all-rounder and more muted design compared to Acer.
  • Asus WMR Headset: Out of Stock at time of my Purchase, also its price is comparable to Samsung Odyssey.

All the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets have a per eye resolution of 1440×1440@90Hz, except the Samsung Odyssey which has a resolution of 1440×1600@90Hz, compared to 1080×1200@90Hz for the Oculus Rift, 1080×1200@90Hz for the HTC Vive and 960×1080@120Hz for the PlayStation VR.

The three above mentioned headsets do however utilise OLED Displays whereas the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets (except the Samsung, which uses AMOLED) use LCD displays, resulting in the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets experience slightly less colour saturation and contrast, however most people would have a hard time noticing the difference if they did not compare the headsets side by side.

Another area in which the Windows Mixed Reality headsets differ from the other major VR headsets is in the way it handles position tracking. In the case of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, these headsets utilize some form of external components, such as the Oculus Cameras, Vive Lighthouses and PlayStation Camera, to track the users position in the virtual world. This is great for tracking accuracy, but it is not ideal from the perspective that additional devices are required, that often must be purchased separately, as well as the additional configuration and cables that need to me managed and kept out-of-the-way.

For many people space is also a problem and setting up a designated VR space is simply not an option and packing up everything between uses is very cumbersome. Thus, with these headsets, although the results are amazing, the setup is tedious, and they are far from easily movable once setup.

This is where Windows Mixed Reality takes a different approach, using what is called inside-out tracking. This technology is based on the learnings and technologies Microsoft refined in the development of the Xbox Kinect. Instead of using external components to track the users’ position, all user tracking happens using sensors, such as cameras and Infra-red, contained within the headset. The results are surprisingly good, with the only real trade-off being that the motion controllers are tracked only if they are in view of the headset. Thus far I have not found a VR game where this resulted in any problems.

As far as configuration is concerned, things are very straight forward and easy with the headset requiring one USB 3.0 port and one HDMI 1.4 (2.0 is however recommended) port.

Microsoft lists the minimum GPU required as an Intel HD620, however what can be run on this GPU will be seriously limited. A more realistic GPU requirement can be ascertained by looking at the SteamVR and Oculus minimum requirements, which lists a GeForce GTX 970, however certain games do require a more powerful GPU. All my testing was done on a GeForce GTX 1080.

Now that we have covered all the hardware related information, let us have a look at some of the content and games available for the headset.

There are three main platforms on which you can get content and games for Windows Mixed Reality Headsets, they are Mixed Reality Portal, SteamVR and Oculus Store.

The Mixed Reality Portal is the Microsoft platform and is designed for Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The games and content available on the Portal is however by far the most limited of the three platforms.

With SteamVR the user will need to install “Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR” from the Steam Store. Once this is completed SteamVR titles will be playable on the Windows Mixed Reality headset. Titles officially supporting Windows Mixed Reality will have the following icon: wmr_icon

Steam

However, all SteamVR titles I tested, the majority of which did not have official support worked perfectly. So, do not feel restricted to only titles that list official support for Windows Mixed Reality.

To play Oculus games on your Windows Mixed Reality headset you will require an application called Revive. The complete setup instructions can be found here. All titles I tested from the Oculus store worked perfectly.

Now that you know your options regarding where to get games and content, the next question is what to get? I can recommend the following VR games which are my favorites:

  • Batman: Arkham VR
  • Audioshield
  • The Blu
  • Space Pirate Trainer
  • Job Simulator
  • Doom VFR
  • The Brookhaven Experiment
  • Superhot VR

Windows Mixed Reality headsets have a list price of between $400-500 (USD) dependent on model, however most Windows Mixed Reality headsets have been on sale consistently over the past few months on Amazon and the Microsoft store for around $250 and even less if you would consider a refurbished headset.

Given the price of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (including the Oculus Cameras) is nearly double that, the Windows Mixed Reality headsets become a very alluring offer for anyone wanting to experience Virtual Reality without breaking the bank.

I am very pleased with my purchase and I have really enjoyed the experience with my Lenovo Explorer headset. I would recommend the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets to anyone interested in getting a VR headset who might be scared off by the $500 price tag or the complicated setup. Windows Mixed Reality gives the user a more affordable, more compact and easy to use alternative, with only minor trade-offs, and I would recommend that anyone in the market for a VR headset give Windows Mixed Reality a serious consideration.

Just as a side note, I use the Skywin Universal VR Holder and Cable Organiser to store my Windows Mixed Reality headset and it works great. It is an inexpensive way to keep your headset safe and looking cool when it is not in use.

WINDOWS MIXED REALITY

BOOK REVIEW – MASTERS OF DOOM BY DAVID KUSHNER

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Masters of Doom tells the story of the formation of ID Software, one of the most influential companies in gaming. It focuses on the stories of the four founders, John Romero, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack and Tom Hall.

Covering everything from how and where they crew up, to how they got involved in game development, to how they met and started ID Software and eventually as most of them left ID Software, what came next for them.

The book covers everything from the early days when they worked at SoftDisk and started Ideas from the Deep (Later renamed to ID Software). Where they worked on Commander Keen and how they constantly evolved, creating revolutionary game after game, from Wolfenstein 3D to Doom to Quake, transforming the industry and what people thought possible along the way.

This book is by far my favourite video game related book, and I cautious writing any more regarding its contents out of fear of spoiling something. But if you are in any way interested in video games give this book a try. It is an amazing book and comes highly recommended.

BOOK REVIEW – MASTERS OF DOOM BY DAVID KUSHNER

BOOK REVIEW – BLOOD, SWEAT AND PIXELS BY JASON SCHREIER

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Blood, Sweat and Pixel is a very enjoyable book, containing the stories behind the creation of various video games. It gives the reader insight into how this process is never straight forward nor easy and is rather a perilous journey undertaken by developers out of sheer love for the medium.

The creation process of various video games are covered, from the successful, such as The Witcher 3 and Uncharted 4, to the ill-fated Star Wars 1313.

The book also conveys the sad stories of how many video games outlive the studios that created them, and the reality that very few video game development studios remains afloat in the challenging video game industry.

The reader is also given great insight into the challenges video game developers face, from tight budgets and technological difficulties to dealing with tyrannical publishers. It gives the reader a much greater sense of appreciation for what the developers endure to make their creative visions a reality.

As someone who loves video games and is interested in the development process behind them, I found this book highly entertaining and informative. I struggled to put this book down and would highly recommend it.   

BOOK REVIEW – BLOOD, SWEAT AND PIXELS BY JASON SCHREIER

A Story About A Game

15 Years ago I wrote a small game called Hellspawn and I rediscovered it again when I was going through some old backup discs. It is a top down shooter and was developed in Borland C++ Builder (I think version 6). It was a very basic game (especially looking back now) from when I was still a very inexperienced developer, still studying to get a degree.

So if anyone is interested here it is: HellSpawn

To get it working on windows 10:

Use Hellspawn.exe to start the game, but first in file properties:

  • Set executable to run in compatibility mode  – Windows 98 / Windows ME
  • Reduced Color mode – 16-bit
  • Override DPI Scaling Behavior, Scaling performed by – Application
  • Can also set to run in 640 x 480, however is best to change screen resolution in windows to 1024 x 768 for best experience.

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The controls are as follows:

  • Arrow keys to move
  • Left ctrl keys to fire weapon

Simply kill all the enemies to proceed to the next level.

On another note I have some Steam game keys to give away!

For a chance to win one simply email killerrobotics.me@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Killer Robotics Steam Giveaway’ and for the message content just be creative.

Winners will be randomly selected and announced via twitter.

A Story About A Game

Another VR post and some updates

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In a previous post, DIY VR Part 1, we took a look at apps that allowed a user to stream PC games to a smartphone in stereoscopic 3D, which could then be used with a Google Cardboard compatible headset to experience VR.

This worked well, however the apps examined in the previous post did not support or were not optimized for games specifically designed for SteamVR. For SteamVR to start up a compatible HMD (Head Mounted Display, like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) needs to be detected, something the apps covered previously did not support, with the exception of TrinusVR which does support this, however it does not support USB tethering with iOS which has a significant negative effect on the experience.

Today we will look at an app that does fully supports this functionality, iVRy.

iVRy is an iOS app that allows SteamVR games to be streamed to an iPhone, and as with the previously mentioned apps, utilizes the phone’s gyroscope and accelerometers for head tracking and movement.

iVRy comprises of a app that is installed on your iPhone and a SteamVR HMD driver to be installed alongside SteamVR on your PC.

The iPhone is then connected to the PC either via Wi-Fi or USB (preferably USB as the results are greatly improved). The next step is to start the iVRy app on the phone and then lastly launch

SteamVR (which will detect the phone as a compatible HMD) and you are up and running.

The app has various settings to optimally configure your VR experience, such as lens distortion correction and field of view settings, with a large list of Google Cardboard Compatible Headsets preconfigured for ease of use.

Another feature of the app is that it auto adjusts image quality to ensure a high frame rates, reducing VR sickness.

iVRy supports a lot of SteamVR titles, working with any game that does not require motion controls, so any game that supports a traditional controller should work. Saying this a controller is pretty much required and any Steam compatible controller will work.

iVRy has a free trial version that does not limit play time, but reduces color saturation after 5 minutes of play time, making the image appear in shades of grey. To unlock the full premium version of iVRy costs $6.99, which removes the 5 minute limitation.

If you are an Android user a similar app is available called VRidge by RiftCat, which costs $14.99. It does however offer a great deal more functionality, thus the higher price.

Now on a related topic, I recently had the opportunity to play around with a HTC Vive at the Microsoft Store at NorthPark Center in Dallas Texas, and it was an amazing experience. I played through a series of experiences, starting with a tutorial based on the game Portal and then flowing into The Blu, AudioShield and finally Space Pirate Trainer. The experience was extremely immersive and I got goose bumps, it was truly mind blowing. The motion controls and room tracking of the Vive work extremely well and helps greatly with the immersion. If you ever have an opportunity to use a HTC Vive I would highly recommend it.

While I was in Dallas I also went to see some interesting sights, like the Oculus VR Dallas offices, where John Carmack is based.

Now for a quick update on the DIY VR Headset Version 2. I have acquired the parts for the new headset, including two 1920×1280 (60 Hz) 3.5inch (89mm) displays (one for each eye) and a Leap Motion, which I will use to implement motion controls. I have decided for the version 2 to use two smaller independent displays mounted in portrait mode (similar to what is done in the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, post Development Kit 1 which used one screen).

I will also look at using iVRy with the Leap Motion to get motion controls working in Steam VR. So watch this space, some exciting things are coming.

Another VR post and some updates