A GEARVR NEWS RETRO REVIEW
Titans of Space, created by developer Drash, has been available since the early days of Oculus Rift. It has already been quite a popular experience for Oculus Rift and then later for the GearVR, with over 100K downloads having been obtained so far. This, according to Drash, who kindly posted a reply on Reddit in response to many questions about this.
At that time, this amazing space-exploration and planetary tour experience was only running in monoscopic 2D mode yet people everywhere still loved it. It got rave reviews and I remember feeling jealous of those who had DK1’s and DK2’s out there while I could only see its video on YouTube. The idea of it is essentially a safari ride set in space. You sit in a space ship with an open top (a space convertible) and stop at key points along a winding trajectory through space to read some interesting facts about each thing you encounter.
The PC version features a voice-over track, and even a few more options as shown by the screen in the photo below. The GearVR does not have a voice over feature, which is a pity because many people on the forums have begged for this feature, which could have added a much-needed “Carl Sagan” type of dialogue to explain things to you in a more interesting way.
I think the voice over feature is really necessary here, so we don’t feel quite so lonely in the murky depths of space. This experience is truly amazing, for sure, but I feel myself becoming lonely as it progresses, and I would truly have liked it if Drash had included the voice narration that the PC version got into the GearVR version, too. It’s not cool to wander through that huge vast empty sea of black alone, by yourself. The voice over feature would help you enjoy the tour more, feel a tad safer, and not so alone there in all that inky blackness. Please give us a bit more for GearVR if at all possible there, Drash.
It’s hard to dare to ask for more of anything, though, when you realize that this app was worked on for several years in total, with dozens of updates along the way, all … for free! Drash also heard our cries for 3D-Depth rendering and at some point along the way, was able to eek out a bit more rendering power to do this. How was he finally able to turn on the 3D-Depth mode for GearVR? In his own words, he said back then:
“… a tiny bit more app optimization + SDK improvements + Unity updates + higher CPU clock level limits … and that was all I needed to make 60 FPS stereo 3D work!”
Good thing for us, too! The 3D mode is amazing! Back then, many of us cheered, and were stoked to be able to see more depth. I also felt the 3D-Depth inclusion here helped to reduce this app’s tendency toward motion sickness … at least a little.
This experience is still not entirely comfortable for everyone even to this day, as it uses some unorthodox tricks to change up the experience’s aesthetics along the way. The universe’s sense of scale changes at times, and the ship you are on flies on curves and spins around often like a thrill ride would in Disneyland or Six Flaggs. Sometimes the angle of the ship changes so you are listing forward, but in space you can’t tell if you’re leaned forward, or if space is going up, and without gravity, your body can’t tell. It causes disorientation, but I still like it all the same. When you pause next to Saturn to admire a small satellite at the outermost edge of the rings, everything feels like its going uphill. It makes me feel ill, but I can feel the wonder of it all, too. It’s so beautiful there, but also a little scary for some reason. It’s times like this when I wish I had that voice-dictated overlay going to make me not feel so creeped out this deep in space alone by myself.
At one point, the demo expands to actual distances and we’re parked right behind the Earth. The Earth’s moon is flying around the Earth (and us) every 30 seconds. Apparently the time scale has been condensed to 24 hours going by every 30 seconds of real time. The Sun is so far away it looks like a tiny ball, smaller than it looks from inside Earth’s atmosphere, on Earth. The moon is really far away at this scale, too, the 3D-Depth helping you understand that distance and learn more about the relationship of the Moon to the Earth. So fascinating! Truly memorable.
There is this cool moment also when you are parked looking at the entire galaxy to the sun, and all of the planets are spinning around the sun at their actual relationship-speed to one another. Of course the speed scale is way faster than normal, with one year going by every 30 seconds or so. But you can see even at this scale just how long Pluto takes to go around the sun on its really long cycle at that really odd orbital angle. So fascinating.
I’m pretty sure this is new in the l.8 update, because while I updated my app to 1.8, I’d never looked at it at all before doing this review, and I’m certain I’ve never seen that animation going before. It was nice to see something new.
Later in the demo, there’s a scale adjustment so that we can understand the size of the sun versus several other suns. We get parked right next to an asteroid. Clicking to continue, the scale change begins. Right before your eyes the asteroid shrinks in size until a really 3D-Depth-looking version is floating in front of your eyes like a tiny handheld rock. The size and depth of that rock changes with the Universe’s scale adjustment, and it just looks so cool. It’s nice touches like this that just make this demo really soar.
The music in Titans of Space, created by musical geniuses Jon Hillman and QuietAndy, is something truly moving, and marvelous beyond words. (I’m still going to try!) If there’s ever a music award to be given out for any music title in VR, it should be this one, as this is one piece that’s just pure gold.
It’s a living track, meaning it plays one version for a while, but when you get to certain places, another version sort of overrides what’s playing, merging seamlessly, and offers an increase in dramatic tension, a rise in the song’s melodic temperament, a severe escalation that grips your throat like a hand squeezing the air out of you. You feel like your whole life is in danger, with the music being the only thing that is causing this sensation. The music has its own life within the application, its own force, pushing this application forward all on its own.
I get severely flummoxed by that score’s dangerous turns. I believe it is without a doubt the greatest marvel of pure-musical engineering in any VR app I’ve played. This needs to get entered into the record books in some way, not lost or forgotten. No dust deserves to settle on it. This is a piece of genius that IS the thrill of this application all by itself. It moves you through the Universe, but it also puts a spell on you. And when the music gets scary, you feel as scared as if you were playing Dreadhalls or something.
I can’t explain how a piece of music can so grip my mind and heart and make me feel the shock and awe, but this one really does. It could (and should) be used again some day in a scary Sci-Fi movie, it’s so good. If some of you don’t feel the same way, I apologize for taking up four paragraphs of your life with this hyped revelation, but in my book, over-hyping my elation a little is worth the possible embarrassment to let the musicians know … they really impressed me.
The Top-20-Most-Downloaded Chart for GearVR (shown below) is merely a snapshot of one small window of time, not the actual “Total” of all downloads for any product from the beginning of time. No one but Oculus has that kind of data except the developers themselves. You can see this as a 1-month window of the activity of all the GearVR downloads happening in any given month. Drash was kind enough to tell us that Titans of Space has had over 100K downloads in its lifetime (for GearVR only, not including PC downloads which are way more). So the “Buys” column only indicates its relationship to these other successful applications. As you can see, Titans of Space has, at the time of this article’s writing, come in seventh place for a one-month period as of January 2016 when I did the study of these results. Take a look at the chart below first.
This means generally speaking, Titans of Space is the 7th most favorite app of the people coming to GearVR last month wanting to see what makes GearVR special and interesting. That’s because it IS a great experience, partially because of its visual content, partially due to its fantastic adaptive musical score which changes as you go, and partially because of the interesting facts you can read about the planets along the way. It’s a grand space safari, there’s very little else out there like it.
Many people on Reddit tend to think this app teaches them how insignificant we all are. And if you believe size is the litmus test for one’s value in the universe, these giants may well come across as more important than we speck-like humans are. But they also pay a terrible price for that size, that dominance, in their severe isolation and loneliness. They gobble up everything around themselves until they own it all, that’s true. But then there is nothing left to share with the space around them. Humans are made of that same “star stuff.” We might not be as big as they are, but at least we can appreciate that there is more to the universe than just ourselves. That’s a big revelation, something these lifeless, dead-roaming giants could never appreciate.
This innovative and special VR Experience shows us our place in the universe, it shows us how small our Earth really is compared to the giant behemoths and monsters out there, these titans of space that own the endless and empty blackness of endless night.
But it does not show us we are insignificant; alas, it can actually demonstrate the opposite. You see, it takes all of that space, all of that chaos, all of that grand expanse, all of that randomness, and all of that experimentation … to even produce ONE planet that we yet know of that can support, create, and sustain us!
We are that valuable and that unique, believe that, as much as the Carl-Sagan types in the world tend to want to deny us a belief in. Carl Sagan said that if there’s only just us in all the universe, then that’s an awful waste of space. We … are a waste? I think he was too focused on the space and not on the life that is here already!
Think about it. If space is a waste without life in it, then by our having lived, we made all that space valuable after all. It wasn’t a waste. WE therefore just might be the TITANS, because we’re the only ones who can appreciate all of this and even know what it is. And even if there are a few other populated worlds like ours out there, somewhere, until we know about them for sure, we are all that we know there is.
We might as well enjoy our sense of value while it lasts and not let the sense of cosmic scale that this app delivers diminish us entirely. Because as lonely as those titans of space are out there, you can be sure the universe is at least TRYING to make some new forms of life to one day populate them with. And then we won’t be alone anymore, either.
That’s either a very comforting thought for you, or the scariest thought there is. I’ll just let you decide….
Categories: Retro Reviews