A GEARVR NEWS UPDATE
When I first got my GearVR, I was fairly surprised by the lack of support in the Oculus Home Store, the proprietary VR “App Store” for the device. Heck, it didn’t even allow for game purchases when it first started, everything was just free … because it kind of had to be. The store was just a shell of itself back then, just enough to hold the thing together like some skeleton pinned into shape by students who’d spent too much time partying and now couldn’t get their medical assignment done in time but was secretly hoping no one would notice. Oh, but we deeeed. We DEED no-tees!
The forums were quite full of bitter dregs and bile about Oculus’ software limitations, but no matter how much we complained about the missing functionality, the lack of information, its downloading issues, all of the app-sorting issues we had (and all of this for almost 14 months) nothing we asked for was being given to us. What kept coming were only these incremental changes, scraps of minor updates, with hardly a word shown for what the update even was or what it included. While companies like Starship (vTime’s creators) and OZWE (Anshar Wars Series) heard everything we asked for and worked feverishly around the clock to give us those things in a crazy-fast time frame, while they were proud to let us know they’d heard everything, Oculus was itself alarmingly silent. Aloof even.
Even on the Reddit forums, there were few mods answering our questions or making us feel valued by showing they were listening to our needs. And that’s just strange, because technical genius John Carmack himself can go on stage and talk about VR for 2 hours without cliff notes and never say the same thing twice and only stop talking to take a breath maybe 4 or 5 times in his whole speech. But nothing was ever said about the GearVR’s Home Store. Mum was the word. And it was the only thing spoken, mum.
I wrote a half dozen articles myself decrying the situation forthwith and lamenting the lack of substantial meat and potatoes coming down the pipes at Oculus. I trembled with how thin and gaunt I felt with the lack of nutritional insights into where this device’s future lied. I seemed all of the developers who create everything seemed more forthcoming and excited than Oculus apparently did for their own product. It felt to me like this amazing community (camped out around GearVR like at some UFO sighting) had more faith in the product than its owners on the inside of it even did. It was disheartening for me, it made me feel the future of the device was still in question. That if the creator’s couldn’t pour their hearts into it, then in time, it would just fade away, never to be heard again. And all those camped out developers would simply fade away like what happens after a Roswell UFO convention concludes in the desert. There are other companies struggling to get in the door of mobile VR, after all (such as “Sulon Q“ by AMD, wow!), so if Oculus wouldn’t take itself seriously, perhaps these would come and sail right past them like they were at a standstill. At least, that was my fear.
But that all changed last month when a series of things all began to coalesce at once into a kind of singularity of focus, a quintessence of will, aimed at restoring my faith in the GearVR’s future as we begin moving forward. I saw the waters, which once had been dead to me–or at least cold, empty and dark–suddenly fill with light as I was surrounded on all sides by teems of metaphorical fish, real activity, and all the evidence of life. I was breathless seeing so much change come all at once. It was a cold slap in the face back to reality: and that reality boils down to this: Oculus is here to stay.
FACEBOOK STEPS UP…
It began with an announcement by Facebook regarding a new technology they developed for the Oculus Video app called “Dynamic Streaming.” This allows videos in GearVR to be played at 6K directly where you’re looking, while buffering in lower resolutions everywhere else. The two layers are mapped onto a pyramid shape instead of a cubed shape as they’ve been until now, which reduces video bandwidth by 80%! This allows them to stream a much higher pixel count right where you’re looking. In theory it was supposed to make the videos way more epic. Many users report feeling quite satisfied with the upgrades, however Dynamically-Streamed videos do require you to have 30M internet speeds or greater and a very fast Wi-Fi router or else the videos will stutter and buffer every few seconds, ruining the effect. This is due to the 6K portion of your view moving a lot of data over the airwaves. If your Wi-Fi router can’t keep up, as with mine, then you get no benefit from this service. Most public Wi-Fi’s are not broadcasting the highest speeds available, either.
So for now, this technology won’t help everyone with a GearVR, just the most elite of users. But it is a workable theory, and given enough time to cater the coding to more situations for its use, Dynamic Streaming could totally work. So while it’s not what I was hoping for initially, I can still feel that it’s going to pay off down the road.
Then next we saw some cosmetic changes to the Settings screen in GearVR which is accessed by holding the back button for 4-5 seconds. Not much, but evidence that Oculus was changing. That work had finally begun since forever.
OCULUS SOCIAL STEPS UP…
Then there were a number of new updates in several patches that came back to back. Oculus updated its Oculus Social app with new features, including the ability to Add Friends. At this time, there isn’t much that can be done with those “friends” yet, so one must assume this is merely the opening salvo on the war to bring Oculus Home into the 21st Century after a 20th Century opening skirmish that began in 2014 with the Samsung Note 4, now a legacy device. More is sure to come to flesh out the Friend’s List functionality.
One of the things I would suggest, and I am hoping for, is a Game Scheduler that works out all the time-zone issues automatically. You put in the times you want to schedule with a friend (even in another country), then they accept the one they agree with choose the game or app (such as vTime) you’re going to meet in. Then both Schedulers synchronize to each other this data, regardless of time zone. You then get an alarm message (pushed like any standard messaging service) to alert you 10-20 minutes before the event. You show up and if you’re friend is there, somehow you can see that and be sure to find them. Something like this would streamline VR meet ups and take the guesswork out of everything, and provide an invaluable service for a main function of VR, which is playing as an avatar with your friends anywhere in the world they are. This will allow us to shrink the globe even smaller than ever before.
Next, Oculus released a new application called “Oculus Trivia” for Oculus Social. If you want to play this one, you don’t load the actual game directly, you just install it and then open up Oculus Social and choose a room that is hosting Oculus Trivia. I think this is a little backward. I think the Oculus Social app should run beneath the actual apps. We should be able to load any app that is Social-related and have that app send us to Oculus Social automatically. So we don’t get the messages about being in the wrong app at all. I’m sure someone over there at Oculus can work out how to do this to clean up people’s issue with loading the wrong app, since it’s usually Oculus Social we should be loading.
The trivia game is okay over all, but one thing that it doesn’t do well is encourage any meaningful conversation. There’s really not much time to talk with anyone because you have to read and answer questions. This game would have been better served for a chat room situation by creating more opportunities … for actual chat. As such, why not let everyone talk about the question first?
MY THEORY ON HOW SOCIAL TRIVIA SHOULD WORK:
Everyone gets 10 seconds to read each question in silence (no microphones to distract each other) and then the microphones open up to encourage talking about the question. Each person gets one of the answers (in a full room, in a room with 1-2 people it gives them equal numbers of answers) but no one is told what the answer is. If you know it, you know it, but why help others get the real answer? You can bluff each other and give reasons for your answer. It becomes about who is the better liar!
Each person can talk for 15 seconds about their answer or defer if they haven’t much to say. Any deferred time get split among the remaining unspoken contestants. The choices are each shown to all in text form so no one can lie and say it’s something else. When everyone has spoken once, there is a 6-second rebuttal round where you can refute what others have said to try and shift allegiances. Then everyone votes on what they think the answer is if they don’t already know. The strategy is, if people don’t know the answer, you can fool them into answering incorrectly, so you get the only actual point for that round. We don’t get to see each other’s votes, we vote in secret. But then the round ends by showing what the votes were and who voted for whom. We can begin to see who is good at bluffing, so we can learn to not trust them, etc…
Changes like this would make that app soar much higher and make it much more fun. For example, let’s imagine you know the answer is the guy’s across from you, but you are clever and charming and unequivocally assure everyone that the girl to your left has the correct answer. They believe you, they vote for her, while you vote for the guy across from you, the correct answer. Now you got that one right, everyone else got it wrong, but at what price? Now they don’t believe you. So the next time, you tell them the truth. The correct answer. Now they all avoid that one on purpose, because they think you’re lying. You score another point while they score none! Too funny! Everyone would groan and have a blast attacking you for your cleverness. The conversation would be stimulating and divisive and not the least boring. It would make this game so much more interesting to give people a reason to talk about the Trivia were are faced with.
The trivia is, in and of itself, quite trivial, but by making it something we can talk about, it would change the trivial to … all important. The game is currently a little broken due to requiring us to read and answer something as if the other 5 people in the room have no meaning, are not important, and are just distracting us from our trivia. It’s really like playing a solo game alone with five strangers who you never get to know at all. That’s no way to do trivia in VR. VR requires taking advantage of the things that draw us together. Give us more reason to converse and discuss things, and this app will become literal gold.
MORE GREAT CHANGES:
Next Oculus released a few more updates. These brought welcome new features to GearVR: the ability to take video and snapshots of real-time game sessions, although without sound in the video. The resolution is also only 1024 x 1024, not great, but at least it’s already 2D (taken from the left eye) which makes it ready for upload to YouTube or Facebook. Now we’ll begin to see more videos appearing that show a new game or feature with a short video that will be quite a bit more helpful than the mere photos we’ve had so far. Or the occasional release of a video by the developer themselves when they felt like it.
Only a few days after that, the 2016 Game Developer’s Conference opened, and with it we learned about a few titles which would now include a multi-player option as Oculus was driving developers to increase VR’s marketability through the tactic of increased connection with others.
One of the things we learned about was that the Herobound developers had added a whole new multiplayer version of their game… for free! This is a game that offers a variety of modes and cool surprises in the style of a MMORPG. This might even be the first such offering in GearVR, and maybe all of VR. Of course it’s rather sparse compared to the MMORPG’s we see these days, but for VR, it’s nice to have the first offering of such a concept. It shows that people are already thinking about online RPG’s. I’m sure with time, these types of experiences are definitely going to be thriving in VR as long as they adhere to the protocols for comfortable gaming and provide new and ground-shaking experiences. I can’t wait to see these games grow up into what they will one day become. But it will take a lot of work to figure out what works best specifically for VR. Not all MMORPG concepts will work well in VR, but whatever the surprisingly good things become when found, those are the future experiences I’m waiting eagerly to have.
While many of GearVR’s apps are things one must do alone, that’s not always a bad thing. But then again, not having any multiplayer games is a pretty big downer, and this push for multiplayer is a giant step in the right direction. Of course, we have had tons of chat programs to tide us along, but then again, those aren’t active experiences, they are mostly passive fun. We’ve all been feeling the pinch for a little active multiplayer experiences, to allow for playing action games with each other. So it was no surprise, but it was a great moment, when OZWE announced that they were bringing multiplayer to Anshar Wars 2, in addition to a few other cool updates and changes even coming after this. The level design of these AW2 maps is quite awesome, too. They’ve really surprised me here! Read my article on that, if you haven’t already, here:
When taken as a whole, the amount of changes happening in recent weeks have really stirred the waters of my imagination and finally provided me with the sense that Oculus is here to stay. From Dynamic Streaming to snapshots and in-game video recording, to adding numerous multiplayer features using existing games, to a horde of bug fixes and eye-candy patches, it finally feels like Oculus cares about their product. Although I wish Mark Zuckerberg had been a little bit more “Oculus focused” at the Unpacked Event (repeating the name “Samsung” like 13 times in 4 minutes while only saying Oculus once) I do get the sense that things are moving behind the scenes now … where once there was only this glacial iceberg that was Oculus Home, in a land where nothing ever changed. The ice age is finally over at Oculus, and now the Spring is dawning on this device which has brought me so much joy. And literally changed my life. I’ve often felt I loved it more than they did.
Sure, they built the CE1 hardware, but that was just its body. That was what VR needed to get itself up off the floor. But once it did, that body gave the sense of a mindless creation, stumbling around in the dark. But these recent changes have brought light, illuminating the mind within, to show the intellect of this company raging behind cavernous eyes. These changes are what bring hope. And hope is the pilot light that warms the fire against all the world’s harsh realities, so that when you get knocked down, you have the will to get right back up. That pilot light is not body, and it is not the mind …. it is that final thing we have needed but has been noticeably lacking, until now…
Now I think I can finally begin to relax about GearVR, knowing that Oculus is finally in this battle, heart, mind, and most importantly…. the soul, that final necessity.
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