Apr 13, 2015

Samsung Gear VR

Back when I was in graduate school one of the professors in the Computer Science department was into virtual realty. How I wish I had gotten to know that professor better, but due to poor advice I avoided him. In any event, I recall him being into Virtual Realty. This was 20 years ago so the headsets were clunky and the computing power wasn't nearly what it is today... and aside from playing a game of Beachhead 2000 at Chuck E Cheeses my virtual realty experience has not lived up to my interest in the topic.

Today the premise of a future with a myriad of VR options is upon us. Oculus promises their Rift device in a consumer version soon (end of the year?), Sony is touting a PlayStation 4 compatible headset, and Microsoft is diverging with a similar, but different experience via their HoloLens project and last Thursday I picked up the Samsung Gear VR to check things out early. I kind of know this device will be made obsolete soon, but I am so innately curious about this technology... how it feels, what its limits are, and whether I should put any time into developing for it (which as an aside is why blog posts dried up here 3 years ago... I realized I'm not a writer, I'm a software developer).

So for the few that care... here's my take...

Virtual Realty is cool. The idea of immersion into a foreign world and the creation of a Matrix like experience is something from science fiction and the possibilities run rampant in my imagination, but we're only scratching the surface. A PURE VR experience would have to supply all of our senses with appropriate feedback... so far VR only supplies our sight and our hearing with said feedback. The cooking demo? I'd expect smells. The Temple Run VR game? I'd expect my legs to be moving. This is all stuff I knew going in, but it's worth noting as often the hype leaves it out.

That said the Gear VR is one cool device. It requires a Samsung Note 4 phone to use it and essentially that becomes the brains of the unit. I read it elsewhere, but the Gear VR is best summarized as a mouse with lenses as that's pretty much what it is. It DOES support full head tracking and that works GREAT. What have a I done with it so far?

I visited Cirque du Soleil and was on stage with the performers. They came out and surrounded me while two more performed acrobatics in from of me. I could hear the music, look side to side at the performers, look up as the two acrobats danced in the air, and even turn around to view the empty auditorium. It was fantastic neglecting the resolution of the images being less than ideal (and how short the demo was). Actually the image quality reminded me of the Soarin' ride at Epcot in Disney World. We did that a couple weeks ago and I'd say the Gear VR is a better experience... and this is (as of when we stood in line) Disney's #1 attraction. The only thing it did that Gear VR didn't do was lift and shake us in our seats. However, with Soarin' we could not look around and such. Anyhow...

Since then I've taken a tour of the 9/11 park/monuments in New York City and ridden a zip line on the Las Vegas strip. It's important to note that all of these photographic quality experiences offer no ability to walk around. They are taken via a panoramic camera so it's great for a tour, but there's no freedom to wander or walk up close to stuff. You are at the mercy of the photographer. It's still quite cool being able to look all around the photo from someone else's shoes.

Next it was on to Temple Run VR. Games offer the freedom to wander as they attempt to render the word from any point of view. My kids have enjoyed this game a lot so what is it like being able to look back and see the monster chasing you? Really cool. And a bit disorienting. All VR comes with warning about seizures and use limits and the 'disorientation' elements affects some people more than others I am told. For me, I seem to be able to handle it pretty well, but having the visuals of running while standing still in a room is... well... weird, odd, a strange feeling. The game itself is done perfectly and requires a game controller to step back and forth and jump and all, and yes it's cool being able to look all around. This made me think. Instead of experiences where I'm running perhaps VR might be better suited to experiences where I'm driving. I can accept that I'm sitting in a chair if I'm driving a car or riding in a place, but running when my legs aren't pumping just feels odd.

I still have plenty more to explore and plenty of VR desires. Would I recommend buying a Gear VR? It's a great little device for a peek into the VR world and the head tracking is excellent. It's also made in partnership with Oculus which has the be the current VR leader, but given that I think it'll be obsolete so quickly then unless you're like me and just so insanely curious about this stuff that you have to have it now then I'd wait (and if you don't have a Note 4 then forget it... too costly).

In the meantime I'll continue to ponder what is upon us. HoloLens really is an interesting take on this as well and maybe I'll write about that some day and hopefully I'll get to write some code for VR devices.

Aug 1, 2012

Dead Trigger Goes Free

I noticed on Apple's App Store that Dead Trigger (from the makers of Shadowgun) was now free and usually to my disappointment the same isn't true on the Android side of the fence. Well, today is the exception as Dead Trigger is also free for Android. Download away...

May 16, 2012

F18 Carrier Landing

I've been strangely attracted to a game called F18 Carrier Landing lately. I've always enjoyed flight simulators with a bit more towards an arcade oriented control structure. Microsoft's Flight Simulator has always appealed, but I just don't have the time to learn how to be a real pilot. The two games from the past that have really caught my fancy have been Solo Flight, an old Atari computer game from Microprose, and Ace Combat on the Playstation. Both were simple to control and both were a lot of fun. I'm finding F18 Carrier Landing to be the same and all for $1.

The game's controls are very simple. There's a throttle, an air brake, landing gear, and radar on your screen and you tilt your phone/tablet to "steer". There's a demo version in the Market to get you started with a simple flight where you're flying in for a landing, but the full game (come on... it's only a buck) adds missions. I was able to complete the training course pretty easily, but the next missions requires taking off from a carrier (the easy part) and landing at a nearby base on land. Holy cow that was rough. You'd think with such a simple control scheme it would take just a few tries to get it right, but apparently landing an F18 isn't easy. I joke... I don't really think this is like landing an F18. I suspect that might require more than a 2 minute training course, but this arcade like simulator provides enough for me and it's a lot of fun and frustratingly difficult. It's easy enough to slow on approach and drop the landing gear, but coming in at the right angle while maintaining the right elevation such that you're in a position to cut the throttle and hit the air brake hard after a touch down is just the right mix to keep things interesting.

qrcodeThe missions are pretty basic and are all a form of take off and land. And the graphics... they're so-so as well. A year ago I would have been writing a glowing review with respect to the graphics, but by today's standards with some of the Tegra titles available they're just a little better than average. The audio is on target and the in game instructions are pretty easy to follow although I miss the voice prompting regarding missions that the Ace Combat series had. In this game you just get little, green text blurbs with your orders in them.

All in all I'm really enjoying this game. It's inexpensive, it's challenging, it's fun, and it's right up my alley... plus it doesn't keep trying to sell me new planes or other junk like that (aka no in app purchases... yet). If flying games are your thing then check this out or, at least, try the demo. 4/5 stars.

May 15, 2012

Whale Trail Reprise

I saw an interesting article over at Touch Arcade this weekend on a game I have previously reviewed called Whale Trail. I'm fascinated by the fact that the devs thought they had just developed the next Angry Birds when they released this game. Yes it's pretty and it's cute, but it has little longevity unless you are six. And even then it hasn't proven to be the go to game for my six year old. So what's the solution? Pack the game full of ads and follow that abhorrent industry trend... The future apparently holds more along the lines of me playing games on emulators than it does native Android games. Right now I've pulled down SToid and want to get the old Dungeon Master up and running on my tablet.

On a sidenote, an interesting thing about SToid is what happens in the Android Market ahem Google Play when you search for SToid. It's nowhere near the top of the list. You'd think the "search experts" might make a search that matches a word in the app's title a top match versus PicsArt - Photo Studio being the number one hit for that search expression. SToid comes in at the 19th item on the list shortly after Pocket Pole Studio LITE.

Apr 24, 2012

Temple Run

If there's one game that's been getting the most play time on the family Android Tablet it's Temple Run. This free title has my six year old enthralled and it has impressed me as well. One reason it has impressed me is that it's free, but at the same time it's not just an empty shell meant to sell me stuff. Sure, I can buy extra coins, but they're kind of hidden off to the side within the game's menu system. It's not that 'in your face' stuff or ads in the middle of the playfield during the game.

Edit: A screen shot would be here if Google's blogger tool didn't suck... oh, how I need to migrate off of it.

What's Temple Run about? Well, it's been high on the Market's charts for a while so I'm probably a bit late to the table with this one. In a nutshell it takes those 2D games where you have to jump over and slide under obstacles as you run and turns that into a 3D experience. At the beginning of the game you've stolen the idol and come dashing out of the temple with several nasties chasing you down. You'll have to swipe left and right to turn, up and down to slide, and tilt to move left and right in an effort to pick up as many coins as you can along the way.

qrcodeCoins are used to buy power-ups. I have to admit, though, that we haven't spent much time focusing on that. Temple Run has been a fast paced arcade game in our household as we don't last much longer than a minute or two. In fact, my six year old proudly earned the Miser achievement yesterday... that's running 500m without picking up a single coin. She doesn't quite get that coins are good... well, they are unless you're trying to earn the Miser title which is another thing that makes the game quite cool. There are tons of different achievements to earn to keep you pushing for that extra mile meter.

I don't have much more to say about this one... it's free, it's fast, and it's fun. 5/5 stars. Get it if you haven't already.