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The Alternative Realities of Our Time
Virtual Reality Gaming Software Shaping Alternate Realities

Immersive multimedia, frequently referred to as virtual reality, represents the technology with which a user can simulate the physical presence of places, objects and people through computer-generated environments. Depending on the type of world created – imagined or real – we have augmented reality and virtual reality.

Beyond visual sensations the technology can also recreate taste, sound, smell and touch in order to render a next-level experience for the user. At the moment, VR is used in various fields such as education, virtual reality gaming, simulations etc.

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There are two major types of virtual reality environments: simulations which have additional sensory information, targeted mostly towards VR users which work with the help of advanced haptic systems, and those displayed on a stereoscopic or computer display. Virtual reality has the power to offer virtual presence to users through telexistence or telepresence.

As innovative as the concept may sound, it is neither new nor ground-breaking. As a matter of fact, the technology has been around since the early 90s. Back then, the dream of all gamers quickly died due to exorbitant costs placed on VR gadgets. The good news is that the phenomenon has been gaining more and more traction in the last tree years, especially after the Yearly Game Developers at San Francisco, where gadgets such as Oculus VR or Project Morpheus were showcased.  Nowadays, most gaming conferences and events have become huge arenas for virtual reality developers, gamers and enthusiasts.

With each event the progresses made in the world of virtual reality gaming become more and more clear: if the idea of virtual reality sounded like an outlandish concept in 2014, -this year- it seems that VR is taking center-stage. The huge progress becomes even clearer when you look back to the early 90s.

Twenty years ago the world wasn’t prepared for virtual reality, but with the way that things are unfolding at present it might just be possible for this innovative concept to pave a bright future for the gaming world. But what exactly makes this year and gadgets different from any others? In order to find out what the future has in store for augmented virtual reality games we would like to take a closer look at the technology’s history, predecessors, recent developments and most popular games.

Germany Gadget Show Samsung

A Brief History of Virtual Reality

The first company to introduce the concept of virtual reality gaming was the Virtual Group which produced a set of VR systems, complemented by fully equipped arenas and vehikle cockpits in 1990. The idea was simple: to put the gamer in the position of his character with the help of screens and special headsets.

tumblr_lz1k952PwM1qczs1ko1_500Virtuality caused quite the commotion in the gaming world, especially with its signature game: Dactyl Nightmare, in which the player had to run around as a pterodactyl and shoot other players. The main reason for the company’s swift decline was due to the price-tag, which exceeded the price tag of several tens of thousands. In addition to this, technological drawbacks also contributed to the less than satisfactory propagation of VR in the gaming community. This didn’t mean that development for VR ceased. Virtuality may not have become mainstream but it represented the starting point for future technologies.

iGlassesAnother memorable presence in the world of virtual gaming consoles during the early 90s was Virtual I/O that put together a capable system which could reproduce stereoscopic 3D imagery with head and color tracking. This time, the price was considerably lower, resting at around 1000$ dollars, but consumers were still unconvinced. Although not all iGlasses date back the 90s, most VR headsets were developed during that time.

new_nintendo_3ds-2640957Another short-lived contender on the VR gaming market was Virtual Boy developed by Nintendo. This technology could be found in video stores, but despite being promoted by one of the most prominent gaming companies of that time it failed to ignite the market. That is mostly due to the fact that, while colorful, graphics were severely lacking in terms of details and 3D experience. Although noticeably cheaper, Virtual Boy was actually a 3D viewing system with a VR feel.

vfx1During the mid-90s Forte Technologies also released its VFX-1 VR consoles which proved to be the best virtual reality gaming systems of that time. Some of the most important feature include multi-axis rotation, stereoscopic 3d and head-to-hand tracking as well as the ability to play regular games –not necessarily supported by the system. With a price-tag of roughly 600 dollars, the technology was accessible.

Many gamers considered it a steal, especially since it boasted the most advanced technology for that time. It was believed that the VR renascence was bound to occur then. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. After being purchased by Vuzix, Forte Technologies released the VFX 3D system, which died before making it to mainstream.

Vuzix is still working on different VR and video game console but they haven’t been extremely successful. There are many other games and companies that have contributed to virtual reality, but for gamers who have been waiting for virtual reality to finally make a strong comeback, the most relevant examples are probably the models which were developed in the past 3 years.

At the moment, Facebook is supporting Occulus Rift development and Sony is working on its Morpheus technology. In the meantime, Google and Microsoft are also pushing development for their own VR gear. All in all it seems that the major players in the gaming industry are applying pressure in order to revive 3D virtual reality games. The best part is that today’s technology can actually support incredible gameplay and graphics that can perfectly mimic the real world.

How Virtual Reality Gaming Works

Virtual reality gaming basically enables the player to experience a 3D environment that he can interact with and become part of. This is achieved with the help of 3D internet, bio-sensing, gesturing and virtual reality languages like X3D, 3DML, Collada and VRML. Let’s take a closer look at them:

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3D Internet:

Let’s forget for a second that some of the most memorable games of the present are played on the internet and image how engaging it would be to experience website and videos in a three-dimensional environment. Most 3D technology nowadays is designed to also let users explore pages in a more dynamic way. I

nstead of clicking on things it is possibly to physically touch links and other interactive buttons. In other words, the world wide web becomes a universe that you can explore at leisure. One of the most relevant examples in terms of interaction with 3D internet is Second Life, where players can socialize with others. There are other online virtual reality games to be mentioned here, but you can find them in a more detailed article.

Bio-Sensing:

One of the best pays to detect the presence of a person in a game is through bio-sensing. This can be done by attaching multiple small sensors on a person’s hand or even body which records movements and transposes them to the 3D virtual world. These movements can trigger various responses within the 3D space. Let’s say you are using a data glove to record movements. This glove has numerous sensors attached to it and are used to mimic your reactions in a driving game.

Therefore, your hand becomes part of the game, and determines direction and steering commands. All your real-life actions become responses within the game. This technology is also referred to as immersive experience, because the player becomes a vital element in the play-out of the game. If you haven’t managed to grasp the concept yet we suggest that you watch the “Lawnmower Man”, a movie in which a person explores and interacts with the 3D space. Do keep in mind that technology has advanced since then, and with it, graphics have improved dramatically.

Virtual reality languages:

Another important aspect to consider when discussing about virtual reality is its specific languages. Some of the most important languages in virtual reality include VRML, or virtual reality modeling language, which is the earliest VR language, 3DML –which enables users to visit sites via plugins-, COLLADA (collaborative design activity) that allows file exchanges with 3D programs and X3D which has replaced the antique VRML language.

If you want more detailed information about the technical details of VR gear you should take a look at this paper created by the Rochester Institute.

Virtual Reality Now

Less than a month ago, the Annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco took center-stage with some truly daring gaming technology and software. What makes this year different from the perspective of virtual reality is massive attention from the gaming community which was encouraged by Hollywood.

You may have noticed more and more VR gear being presented in movies. Developers are confident that VR is getting closer and closer to becoming a consumer product. Last year, Sony unveiled its very own VR concept, but it was considered nothing more than a sideshow from what is now a 77 billion dollar industry. Not long after that, Facebook also announced that it would be purchasing Oculus VR for 2.3 billion dollars.

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This proved to other developers that virtual reality will not lose in the future. A whirlwind of reactions followed as major industry leaders, such as Samsung, stepped into the domain of virtual reality. Samsung introduced its 250 dollar VR goggles and Google unveiled its unusual cardboard DIY VR headset. Microsoft soon joined the dance with its much-discussed HoloLens that was unveiled 3 months ago.

“Because Facebook is behind it, I think people will keep plugging away until they get it right.”  – Michael Pahter, analyst at WedBush Securities

What is more exciting is the fact that virtual reality has found applications not only games, but in other industries as well: in education, sports, movies and even healthcare. Granted, the technology still has a long way to go, and there are multiple issues that must be resolved, but Virtual Reality is slowly carving its way into the mainstream market. In a separate chapter we mean to share more details about 3D virtual reality games, but here are a few interesting applications of the concept in other industries:

Education: virtual reality has also been adopted in the learning environment. The biggest advantage of it is the fact that students can interact with one another in alternate universes. As far as education is concerned, there has always been a problem of maintaining the interest of students. Not anymore.

With the help of virtual reality software lessons become fun and interesting. The best example would be that of astronomy classes where kids can physically engage with planets and explore the universe freely. In the future it may even be possible to recreate operations and have students practice surgeries in the 3D world.

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The military is also using virtual reality for its air force, navy and army services. VR has probably found its more effective use here, where soldiers can simulate combat in virtual environments but without real risks. Examples of Virtual Reality training programs include battlefield and flight simulation, virtual boot camps, medic training and vehicle simulation.

In addition to this, soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders or war-related traumas can use virtual reality to sooth their condition. The main advantage of VR in military training is cost: it’s a lot less expensive, especially for airborne training, to use simulators.

Entertainment: this industry is arguably the most enthusiastic advocate of this technology because it enables the promotion of virtual theme parks, discovery centers, galleries, virtual museums, theaters etc. In entertainment it’s all about user engagement, and Virtual Reality certainly manages to engage people. An excellent example would be virtual reality glasses equipped with stereoscopic lenses which allow visitors to see objects in 3D, explore buildings etc. Of course, there is also the option of adult movies for the more intrepid souls.

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Scientific visualization: another field that is receiving constant updates is scientific visualization. The idea here is simple: to use virtual reality to explain complex scientific concepts or statistics. It is particularly useful for an audience that doesn’t exactly have knowledge in a certain field. Think content visualizations with semi-immersive or full immersive environments. The scientific disciplines which use virtual reality include physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and astronomy.

There are also several Android and iOS apps which can be coupled with VR technology.

New Reality Altering Technology in Gaming

How exactly are these industries related to gaming? The connections may not be as clear as water, but they are there. If virtual reality were to be designed only for gaming, it would have probably not advanced so much in the past few years.

The fact that vital fields such as medicine and military are incorporating the technological concept in their programs will encourage development of its capabilities also in the gaming world. IGN has recently tested high-end reality-altering technology during an Upload VR event. Here are a few exciting highlights, demos ,software and games worth the hype.

#1 Reel FX

Reel FX’s Jaeger Pilot VR experience is one of the most memorable examples of what virtual reality can achieve. While this example isn’t a game per-say, it shows exactly what the movie industry can achieve and give us a sense of how gaming cinematics will be handled.

The simulation can be tested with a Samsung mobile device. As soon as the “neural handshake” loading screen is finished you will be introduced in the giant’s control port. You won’t have a lot of time to understand what’s going until the giant robot will smash the monster’s head with an Elbow Rocket.

The demo may be short, but the experience incredible. You can feel the ground trembling under the robot’s every step and immerse yourself in the entire experience as your co-pilot is being pulled through the cockpit.

#2 The STEM System

The STEM system, developed by Sixense Entertainment provides the ultimate experience for gamers who want to engage in a life-or-death battle with dual lighstabers and other weapons that require point-on precision. STEM is actually a collection of wireless motion-tracking devices which can accurately determine the position, orientation and position of a player within the three-dimensional space.

Connect the STEM system to an Oculus Rift headset and prepare to be shocked at just how effectively the movement tracking system operates. Brandin Tyrrel of IGN was lucky enough to test the system in a Jedi fight simulation. According to him, moving the blades and deflecting incoming shots felt extremely natural.

“The relationship between my eyes and my muscles was as close to one-to-one as I’ve ever experienced in virtual reality.” Source: IGN

Several years from now, when the gaming community will truly begin to open up towards virtual reality it may be possible to slay dragons with sword and shield only or duel your friends. Sky is the limit when it comes to simulated worlds and gaming, and if the STEM system is any indicator, it appears that the future is closer than we might have thought.

#3 CCP Virtual Reality Gaming with Kinects

Microsoft and CCP have truly managed to push the boundaries of virtual reality gaming. Imagine that you’re putting your real head through a virtual door and listening to an engine purr. You can see all the controls and listen to their soft beeps. You’re not using any controller or pushing any buttons.

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Take your headset off and you are back to the real world. That’s what Microsoft Kinect’s can do. CCP, a seven person Atlanta team, is experimenting with virtual reality. Although it isn’t trying to create a game it is testing the limitations of the software in order to improve the quality of VR gaming. It all started with the first Kinect which was, sadly, pretty heinous and slow.

In their early experiments they could see the furniture in the room, and even avoid kicking cats that may be wandering around the apartment or lab. It was a way to interact in VR without holding a controller, and the ability to make out your environment and those around you made it much safer than other solutions. Source: Polygon

Then came the Kinect 2 which solved most issues and worked supperbly as a virtual reality device. Until now, many developers have dismissed it due to errors, but CCP has proved them wrong. This immersive universe has briliant graphics and great reaction time. However, the team is working with off-the-shelf products in order to discover how virtual reality will be 10 years from now. In order to do this they are using Development ki 2s and Kinects. Their ultimate goal is to make virtual reality feel more real, more social and to resolve motion-sickness and lag problems. Just imagine that 10 years from now you might be staring death int the face in your favorite MMORPG game with this type of technology.

#4 FOVE

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to destroy things only by looking at them? With FOVE’s eye tracking head mount display demo you can do just that. The software uses eye tracking and orientation sensing technology to help you destroy things. In the demo you are a protector of a futuristic city.

Shortly after logging you will see multiple drones hovering in the distance. Once your gaze interlocks one of them it will burst into a cloud of debris. As terrifying as it may seem, the ultimate game of virtual destruction comes with a set of advantages that can further the power of artificial intelligence through

“anticipating attack, participating in psychological warfare and making realistic eye contact”

and also help people with disabilities communicate with their eyes.

#5 CAVE – Fully Immersive VR

CAVE -which stands for computer automatic virtual environment- is the name given to virtual environments in which people become fully immersed. Typical CAVE setups include rear and down projection walls/floors, tracking sensors, sound/music, speakers in different angles and videos.

In order to enter this 3D universe the user must put on a pair of virtual reality glasses or HMD (head mounted display). The images displayed by computers and motion capture systems also record the user’s actions and convert them into a series of new images. We were talking about telepresence early one.

CAVE is the ideal way to experience it because it can literally make people lose themselves in it. But you can do more than just look in CAVE. Through haptic interaction (reaction or force feedback through vibrations) the user can pull, twist, grip and interact with objects around him. Haptic interaction is extremely popular as it contributes to the full experience of virtual reality which engages all senses.

#6 Eve Valkyrie

Our last example of reality altering gaming technology is Eve Valkyrie. There are already countless games and demos for VR headsets, but this game is definitely leagues above all of them. Although the combat game was originally intended for the Oculus Rift, it works exceptionally well with Morpheus.

To begin with, the player is placed inside a star-fighter in a seating position. The gameplay is nothing innovative: you pretty much use a DualShock 4 joypad, but the fact that you can look around your shop and interact with its objects is amazing.

It is possible to move your head around to lean and peer into or out of your cockpit. By twisting your head you can watch other spaceships flying by. The best thing about Eve Valkyrie is the fact that the Morpheus headset feels exactly like a helmet.

You can watch your hands, feet and chest and as the ship sky-rockets into the great unknown you will even be lead to believe that you need to tighten your grip on the chair.

The low latency and high frame rate boost the ‘in-person’ experience. But we still need to think about unpredictable events. With the kind of player-focused vision that VR provides, you need to make sure events are anchored in the reality and physics of the game. Things that happen too quickly or come from out of nowhere look like bugs, even if they aren’t. Source – The Guardian

Virtual Reality Gaming Consoles News

The most exciting news right now is the fact that Samsung’s Gear VR will be hitting stores all over the world starting with March 27. The headset is called Gear VR Innovator Edition and it will probably have a price tag of 199.99$ dollars. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that you can only operate the headset with the help of a Galaxy Note 4, which acts like its eyes and ears.

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In the meanwhile, it seems that the Oculus Rift is far from arriving on home consoles. It will probably only be available for PC gamers. The good news is that Sony is also working on an incredible device which works as a peripheral for PlayStation 4, called Project Morpheus. Regarding price, Sony only said that it won’t cost 1000 dollars.

Specialists believe that it will hover around the sum of 400 dollars. If these prices are a bit too hefty for you, there is always the option of Google’s VR Cardboard headset. With it and a clever app, the user can split a smart-phone screen into two and enjoy the wonders of virtual reality. The best thing about it is the fact that it is free and DIY.

What does the Future Hold for Virtual Reality

The question on everyone’s mind right now is: ‘What does the future hold for virtual reality gaming?’ We aren’t sure yet. VR developers are reluctant to put a price-tag on their new equipment, and virtual reality gaming consoles are currently being tested only by prominent gamers and influencers.

The future certainly looks exciting, especially considering recent developments in software, gear and the continuous release of VR games. As we already mentioned, the biggest problem right now is cost. For a game such as CAVE, where the player can interact with all the objects in an enclosed space will certainly be expensive, and if companies can’t find a way to make the technology accessible we fear that it will never be more than a sweet dream.

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Us plebs will have to make do with more modest immersive technology (example: VR glasses and gloves) that cannot render the same experience as advanced gear. While this is fine and dandy, you shouldn’t expect to have the same experience as the one offered from high-end system. At least not for now. On the bright side, most types of technology become accessible with the passing of time.

The boldest project in the virtual reality world is Nanotech VR, which is said to push the boundaries of the human body through the help of nanotechnology to fully integrate an individual in the 3D space (think Sword Art Online where the human brain is uploaded to the computer system).

At the moment, all of this sounds like a science-fiction movie. However, at the dawn of the internet, people also believed it impossible to see someone that is hundreds of miles away in real time. Who knows what will happen 10, 20 or 100 years from now?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

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