The launch of PlayStation 5 is just a few weeks away and promises to bring PSVR support with it. While we’re excited to give the old headset a try on the new console, PS5’s new DualSense controller may give us an exciting glimpse of things to come.
If you know your game console history, you’ll know that Sony coined the name ‘DualShock’ for its first haptic controllers introduced all the way back in 1997 on the original PlayStation console. With 23 years of DualShock controllers on PlayStation consoles between then and now, you’ll understand why it’s a big deal for Sony to call its PS5 controller by a new name: DualSense.
DualSense isn’t just a name change… it really is a big jump in controller technology from its predecessors. Beyond being arguably the company’s most ergonomic controller yet, the DualSense controller is packed with impressive haptics and motion tracking—the same tech we’d love to see in a future VR controller.
I got to take the controller for a lengthy spin in the ‘Cooling Springs’ level of Astro’s Playroom, a non-VR spin-off from the same studio behind the PSVR masterpiece Astro Bot Rescue Mission (2018). The game was designed to show off everything the controller can do.
More Than Rumble
Let’s talk first about rumble haptics. While the prior DualShock 4 controller was no slouch, the DualSense controller really is next-level. Rather than old-school ERM (eccentric rotating mass) rumble motors, the controller features a pair of powerful LRAs (linear resonant actuators) which are capable of a much wider range of haptic sensations or ‘haptic effects’ like buzzing, rumbling, thumping, pulsing and everywhere in between.
And the LRAs pack a punch. There’s so much power behind them that at times it can feel like the controller is actually filled with something that’s jumbling around within its volume… and this is where I apologize for attempting the impossible task of trying to convey haptic effects through text.
The bottom line here is that the LRA-based haptics are capable of delivering a far wider range of haptic effects compared to the ERM of yore. You can think of LRA as increasing the ‘haptic resolution’ the controller is capable of; the difference and complexity of the effects is instantly noticeable with the DualSense controller.
Augmenting the LRA is a small speaker on the controller which not only adds an extra channel of ‘close’ audio to the overall feedback, but the speaker’s high frequency micro vibrations actually contribute further still to some of the haptic sensations. In Astro’s Playroom this was used for things happening directly to the character, like the ‘tink tink tink’ sound of their little feet walking on metal or glass, or the sound of rustling through foliage.
Triggers That Communicate
Then there’s the adaptive triggers which offer dynamically-controlled spring strength. While the trigger normally feels no different than your typical controller, the force required to pull the trigger can be adjusted on the fly, ranging from the default strength to something much harder—an effect which makes it feel like the game is ‘resisting’ your intentions. In Astro’s Playroom this is used, for example, to give a sensation of ‘crushing’ an object.
And the triggers can do more complex effects too. Rather than simply being harder to pull, it’s possible for them to be harder to pull up to a point, and then suddenly ‘let go’ after that point. That can make it feel like you’re ‘struggling’ through something until it gives way. The reverse is also possible, where the trigger can feel easy to pull until a certain point and then become harder to pull, as if you’re ‘run into’ something along the way.
Being able to change the trigger pull force on the fly allows the game to communicate far more information back to the player through one of the most important buttons on the controller. Opening up pathways for communicating additional information to the player is what haptics is all about, and it adds another layer of immersion.
For instance, in another game you could imagine the trigger suddenly becoming very hard to pull once your gun is out of ammo—to intuitively indicate that the current trigger pull is ‘invalid’ without needing to flash text on the screen.
It should be pointed out that, while the adaptive triggers are quite impressive, they don’t support what you’d call ‘force feedback’. That would be where the triggers don’t just resist your pull to a greater or lesser effect, but can actively push back against your finger.
And then there’s the DualSense tracking, which has astounded me. To be clear: the tracking in the DualSense controller is only rotational (3DOF) right now, but Sony seems to have found some ultra-precise IMU because, even without any external reference point, the DualSense controller seems almost devoid of drift.
That’s counter to my experience with PSVR devices in the past. Even with external tracking from the PS4 camera, I’ve noticed plenty of drift from the headset, PS Move, and PS Aim in various games.
While playing in ‘Cooling Springs’ in Astro’s Playroom the game allowed me to ‘inspect’ an object I found by rotating my controller in space, which would then rotate the object on screen. This gave me a good chance to test out the DualSense motion tracking.
No matter how violently I tried to shake and twist the controller, the on-screen object never lost its ‘forward’ direction—even without an external camera aiding in the tracking. I even sat the controller down in a random orientation for 30 minutes, and then compared the position of the object before and after, and found hardly any change. This shows that the controller’s IMU has very little internal drift and noise.
Little known fact about VR tracking systems: the IMU does the bulk of the tracking work, even for 6DOF tracking. While an external frame of reference—like a camera for inside or outside tracking—is important for correcting drift over time, it provides comparatively infrequent updates (on the order of 60Hz) compared to the IMU (typically around 1,000Hz).
That means that a good IMU is essential to a highly accurate 6DOF tracking system. And from what I’ve seen with the DualSense controller, Sony has picked a darn good one.
– – — – –
All told, the tech Sony is showing off in its DualSense controller on PS5 is really impressive and would be a perfect fit if realized in a PSVR 2 controller, whether that be a PS Move 2 or something else. Haptics are all about increasing immersion, and it’s not hard to imagine how even the existing PS Move controller would benefit from LRA rumble, adaptive triggers, and a much better IMU for tracking—culminating in a much more immersive VR experience.
The good news is that Sony has already deemed this controller tech good enough, cheap enough, and power efficient enough to stick into its standard controller. That bodes very well for potentially seeing the tech come to a next-gen PSVR controller.
Repel the Decepticons in Arcade Co-op Transformers: VR Invasion
During the 2019 IAAPA Expo, virtual reality (VR) developer Minority Media debuted Transformers: VR Battle Arena in collaboration with Hasbro. Now, the studio has unveiled its next title in the franchise for location-based entertainment (LBE) venues, Transformers: VR Invasion.
While Transformers: VR Battle Arena was a PvP experience where you could play as an Autobot or Decepticon, Transformers: VR Invasion puts you into a more human-sized role. This latest experience is a co-op adventure for up to four players, fighting as a squad alongside well-known Autobots like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, with Dinobot Grimlock also making an appearance.
The task is simple, destroy the Decepticons, battling Megatron and Soundwave as well as repelling non-stop swarms of Insecticons. This all takes place within Minority Media’s small footprint VR arena, containing HTC Vive Pro headsets and force feedback guns to aid immersion.
“Now in addition to playing as a Transformer in VR, your guests can join Optimus Prime and fight alongside his allies the Autobots against the Decepticons and Insecticons,” said Michael Zaidan, VP of business
development and global sales for Minority Media in a statement. “Since lockdown began, we’ve been busy working on new partnerships, new installations, and this innovative new game, which is the VR experience Transformers fans have been waiting for and one that will be a great addition to any location-based entertainment mix.”
Initially, Transformers: VR Invasion will premiere at select locations worldwide including US family entertainment centres Kalahari Resort (Poconos, PA), Airway Fun Center (Kalamazoo, MI), and Compass Entertainment (Irvington, VA). Through a partnership with TEEG, Minority Media will bring the videogame to multiple Kingpin bowling locations in Australia.
Even with the pandemic raging on and lockdown varying across every country the LBE VR industry is managing to fight on regardless. British studio Blackwall Labs launched its rhythm-action videogame Rhythmatic out of beta and VRFocus’ recent The Virtual Arena examined how theme parks were embracing more augmented reality (AR) technology.
For further content updates on the LBE market, keep reading VRFocus.
Review: ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos
When MyDearest Inc. released visual novel Tokyo Chronos in 2019 the expectation was that it would combine classic anime aesthetics with virtual reality (VR) interaction for a visually impressive experience. Well received in its native Japan, the response was more muted from western audiences for a number of reasons, mainly the lack of anything to do and a lot of subtitle reading. Now the studio has returned with a sequel, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos, creating a visual novel which improves upon the original whilst still appealing to both audiences.
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos isn’t quite a direct roll-on sequel as its set 200 years after Tokyo Chronos, so there’s no need to worry if you’ve not seen it. In this futuristic time, chaos has been wrought on mankind by giant alien beings called Meteora, laying waste to the Earth, forcing everyone into giant underground cities. You play as Chloe, part of a team called Prometheus which battles the Meteora in giant mechs called Makhia, aided by an AI called Noa, a quirky scientist called Julie and a couple of other secondary characters to fill out the slightly ragtag crew.
As Chloe you get to pilot the main Alto Makhia, offering railgun firepower which effectively nukes any enemies it’s pointed at. But before you go thinking you’ll be running around a desolate Earth kicking some alien ass, remember this is a visual novel, not a videogame. As anime fans will likely know, Japanese content of this sort not only has a very distinct visual style it also lays out and delivers a narrative in a different way to western cartoons/comics. So there’s a massive amount of dialogue, especially when it comes to monologues and self-reflection. It’s one of the genres best aspects, giving the sort of depth you don’t always get in the west. That being said there are times when it can go a little too heavy and long-winded.
But where Tokyo Chronos suffered because all of the voice acting was in Japanese meaning everything had to be read, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos rectifies this massively. While a lot of the main background scenery is fairly plain and uninspiring, the overall production has taken a notch up. English voice actors have been brought in so you can switch the subtitles off, which makes viewing the experience not only easier but you get a better sense of the cast’s personalities. The only slight caveat to that is you do need to turn ‘auto-play’ on to cycle through the dialogue, annoyingly turning itself off when you’re asked to select something.
With the localised voiceover actors ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos gains a lot more soul, and you’ll easily become annoyed or fond of the cast, helping add that much needed emotional connection. As Chloe is a ‘Designed Human’ her monotone voice and expressions are on point but they do tend to drag after 10 hours of it. The cybernetically enhanced Professor Julie – the mad scientist of the story – has, without doubt, the creepiest hands of any VR character whilst also having the best lines performed by the excellent Asia Mattu.
What ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos continues to get right is the interaction. Now it is basic – you’re not going to be scavenging or crafting anything – generally revolving around either highlighting points of interest in areas like the underground Shibuya Scramble, selecting dialogue options through a system called ‘Libra’ or activating highlighted buttons inside the mech itself. Yet in comparison to the previous title that’s a huge amount, and most importantly, connects you to the world. VR should envelop and make you feel part of the experience, a factor MyDearest Inc. has clearly worked on to ensure its project does just that.
If you’re wondering about comfort then don’t worry, there is literally no movement in ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos apart from the occasional steps, the Makhia makes. Every scene is static, you can look around as much as you want and the other characters may move – no smooth animation, they switch between different stances – but that’s it.
Because of all the new interaction ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos also boasts branching narratives which add sizable chunks of new content – and of course multiple endings – depending on particular choices taken at certain moments. Nothing new there, plenty of videogames have multiple endings, yet going through the visual novel even a couple of times isn’t nearly enough to see the various story arcs. The initial playthrough was about 3 hours yet that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg, easily hitting double figures.
Thankfully, the studio has also employed a system to navigate all these various paths; Ariadne. Set out like the constellations in the night sky, major events in the storyline can be selected so you can choose a different path, as you do so it’ll expand with new areas whilst closing off others. Refreshingly, this means you don’t have to play through the entire narrative each and every time, essentially time travelling around the ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos universe.
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is the interactive visual novel Tokyo Chronos needed to be. It definitely can’t be classed as a videogame but there’s now enough player input to make you feel like part of the narrative, rather merely looking on. It still won’t appeal to everyone and there aren’t enough mech battles, however, fans of the genre should love it. Currently, when it comes to Japanese VR visual novels ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is the new standard to beat.
3D Object Library Google Poly is Shutting Down
Launched back in 2017 to help virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) content makers by providing a library of 3D objects, this week Google as announced that Poly will be closing next year.
Google informed all Poly users by email yesterday, saying that: “Poly will be shutting down forever on 30 June 2021.” The ability to upload will be disabled on 30 April 2021 with users advised to download their entire library or individual assets by that final date, as they’ll likely lose all their work otherwise.
Integrating with apps like Tilt Brush and Blocks, Google Poly became an easy way for any content creator, from students to professional artists to upload and share their work. Free to use, the platform has thousands of free 3D objects to download with the ability to remix a model should someone need to make slight adjustments to fit particular requirements.
Rather than highly complex models which can be resource-intensive which isn’t great for mobile applications, Google Poly was all about keeping things simple and lightweight. With the platform now closing, creators will have to turn to rivals like Sketchfab.
One of the early pioneers of VR thanks to initiatives like Google Cardboard, Daydream, Poly and more, Google has been on a cull of late with few projects left. Last year sales of its mobile-based Daydream View headset ceased and it was back in October that Android 11 was confirmed to have dropped support for the Daydream platform entirely.
The company is still keeping popular apps like Tilt Brush and Google Earth VR alive, whilst on the AR side, ARCore is still going strong. As and when Google either cancels more immersive projects or even announces new ones, VRFocus will let you know.
Animation Spice and Wolf VR 2 Slated to Launch Next Week
Fans of virtual reality (VR) anime are in for a treat this month with ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos launching today and now Spice and Wolf VR 2 has a release date it seems, scheduled to arrive next week.
As spotted by Gematsu, over on the Japanese Nintendo eShop there’s a listing for Spice and Wolf VR 2 with a launch date of 10th December 2020. There’s been nothing official from Spicy Tails just yet but that does match up with the release window VRFocus was expecting.
That assumption was purely down to the Oculus Go version of Spice and Wolf VR 2. While the title will support PlayStation VR, Switch and PC – including Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – as previously reported, because Oculus Go is being discontinued no new apps will be added to the store after 18th December. There’s also the small matter of Oculus Quest lacking native Spice and Wolf VR 2 support – Oculus Link will still work – because the title didn’t meet the Oculus Store’s technical standards. Oculus’ new distribution method in 2021 may change that.
Spice and Wolf VR 2 continues Isuna Hasekura’s original novel of Holo and Kraft Lawrence, one a 600-year-old wolf-deity and the other a 25-year-old travelling merchant. The sequel sees them both settling down, opening a bath house together and welcoming their daughter Myuri into the world.
But as the synopsis explains: “However, the beautiful wolves have a weakness for delicious meals and their food expenses are a source of headaches for Lawrence. One day, as Lawrence is going about his fur side business to further fill the family’s coffers, a slight incident occurs. To further complicate things, Holo saunters in with quite the feast.”
Spice and Wolf VR 2 isn’t a videogame as such, providing a 30-minute story alongside a mode where viewers ‘can watch part of the anime alongside its characters in the style of Japanese paper street theatre.’
A collaborative effort between Spicy Tails and Gemdrop Game Studios, Spice and Wolf VR 2 will retail for $24.99 USD. For further updates, keep reading VRFocus.
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