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‘Onward’ for Quest Early Access Review – Lower Friction, Lower Res, Same Great Core Gameplay

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Onward has come a long way since it first launched into Early Access on Steam back in 2016. While we’re still waiting for a ‘full release’ of the game four years later, indie studio Downpour Interactive has managed to tighten up the team-based shooter to fit onto Oculus Quest, replete with PC VR cross-play. Although it notably suffers in the visual department, and could do with more polish, Onward offers the same intense gameplay, making it generally feel at home on the standalone headset.

Onward for Quest Details:

Developer: Downpour Interactive
Publisher: Coatsink
Available On: Oculus Quest
Release Date: July 30th, 2020
Price: $25

Note: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

Gameplay

Onward is the archetypal mil-sim VR shooter: no crosshairs, no mini maps—just you, your five-person fire team, and a limited amount of ammo to eliminate the opposing force, be it the NATO-style ‘MARSOC’, or the Soviet Bloc-style ‘Volk’.

In its time on PC VR headsets, Onward has attracted a hardcore player base—a noteworthy feat considering many multiplayer VR games seem to be easily abandoned by both studios and players alike. Not so with Onward. Downpour Interactive has been gradually growing the game to offer up a good array of real-world weaponry, accessories, and smartly designed maps of varying sizes, all of it framed around a game that rewards users for marksmanship, communication, and team-based tactics. It’s easy to see why this uncompromising penchant for realism has garnered it a solid userbase, as some VR users just want to play War. Now Quest users can jump in and experience it all, of course with a few caveats worth mentioning.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

Like the PC VR version, the Quest port offers both online multiplayer (co-op and team-based modes) and single-player mode play with variable AI number and difficulty. Not all maps are available on the Quest version at the time of this writing, so there seems to be some more work to be done in bringing the Quest version up to parity with the PC VR version. For example, there’s no Workshop on Quest just yet, which allows users to create their own maps.

There are a few other things to know about before jumping in, which distinctly separates it from its PC forbear.

The Quest version is notably lower res than its bigger brother on PC VR, and can leave you squinting more than if it were being driven by a full-sized gaming PC and not the Quest’s SoC.

Although it may have more to do with the Quest’s displays, far field objects appear pixelated and are hard to distinguish without a scope attached to your rifle. Of course, this really only effects large-size maps where you’d be at a disadvantage without a scope anyway. Outside of this, it seems many of the maps currently available have a muddiness about them that makes target acquisition somewhat difficult, something that may be due to a lack of color contrast. As opposed to the PC version, playing Onward on Quest feels like the brightness has been turned down significantly. What was once a more vibrant mix of whites, yellows and blacks seem to be morphed into blues, reds, and browns. Some levels also seem to be too large to render all at once, so far field objects pop in and out depending on where you’re looking, which can be annoying.

As cross-play servers go live, it will be interesting to see what effect the Quest port’s more humble visuals will have on gameplay, and whether PC VR players will have a leg up or not as a result. Since I was only able to play against fellow Questers, I can’t say for sure for now, although the decreased visual fidelity didn’t stop the core game from truly shining in its online mode for me personally. Much of that fits into the ‘Immersion’ section below, so read on to learn more.

All said, the single-player portion of the game has a few goodies to keep you coming back when you aren’t in the mood for people (or losing constantly). It has a dedicated shooting range, a ‘free roam’ mode so you can check out all of the available levels, and a few game modes, including PvE ‘hunts’ and an infinite wave-based ‘evac’ mode where you battle against AI of variable difficulty and number. The AI can be a overpowered at moments, and always seemed to spot me before I was even capable of seeing them coming, although that seems to be the case on the PC version as well.

Immersion

What the game lacks in environmental realism—structures have a blocky, low-poly aspect to them—it makes up for in core mechanics.

It’s worth noting that the Quest version (predictably) strips away a bunch of the visual effects that have come to the game over the years, including dynamic lighting and certain particle effects such as smoke. At the same time, it ramps up immersion by letting you go wild and free without cables, which truly feels like how the game was meant to be played in the first place. I won’t spend any more time on the visuals, as we all know visuals are only a piece of the larger Immersion Puzzle.

Getting into a prone firing position is liberating; the level of friction inherent to the PC VR version is just enough to make me want to either stand or slightly crouch, but on Quest I’m way more apt to make full use of body to get the best, most stable shooting position for the job. If it weren’t a blazing 38 degrees outside, I would love to play in a wide, open field with grass underneath my feet.

Another liberating aspect of Onward is the ability to toss a gun or ammo to a friend. If you and a buddy choose the same gun, say an AKM rifle, you can easily just hand them a new mag if they run out and you’re in a tight spot. It’s these moments when the world acts like you think it should, that you start to lose yourself in the action. And there’s plenty of action to be had when a well-trained group of hardcore Onward players are expertly zeroing in on your hiding spot.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

Personally the inventory system isn’t my cup of tea. Things are so densely packed on your body that you need to physically look down to differentiate between a mag, rifle, pistol, or otherwise. I get it: you need to carry everything with you and have easy access to it too, but I feel like new users will have a harder time developing that specific muscle memory over a more ‘gamey’ way of holding all your necessities.

There’s some things you may gloss over too, such as the game’s sound design. It’s actually super clever, and shows a keen ear for realism. Shooting from inside a house sounds very different to shooting outside. You’ll hear flies when you walk past a dumpster. A low level din of distant gunfire and alarms pervades nearly all levels, keeping the user on their toes as you listen for enemy chatter and the origin of gunshots.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

One thing I really love is the game’s radio, which is one of the smartest things I wish more FPS developers used. As soon as you’re out of direct vocal range, the radio becomes the only way you can communicate, and it requires you to physically hold down a button on your left shoulder, adding to the game’s realism. Once you’re out of vocal range you also lose the directional information of where your buddy is, making it necessary to call in where you are and keep the information flow tight and relevant to the task at hand.

Comfort

Onward is, for an FPS, an extremely comfortable experience. Walking and running are generally at a slow pace, and variable snap-turning is available if you prefer to stay front-facing—otherwise you’ll physically face the direction you want to head in.

The game has been a staunch supporter of hand-relative locomotion. I much rather prefer head-relative, which unfortunately isn’t an option here. Keeping your leading hand on the foregrip of your rifle mostly assures you’ll be walking in your intended direction, although I really wish head-relative was an option so I could play how I’m most comfortable.

Onward expects you to get up out of your chair, as there’s no dedicated seated mode. The more physical movement you’re able to do, the better.

Conclusion

Onward on Quest seems to keep all of the most important bits from the base game on PC VR. Gameplay is intense, and largely unaffected by the necessary cuts the studio had to make in order to shove the game onto Quest’s modest Snapdragon 835.

Once cross-play servers are open we’re guaranteed to find out whether those visual changes have helped, hurt, or kept the game neutral across all supported platforms. Whatever the case, you should always rely on your teammates, and there’s sure to be no shortage of them as Onward sallies forth with a muddy, but confident foot forward onto Quest.


Note: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

Source: https://www.roadtovr.com/onward-quest-early-access-review/

AR/VR

AI-Driven Dynamic Filmmaking is the Future

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In a simulation, driven by simple rules, we meet artificially intelligent creatures, called “Agents” who live on their planet, cooperating to survive. That is until you arrive with the power to maintain the balance of their peaceful existence, or, you can throw them into a state of chaos. The choice is yours, what will you do with the responsibility of your agency?

Agence

Agence (from Transitional Forms and the National Film Board of Canada) is an experience that uses real-time technology, artificial intelligence (Reinforcement Learning) and user agency to craft a story that is never the same twice. Through collaborative authorship, we are able to drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, which we’ve coined as a “Dynamic Film”.

What is a Dynamic Film?

One of the most incredible notions we can attribute to storytelling is that it is ultimately responsible for shaping human history. Over time, we have developed empathy and compassion around being able to interpret the world from another’s point of view. A Dynamic Film is an experience that puts the user at the centre of a powerful story and lets them affect it in realtime.

Isn’t that a videogame? Well, yes, but no. Yes, it certainly sounds like a videogame in nature in terms of interactivity, immersion, and real-time decisions, but the objective is different. Games are often rooted in goals, points or achievements. That isn’t to say they don’t have a story, but too often their goal is not to craft, or discover a narrative.

Agence

As a filmmaker who grew up on videogames, I can say, there is a deeply rooted, cultural foundation, that games need goals. So, when we’re trying to tell an immersive story, the natural trajectory of audience expectation trends heavily in the direction of achievements. However, a Dynamic Film such as Agence, allows users to interact with emergent narrative without the consequence of winning, failure, progress or defeat. It creates a path to great storytelling with unique outcomes from every interaction. Certainly, videogames are built upon a story as much as any other medium, but we’re taking a much more filmic angle to this definition.

With dynamic media, even if the choices are nuanced and subtle, we are (in part) putting an onus on the individual for what kind of content they will create. As this medium becomes more and more sophisticated, I believe that media will not be a one-way street, it will be an interrelated, interdependent dance between user and algorithm, turning what we now call films and games, into real, living simulations. This will help society grasp the power of each other’s creativity and imaginations, and harness a better future using audience agency.

Crucial to Dynamic Filmmaking is three-way authorship, which allows for humans and intelligent machines to shape each other’s experiences. The narrative is crafted by three parties: 1) the filmmakers, who establish the narrative structure and environment, 2) intelligent “Agents,” using reinforcement learning or scripted (hierarchical state machines) AI, and 3) the viewer, who can interact with the system to affect the simulation. Through collaborative authorship, we can drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, creating endless possibilities for narratives to rise to the surface.

Agence

The Intersection of VR and Dynamic Filmmaking

Virtual Reality adds an additional dimension to Dynamic Filmmaking, as it takes you one step closer to a possible reality you can immerse yourself in, and gives us the power to experience what the world might be like in someone else’s shoes. With Agence, we provide the user with the opportunity to understand the responsibility of their own agency. Users become self-reflexive and even emotional at times when an Agent falls off the planet into the nexus below. It’s hard to predict what you will feel as each action and reaction is unique.

We use two types of AI to drive the behaviour of our Agents: Game AI, programmed through heuristic functions, and Reinforcement Learning AI, where neural network “brains” are developed to think autonomously. Outside of the experience, tech-savvy collaborators can actually train Reinforcement Learning brains with resources from our website… any brains submitted will be reviewed with a chance to be featured in the film!

Looking Ahead

I believe that the merging of Dynamic Film with virtual reality experiences will allow us to be closer as a species through rich storytelling. So, in essence, when I think of why Dynamic Filmmaking and VR matters, it really comes down to why the story matters. This new medium allows us to share the same dimensional space as the virtual beings we create, to observe and empathize with these artificially intelligent creatures in ways that previously weren’t possible. In that sense, I believe dynamic stories will allow humans to understand what it means to be machine, and machines what it means to be human.

Agence

The classic rule for futurism, as far as we’re concerned, is to identify patterns in the past that can help predict and/or shape the future. In this case, we wanted to push storytelling forward using more advance artificial intelligence (AI), and we looked to the earliest days of silent films (before dialogue was possible) for inspiration. So, there is a focus on visual storytelling to create algorithms that drive the character behaviour. By emphasizing visual storytelling in projects, we can narrow in on the physical behaviours of AI characters. Looking ahead to the future of Dynamic Filmmaking, we hope to build upon this foundation by adding more dynamics for script, music, and speech generation.

Dynamic Films take the audience on a journey through branching pathways, toward a moment of inner change, making them see the world a little differently than before they began. Games, without a story, do not necessarily move people to transformation outside of winning, losing or simply playing the game perpetually. But stories, particularly the dynamic kind, have the power to influence culture and shape a hopeful future.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/ai-driven-dynamic-filmmaking-is-the-future/

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AR/VR

Angry Birds VR and Acron: Attack of the Squirrels Gear up for Halloween

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Last year Resolution Games got into the spirit of Halloween with a spooky update for Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs and Acron: Attack of the Squirrels. The studio continues that effort this year with another haunting addition for both videogames.

Acron: Attack of the Squirrels

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs is getting Slimy Slopes, a new area featuring 13 levels for players to tackle. Players will once again battle with Dr. Frankenswine and his evil machinations. This addition now means the videogame has 91 base levels to play. Plus there’s the new level builder which brought community sharing earlier this year.

As for Acron: Attack of the Squirrels there’s a new Halloween themed level called Sulky Swamp, as well as updated gameplay features. These include 1v1 gameplay, with the tree facing off against a singular squirrel. The challenge can then be increased by adding in bots.

“Since we expanded the level builder tool to online this summer, players have been spending more time than ever building, playing, and sharing their own levels in Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs,” said Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games. “We hope that fans enjoy our latest spooky update, and continue to build and share their latest creations with the Angry Birds community.”

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs

“While Acron is great to experience locally, the cross-platform functionality has made this the perfect game to connect with friends both near and far over the last few months,” Palm continued. “Now with the launch of the Quest 2, we’re excited to give players a special Halloween treat in the form of new content and updated gameplay mechanics to try out with their friends and family over the upcoming holiday seasons.”

Both updates are free for owners. Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs supports Oculus Quest and Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, Windows Mixed Reality and PlayStation VR, retailing for $14.99 while Acron: Attack of the Squirrels works with Oculus Quest and PC VR headsets. It retails for $19.99 with the iOS or Android app free to download. For further updates on Resolution Games’ latest titles, keep reading VRFocus.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/angry-birds-vr-and-acron-attack-of-the-squirrels-gear-up-for-halloween/

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Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Gameplay Trailer Drops With November Date for Oculus Quest

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There are many good reasons to own an Oculus Quest/Quest 2 but for sci-fi fans, the upcoming Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is going to be a major draw. Today, ILMxLAB and Oculus have announced the launch date, released a gameplay trailer and confirmed an iconic character will see its original voice actor reprise their role.

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge

Last month during Facebook Connect it was revealed that Anthony Daniels would continue to play C-3PO and now the creators have said that Frank Oz will be reprising his role as Jedi Master Yoda for the virtual reality (VR) experience. They’ll be joined by Matthew Wood as Black Spire Outpost Droid Depot owner, Mubo; Bobby Moynihan as boisterous bartender Seezeslak and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘s Debra Wilson who plays Guavian Death Gang leader Tara Rashin. A proper all-star cast.

“Yoda is one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy, thanks in large part to the incredible performance of Frank Oz. ” said director Jose Perez III. “Working with Frank to weave Yoda into the fabric of Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge was an unforgettable experience and a dream come true. I can’t wait for players to meet the Jedi Master face to face in our first exciting tale.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge takes place on the planet of Batuu just on the outskirts of the Black Spire Outpost. With the storyline set between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker you play a droid repair technician who crash lands on the planet after your ship is attacked by pirates. Newly released details note the title will feature a “never-before-told short tale about a mysterious Jedi temple on Batuu, where they will encounter Yoda and a new Padawan, Ady Sun’Zee.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge

“Stepping onto Batuu at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a genuinely magical experience,” said Alyssa Finley, producer. “With Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, we’re expanding the story beyond Black Spire Outpost, giving players the chance to discover never-before-seen characters and locations. It’s an immersive adventure that can only exist in VR.”

Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge will launch for the Oculus Quest platform on 19th November 2020, retailing for $24.99 USD. And it won’t be one single experience as a second part is scheduled for release in 2021. Check out the new trailer below and for further updates, keep reading VRFocus.

Source: https://www.vrfocus.com/2020/10/star-wars-tales-from-the-galaxys-edge-gameplay-trailer-drops-with-november-date-for-oculus-quest/

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