One of the problems companies working within the XR space have been trying to solve is the issue of platform fragmentation, where developers have to build for each one; taking up time and precious resources. Which is why The Khronos Group in conjunction with Valve, Facebook, HTC, NVIDIA and others created OpenXR. This week Valve announced the launch of an OpenXR Developer Preview for SteamVR.
OpenXR is one of those initiatives which sits in the background unnoticed but has massive implications for the industry. The open-standard allows developers to build their project once and it’ll work across all the various hardware and software platforms available.
In a statement, the company notes: “Valve is releasing initial support for the current 1.0.9 OpenXR release now, to enable developers to begin work implementing OpenXR applications that work with SteamVR, but it is not yet enabled for broad general use.”
It’s still going to be a while yet before OpenXR becomes widely available and implemented as the defacto standard but these are the necessary steps to get there. This announcement follows on from Oculus’ in March when the company mentioned that the Prototype OpenXR API would be madfe available to developers using Oculus PC and Mobile software development kits (SDK).
The news is also important for devs using game engines like Unity. A few months ago when Unity made its High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) VR compatible it noted that OpenVR compatibility would be phased out because Valve was working on its own OpenVR Unity XR Plugin for 2019.3.
SteamVR is already fairly hardware agnostic, compatible with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive/Vive Cosmos, Valve Index and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. But there are plenty more devices out there and with more on the way, especially as an influx of Qualcomm XR2 Powered 5G devices are expected to begin arriving by the end of 2020.
As further OpenXR advancements are made, VRFocus will keep you updated.
Fast Travel Games arrived on the virtual reality (VR) scene in 2018 with its impressive sci-fi bow shooter Apex Construct, and while its been involved in other VR projects since then, what comes next is very different. Delving into the horror genre for the first time – one that VRFocus is always fond of (very scared by) – the team opens up the World of Darkness universe for players with Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife. Part ghost story, part murder mystery, what you have here are the thrills and frustrations of a deeply atmospheric experience.
If you’re not into tabletop role-playing games then you might not have heard of World of Darkness, a supernatural world full of vampires, werewolves, and where Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is concerned; ghosts, spectres and whatever else doesn’t manage to pass on. This is a videogame that likes to keep the tension taught but without too many jump scares where you’ll just want to whip the headset off and say ‘no f**k that!’
The story is set in the Barclay Mansion, a huge sprawling complex owned by Hollywood mogul Howard Barclay. Barclay is dying, so naturally being the extremely wealthy man he is calls a few people together for a séance. Playing as Ed Millar, a photographer hired to cover the event who brought his girlfriend along, something major goes wrong and you all end up dead. Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife starts off heavy and doesn’t let up when it comes to the narrative, offering what’s essentially a crime caper where you have to find out what happened so you can hopefully escape this purgatory.
So you’re presented with this impressive-looking building – and it is, with very bleak, minimalistic architecture which is haunting in itself – yet you’re introduced to this world in baby steps. Most of the doors are locked, with a white padlock appearing when you get close so you don’t lose your way and get completely lost. Which you easily could because there’s no map to reference once you’re deep into the campaign, you have to remember the layout and be careful where you tread; this is horror after all.
As a wraith you’re provided with several supernatural perks, you can grab things from a distance – using a wrist flick reminiscent of Half-Life: Alyx – sense nearby objects (Sharpened Senses), and best of all walk through walls. Sharpened Senses will also help should you ever really get stuck, providing an ominous heartbeat towards the next objective. All very useful considering that even as a wraith, you’re completely defenseless against the Spectres. These are malevolent spirits that only appear in certain parts of the house and are where all of the scares come from, very nasty creatures that can kill you with a couple of swipes.
This means Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is about being sneaky, staying low, and being quiet (they generally react to sound). Before you even meet the first one you’ll be on edge, Fast Travel Games has done an excellent job with the atmosphere and audio. On the Oculus Quest 2, the sound is a bit rubbish out of the standard speakers so decent headphones are highly recommended. Not only will some decent cans allow you to hear all the little floorboard creaks and faint whispers, but you’ll also hear the Spectres too and where they’re located.
A fair bit of time is spent hiding behind sofas, in cupboards, basically anywhere you can block the line of sight. Otherwise, they’re fast and you’re effectively done for. Sound can be used to your advantage though, grabbing a book or wine bottle to create a distraction. Because the one thing you need to be in Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is patient, rushing won’t help, creating frustration instead.
There are only three Spectres used throughout the campaign, each one has its particular quirks like the one with broken limbs that knocks out most of the lights so you have to use your Relic Flash to light the way. When she appears out of the darkness even the hardiest of players may need to compose themselves. But there is a really tall Spectre who wanders around adding more annoyance rather than fear to the experience. There a clever sequence where you have to use Barklay’s dictaphone to open safes, so of course that attracts said ghost…and death. Most of Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife has a nice flow to it, balancing horror and gameplay yet this sequence dissolved the atmosphere.
It also highlighted an important mechanic, saving. Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife has manual save points littered around the house – they’re not always available depending on where you are in the story – a bit of an old school feature it must be said. However, they do serve a couple of other purposes. As mentioned, Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife comes with a rich narrative, some of which is played out in black and white offering a visual split between the past and present whilst the rest you have to find by locating letters and newspapers littered around the mansion as well as using Millar’s camera on glowing memories. These provide further backstory and once picked up are stored in the Memory Palace, accessed via each save location. It’s these items that will provide longevity, encouraging you to step back in. Otherwise, once the campaign is done it’s done.
Spectres aside, you’re not completely alone in the Barclay Mansion, you always have your friend; The Shadow. A manifestation of your dark subconscious, The Shadow provides most of the narration and some of the most twisted elements in Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife. He’ll point you in the right direction and drop the odd hint between the times he’s not completely evil. The Shadow adds a lot of character to the experience, filling those gaps in between where you’re just wandering around (you’ll do a fair amount of backtracking). Like a good comic book villain he has that love him, hate him quality.
Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife may dole out the tension and unease in spades but it still wants you to be comfortable. There are plenty of settings to ensure your wander around the mansion is purely creepy rather than uncomfortable. Play seated or standing, add vignettes for locomotion and turning, even choose to have arms or just hands if you want to. There’s also a pseudo teleport mode called Projected Avatar which moves an icon on the floor that you jump to.
For those that love slow and tense survival horror Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife certainly delivers. While it’s not completely plain sailing as the Oculus Quest 2 did at points look to struggle a little with objects occasionally popping up out of nowhere, the atmosphere and tension the whole experience creates make this a worthy horror title. Coming in at around eight hours of nail-biting content, Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife does the World of Darkness proud.
Mixed Reality (MR) headset manufacturer Magic Leap didn’t have a particularly great 2020, even though it raised $350 million USD, as there were layoffs and CEO Rony Abovitz stepped down. Now with ex-Microsoft and Qualcomm veteran, Peggy Johnson at the helm the company is looking towards a brighter future, confirming Magic Leap 2 is on the way with the initial launch beginning later this year.
Talking to Protocol this week, Johnson said the Magic Leap 2 will be focused on enterprise customers with those part of the early adopter programme gaining access to the new headset in Q4 2021. This will then be followed up by a general release in Q1 2022.
While no images or detailed specifications have been released just yet for Magic Leap 2 Johnson did have this to say: “For frontline workers, the product has to be something comfortable that they can wear all day long. So we’ve made the product half the size, about 20% lighter. But most importantly, we’ve doubled the field of view.” She went onto comment: “That’s a hard thing to do. The optics around that are complex, but we have a very talented engineering team.”
Making the product lighter and more convenient will be an important step when it comes to offering a product that can offer a better experience than Magic Leap’s competitors. The main one is Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 which recently secured a $22 billion deal with the US Department of Defense to supply soldiers with augmented reality (AR) headsets based on HoloLens technology. Even though Magic Leap lost that deal it will continue to look at the military sector. “I think our next-generation product hits all the right feature sets that are needed for soldiers to wear the device for longer periods of time. It needs to be comfortable indoors, outdoors and [in] all types of environments,” she mentions.
Virtual reality (VR) has seen a leap in both technology and accessibility in the past decade. A wide variety of standalone and tethered devices are available to consumers at a reasonable price, like the Oculus Quest 2 and the HTC Vive. A majority of the public interest around VR has been as an immersive gaming experience, but the practical applications of VR go far beyond videogames. In recent years, VR has become a subject of intense interest in medicine and medical education.
A Treatment Modality
One of the major subjects of interest for VR has been post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. Several studies have investigated whether VR can be used to help people suffering from PTSD. These found that VR could enhance the effects of exposure therapy on PTSD symptoms. Still, it is unclear how applicable these results are to a general population as the sample groups were predominantly male military service members. Other studies examining VR as a treatment for members of the general public with anxiety disorders or depression found promising results regarding symptom relief.
Clinicians have also found novel methods to apply VR in the context of other psychiatric disorders. Patients with major psychotic symptoms like paranoia, persecutory delusions, and functional impairments found symptom relief by VR-based cognitive therapy. Some studies have found that addiction disorders like substance use and gambling demonstrated that VR could provide a safe environment to undergo exposure therapy without relapse. Body image disorders seem to respond well to VR as well, with bulimia and binge eating disorder patients experiencing symptom relief for up to a year after VR therapy.
VR has also been applied to the management of neurodevelopmental differences as well. Promising results have emerged, revealing that VR improved attention span similar to the more traditional continuous performance test training but with greater enthusiasm from participants. Some therapists use VR to help children on the autism spectrum develop social skills in a consequence-free environment with guidance from a therapist.
An Educational Tool
The field of medicine does not only benefit from VR as a treatment, but also as a powerful educational tool. VR is enabling immersive training programs that can reduce costs by avoiding costly props and other expenses. These simulations have the advantage of being versatile and highly customizable. The SimX system, for example, allows for the creation of tailor-made simulations to match the specific needs of each user. This is especially useful for training for less common conditions wherein finding simulations would require travel or pose a long wait time.
Finally, VR is bringing the promise of remote learning to new levels. With VR and online services, learners worldwide can work together to tackle each scenario in real-time. In times of social distancing and learning from home, VR provides an alternative to endless web meetings that is both engaging and effective.
The field of medicine is finally reaping the benefits of decades of advancements in VR technology and public interest. Although more research is needed to determine the best methods to use VR in healthcare, it is apparent that the technology will play an ever-increasing role in medicine in the coming years and shape the future of medical education.
Yesterday turned out to be a big Oculus Wednesday. First, there was the Oculus Quest flash sale (hopefully you didn’t miss it), then there was the little matter of the Oculus Gaming Showcase. The event was jampacked with announcements, from anticipated updates to brand new virtual reality (VR) titles being revealed. There was a lot to take in, so here are the highlights.
It was a 30 minute whirlwind of information, dispensing with the sort of fluff most other these events have, getting down to the good stuff. That meant lots of VR videogames, some getting updates right away whilst other are coming later this year.
Oculus Gaming Showcase Roundup
Lone Echo II – The long-awaited sci-fi epic is now scheduled for a Summer 2021 launch supporting Oculus Rift!
Resident Evil 4 – There was new footage as well as gameplay details for this Oculus Quest 2 exclusive, weapons will be body mounted and there will be smooth and teleportation options.
After the Fall – Looking forward to Vertigo Games’ co-op shooter, see it in action with a new gameplay trailer.
Carve Snowboarding – The only completely new videogame to be revealed, Carve Snowboarding sees Chuhai Labs team up with 1080° Snowboarding creator Giles Goddard to get players back on the slopes.
Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister – Released in 2020, Pixel Toys announced that the horde mode was getting a co-op element so you can fight the hordes of Chaos with a mate. Plus, it’s available now as a free update!
The Climb 2 – Another big update, Crytek releases the Freestyle Expansion Pack today, adding six new courses with new gameplay elements to really challenge the best climbers.
And that’s your lot from the first Oculus Gaming showcase. So there’s plenty to look forward to before the end of 2021 and then there’s always Facebook Connect later in the year. For all the latest Oculus updates, keep reading VRFocus.
Editor at VRFocus who has reported on the VR industry since 2015. A keen gamer since the days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Peter enjoys covering all aspects of the technology; from the latest consumer hardware to enterprise use cases.