I know I’ve been quiet for the last couple of weeks but I promise you it wasn’t because I got wrapped up in Owlchemy’s Rick and Morty VR game (OK but I did spend a while in it)… It’s because I teamed up with an awesome crew/posse of folks and we created the Vancouver VR Community. I hinted at it in my last post, but I have moved my Vanncouver VR events calendar over to the community where it will now live and be merry!
While none of this would be possible without the team, here’s what I’ve contributed so far:
- Conceptual art for our logo
- Exercising my photography skills, I have been doing event shooting
- Managing the shit out of the Trello board, I have acted as project lead
- Fostering and reaching out to the local VR network
- Writing blogs, focusing on a monthly recap of all local happenings
- General THINK TANK steez
I hope some of you will join us on our Discord server and our Facebook group as well. I feel like I’ve said what we are all about over and over, so instead of saying it here, I’m going to link to our announcement blog.
There was a vacancy for an inclusive, open, grassroots-driven community for virtual reality in Vancouver, and I am excited to be a part of something that I hope will impact others in the future.
Yesterday was the one year anniversary since the HTC VIVE reached the much-anticipating grabby hands of the consumer (we were one of them, and even stood outside for the delivery person), and to celebrate, there’s a Steam sale through this weekend, and we figured to share our top 10 (5 from myself, and 5 from Megasteakman) favourite VR experiences to date. These picks are in no order at all, it was already tough enough to pick only 5!
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) April 7, 2017
M. Lovecraft’s Top 5 Picks
- Accounting VR by Squanchtendo, Crows Crows Crows
- Holopoint by Alzan Studios, LLC
- Audioshield by Dylan Fitterer
- Smash Party VR by Viacom NEXT (animated by Chris Prynoski of Titmouse)
- VR The Diner Duo by Whirlybird Games
Accounting VR for whatever strange reason it may be… Is still my favourite VR experience to date. Perhaps I am so engaged in the world that Justin Roiland throws his Rick and Morty viewers into, I felt like Accounting VR was the first time that made me realize the narrative potential of virtual reality: the strange, the unknown, the surreal. The voice acting is on point as we can always expect from Roiland, and I’m looking forward to what else Crows Crows Crows and Squanchtendo have in store for VR.
Holopoint is by far, one of the most active games for virtual reality, and with that said: I completely suck at it. Even though I’m terrible, I still really enjoy the challenge of keeping up, and it makes a great cardio work out if you can make it far! I can’t wait for wireless VR headsets because it’s natural for first time users to tangle and coil the cord.
Audioshield is another great light cardio game that allows you to use music from your PC’s library, or YouTube (albeit it takes some processing time) and will generate a level where you punch red and blue (sometimes purple) balls flying towards your face. I once did Savant’s ‘Zion’ album in full on hard mode. I don’t recommend doing this to yourself.
Smash Party VR gives me the nostalgia factor I never thought I would get in virtual reality. One of my favourite shows when growing up in the 90s was MTV’s Downtown, and Goat makes a little cameo as one of the watcher’s of the cage arena. It’s a simple game and there’s not a lot to it, but I found it enjoyable, and it’s awesome seeing other people such as Chris Prynoski creating for VR.
VR The Diner Duo is an asymmetrical multiplayer game, which is something I want to see a lot more of, and PSVR kills with it. The person in the headset is a cook, putting together burgers with different ingredients, and another player has a game controller, and is a waiter, yelling out the orders. Or just saying it normally… I’m just a yeller. Insanity ensues! A lot of fun.
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) January 29, 2017
Megasteakman’s Top 5 Picks
- Vanishing Realms By Indimo Labs LLC
- Battle Dome By Bad Bird Studios
- Google Earth VR By Google
- VRChat By VRCHat Inc.
- Quanero VR By LaserBoy3000
This experience was so spellbinding and mind blowing that I kept having to take breaks to ground myself before adventuring onward in what felt like a first person Zelda game. I had never before felt so immersed in a virtual world, and can’t wait to journey back for chapter 3!
While it unfortunately doesn’t have the player base it used to, I use to love hopping into this game every weekend for really tense and strategic firefights. Squatting behind cover was a great workout that left me sore for days.
I nearly cried after the introduction. The scope of this app was beyond what I thought was possible, and seeing my parents visit the places they grew up entirely from memory really made me feel a strange sort of transcendance from being a meer human meat puppet.
Social interactions in VR are absolutely insane. Positional audio coming from characters of all shapes and sizes in a shared virtual space is a game changer, and something that I think will become much more common place as adoption rates go up. VR Chat does it right!
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) February 22, 2017
As a filmmaker, this one got me really excited about virtual reality storytelling. Being able to rewind time to get a different vantage point made me feel like a director lining up the perfect shot, and definitely showcases a brilliant way for audiences to become participants in a linear narrative.
A lot of our top choices are FREE, or are on sale for the Steam VR Anniversary sale this weekend so be sure to nab any titles you’re thinking about getting!
What are your favourite VR experiences to date? What do you hope to see on the HTC VIVE in the year 2017?
Well, we did it. It was 2AM and the HTC VIVE Trackers just went live on the HTC VIVE accessories webpage at the end of March. We had ourselves an adventure since the trackers came out in the United States before Canada, and we drove down for some Target browsing (I personally enjoy their cosmetics section haha), and of course, a trip to the states isn’t complete without Mexican food. Kial is playing around with a lot of mocap (motion capture) and I’m really just along for the ride (and usual QA, calibration sorts).
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) April 3, 2017
As another note, when the HTC VIVE Trackers were released in Canada, I was pleased to see that HTC changed its stance on its ludicrous standard $65 shipping, no matter what you purchase. Last year, I ordered an extra link cable, and cable box which were very small items, and HTC insisted that $65 was the standard shipping. At the time of writing this, I believe they changed their shipping to $35 for tracker shipping in Canada.
What’s in the box?
The boxes are in line with the HTC VIVE branding with an all-black exterior, and bright blue labelling.
The tracker was nicely packaged, with the tracker to greet you upon opening the box, and the dongle and appropriate technical literature sitting below the tracker’s cardboard tray.
One thing to note right away is that the dongles are essentially “married” to their tracker and it’s probably important to not mix them up. Similar to wireless mice and keyboards, if you buy two of the same wireless keyboard, the dongle that it comes with, will not work with any other keyboard other than the one it came with. Also it’s interesting that the dongles require 18 inches of space away from the computer. I kind of wish the technical guide said why that is, but perhaps we can chalk it up to interference, or reach.
Mounting the HTC VIVE Trackers
I had begged Steve Bowler of Cloud Gate Studio to reveal his secrets in mounting their trackers, but found that a lot of devs and makers are forced to create their own mounting solutions for the time being. It’s pretty awesome that HTC decided to go with the standard 1/4″ inch screws, which are compatible with a lot of camera tripod mounts and accessories. Steve recommended that I didn’t go his custom metal route as his team ended up with bouts of metal splinters, and that he is hoping to sell their metal mounting clips in the future.
While waiting for Steve and his team to hit the market with their solution, we had to find our own.
After hunting for hours on Amazon Canada, here’s what we’ve ordered:
- Luxebell Clip Mount, 360 Degree Rotating Backpack Hat Fast Clamp Rec-mounts for Gopro Hero 4, Session, Black, Silver, Hero+ LCD, 3+, 3, 2, 1 and Sj4000, Sj5000 Cameras
- Neewer Universal Conversion Adapter (1/4 Inch 20) Mini Tripod Screw Mount Fixing GoPro Accessories to Sony Olympus and Other Action Cameras(4 Pack)
- Neewer Stainless Steel D Shaft D-ring 1/4″ Mounting Screw 0.39″/10mm Shaft for Camera Tripod Monopod or Quick Release (QR) Plate -5 Pack
- 2X Black Buckle Basic Strap Mount For Gopro Hero 3 2 Camera Camcorder
(Note that we are still waiting for some of the items as some of the products weren’t available for Amazon Prime unfortunately.)
Initially we used the clip mounts to attach to regular shoes instead, but Kial found a “better” (ugh) solution. He found some knock-off crocs from the Japanese $2 store Daiso. As much as I had to admit, the solution was great as we only needed to use one mounting screw – very simple!
The one tracker clip mount we still have is still a very high profile, so hopefully one of the other items will allow us to lower that profile, creating less jittery movement when it’s mounted onto a belt clip. We’ll update later this month once it arrives!
Hoping this gives other folks some ideas for mounting their trackers, and if you have a better solution, please share it with us, we’d love to hear from you!
In the meantime, here’s our pal Ace doing some dancing to do some troubleshooting. Best troubleshooting ever:
Troubleshooting VR crocs always looks awesome. Dancing solution. pic.twitter.com/AG0uvMisre
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) April 5, 2017
I’m a pretty big fan of Webcomic Name comics. Such a simple concept, but yet reflects so much of my own life. (See: Eyeliner.)
I’m super humbled that the guys over at NVRMIND gave us the opportunity to try out their new app (which is in beta) called ANIMVR. It’s super cool, and it just cracked open the door of what stop motion could look like in the very near future. So obviously when I saw that Webcomic Name was having a fan comic competition, I just had to give it a shot of my own.
And virtual reality themed too (obviously).
Ready for the “mind-mushingly bad” from us over at VRMY of DARKNESS?
Well, you asked for it! (Say that in the Jaina from Hearthstone voice.) I owe it to Megasteakman on killing that ANIMVR animation and my pink blob dude looks terrible because it was the first ever time I ever used a WACOM tablet. (I’m not used to it at all!)
Full disclosure: The ANIMVR beta key was provided, enabling our team to create this content.
Animation is tough. Like REALLY tough. Like most other creative endeavors, the techniques to learn and possible workload are endless, but animation is also magical. NVRMIND has brilliantly designed a VR animation program that captures and streamlines the magic of animation in 3D space. ANIMVR succeeds in bringing the difficulty of making animation down while still keeping robust features that make the process way faster.
While I’m not an animator personally, I’ve used countless animation programs with varying levels of success. Creating a good animation interface is extremely challenging: there’s a ton of tools, settings, keyframe interpretations, modes and other options that can really clutter and distract from the process of creation. ANIMVR excels at keeping everything out of the way, while keeping important options easily accessible. The button layout was perfect, and after 15 minutes everything became second nature.
Since I’m pretty bad at making traditional animation (the kind that doesn’t interpolate a model or rigged 2D drawing between keyframes), I was quite intimidated at having to redraw the character in 3D space on every frame, but luckily the inclusion of ‘timelines’ allowed me to break up the characters I made into different objects which could be cloned and moved independently per frame.
I wished there was a way to group these timelines together so when I cloned or deleted a frame it would do the same for all the other pertinent objects. I found the best way to work was to animate one object until the end of my project, remember the amount of frames and then animate the other objects for the same amount of frames, but I found everything would often get out of sync (thankfully the developers put in a frame offset for each individual timeline, so I’d often be able to put the elements back into sync).
The ‘timeline’ layers were extremely powerful while being incredibly simple and easy to understand (everything on that timeline layer flashes when you select it, so you can see how many objects you accidentally drawn on that layer). Everything on this the app had an incredible level of polish, although I had problems with the eraser tool not being able to destroy small sections of my lines, and the colour brush lacking some important customization like brush size (or at least no feedback for brush size). Overall, nothing got in my way of making some really fun stuff in under an hour.
While I really enjoy VR gaming and experiences, my real excitement for the technology is in making computing more natural and less abstracted. The mouse and keyboard, while extremely efficient and precise, don’t feel as fun (or as healthy) as manipulating objects through more human gestures and actions. Crouching, reaching, stretching, walking as you draw an animation in the air not only breathes life into your creation, but into your body as well! Here’s to the future!
ANIMVR is currently in beta and looking for other artists to try out their app! See more details on their Twitter:
We just released the AnimVR Beta! https://t.co/zcFP22t83x
— NVRMIND (@NVRMINDIO) March 4, 2017
Full disclosure: This press key was provided for the creation of this content.
Do you want to build a Sanic?
There are those who would blame digital anonymity and online handles as a major enabler of cyber bullying and harassment. This may very well be, but I feel digital personas and avatars can also be very beneficial in allowing us to express and reinvent different aspects of ourselves, as well find common ground with other users. Right now it feels like hyper-Comicon, and users can share their love of a character even if they could never cosplay as a 30 foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (actually, someone might have already tried that: cosplay is crazy).
In setting out to make my own avatar, I decided I wanted something approachable, funny, and physically impossible for me to otherwise be. I dug deep into my childhood, and realized my spirit animal is Sonic. Well, not really, but I grew up with Sonic. The character has really transformed over the years from a cool dude with a ‘tude, to a dude with a ‘tude who liked chilly dogs, to a cartoon dude who likes human women, to a meme dude who likes Shrek. I think most of us feel sympathy for Sonic: he is Ozymandias fallen, the mighty brought to ruin simply by the ravages of time (well, a few terrible games and the Internet).Despite my love of the original character, I felt like Sanic, as portrayed in hilariously bad fan art, was more fun to be in a digital metaverse. I modeled my version off of this piece of fan art, which M. Lovecraft improved upon with masterful placement of offset, asymmetric googly eyes.
3D Modeling: Gotta Go Fast Edition
The original basemesh took me around an hour or two to make. The shapes are really simple, but took a lot of soft selection editing and ironing (smoothing the verticies of the polygons to get good flow) to get something that looked cute yet derp’tilda.When modeling a character, you have to make sure that the topology (how the polygons are structured over the mesh) has organic looking loops. For example, its often best for the polygon vertices to form an even ring around the circumference of the arm. Sanic loves rings. Also, try to put more loops where the model is likely to bend or deform (like elbows and knees).
I like to keep things as low poly for as long as I can, using what C4D called a ‘hypernurbs’ object (don’t ask) to smooth put the polygons further and add more mesh detail by subdividing the mesh. They actually call this a ‘subdivision surface’ now, but I just like saying hypernurbs because it sounds like I’m doing something cool. (They’re so cool that I actually forgot to add them in the end. Whoops.)
Boning SanicAfter using C4D’s UV Wizard and body paint to slap color on the model, I grabbed a rig from one of the Unity Adam models and started deforming the joints to fit the cancerous blob that is my Sanic. I used that rig hierarchy so that everything would be compatible with the Unity Mecanim Humanoid Rig, which you need to ensure is referencing the right bones in your rig. After that I put a VRC_AvatarDescriptor component on the model from the VR Chat Developer SDK., and uploaded it from within Unity (props to the VR Chat devs for making this so easy!)
Within a few hours I was ready to paint the virtual town red! Most other users found me repulsive and definitively ‘not sonic,’ but it was super fun to run around the environments and chat with others about the importance of going fast. I set the character height to around 3.5 feet, which forced me to look up at other users (probably good for my back after spending all day on the computer) and had the unintended side effect of making lots of other characters chase me around, attempting to pick me up. Special thanks to Poplopo on VR Chat for snapping some amazing pictures of me at the Majora’s Mask Milk Bar.
Even Sanic Can’t Outrun the Past
In regards to web anonymity and bullying, the issues are extremely difficult to tackle. The VR Chat code of conduct is a great manifesto, but even Socrates (it’s under ‘so-crates) and Glaucon were talking about digital anonymity in their ancient Greek debate on the web-ring of Gyges. I have the feeling this struggle between absolute freedom and accountability will persist throughout the ages… well at least until Facebook or some hacker turns on your Oculus Constellation Sensor and spies on you.
People think I am joking when I say that one of my favourite virtual reality experiences is “the Doritos game”, but I’m not. I’m really not.
There’s a few things to note here:
- Yes, there is a Doritos game.
- Yes, there is a Doritos game that is built to use ground-breaking technology.
- Yes, there is a Doritos game that is built to use ground-breaking technology and it’s really fun.
So, there’s really a virtual reality game based on those flavoured nachos? What exactly do you do?
Doritos VR Battle is a game that requires almost no explanation but the rules are simple as displayed underneath the title screen:
- Grab Doritos
- Avoid dangerous objects
There’s no teleportion mechanics, just you in your playspace as the game moves you at a leisurely pace through an obstacle course polluted with flying glowing Doritos – an MLG meme dream come true.
It’s a short but sweet experience – raking in approximately 5-6 minutes of gameplay, but does a great job managing the level difficulty during progression while incorporating other worldly elements for a rather quirky experience. While the first two levels focusing on grabbing Doritos, the next two levels use a laser gun, shooting Dorito shapes in grids. By allowing the player to only be hit once (literally YOLO), every move and choice matters.
What does Doritos VR Battle get right for virtual reality?
While I could see many complain about the length of the game, I see Doritos VR Battle as an excellent way to introduce someone to the possibilities of room-scale virtual reality. The game makes you move, and the presence of the obstacles is very convincing. I’ve put several new-to-VR friends into “the Doritos game”, and they’ve all shrieked with “OH MY GOD!”s as giant obelisks would swing at them from the walls.
Without needing complicated controls, it’s very easy and intuitive to for a person who is just introduced to virtual reality to pick up the game. There is no need to use the trigger to grab objects, which is a more natural interaction (however yes, you do use the trigger to shoot the laser gun, which again, makes complete sense from an intuitive design view.)
There is no motion sickness because the pace that you move through the levels is so slow. Your body has the time to “catch up” to the movement and isn’t working against you.
I always ask myself: “Does this need to be in virtual reality?” when I am designing for VR, and when it comes down to Doritos, I say – Sure! Why not! This game is fun, simple, and the graphics put you into a world that we saw in the 80s movie Tron. Your hands even become a part of the fractal universe, and I enjoy the gender ambiguity as sometimes I get a bit weirded out when my hands are a man’s model hands. With that said, virtual reality is a technology we were all dreaming of, so it’s not perplexing why we are aching for neon grids et al aesthetics. We want to be a part of that world.
The final verdict
I personally loved Doritos VR Battle. The game retails for $2.99 USD on Steam, but boasts a lot of replay value when it comes down to doing demos for friends. (Because let’s face it: Anyone who has an HTC Vive wants to share this technology so much!) It’s definitely on the beginner’s playlist for us.
For more VRMY of DARKNESS culled recommended experiences for beginners, check out: Recommended Experiences
If you’re good to go on a short and simple experience, and whether or not you are in with the cool meme kids of the Internet, Doritos just makes sense either way. Your Facebook friend who is constantly sharing Shooting Stars memes, or your own mother – they will get it. It doesn’t need to make sense and this game knows it.
Think you’re ready? The Dutch made trailer is ready for you too:
(Note: The gameplay footage appears to feature an earlier version of the game.)
This weekend I got a small taste of how VR could impact communication on a game changing level. Long story short, I 3D modeled a world, uploaded it to my account and explored it with people from all over the world within the span of a few hours. This could really impact notions of ownership, property and material possessions in a huge (and I think beneficial) way. (But more on that later.)
We’ve been blown away by the community from Reddit, to UploadVR to Twitter to the Nerdist – our passion project surpassed beyond our wildest expectations and we decided to share it another way: on the social platform VRChat.
Speaking of, we’ll be guests on their upcoming show TONIGHT! – Tuesday, February 21st at 7PM Pacific. Keep in mind that you can install VRChat and watch, even without a headset! (Cool, eh?) You can check out archives of the show here and follow them on Twitter.
Why not re-purpose again?
I didn’t model the environment with game engines in mind. My work flow in porting it has largely been the path of least resistance (i.e. putting mesh colliders on any of the huge/complex object the players should be able to stand on and ignoring colliders on the thousands of individual objects). Exploring the map with an enthusiastic group on VR Chat showed me just how many places a user could get stuck in a pit or run into an invisible collider that stuck everyone to the ground like glue. Despite these bugs, running around the world still felt like a huge adventure, and made me reflect on a fast approaching future in which engineers or designers will explore structures collaboratively in a group. Or Minecraft.
The Unity hurdles and Experience with the VRChat SDK
Unfortunately we encountered some problems using our current Unity version 5.6, and found that we had to downgrade in order to use the VRChat SDK (which it kept telling me in a warning message, but I’m stubborn and getting really tired of computers telling me what to do).
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) February 19, 2017
Luckily Unity keeps an archive of older versions of their application, and we were able to get it working fairly quickly. The VRChat SDK is really well designed and intuitive: its clear it was designed for creators of all skill levels, and I would highly recommend checking it out!
For this version of the model, I removed the post processing look and locomotion code from the scene (it’s good practice to make the build less than 200MB). VRChat has its own incredible locomotion options, so everything hooked right into that.
Gunter, a really great member of the VRChat community who has been helping me develop the map, suggested that I add portals, as well as a high vantage point to ease in allowing users to find each other, and facilitate easy movement across the vast expanse of digital space.
What struck me was that VR enables layers of communication that aren’t present in any other medium (or in life itself). Players changed their avatar to suit the environment: a huge area that would be well beyond cost prohibitive for me to build to scale in real life. We can design spaces, write code and alter ourselves in a really full expression of creativity. It’s not just virtual reality: it’s a shared reality, and it’s one that we can shape to our hearts’ content.
It’ll Be Fun They Said
One of my friends sent me a link to a sketchfab contest that challenged creators to make a VR-ready model inspired by the Legend of Zelda. I’m a big fan of the series, and I have been dying for an opportunity to port one of the MANY Game of Hyrule models I made into virtual reality. The project seemed like a perfect fit…
And it many ways it was, although in practice it was also a harrowing exercise in extreme tedium and madness.
The original map was painstakingly built up using manually drawn splines, extrusions and box modeling for each of the 50+ unique objects in the set. There might be a few errors, but nearly every element on the overworld map has been recreated and placed in 3D space. While this process was laborious, it doesn’t even compare with the optimization process. Well, I say that because I built the map a year ago and the pain is mostly gone. Mostly.
I got the impression that having over 5 thousand individual models, grouped under a multitude of nulls and hiearchies would probably kill real-time performance (gotta hit that 90 fps), so I decided to merge all the geometry that shared a common texture. This way, retexturing the model would also be way easier to do in subsequent engines, as you only had to apply one material per piece of geometry.
It turned out to be a huge ordeal to combine the thousands of individual meshes as some of my models had their own hierarchy, or polygon selections that applied two different materials to one object (perish the thought). In the end I had to manually combine, change texture tags, and clean individual objects for a full day. Luckily some of the objects were instances, so I could fix up and ungroup the original model, but even still there was a mountain of mind-numbing monotony ahead.
Even getting the file size down to the Sketchfab basic (‘I haz no monies’ version) requirement of below 50mbs was a horrifying task. I found that deleting some of my textures and UVs freed up just enough space for me to get a barely passable version up on Sketchfab. N-gons (polygons with more than 4 verticies) saved space, but became digital nightmare shards in my uploads to the site, so I had to convert critical objects to tris.
But hell, I slogged through hours of optimization and tidying, and I wanted to see it in it’s full VR glory. Unity to the rescue.
Help me Unity3D, you’re my only hope
I was able to rebuild the textures from my original Game of Hyrule map intro using the incredible UBER shader by Tomasz. I was expecting a performance hit from the complex, multi-texture shaders I built, but everything worked flawlessly… so I wasn’t satisfied until I threw as much post processing/image effects onto the camera as possible. I used the godlike Volumetric Fog & Mist by Kronnect to create some atmospheric perspective and even a subtle amount of sunshafts (dare I say ‘tasteful amount’). I added filmic post-processing from Scion to the camera, and found the performance hit acceptable for how cool it made everything look. Oh yeah, and I added AO because bitches love AO.
As far as the ‘coding’ I used VRTK for teleportation and Playmaker for the player scaling. I’ve been spending so much time working on learning ‘code’ and game logic for other projects that it was a welcome excursion to just make something look good (often the only requirement in 90% of my freelance work). Coming from a VFX background, I am still shocked at the real time performance of modern game engines. 1-3 hours per frame? What is this, 2015? I’ll render in Unity, thank you (well, Unity or Octane, OR BOTH #LaterThisYear #OctaneInUnityForever).
Anyways, all the boring, mindnumbing work was worth it if you guys enjoy playing around with the map! I hope I can export some other models for you to play around in soon… I just hope someone invents some crazy, flawless texturing baking solution for C4D/Octane in the meantime.
The final product
You can download the small Zelda map experience on itch.io, or navigate to the Downloads section. In the meantime, here’s a quick look:
Chillin’ by the sakura, plucking out falling hens with your bow and arrow, and slicing up tatami poles: all in a day’s life of a samurai.
Take a stroll in a peaceful VR sanctuary high in the clouds. Empty your mind, focus and unleash your combat skills. With your robot companion, explore the archipelago to reveal its secrets and become a true samurai. (Glitchr Studio)
In a world of short attention spans, Sky Sanctuary stands solid in its focus on mastery and progression with its training simulator for those who dreamed of becoming a samurai (and I may or may not be one of those kids growing up with the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) The environment is absolutely gorgeous and achieves the virtual reality experience of zen. For those who feel somewhat isolated in VR, you are accompanied by an adorable robot named Delios-sensei, who encourages you to be your best (gambatte!~).
Note: Sky Sanctuary is currently in early access, and will be developed and refined further by the 3-person team with the aid of community feedback.
So what’s Sky Sanctuary all about?
Extremely friendly for VR beginners, you’re welcome to a calm and peaceful landscape by a floating robot, similar to the aesthetics of Portal (nothing can go wrong here, right?). Controls for teleporting, grabbing objects, and mechanics for menus and pocket storage are easy to follow and gentle for VR users from all experience ranges.
Still in its early development, the Sanctuary that’s placed above the clouds in the sky, there’s three main areas:
- The temple, where you can view leaderboards
- Kyudo: Bow and arrow training
- Tameshigiri: Katana training
- (There’s also a small area for tutorial training)
As you wander around, there’s a handful of interactables such as smoke bombs to toss and the ability to light up some fireworks in the air.
What do you know about that bow and arrow?
Possibly my worst skill yet across all of virtual reality would be the bow and arrow (I wished my Green Arrow cosplay good-bye at this point) and unfortunately Sky Sanctuary was no different but it didn’t take away from the fun and upper arm work you can get.
There’s four modes, all unique:
- Precision: Stationary targets
- Dynamic: Moving targets
- Skeet: Hens that are shot from cannons
- Triathlon: A mix of all modes, one after another
I could definitely feel my upper arm get sore after half an hour of play time. For those who want to utilize the game for a work out and want more of a challenge, I would suggest even adding some glove weights.
Time to slice and dice boys
The katana exercise is not for the faint of heart – you must be precise, quick and attentive. Big moves are encouraged, and small flicks won’t get you far. Be sure to keep your distance as you will be swinging your arms!
Mind the angle of your blade with your controller and be sure you slice within the guided angle of the hitbox. It can be pretty tricky, but although a simple game, it has a high replay value and I found that time flew by as I pushed myself to do better. Delios-sensei, I’ll do it for you!
You can check out a preview of the gameplay here:
What does Sky Sanctuary get right for virtual reality?
Glitchr Studio kept VR users from all experience backgrounds in mind with a top notch simple and easy-to-follow tutorial, and could very well be in the list for introducing new users into VR. Virtual reality allows you to be in the presence of the unreal, and being in a well-designed Japanese-inspired zen temple in the sky takes full advantage of being immersed into the fictional realms.
Smaller details like weapons not being affected by gravity make it easier to switch weapons, as well as not having to hold down grip buttons, or any additional controls. Very user-friendly and holding both the katana and bow and arrow feels natural. Physics are important in VR, and having it feel good makes it easier for the exercises to come naturally.
I’m hoping to see more sandbox objects (it’s in the plan) as anyone knows that throwing objects and lighting things on fire is oddly so entertaining. There’s a little bit of our inner child in all of us!
The final verdict
While I would have liked to see some “quality of life” changes such as an unlimited practise mode, I also think that perhaps it would effectively ruin the main theme of the game which is progression and growth. When visiting the temple, you’re presented with a graph of how you’ve performed in all the areas. It’s interesting to note that multiple users for a Steam Account may affect the graph.
For those looking for a deep narrative experience, Sky Sanctuary may not fulfil that desire, but for those who are looking for another game to add to their VR winter work out regime, and enjoys improving upon their skills, Sky Sanctuary is a step in the right direction.
As someone who enjoys mastering a game (former Tetris champion here), I really enjoyed what I saw of Sky Sanctuary and I’m looking forward to seeing what the devs have in store as they come to finalizing the game.
You can check out the environments you can be a part of in the teaser trailer here:
Sky Sanctuary launches on February 15th, 2017 (tomorrow) for early access.
Official Sky Sanctuary website: www.sky-sanctuary.com
Sky Sanctuary on Steam (early access): store.steampowered.com/app/526130
Glitchr Studio on Twitter: twitter.com/glitchrstudio
Photos provided by the Sky Sanctuary press kit
Full disclosure: This press key was provided for an unbiased review.