Portland VR Meetup, October 2017: Immersive Gaming with AR/VR

The Portland Virtual Reality Meetup is a community of Virtual Reality (VR) developers, entrepreneurs, engineers, artists, enthusiasts and early adopters and the topic for the October meetup was the future of Immersive Gaming with Augmented Reality (AR) and VR. The evening started with time to mingle, network, and play with some VR demos including a couple of first person shooter games, a light saber game, and the opportunity to check out a real relic of the technology – an original Virtual Boy from 1995. All of this was capped off with fantastic views over Portland from “Big Pink”, the second tallest building in the city.

There were three great speakers who focused on different aspects of immersive gaming with VR. The first speaker, Damon Pidhajecky, is the lead engineer on Headmaster, a PlayStation* VR (PSVR) launch title where the aim of the game is to head butt a soccer ball at different targets. He spoke about the process of developing a game for the PSVR platform, some challenges they overcame, and some tips for developers.

Damon explained about some of the challenges and limitations they had to work with in order to design for not only PlayStation, but for VR too, and how they used many of them to their advantage. For example, they had a limited number of light points so they needed to focus the player’s direction in a certain area. In order to do this, they set the game in a dark, prison environment. Another challenge was that you could only use your hands for menu navigation and not for the game itself – so they chose head-butting a soccer ball because you don’t use your hands in soccer.

For a truly immersive experience, Damon recommended that you pay special attention to the sound in your VR. You want 3D audio that not only captures what you are doing but everything that is going on around you as well. Another great tip was on testing your game – you have two kinds of testers, first time VR users who think everything is cool, and experienced VR users that can give you more feedback like in-game navigation, VR sickness issues, and more – and it’s good to have both. It is also important to have people do long term testing on your game, people who actually go through all of the levels, which you can’t do in a five minute demo at a tradeshow.

Headmaster was lucky to get onto the PSVR demo disc and be part of the Best Buy demo, but that added a lot of stress to the development of the game because they had to deliver the demo six months before the game was finished. They quickly learned that they had to scrap some features such as locomotion which was causing VR sickness, rather than to work to make that feature better. Another great tip that Damon had was that when promoting your game, most people watching the trailer will not be using VR, so you should use 2D video clips which offer a more cinematic and simulated effect. He said the process Sony uses to make sure your game passes all of their requirements is also helpful when porting the game to other platforms because you’ve pretty much already optimized everything and all that’s left to do is working through different platform’s badges and awards, etc.

Next on stage was Nima Zeighami, founder of Agency XR consulting firm and VR Sports, an independent VR studio. Nima talked about how sports and games have evolved and how XR is merging them together. He walked us through a brief history of both sports and games bringing us through the ages up to today and the launch of VR video games. He explained how vSports are a new category of play, distinct from eSports because not only is motion a key part but they are also competitive. They are also distinct from sports because your stature, size, and strength are not important but your speed is. vSports are inherently competitive and have really begun taking off due to VR tournaments being held around the world.

“People love video games because they do things they obviously can’t do in real life. That’s especially true with sports games because fans love to step into the shoes of their favorite athletes.” ~Ralph Baer, aka the Father of Video games

Some of the most popular vSports right now include the Virzoom Bike, which can be found in some arcades and gyms and make exercise more fun and playful; Echo Arena which held the final competition of a huge tournament at Oculus Connect and is the kind of game that is validating vSports because of how popular it is; and Tower Tag which is like a version of tag for the future and includes a haptic tower that you can use to push yourself off of, lean on, and more which really amps up the feeling of really being in the game.

Because of games like Tower Tag, which has an actual tower component bolted into the ground and needs a designated space, Nima predicts we will begin to see VR environments that we can go to and play at. The physical aspect of the experience makes it more immersive, so do other things like having hot air blow over you like wind when you’re VR environment is set in the desert.

The final talk of the evening was by Brent Insko, the lead software architect in the Virtual Reality group at Intel, who is working to ensure Intel’s next generation platforms are ready for where VR heads in the future. Brent also heads up Intel’s efforts with the Khronos Group around VR with OpenXR. Brent talked about what has been holding VR back: cost, comfort, and content.

Cost: For a good experience, you need high end equipment that can handle the resolution and processing power. Although we are starting to see some of the Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) come down in price.

Comfort: The devices go on your head and get sticky and sweaty and you have cables tethering you to the equipment, not the most comfortable. Inside-out tracking and wireless backpack systems are helping to address these issues but they have a ways to go yet.

Content: Everyone is developing their own standards. There are three main PC VR verticals: Steam, Oculus, and Microsoft and they each have their own standards. The Khronos Group is working towards designing a standard for VR and AR content across platforms which would help developers.

Intel wants to help drive the VR experience to do more, stimulate the user better, and drive their senses. As important as the visuals are, the audio is what will make you really feel like you are there. If you can fool your eyes and your ears, then there are a few other things you can do to be truly and completely immersed, such as sensors to see where you are looking so you can interact with others in the real word, haptic components that are part of the physical and virtual world, and have the environment respond to the user – for example if your heart rate doesn’t go up as three zombies come towards you, then the game could send 100 zombies at you instead.

Intel has a 2020 VR Vision for open innovation and best of class performance to allow VR to thrive and lead on the PC. They want to see truly immersive multiplayer gaming allowing users to travel to other worlds through mind-tripping quality, wireless HMDs and peripherals, multi-sensory stimulation, multi-model input, sensing and responsive simulation.

As part of Intel’s developer outreach program, and to raise awareness of their VR community, Intel was one of the sponsors for the October meetup and also provided a Samsung* HMD Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Headset with Motion Controllers to be raffled off to attendees.

Intel was one of the sponsors for the October meetup as part of their developer outreach program and to raise awareness of their community as they work toward improving the experience of AR and VR. 

To learn more:

Intel’s® Virtual Reality program

Intel’s® Software Innovator Program

Portland VR meetup

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