Smashing Realities

Lately in my daily life – I have to admit – I’ve been focusing a bit on the virtual worlds more. As all players on the market announce 2016 will be the year for virtual reality. Everybody is waiting for the consumer versions of Oculus, console gamers are longing for the PlaystationVR set, all research teams are kung fu vive’ing through their casual fridays (“Hey I need to test this thoroughly!”) and Samsung just released their consumer version of the GearVR in US (shipping in Germany Dec, 1st)… VR is on!

As I’m always saying (you can quote me on that) we need to pass through virtual reality to create good augmented reality. So we need to learn from VR, that’s coming up next. Of course, I don’t mean to pass through VR to finally reach AR! Both must coexist and I’m a huge fan of the whole Milgram spectrum. But AR still needs a longer way to go at least on the hardware site: VR is easier as it does not mix both worlds. But we can learn a lot about natural user interaction and need to increase hardware quality (resolutions, see-throughs, lightweights) that will profit both. VR will emerge other applications and games than AR (teleporting to a different future planet just won’t work when you can still see your crummy apartment), but is has other great location-linked experiences!

So, anyway, I want to take a short detour from AR today and mention my favorite mobile VR game here. It has been my favorite tablet relax game before (great soundtrack!) and is now available for the GearVR in an adapted version. It’s called Smash Hit and let’s you simply fly through a tronish-block-world to shoot balls at obstacles made from glass to get through. That’s it! …but the simplicity is key to the best immersive experience with a long-term motivation, great fun and most clever usage of current technology! Take a short intro:

Also check out a short gameplay video from vrgamerdude. So why is this so great? If you try it, you are hooked and convinced. No further words needed. :-)

But why?

I consider it such a good experience not only because it is fun, but also because it uses the medium wisely: the graphics are cool, but not too complex and the gradient colored cubes and the fog nicely cover up problems you can typically have with a screen a few centimeters in front of your eyes and not-so-well-performaing graphics. – The performance works well here and the world design supports a great depth for stereoscopic view. You need to move your head (to shoot the objects) and thus automatically look around a bit and get a great feeling of presence through the visuals. The design of inevitability through your fixed movements is the base for dramatic effects when objects move in towards your face rapidly and in 3D. Stereo fun at it’s best to search for cover!

The movement is often a problem in VR demos as you break the metaphor-free simulation of being there. If you have a first-person game you expect a real 1:1 movement. Cumbersome gamepad controls kill the direct input and distract you to e.g. get it right to move a step aside… The game is a shooter on rails where you don’t have this issue at all. It’s just not part of your freedom – through the game design. The VR version reduces camera rolls to a minimum (the tablet/smartphone version has more) and when it happens it gives you a nice floating feeling – but also quickly a stomach issue. They’ve played well with the parameters!

The great 3D sound and the physics are the last piece for this convincing immersion. Realism is pushed and everything moves kind of natural (or is perceived as such) that matches our real world experiences. Destroying things and planning and executing parable throws has always been a satisfying experience for humans (compare Angry Birds or cavemen throwing spears at mammoths). Enough, said. Great game and experience!

Well, this for the weekend. Try it out! :-)