Thoughts on VR and Uru

Anything that isn't directly related to Age Creation but that might be interesting to Age developers.

Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Sirius » Wed Oct 12, 2016 4:46 am

Hey guys.

Being a computer-addict, I finally managed to get my hands on a Vive VR headset. Long story short: it's completely awesome. It's also working surprisingly well for something that's supposed to be the first "real" attempt at VR. It's also definitely something that will change the gaming industry forever - that's something to look forward to :D

Anyway, I've been wondering for a while if Uru would look good at all in VR. So this is what this topic is about: a block of text containing my rambling about my feelings about VR. Hopefully that will be interesting to some of you ;) If not, well... At least I had some fun writing it.

So. For a long time I thought Uru in VR would completely suck. Why ? Mostly because the graphics are outdated (low res textures, very basic lighting etc), but also because I felt Uru was clunky enough playing with a mouse and keyboard - there was no need to add a heavy headset to the discomfort. In my head, a VR Myst IV would look good, but not Uru. I came across an old post from Mystler who thought the exact same thing (actually, that's probably him who convinced me in the first place).

However, after trying out a few demos, I attempted to get some Uru stuff in VR, without any good or bad expectations. I managed to get a textureless version of Vothol gallery into Unity (which has great support for VR), as well as a textured version of the Myst library. This was surprisingly easy to do for the models, although textures require a bit more work.

Now, pictures don't do VR justice (I mean, not at all). So I'll write down my impressions instead, in case that interests anyone. Feel free to ask if you have questions.
First though, I'll recap what VR does, since it might be obscure to some people. If you are already familiar with concepts like stereoscopy or "room scale" thing, you can probably skip this.


What VR is.

As you all know, VR headsets prevent you from seeing anything else but the game you are playing - no more distractions. Also, as you probably know, VR allows you to see two different images, one for each eye. Which means you can actually see distance, unlike on a 2D screen on which you can only guess it. That's why it's called stereoscopic rendering.

Secondly, a VR headset allows you to look around, meaning looking up or down or even looking back is no longer tied to a simple and quick movement of your mouse. You actually have to rotate your head.

Also very important: any head or hand movement you make in real-life is tracked in the game, down to the millimeter. This means you can get up from your chair, go take a walk, and your view of the game will update in real time. Meaning you could walk past an object, or turn around it to see it's back, kneel to look at how it connects to the ground, etc. This also means you're likely to hit a real-life wall if you're not careful enough ;-) (don't worry, that almost never happens though).
This is what we call "room scale", because it means you have a small "room" of a few square meters, in which you can freely walk without touching the mouse, keyboard or controllers. However, since VR environments tend to be slightly bigger than your average gaming room (which is fortunate), you can also press a button on the controller to teleport to another location - kind of like old point&click Myst.
(You could also move by holding down a directional button, but this tends to make people motion sick. I didn't try it myself, though)

Speaking of controllers, you have two of them: one for each hand. They are tracked alongside the headset, meaning you can reach to an object and grab it with a single button press. Neat.



About Uru and VR.

Now, VR environments usually play very bad with old graphics. Low-resolution textures like in Uru mean you'll see pixels as big as your palm. Also, since you can get a very close look at things, you usually notice the lack of detail in meshes a lot more than on a 2D screen - think trying to get a closeup to the pens on Sharper's desk, for instance. This was my biggest fear about Uru in VR.

However, there is a reason for me to think VR would actually bring something interesting to Uru. It's about D'ni and dimensions. I'll get to it in a moment.

I recall when I first played Uru after Myst IV, I was quite underwhelmed because of the game being in 3D. This meant visual quality was a lot lower than in previous games, and that the whole navigation system changed. But even when I got around it, I still felt a bit dissatisfied by the locations in Uru. Somehow, D'ni didn't feel impressive at all.
Unlike Myst, Uru is composed almost exclusively of D'ni or D'ni-written locations. This is the first time in the series - the only time, if you exclude Myst V. D'ni is an empire, which means it's bound to be unlike anything written by Atrus. To make it short: it's bigger.
The buildings are supposed to feel tall. Gahreesen is supposed to be a massive, gigantic structure. Kadish has giant, oversized trees, along with an oversized vault. Teledahn has giant mushrooms, and you're on walkways a few dozen meters above the lagoon. Ahnonay... Well, the whole Age speaks for itself.

This is the whole point about D'ni: its architecture is bloody massive, and my opninion is that a single 2D screen can't do it any justice. Cyan even made some areas bigger than they needed to be, because otherwise the 3rd person camera wouldn't fit in some of the tightest places (think the spyroom). This only contributed to it.

In a way, this is also reminiscent of the design of Riven: to reinforce and due to Gehn's god complex, a lot of elements in the game are bigger than they should. The giant golden dome. The giant dagger. The giant Wark cavern. And unlike Uru, it all felt big because the navigation system didn't allow you to wander around freely.

This is also what made me skeptical about realRiven: I was sure the 3D controls would ruin the game, like in Uru. Because of that I was determined NOT to play it, because it just wouldn't feel big as Riven did.

Now with VR, that's another thing entirely, and I'm starting to reconsider playing realRiven once it gains VR support. Back to my experiments with Vothol and Myst in Unity.
When I put on the headset with textureless Vothol loaded, I believed I made an error with the scale, because the ceiling was so high I felt like being in a cathedral. But I didn't, the scale was completely correct, and I was standing near the railing next to the lake. Railing which was almost as tall as I am. And yet Vothol is normally sized by D'ni standards.



As a conclusion: yeah, Uru wouldn't look as good in VR as most other games which are more pretty and more detailed. However, VR Uru would look better than normal Uru, because the game is all about the D'ni ambiance, which can't be felt to its fullest without seeing the real size of the thing. Other Myst games would look just as good and even better in VR, however I have a feeling they don't need it as much as Uru does.

Furthermore, Uru's gameplay is perfect for VR. It has no scary moments, which is important since they wouldn't translate well in VR (being either too scary or downright laughable). It could be played standing in room scale, which would allow you to have a closer look at things. You could still play seated comfortably if need be, and still feel like you're outside in the Age you're exploring (I'm thinking about you stuck in chair all day, Wam ;-) ). Heck, you could even relax by physically sitting on the ground (bye bye /sit command).
Interactions are also kept to a minimum, meaning you won't feel any strain on your arms from holding the controllers. Ages are big enough to provide plenty of exploring, but small enough that getting from one end to the other wouldn't be annoying (I'm pretty sure at first open-world games will be VERY boring in VR. Goodbye Skyrim).
Sure, there are a few things that would need rework (such as ladders, KI, third person camera, multiplayer, etc). But still, workarounds could be found, and the end result would look awesome.

And finally. Finally. FINALLY.
You'd be able to pick up kickables. :twisted:
If that alone doesn't make you want to play Uru in VR, nothing will.





... I'm hearing some people saying that my rambling is all well and nice, but we don't have VR for Uru yet, and that it will never be room scale because that would take years to implement in Plasma.

Oh... yeah... right.

But hey, nothing stops me from importing the Ages into Blender and putting them in Unity or Unreal for personal use, right ?
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Yali » Wed Oct 12, 2016 5:52 am

My only fear is the jump feature that Rand mentioned they excluded from Obduction which is why there are so many invisible walls. Apparently falling in VR is no fun. Goodbye Teledahn bridge puzzle.

Otherwise, yeah.... despite what you say about D'ni, its still my favorite environment in the Myst saga apart from Riven and Myst Island. I could spend a lifetime walking those halls. One of my favorite areas is between the Palace and the Library along that elegant stone path that snakes through the stalagmites.

I'd love to get a Vive but the cost is pretty high and I'm broke af. Apparently Cyan's next game might be VR exclusive and Robyn might be working on it. Its also rumoured to be a non-sequel Myst game, possibly tying into the TV show.

Maybe with DIRT and Intangibles VR Uru could be a thing with a reborn D'ni.

Sirius, could you try my Darka room demo with the Vive? I'm curious to see what it's like.
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Sirius » Wed Oct 12, 2016 6:53 am

Yali wrote:My only fear is the jump feature that Rand mentioned they excluded from Obduction which is why there are so many invisible walls. Apparently falling in VR is no fun. Goodbye Teledahn bridge puzzle.

Nah, I'm pretty sure we could find workarounds every time jumping needs to be done.
Either way, I believe falling in VR is just like moving without the teleport feature, you must get used to it after a while. Although to be honest so far I tried neither.

Yali wrote:I'd love to get a Vive but the cost is pretty high and I'm broke af.

Yeah, these things are a bit overpriced right now.
Fortunately (well, kindof) there are no "real" VR games yet. Steam is filled with countless lame fruit ninja or zombie killing clones (tell me about game developers trying to squeeze money out of you... tsssk). Right now VR is a "oddity to have tried once in your life", but doesn't justify the cost unless you're a developer or technology addict.
Still, once Sony gets their Playstation VR out, I think we can expect things to be more affordable, and more VR games to be released. But IMO it only gets interesting when everyone has access to the tech - then we'll see really creative uses of VR.

Yali wrote:Sirius, could you try my Darka room demo with the Vive? I'm curious to see what it's like.
I would be delighted to, given how good it already looks !
Hmmm, however the latest version doesn't seem to support VR correctly. It does boot the required SteamVR server, but otherwise does its normal monoscopic rendering. You might need to make a new version with specific Vive support...
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Yali » Wed Oct 12, 2016 7:51 am

That's what I realized after I posted. I might try to do that this evening.
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby dendwaler » Wed Oct 12, 2016 10:30 am

Thanks for sharing about your experiences with vr and your thoughts about the future of it.
I like to hear that from an early adopter more then reading comments from the press or from commercialy involved sources.
I am interested to hear how much better the vive or rift willl be compared to the new Google's daydream standard..
The low cost of the daydream system can lead into two or more directions.
1) its nothing compared to rift or vive and will slow down the interest in VR.
2) it is a good "step in" product and will lett want you to get `the real thing.
I assume its in fact an " in between" , and because its so cheap it will likely grow the fastest of all.
And with the available " Riftcat " software you can already play all the rift games with it.
furthermore, The latest release of the Unreal engine (4.13.1) does contain VR daydream support natively.

As you know i am experimenting with it , unfortunately i do not have a vr set at all for now.
But , i partly did in unreal the same what you did in Unity.
Importing and texturing the excisting ages is not so very difficult, as i thought it would be.
The most difficult part is bringing the puzzles back in, with a different coding platform as using blueprints.
I asume we have learned more then expected by working with Plasma before.

Continue sharing your findings Sirius!
bye


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Those wonderfull Worlds are called " Ages" , because that is what it takes to build one.

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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Sirius » Wed Oct 12, 2016 5:14 pm

Dendwaler wrote:Thanks for sharing about your experiences with vr and your thoughts about the future of it.
I like to hear that from an early adopter more then reading comments from the press or from commercialy involved sources.

I'm glad it was useful ! Yeah, unfortunately most sources are commercially involved one way or another. It's quite common to come across non-informative articles sometimes written by people who actually never touched a VR headset in their life :/ Also, Oculus and Valve would like you to believe the technology is perfect: it isn't. For instance, the Vive's image is blurry on the sides (I heard Oculus has the same problem).
But thanks to the Internet, you can also find unbiased reviews from technology enthusiasts.

As for Daydream... I haven't been following it closely, but it seems an enhanced version of Google Cardboard. Kind of like the GearVR from Oculus.
So, what I guess it will look like:
- Powered by a phone, not a PC. Don't expect much in the ways of gaming, since it will be limited to apps that run on a device the size of your hand.
- Because of this, resolution will be lower than on a gaming headset.
- But there won't be any annoying cable hanging from your head.
- The headset will allow you to look around without any latency, but not move. This means you won't be able to walk in your VR room with it.
- The controller might be less accurate than one from Oculus or Vive, but not by much.

Well, is that bad ? Not really. In my opinion, it's a sub-par experience since VR environments will be extremely simple, and you lose most of the "room scale" aspect of VR. But even a sub-par VR experience is still awesome, just because it's something 100% new.
I first tried VR with a crappy cardboard and my phone. Then I managed to hook it up to my PC to get more detailed environments (kind of like what Riftcat does). Then I tried the GearVR. Then the Vive. Every time I was blown away.

But yeah, Daydream is definitely good, because just like Cardboard, it will allow people to try out VR. The more people try the technology, the more they will ask for improved versions of it, the fastest the "better" VR headsets will be affordable by everyone.

Also, even though Daydream is limited by the phone's performance, as you pointed out you could probably use Riftcat to use it as a PC headset, sort of a low-cost replacement for an Oculus. I'm sure tons of teens will figure out they don't need an expensive headset to play their VR games anymore, which will lower the price of said VR headsets even more. Heh.


... But not being able to play in room-scale with the Daydream is a big drawback, IMO.


Dendwaler wrote:But , i partly did in unreal the same what you did in Unity.
Importing and texturing the excisting ages is not so very difficult, as i thought it would

I'm considering switching to Unreal since Unity has a few annoying limits. But I'm having a hard time importing meshes in Unreal. It seems a bit harder than it is in Unity - for instance, Unreal treats an FBX file as a single mesh, instead of a set of meshes like Unity does.

Dendwaler wrote:The most difficult part is bringing the puzzles back in, with a different coding platform as using blueprints.

Ah, I heard about this blueprints system. Fortunately, it should be easier to use than Uru's Alcscript/Python, especially for non-coders.

Dendwaler wrote:I asume we have learned more then expected by working with Plasma before.

Creating 3D environments on a hacked game engine, with partially working plugins and no documentation ? That does teach you a lot about making things work ;)
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Wamduskasapa » Wed Oct 12, 2016 10:36 pm

If you are interested in the Oculus Rift I seriously suggest that you keep an eye on EBay Many of the Kickstart Supporters are currently selling their initial units.

I sold my Avegant Glyph - Video Headset on Amazon

I obtained my Oculus for Well under the current $600 price and Oculus Was extremely helpful in getting my unit up and running. The biggest problems that I had were:

    1: My Notebook was NOT able to handle the intense graphic demands
    2: Oculus Rift DOES NOT support SLR - IMHO you need at least 2 graphics cards with a minimum of 6 GB video memory each and 16GB system RAM
    3: You need the SLR Bridge installed BUT in the Alienware Command Center SLR is disabled
    4: The edge of the viewable area is NOT in focus

For VR content I suggest using Wear VR - Louvre Museum | Paris - Vatican 3D tours and Theban Mapping Project as a start - and there are 100's of other sites
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby GPNMilano » Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:38 am

Not sure if you ever saw this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ACjnBXpfrk
You can't stop the truth. IC Blog
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Sirius » Thu Oct 13, 2016 4:30 pm

I did, back when Mystfit put it online. It's some nice work, but on the other hand I don't think it's been updated for ages; I also don't know if it's compatible with the Vive. Furthermore, using Plasma means no room scale gameplay without even more heavy lifting.
I would try it myself, but it means recompiling his version of the engine - and compiling C++ is something I've always miserably failed at. Last time I installed Visual studio resulted in a system crash and 3 consecutive system restores.

Nah, for now I'm having just as much fun porting the Ages to Unreal/Unity :D We'll see just how far I'll go with that.

Right now I got Kemo in Blender, next step will be Unreal.
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Man, that level of multitexturing is a pain...
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Re: Thoughts on VR and Uru

Postby Yali » Thu Oct 13, 2016 5:41 pm

PUT K'VEER IN UNREAL!!!

I've been dreaming of Riven-quality D'ni since 1999.
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