Realities.io offered me an exclusive early preview of multiplayer support coming to Puzzling Places.
Shortly after joining a room developer Azad Balabanian handed me a piece and then, a few seconds later, I plucked a different one from his grip and immediately set it into place on the 3D model floating in front of me. The ease with which this "just worked" points to the likelihood that, by year end, piecing together 3D puzzles with your friends in VR could become a fantastic laid back social VR experience on par with Walkabout Mini Golf.
"This is how puzzling is always meant to be," Balabanian told me as we snapped pieces into place. "The nice thing is with Puzzling Places it's not a very fast twitchy gameplay. So even if you're playing on the worst internet it ends up being totally fine."
We reviewed Puzzling Places in 2021 after it achieved full release on the Quest store and found "a resounding success" in its core functionality of piecing together 3D models of physical locations. Driven by a passionate community of supporters, the game moved from SideQuest to App Lab and finally to full release before the developers started exploring a regular add-on content release schedule to keep hardcore players coming back for more.
The development team never worked on a multiplayer game before, according to Realities.io CEO Daniel Sproll. Based on what I saw with the absolute ease of passing pieces from one player to another, it looks like they've figured it out better than a great number of VR experiences I've tried over the years.
"It needs to be polished," Sproll explained. "Puzzling Places is such a simple game because it's just puzzling, but even something as simple as puzzling has such a depth to it if you want to get it right and if you wanna make it feel natural."
"We decided to make this a closed beta in case we really have to still make major design changes because I think once it's out it's really hard to do that," Sproll said. "My personal goal is to have it ready by fall when things heat up again. I think summer's great for us to experiment."
Brazilian studio ARVORE is starting to share more about Pixel Ripped 1978 as one of VR's first franchises readies for the release of its newest entry this summer.
The forthcoming entry sees players embody a game designer working at Atari during the golden age of gaming. Following previous nostalgia-fueled entries, 1989, 1995, and the latter's On The Road spin-off, 1978 digs deeper into gaming's history while pushing forward its nostalgia-fueled gameplay into new places.
Revealed in March, Pixel Ripped 1978 sees the player jumping between various dimensions while fixing bugs along the way. It shifts between 2D gameplay testing a game on the screen on your desk at the Atari offices, to fully transporting inside the game's world and walking around in it. This makes for wildly engaging contrast, traversing a colorful full 3D world one second and then back to the office the next to play the game on a traditional screen. It's so consistently engrossing that when a coworker stops by your desk to speak to you at Atari, for an instant it genuinely feels like the character is really addressing you.
Pixel Ripped 1978 launches this summer for PC VR, PSVR 2, and Quest 2, and ARVORE is planning to participate in the UploadVR Showcase coming up June 14th. We'll have more in the coming days, but for now ARVORE released the following video recapping the overall journey Pixel Ripped's creators have been on, moving from lone developer Ana Ribeiro working on the first game to around 20 people working on it at its peak as part of ARVORE's multi-game production schedule.
Find out more in the video embedded below, and we'll have more about Pixel Ripped 1978 soon!
Meta announced winners of its Presence Platform Hackathon with a pair of videos showcasing interesting mixed reality concepts.
Applicants for the hackathons held at Meta's offices in California and London were competing for the chance to win a $50,000 prize at each location. Videos for the two winners are embedded below showcasing a mixed reality clothing app and a game which fills your physical room with water leaking from the walls.
Meta says The Digital Wardrobe "was created by Isabelle Udo, Roland Smeenk, Marcus Benisty, and Vedran Skarica" and you can see in the video above how it uses Meta's tools like eye tracking, body tracking, and hand tracking.
Submersed, meanwhile, "was created by Stephen Rogers, Gabriel Williams, Wyatt Strain, and Danny Oswaldo Chavez Miranda." You have to quickly make your way around the room "to apply duct tape and ensure the water level doesn’t surpass your height."
We've seen some cool mixed reality concepts in early games like Laser Dance and Spatial Ops, but it's apparent developers are still learning how best to build games that live inside your physical environment more comfortably than existing VR experiences.
Walkabout Mini Golf is an essential VR title that belongs in every library alongside the likes of Beat Saber. Whether you’re new to Walkabout or a long-time player, here’s our definitive review breaking down why it’s one of VR’s best multiplayer games.
There’s magic on the greens of Walkabout Mini Golf.
Each course features only 18 holes, but studio Mighty Coconut developed a formula that makes it one of VR’s most reliably breath-taking experiences that's both endlessly replayable and an absolutely essential multiplayer game.
Course & Hole Design
To begin, there’s the courses themselves. Theme parks are the closest places comparable to Walkabout courses.
Ultimately, Mightly Coconut leans so far into VR-first design that in some ways its courses are better than even the best Disney theme park ever could be. There’s no lines here, for example, and each hole hides a tiny easter egg, just waiting for you to find unspoiled by anyone else who has trodden those greens before.
Course design from Mighty Coconut starts with what the developers call the “Walkabout path”, which is an obvious route through the holes bringing you from the beginning of the course to its end with eye-catching reveals along the way.
In the case of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth add-on course, based on the 1980s movie starring David Bowie, designers built each hole based on a scene from the film. So, yes, you can putt through the Bog Of Eternal Stench, play through the Goblin City, and break your brain with gravity changes at the Escher staircase, but Mighty Coconut’s skilled artists also went through the effort of designing a full-scale maze for you to get lost inside parallel to the course itself. For fans with a deep-seated love of the film, Walkabout’s course is the closest anyone will get to playing inside a vast theme park inspired by the property.
Walkabout Mini Golf Review - The Facts
Platforms: Quest, Pico, PC VR, PSVR 2 Release Date: Out now, iOS coming summer 2023 Developer: Mighty Coconut Price: $14.99 (DLCs $2.99 or $3.99 each)
Maybe Labyrinth isn’t your thing, but Walkabout’s creators have shown across its eight base courses, and now 10 DLC add-ons, that their creative process is both inspired and repeatable. They’ve worked out a proven pipeline moving ideas to sketches to eye-balling sight lines in VR with Gravity Sketch. Taking guidance from real world architecture while unconstrained by physical limits, Mighty Coconut now aims to release a new course every six weeks.
Creative direction at Mighty Coconut flows from studio head Lucas Martell, and artists at the company are now digging through our collective unconscious for stuff to reimagine with a Walkabout path punctuated with 18 holes of mini golf. Current releases include “Lost Cities” like Atlantis, Shangri-La, and El Dorado, as well as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and even Cyan’s classic PC puzzle game Myst sees its memorable island reimagined with a light mini golf twist. Yes, in Walkabout Mini Golf, you can stand in Myst’s library with friends for the first time in 30 years or investigate the steampunk artifacts in Captain Nemo’s opulent quarters on the Nautilus.
Before you even hit your first ball in this game, Mighty Coconut puts you in a beautiful place with satisfying sounds and calming music. Further, each course’s holes are designed according to a unique “shape language” differentiating it from others. There’s a remarkable lack of windmills, the classic mini golf obstacle, and then you play a course like Quixote Valley which is littered with them across a windy seaside villa that looks drawn straight from a Studio Ghibli film.
Walkabout’s designers saved windmills for this hilly course only to deploy them in inventive ways, like actually keeping your ball on the green rather than letting it fly off a hillside. While you’re sure to hate some courses due to occasionally cruel hole designs, every one of Walkabout’s locales is a gorgeous place with an obvious path ahead inviting you on a journey.
Physics & Gameplay
Then you hit your first ball and realize the physics feel enough like the real thing that this simulation will bring you the same joy and frustration you experience hitting physical balls. Here, too, Walkabout outstrips traditional mini golf in some fundamental ways.
Walkabout Mini Golf Reivew - Comfort
Walkabout Mini Golf supports both teleport and artificial stick-based locomotion and you can change settings at any time. Snap turning and teleport is the default, and there's also a flight-mode that can be accessed without going to the menu. Your speed in both flight mode and with stick-based artificial ground movement is adjustable. The game can be played comfortably standing or seated with only one controller.
Your putter can’t collide with the environment so you don’t have to worry about your ball being too close to a barrier – you can just putt right through it. Further, your putter auto-extends to the green, so you can take your shot seated, standing, bending, or even laying down (yes, I’ve tried) with one arm hanging off the bed to swing. There are no hitches in the fabric of the greens either, so if you hit it right the ball should move more predictably than on many physical courses.
Sure, occasionally a ball might fly off in a weird direction which doesn’t seem right but, overall, Walkabout Mini Golf is in the same exact same sweet spot as its physical counterpart. In both, the difference between your ball flying off into the weeds and an occasional hole in one is you carefully positioning your feet, taking a couple practice swings, and calmly following through on your shot.
Pro tip: If you hold the grip button on your controller you can keep your ball in active play, useful for those occasional moments when your ball might have veered off the green but is slowly rolling back toward it.
Lost Balls, Hard Mode, Flying, & Fox Hunts
There's a hidden ball at every hole in each Walkabout course. When you find one, just pull the analog stick on the controller downward and you can vacuum it up into your collection.
Find these colorful designs as you play and, when you finish a round and get back to the welcome shack, you hear the balls roll out onto a tabletop where you can examine each up close and pick one for a future round.
If you find 10 hidden balls on a given course, or if you score below par, you unlock a “hard” version of the course with redesigned holes and new lighting. Long-time gamers might fondly remember getting to the end of Pokemon Gold or Silver only to discover the entire Kanto region from the original Red & Blue game is playable upon completion. Walkabout’s designers create a similar feeling of delighted discovery anytime you unlock a course’s hard version and you get to see it again in an entirely new light.
Quixote Valley shows you lightning reflecting off the night waters as a stormy clouds roll in from the distance.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea exchanges the darkness of the deep ocean and its giant squid attacking the Nautilus for the bright orange of a bubbling undersea volcano.
Atlantis glows as if it was suddenly set in black light.
Labyrinth gets redecorated for Jareth’s masquerade ball.
Myst's puzzle-based holes become way harder to solve, and there's even new areas of the island to see.
On every hard course near the first hole there’s now a clue leading you on a treasure hunt. Called “fox hunts”, you can look at your wrist to study the next clue. Then you can search as you play or simply forget mini golf altogether and learn to fly. Just point your controller toward the sky, press the analog stick upward, and suddenly you and your friends are flying around the landscape in search of the next clue. Of course, you can simply press the trigger at any time to teleport back to where your ball is and keep the game moving.
If you find every clue, you unlock a specially-designed putter you can equip back at the welcome shack next to the balls.
Multiplayer & Guest Pass
Sure, Walkabout can be picked up solo and provide 20-30 minutes of satisfying singe-player play, but it is in Walkabout’s multiplayer sessions that the game truly shines. Private rooms are shared via custom room names and, as such, I’ve never encountered a single troll or had a bad multiplayer experience in the game (there's "quick match" too). I’ve played multiplayer sessions in Walkabout extending from Quest 1 to PSVR 2, and it’s not uncommon for someone to run out of battery because nobody wanted to stop.
Mighty Coconut even enabled a guest pass feature which allows anyone to enjoy a round in a DLC course that’s only been purchased by one person in the group. You can’t collect the hidden balls if you haven’t bought the course, though, nor can you solve the fox hunt, but it’s still a fantastic feature we wish would become more common in VR games.
Walkabout Mini Golf Review - Final Verdict
Walkabout’s flexible blend of low stakes mini golf, beautiful environments on top of satisfying layers of discovery that can be picked up or dropped at any moment puts this game in a category of its own when it comes to multiplayer VR. Walkabout Mini Golf is the reason to keep your headset and controllers charged and it is, perhaps, VR’s first piece of software that’s so good it’s worth scheduling time on your calendar to play it with friends, family, or even your coworkers.
Walkabout Mini Golf is one of VR's best games and essential to every headset's library.
UploadVR focuses on a label system for reviews, rather than a numeric score. Our reviews fall into one of four categories: Essential, Recommended, Avoid and reviews that we leave unlabeled. You can read more about our review guidelines here.
Meta's latest v53 update for Quest VR headsets includes a number of big updates.
The update moves previously experimental advanced camera settings into full release, offering easy-to-find options for better recording quality or image stabilization. Meta notes there are tradeoffs to consider with the various options, with image stabilization, for example, decreasing the field of view in recorded videos. Videos recording now allso capture stereo audio into of mono.
The update also adds a toggle to "update before powering off" that could dramatically speed up future visits to VR by getting you the latest version of the games you play.
"This will help minimize the number of app updates that you have to complete the next time you want to jump into VR," the Meta post explains. "If you do not want to update your apps before the device is shutdown, you can opt out in the power off dialog."
Meta Quest Pro now also supports WiFi 6E, so headset owners with Wi-Fi networks using the 6 GHz band can now take advantage of it. Virtual Desktop's creator Guy Godin, who separately just released a major update for the app, confirmed to UploadVR that his remote streaming app on Quest Pro can also take advantage of WiFi 6E now.
"Quest Pro users can now use the 6 GHz band (if they have a router that supports 6 GHz) to reduce hiccups due to traffic congestion on the 5 GHz band," he wrote to UploadVR.
The v53 update also includes some other changes, including "new supervision tools for parents and teens" that extend to browser content filtering.
I contacted Meta to ask again about compatibility for Quest Pro with the D-Link VR Air Bridge accessory released last year, and we will update this post if we hear back.
A narrative has developed that we're somehow moving away from focusing on the metaverse vision, so I just want to say upfront that's not accurate. We've been focusing on both AI and the metaverse for years now, and we will continue to focus on both.
The two areas are also related. A breakthrough in computer vision was what enabled us to ship the first standalone VR device. Mixed reality is built on a stack of AI technologies for understanding the physical world and blending it with digital objects. Being able to procedurally generate worlds will be important for delivering compelling experiences at scale. And our vision for AR glasses involves an AI-centric operating system that we think will be the basis for the next generation of computing. Metaverse technologies will also help to deliver AI as well. For example, embodying AI agents will take advantage of the deep investment we've made in avatars over the last several years.
Building the metaverse is a long term project, but the rationale for it remains the same and we remain committed to it.
In the near term, we've reached a few milestones that I think are worth calling out. More than a billion Meta avatars have now been created. Since last year, the number of titles in the Quest store with at least $25 million in revenue has doubled. More than half of Quest daily actives now spend more than an hour using their device.
The next milestone is that we're gearing up to launch our next generation consumer virtual and mixed reality device later this year. We launched Quest 2 almost three years ago at this point. It was a very big step forward for VR, and I'm really excited to show the world all the improvements and new technology we've developed since then at a price point that will be accessible for lots of people.
Recent Laser Dance and Spatial Ops demos show that developers are figuring out how to make compelling games meshed with your physical environment.
Laser Dance from Cubism's developer Thomas Van Bouwel asks the player to pick two spots on the wall to become starting and ending points for a maze. Then the game draws a room full of lasers to move through.
I completed a handful of puzzles in an early prototype of Laser Dance, ending with me rolling down a quiet hallway under some virtual lasers at the Moscone Convention Center of San Francisco.
"The player places two buttons on opposing walls, and in every level walks back and forth between them," Van Bouwel explains. "Each button press spawns a new procedural laser pattern that's adapted to the room's size and layout."
Resolution Games showed a singe-player wave-based version of its Spatial Ops mixed reality game at GDC too. It overtook a physical wall and replaced it with a portal featuring enemies from another world that could run into my room. It was immediately reminiscent of mixed reality work done by Magic Leap with its AR headset and projects like Dr. Grordbort's Invaders. Here, though, the difference provided by VR's superior field of view gave me much-needed situational awareness of both spaces.
Elsewhere at GDC, I saw Resolution Games' Demeo with four players gathered around a physical table in mixed reality on Quest VR headsets. A short walk away, I found a remarkably similar experience delivered by Tilt Five's AR glasses.
Taking all these examples together starts to paint a picture of just how limited existing VR experiences are by concepts like "room-scale" chaperones or "stationary" guardians.
Mixed Reality's Promise: Pairing Great VR Hardware With Great AR Content
"Room-scale" and "stationary" refer to modes for VR content that will seem wildly constrained in retrospect.
With "room-scale", the virtual content isn't actually informed by the physical layout of the objects in your room. With "stationary", you're often forced to experience simulated movement through vast virtual worlds with varying comfort trade-offs.
In mixed reality gaming, any table, wall, floor, board, screen, or window can become a surface for digital content. You could show the same things across both surfaces in real-time for a laid back work or entertainment experience. Or you could turn the surface into a wormhole connecting multiple physical locations for something more active.
Mixed reality might not be the world-centric vision of the "metaverse" seen in Horizon Worlds, Rec Room or even VRChat. And it's not the all-day AR vision imagined by science fiction either, at least not yet. But long-term multi-hour sessions with synced surfaces or persistent portals to other people and places alongside a new class of mixed reality gaming? Yeah, that might be coming soon in a very big way.
Given how different and compelling experiences like Laser Dance and Spatial Ops felt from most VR content, there are real hints here that mixed reality is still both in its infancy and the next frontier in software design.
Quest headsets are designed for use by those aged 13 and older, with "customized controls with age-appropriate settings" for those looking to connect in Meta's virtual reality.
"Teens’ profiles are automatically set to private, so they’re able to approve or decline anyone who requests to follow them," Meta's blog post explains in announcing the changes. "By default, we won’t show a teen’s active status and Meta Horizon Worlds location to other people in Worlds. Teens will be able to choose whether their connections can see if they’re active online and which public world or event they’re in."
Voice mode "transforms the voices of people a teen doesn’t know into quiet, friendly sounds, giving teens more control over who can communicate with them. It also garbles the teen’s voice, so people they don’t know can’t hear them. We turn garbled voices on automatically for all teens by default within voice mode."
Meta claims to also be taking steps to "prevent interactions between adults and unconnected teens" with the example that "we don’t display any adults a teen doesn’t know in their 'people you might know' list."
Guardians can set up parental supervision "by inviting their teen to connect" through a Family Center or the Meta Quest app.
"My worry is that we could spend years and thousands of people possibly and wind up with things that didn't contribute all that much to the ways that people are actually using the devices and hardware today," Carmack said.
Meta's Reality Labs division made $727 million in revenue for the last quarter of 2022, at a cost of $5 billion in mostly R&D spending over the same period.
So while the combined loss of nearly $25,000 by the three Jeopardy contestants might seem significant, it's still much less than Zuckerberg has made in profit from VR & AR since he started investing heavily in the technology with his Oculus acquisition in 2014.
Zuckerberg describes 2023 as the "year of efficiency" for Meta, with layers of middle management and "projects that aren't performing" the likeliest areas of focus for restructuring. The investment in Reality Labs is actually expected to increase this year, Meta's CFO told investors, with Zuckerberg saying “none of the signals I’ve seen so far suggest that we should shift the Reality Labs strategy long term”.
The latest paid downloadable course set in the Sahara Desert is Walkabout Mini Golf's biggest yet.
The latest Temple At Zerzura course contrasts the cool breezy interior regions of a vast temple with the sun-baked desert outside. There's glistening waters, flickering flames, and impressive reflections all from tall vertical structures as the backdrop to this 18-hole course.
Like all Walkabout courses there's hidden balls to find in day mode as well as a night mode to unlock if you score below par, with a treasure hunt accessible there Walkabout creator Lucas Martell teased might take you across the desert.
Here's the course's official description:
The ultimate sand trap—the Sahara Desert—recedes after a thousand years, revealing the Temple of Zerzura: a place full of treasure with a sleeping king and queen… and their beloved mini golf course, now uncovered and waiting to beguile you. Putt through the serene dunes, vast throne room, and great pyramids as you search for clues and lost balls amidst the hieroglyphs and mysterious wonders of the forgotten temple.
A definite highlight can be found Raiders of the Lost Ark-style Map Room inspired by the Temple of Ramses II around hole 10. You can see it around the five minute mark in the tour video above.
"People have been wanting to play mini golf in ancient Egypt and we're not necessarily trying to be totally historically accurate, but we did want it to feel like a real place and like you're actually in ancient Egypt as opposed to just the Minigolf version of that," Martell told UploadVR.
Be sure to catch up with all our Walkabout tours in the playlist below as it tracks the evolving design thinking and scope of Mighty Coconut's work on the game.