Microsoft: “Holiday 2017 is Going to be Phenomenal”, E3 to See More Mixed Reality Announcements

Microsoft Technical Fellow and chief inventor of HoloLens, Alex Kipman, took the stage today at Microsoft Build 2017 to show off a number of upcoming mixed reality hardware and software streaming out of the company and its partners. Among the announcements—including pre-orders of Windows Holographic Headsets from Acer and HP and a new VR hand controller—was a teaser for more to come at E3 in June.

“Holiday 2017 is going to be phenomenal,” said Kipman. “We have a product lineup that customers really want. I hope you tune in to E3 to learn more about Windows Mixed Reality content story for this holiday.”

Many of the headsets taking part in the Windows Holographic program including Asus, Dell, 3Glasses and Lenovo have yet to receive a street date. There’s also no telling what bundle deals Microsoft will push to entice newcomers to their Universal Windows Platform-flavor of virtual interactions.

image captured by Road to VR

As it is, HP and Acer’s headsets are set to arrive to developers in August, which according to Kipman will be the exact same models shipping to consumers later in 2017.

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‘Battlezone’ Launches on Steam and Oculus Store

Battlezone (2016), the low-poly, high-action reboot of the classic Atari game, launched as a timed exclusive with PlayStation VR when it hit shelves in October of last year. Today owners of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR can now strap into the cockpit of the game’s sci-fi hovertanks.

Designed by Rebellion to work with gamepad (and Touch controllers for Oculus Store purchases), the new PC version of the game promises higher resolution textures, shadows, reflections—basically higher resolution everything to make good use of the graphical horsepower of VR-ready gaming PCs.

You can find it on Steam for all Steam VR supported headsets and Oculus Store for the Oculus Rift.

Here’s a peek into what Rebellion says is possible with Battlezone.

EPIC VR TANK WARFARE
Battlezone offers unrivalled battlefield awareness, a monumental sense of scale and breathless combat intensity.

LIMITLESS SOLO & CO-OP PLAY
Experience a thrilling campaign for 1-4 players where different environments, enemies and missions blend together across a procedurally generated campaign. No two playthroughs will be the same!

DEVASTATING ARSENAL
Unleash destructive weapons and awesome special equipment, from laser-guided missiles and rail guns to EMPs and shield boosts

CUTTING-EDGE UPGRADES
Unlock more powerful tanks, weapons and special equipment and pick from hundreds of deadly combinations!

CLASSIC MODE
Experience where it all started with Classic Mode – featuring original two-track controls and worldwide leaderboards to test yourself against!

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Google Acquires Owlchemy Labs, VR Game Studio Behind ‘Rick and Morty VR’, ‘Job Simulator’

In an interesting move, Google has acquired Owlchemy Labs, makers of the multi-platform hits Job Simulator (2016) and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality (2017).

As far as VR game studios go, Owlchemy Labs is not only one of the most senior, but one of the most successful out of the gate. While in no small part due to the fact that the studio’s breakout success Job Simulator was available at launch for HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and then later Oculus Touch, the company has become well-known for tackling some of the early problems in VR like creating believable, 1:1 object interaction. Of course, it’s not only a primo spot at launch and some refined mechanics that helped generate over $3M in sales for Job Simulator—the game is also worth plenty of laughs.

And the same goes for their latest game, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-alitywhich utilizes the same type of object-based interactions set to the ridiculous and off-beat stylings provided by show maker Justin Roiland.

image courtesy Owlchemy Labs and Adult Swim Games

But what does Google have in store? Are they going to be bankrolling VR games, acquiring more studios to produce a fleet of Google-made content, or do they have something else up their sleeves? Healthy speculation time: The reason for acquiring Owlchemy Labs may have had more to do with their unique understanding of VR interaction design.

The studio hasn’t shied away from experimenting with entirely new types of UI, in-engine mixed reality solutions, and creating a robust object interaction format upon which more VR content of all types, be it games or otherwise, can be produced. Having that, including the talent that created it, could be a serious asset in creating grander, wider-reaching VR applications in the march forward towards mass adoption.

Owlchemy says via the blogpost announcement that the acquisition means the studio will continue building VR content for platforms like the HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, and PlayStation VR. This most importantly includes a focus on hand interactions and high quality user experiences.

Job Simulator, image courtesy Owlchemy Labs

Google says that together, they’ll be “working to create engaging, immersive games and developing new interaction models across many different platforms to continue bringing the best VR experiences to life.”

Owlchemy sums it up: “We both believe that VR is the most accessible computing platform and that there’s a ton of work to be done, especially with regards to natural and intuitive interactions. Together with Google, with which we share an incredible overlap in vision, we’re free to pursue raw creation and sprint toward interesting problems in these early days of VR.”

We’ll no doubt see more from Owlchemy Labs in the years to come, and while we can’t say just yet what Google has in mind regarding the acquisition, one thing is for sure: whatever comes out of it is going to be exciting, ridiculous and absurdly polished.

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Valve and Pixvana Bring High-quality Adaptive VR Video to Steam, Beta Launches Today

Pixvana, makers of the cloud-based 360 video creation studio SPIN, today announced that their software services—integrated at the core of Valve’s own Steam 360 Video Player—will be launching today into beta. This effectively lets SPIN users publish their VR videos directly to the Steam Store, but more importantly means VR headset owners will be able to browse and watch high-quality streaming content (up to 12K) directly in Steam using their Steam VR-supported headset.

First announced at last year’s Steam Dev Days, Valve’s partnership with Pixvana and cloud computing company Akamai set out to create a VR video player that would let you watch adaptive, high-quality 360 video with the idea of only consuming a fraction of the bandwidth you might normally use.

To do this, Valve integrated Pixvana’s SPIN Play SDK, which enables playback and streaming of VR/360 content in multiple formats via the company’s free and open standard, the Open Projection Format (OPF). While the video player has the ability to chug through multiple types of encoded content including standard spherical video, the secret sauce of offering video at what Pixvana calls “up to 12K VR master at HD bitrates” (mentioned at Dev Days to be between 8K-10K) actually comes down to Pixvana’s own tile format, which streams the content in individual sections to reduce bandwidth usage. Pixvana calls its method Field-of-View Adaptive Streaming (FOVAS).

Depending on where you look within the 360 projection determines which tile is rendered at its highest quality—a clever trick to deliver good-looking video without having to render the entire sphere at top quality.

“We’re working hard to help all content creators and consumers create immersive experiences that look sharp and feel life-like. We are excited to partner with Valve to bring these solutions to a vast audience so that people everywhere can experience VR’s true potential,” said Pixvana Co-Founder and CEO Forest Key.

SPIN also includes a content management and encoding tool to let users prepare, review, and encode high-resolution mono or stereo content ready for playback on Steam with just a few clicks. If you’re interested in using SPIN, you can grab a free beta trial account today.

image courtesy Pixvana

“Pixvana’s SPIN SDK has been a great asset in our efforts to empower VR content creators and provide an integrated solution for experiencing linear VR content on Steam,” said Valve’s Sean Jenkin.

You can check out a selection of SPIN-powered content on the Steam 360 Video Player directly on Steam, including Fox’s Alien: Covenant VR experience, Warner Bros.’ LEGO Batman: The Batmersive Experience, Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue 360 episodes, The Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Silent Resonance, and more.

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VirZOOM Partners With AMD to Bring VR Fitness Bikes to Locations Across the Globe

Pedaling a stationary bike is kind of a sad metaphor for life: try as you may, you’re never going anywhere. But thanks to virtual reality, there might be an exercise machine coming to your local gym or arcade that promises to gamify what many people not only find to be an existential commentary on their personal failings, but also a painfully boring experience. VirZOOM, makers of VR arcade exercise games and the VirZOOM Bike Controller, recently announced a partnership with AMD that promises to provide the graphical horsepower to drive VirZOOM experiences in gyms and arcades, bringing their collection of VR games to gym-quality upright and recumbent bikes around the world.

VirZOOM (pronounced ver-ZOOM) has created a collection of VR sports games designed to combine strategy, coordination, and fitness. The software itself can be downloaded at home for free, as it supports Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR headsets (with Gear VR coming later), but the company’s proprietary VirZOOM Bike Controller, an integral piece of kit, costs a little under $400—available at VirZOOMAmazon, Best Buy, Gamestop, Target, and Walmart.

image courtesy VirZOOM

While the compact bike is designed for in-home use, VirZOOM is branching out further by retrofitting their VR games suite to gym-quality equipment across the Discover Series Life Fitness SE3 fitness bike line, making VR fitness that much more affordable considering the cost of a gaming PC, VR headset and a special exercise bike.

“Virtual reality brings new excitement to traditional fitness equipment. One of our goals is to continuously enhance the immersive exercise experience on our premium products. Combining the interactive and engaging VR experience with the performance and durability of our Life Fitness products is an example of two innovative technologies coming together. Exercisers forget that they are working out because they are so in tune with what’s going on in the game, it’s been pretty fun to see. We want to continue finding new ways to keep people engaged and moving, and partnering with VirZOOM is a testament to that,” said Amad Amin, Life Fitness product director of digital experience.

The setup will use small form factor PC’s created by AMD to go along with HTC Vive VR headsets. Besides their partnerships with Life Fitness, HTC, and AMD, ViRZOOM is also partnered with Fitbit, providing integration into the app so you can keep an eye on your distance pedaled, workout duration, heart rate, and calories burned—all automatically patched into the Fitbit app on your phone.

Games include multiplayer games like traditional cycling, horse racing, F1 racing, tank battles, and even flying on the back of a pegasus. Competitive and cooperative matches can be played by up to 8 players, including head-to-head challenges and time attacks. To further gameify fitness, you can choose your own workout and goals while collecting coins along the way to upgrade your avatar.

image courtesy VirZOOM

“Partners like AMD, HTC and Life Fitness have been instrumental in making our vision of VR exercise games in a gym setting a commercial reality. The AMD and Radeon teams have gone above and beyond to create a powerful PC experience for high-end virtual reality suitable for a commercial gym environment,” said CEO Eric Janszen.

VirZOOM was founded in early 2015 by Eric Janszen and Eric Malafeew in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since coming out of stealth, the company has raised over $4M in their first seed round from 3 investors.

For more info in upcoming locations, visit VirZOOM.

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Microsoft Shows Windows in VR, Gives Acer VR Headset to Vision Summit Audience

Brandon Bray, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, took the stage at Unity’s Vision VR/AR Summit 2017 to show a little more of what Microsoft has planned for the VR side of things when the first Windows Holographic headsets come later this year. And to wit, Microsoft is giving away a free Acer Windows VR headset to everyone present at today’s Unity Vision VR/AR Summit.

After reporting to the crowd that currently 91 percent of the ‘holographic’ apps built for Windows headsets (including HoloLens) were constructed using the Unity game engine, Bray showed off an app that looks uncannily similar to something you might see in a HoloLens demonstration, but this time entirely virtual in nature and intended for the fleet of Windows-centric headsets coming later in 2017.

Called Cliff House, the virtual home is meant to act as a showcase for the Windows operating system as imagined in virtual reality. According to Bray, it allows you to place and arrange your apps around the space where you can create a number of customized areas like a gaming basement, a productivity room or an entertainment hub on the balcony overlooking a mountainous landscape—essentially mirroring the HoloLens usecase of choosing which Windows apps you want to use and sticking them around your house.

“Mixed reality allows me to place a hologram in a room, and walk around it, interact with it, and engage with it as if it were really there. It also allows me to take objects, people and places from the real world and bring them into the digital world and create entirely new experiences,” said Bray speaking about the capabilities of the Microsoft HoloLens.

As we’ve seen it today, Cliff House is almost entirely copying the HoloLens usecase of app-centric spaces. Without the power of gesture recognition, it’ll be interesting to see if these apps hold the same level of usability when used within a VR headset, and if they can ultimately foster he sort of ‘productivity room’ Microsoft envisions.

According to a Windows Central hands-on with Cliff House, you move around the virtual home using the Xbox One controller. Windows Central reports that the VR-capable Windows 10 UI and shell are “very much like HoloLens but a little more polished.” Gaze-based interactions control the UI and locomotion is achieved via teleportation, the report says.

image courtesy Unity Technologies

The Acer-built Windows Holographic headset is one of the first to arrive, with similar headsets coming from Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and 3Glasses later in 2017, and Microsoft wants to tap further into the Unity dev community by giving away a free Acer headset to all participants at Unity VR/AR Summit, arriving in the summer. Audience members will receive more detail on their free Acer headset sometime in June.

Windows Holographic VR headset users will reportedly gain access to more than 20,000 UWP (universal Windows platform) apps in the catalog, along with 3D objects from the web using Microsoft Edge to drag and drop into their physical world. Immersive WebVR content via Microsoft Edge and 360 degree videos will also be available in the Movies & TV app.

You can check out the full keynote on Unity’s YouTube channel here (link is time-stamped for Bray’s talk).

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Adobe Shows Method to Create Volumetric VR Video From Flat 360 Captures

With a new technique, Adobe wants to turn normal monoscopic 360-degree video into a more immersive 3D experience, complete with a level of depth information that promises to give the user the ability to shift their physical vantage point in a way currently only possible with special volumetric cameras—and all with your off-the-shelf 360 camera rig.

Announced by Adobe’s head of research Gavin Miller at National Association of Broadcasters Show (NAB) in Las Vegas this week and originally reported as a Variety exclusive, the new software technique aims to bring six degree of freedom (6DoF) to your bog standard monoscopic 360-degree video, meaning you’ll not only be able to look left, right, up and down, but also be able to move your head naturally from side-to-side and forward and backward; just as if you were actually there.

According to a group of Adobe researchers, giving the video positional tracking is done via a novel warping algorithm that can synthesize new views within the monoscopic video—and all on the fly while critically maintaining 120 fps. As a consequence, the technique can also be used to stabilize the video, making it a useful tool for those looking to smooth out those jerky hand-held captures that are generally unattractive to VR users. All of this comes with one major drawback though: in order to recover 3D geometry from the monoscopic 360 vid, the camera has to be moving.

Here’s a quick run-down of what’s in the special sauce.

Adobe’s researchers report in their paper that they first employ what’s called a structure-from-motion (SfM) algorithm to compute the camera motion and create a basic 3D reconstruction. After inferring 3D geometry from captured points, they map every frame of the video onto six planes of a cube map, and then run a standard computer-vision tracker algorithm on each of the 6 image planes. Some of the inevitable artifacts of mapping each frame to a cube map is handled by using a field-of-view (FOV) greater than 45 degrees to generate overlapping regions. The video heading this article shows the algorithms in action.

Photo courtesy Adobe, Jingwei Huang, Zhili Chen, Duygu Ceylan, and Hailin Jin

The technique isn’t a 3D panacea to your monoscopic woes just yet. Besides only working with a moving camera, the quality of the 3D reconstruction depends on how far the synthetically created view is from the original one. Going too far, too fast can risk a wonky end result. Problems also arise when natural phenomenon like large textureless regions, occlusions, and illumination changes com into play, which can create severe noise in the reconstructed point cloud and ‘holes’ in the 3D effect. In the fixed view-point demonstration, you’ll also see some warping artifacts of non-static objects as the algorithm tries to blend synthetic frames with original frames.

Other techniques to achieve 6-DoF VR video usually require light-field cameras like HypeVR’s crazy 6k/60 FPS, LiDAR rig or Lytro’s giant Immerge camera. While these undoubtedly will produce a higher quality 3D effect, they’re also custom-built and ungodly expensive. Even though it might be a while until we see the technique come to an Adobe product, the thought of being able to produce what you might call ‘true’ 3D VR video from consumer-grade 360 camera, is exciting to say the least.

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‘Wilson’s Heart’ Review

Wilson’s Heart (2017) is a psychological thriller that takes you on a wild first-person adventure through the mind of a hospital patient recovering from a curious surgery, one that has replaced his live-beating heart with a strange machine. Ripping it from your chest, you find it gives you a growing number of abilities to help you not only fight against your personal demons, but also some very real ones that have passed into the world thanks to experiments done by the brilliant, but clearly insane Dr. Harcourt.


Wilson’s Heart Details:

Official Site

Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios

Available On: Home (Oculus Touch)
Reviewed On: Oculus Touch
Release Date: April 25, 2017


Gameplay

Robert Wilson is a hard-boiled WW1 veteran who’s clearly seen some shit in the 67 years he’s walked the Earth. Voiced by actor Peter Weller (Robocop, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Star Trek Into Darkness), his gravelly, steady voice is strangely assuring as you stalk down the corridors and mind-bending rooms of the abandoned hospital complex—all of which would scare the living daylights out of anyone in their right mind. But that’s the thing; you don’t really ever know if Wilson’s in his right mind, or if the whole world around him is gone topsy-turvy. And his whirring, mechanical heart is to blame.

pulling electrodes from your head, image captured by Road to VR

Either way, he’s just that sort of classic tough guy you’d find in a dime novel detective story or comic book. In fact, the game is brimming with these sorts of ’40s tropes and archetypes, not to mention your standard selection of vampires, werewolves, lagoon monsters, and mad scientists ripped straight from the silver screen. Being rendered in black-and-white and featuring classic movies monsters might sound too campy at first blush, but the reality is Wilson’s Heart is a dirty, bloody mindfuck in all the best ways, so don’t be surprised when reality crumbles around you.

And the world of Wilson’s Heart isn’t just weird, it’s brutal too. Moving realistic-looking dead bodies to get to clues is a normal occurrence, and doing it in VR only multiplies the emotional effect. That said, jump scares happen, but they’re few and far between, leaving more room for the monsters, the bump-in-the-night atmosphere, and the supporting cast to do the scaring. Suspicious behavior from the group of survivors you meet will keep you guessing as to who’s on your side.

image captured by Road to VR

Because the adventure genre is usually heavy on narrative and scripted action, but tends to deemphasize combat, the fight sequences were a welcome bonus at first, adding more danger to an already skin-crawling universe. And while Wilson’s Heart is one of the most visually impressive VR games to date—and I can’t emphasize enough just how truly good it looks—the world’s monsters offer lack-luster combat which can become very predictable after the first encounter. Over the course of the game, the sense of danger I felt in the beginning slowly degraded into apathy as monsters follow the same attack patterns over and over throughout. Then again, you may not be in it for the combat aspect at all, which is just fine.

You may be in it for the story. I finished the game in a little over 5 hours, and that was with plenty of deaths and faffing around with some of the world’s literature, however if you read every comic book, newspaper, and rustle through every drawer for clues, you could take longer. These can be informative, silly, and downright creepy as the comics slowly enter the weirdness factor that is your constantly changing reality. While playing off its patented brand of 1940s camp, dialogue is well-scripted and its phenomenal voice acting help to keep it on the modern-side of storytelling.

You may also be in it for the puzzles. Because you straddle the line between figuring out if the world is crazy or if it’s all in your demon-addled brain, puzzles become more and more surreal as you go. From turning on lights to scare away demons, to the gravity-defying act of flipping an entire room to get to a stubborn door that keeps disappearing, puzzles are usually interesting. I did however find them oddly placed, bordering on completely arbitrary. Oftentimes I would walk into a random room, find a puzzle, solve it, and leave not knowing why I had entered in the first place.

Immersion

It’s clear from the start that the developers paid lots of attention to getting characters to emote naturally and look alive—something that is more important in VR than on traditional monitors because you’re actually face-to-face with a person, and can naturally tell when something’s off. Characters in Wilson’s Heart make eye contact and seemingly talk directly to you, grounding you further in the narrative. Character design is still cartoonish though, keeping it safely out of the uncanny valley.

This leads me to my least favorite part of the game: the lack of agency. As a player, you’re constricted to node-based teleportation, meaning you only have a few choices on where to go. Walking into a room, you immediately see the hot spots for clue locations and all important drawers are highlighted, which takes away some of the joy of exploration personally.

image captured by Road to VR

Inconsistent object interaction also adds a layer of frustration on top of this, as one moment your mechanical heart can fly out of your hand and directly hit a demon, and the next it literally avoids an important target because the game has a better idea of what you’re supposed to do. In this regard, I kept butting my head against the game. A monster has to die in one way and one way only, because the game demands very specific interactions. And that wouldn’t be a problem if the game’s demands were consistent. Hand-to-hand combat with one enemy can differ wildly across similarly-sized enemies for seemingly no reason at all. One moment you can block a punch from a demon, and only a short while later the blocking mechanic is no longer effective. You’re then punished with death until you can find that one item in your periphery that you necessarily must use to continue on with the sequence.

And the heart. Your mechanical heart, although gifted with several abilities, will also activate in only a few ways deemed useful during a fight. Using the abilities when you’re prompted oftentimes culminates in the most cinematic death possible, but leaves zero room for player creativity.

learning your new ability, image captured by Road to VR

Comfort

Because the game features node-based teleportation, and no other artificial locomotion scheme, Wilson’s Heart proves to be an exceedingly comfortable experience.

As a standing experience, the two-sensor Rift set-up is enough to get you by, as nodes tend to put you either facing the action or the object of interest, so nearly always a forward-facing experience. That said, a 3-or-more sensor set-up can certainly give you more mileage in terms of facilitating smoother object interaction and greater room-scale immersion.

Lastly, the inventory system is a simple, ‘on-rails’ experience, as important items are stuck away into the ether and later retrieved automatically when needed, so there’s no fumbling through submenus to find what you need. In fact, there are no menus, health gauges, or HUDs to distract you on your quest to retrieve your heart and escape the hospital.

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Watch the First 10 Minutes of ‘Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality’

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality (2017) is finally here, launching today on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. And yes, it’s all the wonderful weirdness of the show mixed in with some seriously fun object interaction courtesy of the game’s spiritual predecessor, Job Simulator (2016).

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality was created by Owlchemy Labs and Adult Swim Games. Voiced by show creator Justin Roiland, the VR game is everything Rick and Morty fans need to calm their nerves before the rest of season 3 comes out later this summer.

*insert ‘blaze 4/20’ joke here*

If you’re looking for an extended look at the game or more information, check out our full review here to find out why we gave it a 9/10.

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‘Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality’ Review

You’re dying for season 3 of Rick and Morty (2013) to come out, and the release of episode 1 on April Fool’s Day isn’t helping. You’ve got a fever that only the drunken ramblings of the genius Rick Sanchez and his level-headed, albeit hopelessly outmatched grandson Morty Smith can cure. The good news: Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality (2017) is here to fill the void in your meaningless existence. The less good news: it’s basically Job Simulator (2016) expertly grafted to an episode of Rick and Morty. And you know what? Th-th-th*ugghhb*at’s just fine by me, Jack. Don’t know why I’m calling you Jack all of a sudden. Let’s just get on with the review.


Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality Details:

Official Site

Developer: Owlchemy Labs
Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Available On: Steam (HTC Vive, Oculus Touch), Home (Oculus Touch)
Reviewed On: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch
Release Date: April 20, 2017


Gameplay

In Owlchemy Lab’s new Rick and Morty VR game, you’re lower than the low. Not only are you a Morty, but you’re a Morty-clone who has less purpose (and respect) in life than a butter-fetching robot. The only thing that might be construed as a lower being on the totem pole of galactic intelligence in the game is a Mr. Meeseeks, cleverly renamed Mr. You-seeks for the purpose of the game, of which you have in infinite supply. But all he does is mirror your movements, letting you pick up objects that go out of your teleportation range, making you basically the lowest life form in the entire multiverse.

image courtesy Adult Swim Games

It all starts one day when Rick, in his infinite wisdom, conjures you up to do the simple task of cleaning his clothes. Open the washer, pop in the suds and dirty clothes, hit a button, and you’re done. Game over. But not quite. From there you take on grander tasks, like retrieving “important parts” (for his spaceship), fixing the toilet, drinking gasoline—you know, menial Morty-tasks that need doing while the real Morty goes with Rick on actual adventures.

I genuinely started to feel jealous of my namesake as he flies away on Rick’s space ship, or hops through portals while I’m stuck in the Smith’s garage charging micro-verse batteries, ordering parts online to fix more “important things”, or feeding an alien laxatives. If you can get over the fact that you’ll never truly have that free-wheeling Rick and Morty adventure so tantalizingly close to your grasp, and that you will invariably be the butt of every joke, you’ll begin to see the game for what it is: a true glimpse into the Rick and Morty universe, one that’s masterfully stitched into Job Simulator’s object interaction.

image courtesy Adult Swim Games

Even though your tasks are essentially meaningless—and believe me, there’s plenty of plumbus-bopping and bottle-smashing—the patently absurd story arch playing out before you really makes you feel like you’re in an episode of the show, albeit a subplot to a grander adventure waiting behind Rick’s portal. In unmistakable Rick-like fashion though, eventually the old man’s machinations are revealed, giving the inane object bashing that much more importance and authenticity.

Easter eggs are also everywhere, with 13 collectible mix tapes featuring silly songs and ramblings from the show’s characters. The fictional VR game Roy: A Life Well Lived, made famous in the episode Mortynight Run (2015) in Season 2, also makes an appearance in the guise of a knockoff called TROY complete with cardboard cut-outs to give it that cheap-o feel.

image courtesy Adult Swim Games

Rick’s sci-fi ‘combining machine’ alone will keep you mixing and matching in efforts to create the weirdest object combination (think growth hormone + plumbus). I played through with minimal faffing and completed the main story in a little over 2 hours, but if you’re hunting for every last one of the game’s Easter eggs, it could take you much longer.

Immersion

The brilliance of the Rick and Morty TV show is how it reaches through your television and grabs you by the ears, sometimes directly by breaking the 4th wall, but often times by disarming you with absurdity while delivering powerful messages on mortality, loss—you know, the human condition. The VR game is all of this and more. You only need a few minutes in Purgatory after your first death, listening to the devil’s secretary tell you about why you shouldn’t reanimate back into the game to see what I mean.

From Rick’s lovingly recreated garage-lab, to all of the interactive items ripped straight from the show (including low poly 3D versions of Rick, Morty and Summer), there’s a feeling of familiarity that fans will definitely click with. But there’s something more insidious lurking in Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality though.

image courtesy Adult Swim Games

The show’s characters get in your head in VR in a way the TV show just can’t. Because you’re physically in front of the almighty Rick (voiced by show creator Justin Roiland) you can’t help but seek his approval, if only so he doesn’t dismiss you as just another stupid Morty-clone. You begin to wear Morty’s persona, the sycophant grandchild who just wants to please his ultimately powerful grandfather. If you do a job right the first time, you might get a backhanded compliment like “Hey, it looks like this Morty-clone isn’t a complete pile of flaming garbage afterall.”

And that’s when I started understanding something about the game: you just aren’t good enough to go on a real adventure with Rick. Hell, the real Morty barely is. Sure, there are action sequences with the promise of multiple deaths around the corner, but these are remarkably few in number, and stink of Rick’s characteristic manipulation. It isn’t a real adventure at all. And yet somehow, all of this is okay given the absurdity of both Job Simulator and the show itself.

getting instructions from Rick via wristwatch, image captured by Road to VR

All of this is done in a beautifully rendered environment that easily mashes up with the show’s hand-drawn feel. It’s like living in your favorite cartoon (if Rick and Morty is your favorite cartoon, that is).

Comfort

Getting to the nitty-gritty, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality offers many of the same features of Job Simulator, including its ‘smaller person’ mode that lets you scale down the size of your environment to let you access things easier. Despite this, the game is very much a standing experience that requires at least 2m x 1.5m (about 6.5 feet x 5 feet). Object interaction is the exactly the same as Job Simulator; bottles have poppable corks, and jars have screwable tops, i.e. almost everything is interactive and articulated enough to seem plausibly real.

There are three nodes you can teleport to, all of them inside the garage. This makes it an ultimately very comfortable experience, one that requires little explaining to master (even a 6-year old can do it).

Strangely enough, the Oculus Rift version doesn’t offer any form of ‘comfort-mode’ snap-turn for people with only a two-sensor set-up, which considering the 360 nature of the game may initially sound like a no-go for anyone without at least 3 sensors. Despite this, I found most interactions to be forward-facing, so I didn’t have to deal with Touch tracking issues all that often. The HTC Vive’s standard Lighthouse tracking predictably handles all room-scale interactions with ease.

Check out the first 10 minutes of gameplay to get a better idea of just what Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality has to offer.


exemplar-2We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.

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