HTC Vive Pro 2 Review – “Pro” Price with Not Quite Pro Performance

Three years after the original Vive Pro, HTC’s Vive Pro 2 is here. With a class-leading price, the “Pro” branded headset is clearly positioned to one-up its contemporaries. Unfortunately the headset’s performance doesn’t quite justify the Pro price.

Before we dive into the full review, here’s a recap of the headset’s specs:

Vive Pro 2 Specs
Resolution 2,448 x 2,448 (6.0MP) per-eye, LCD (2x)
Refresh Rate 90Hz, 120Hz
Lenses Dual-element Fresnel
Field-of-view 120° horizontal
Optical Adjustments IPD, eye-relief
IPD Adjustment Range 57–72mm
Connectors USB 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, power
Cable Length 5m (breakout box)
Tracking SteamVR Tracking 1.0 or 2.0 (external beacons)
On-board cameras 2x RGB
Input Vive wand controllers, rechargable battery
Audio On-ear headphones, USB-C audio output
Microphone Dual microphone
Pass-through view Yes

HTC Vive Pro 2 Summary

Photo by Road to VR

As is tradition, our full review goes into significant depth, so we’ll start with a summary.

HTC’s Vive Pro 2 brings some serious specs that, on paper, make it look like the headset will deliver an unbeatable experience compared to its competitors. And that ought to be the goal to justify the steep asking price of $800 for the headset by itself or $1,400 full kit price. Here’s a quick look at how this stacks up to the headset’s two nearest competitors:

Vive Pro 2 Valve Index Reverb G2
Headset Only $800 $500
Full Kit $1,400 $1,000 $600

With regards to fitting in with the competition and justifying its price, the key goal for Vive Pro 2 would be to offer customers the wide field of view of Valve Index with the clarity of Reverb G2—or at least one or the other. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there, and also has a few other oversights that belie the “Pro” branding.

While the resolution and field-of-view are good on paper, ultimately the headset doesn’t achieve either of those goals—it doesn’t have a field-of-view that’s as large or larger than Index, nor does it have as great or greater clarity than Reverb G2.

Photo by Road to VR

Part of the issue seems to be that the lenses can’t escape the historically tight sweet spot we find on HTC headsets. Even though the field-of-view is wider than the original Vive Pro, much of that added field-of-view gets blurry quickly. Rotate your eyes just a bit and text becomes difficult to read. Combined with the usual god-rays plus additional outer glare from the new dual-element lenses, and the headset’s tight sweet spot makes the view feel oddly cramped at times. This is furthered by a surprisingly small vertical field-of-view which makes feel like the top and bottom of the view has been cropped down.

Personal Measurements Vive Pro 2 Vive Pro Valve Index Reverb G2
Horizontal FOV 102° 94° 106° 82°
Vertical FOV 78° 102° 106° 78°

The displays otherwise are fairly good, even if the lenses seem to limit their sharpness somewhat. The headset has no visible screen-door effect, and other artifacts like mura, chromatic aberration, and ghosting are very minimal.

Even if Vive Pro 2 doesn’t beat out Index and Reverb G2 in key areas like field-of-view and clarity, it could still be a great headset worthy of the “Pro” name (and price). Unfortunately it falls short of that in other areas too.

For one, the pass-through cameras on Vive Pro 2 are very low quality, as is the microphone. While the headphones themselves are quite good in audio quality, the off-ear approach is increasingly the more convenient and preferred way to do audio on a VR headset. While you could opt to remove the headset’s on-ear speakers in favor of your own audio solution, the bulky strap would make it hard to work with anything but earbuds.

Photo by Road to VR

With SteamVR Tracking built in, you can expect the same gold standard tracking  accuracy, latency, and coverage that you’d find with other headsets with SteamVR Tracking, though you’ll have to put up with external beacons mounted somewhere in your room. Thankfully SteamVR Tracking also opens the door to some options, such as choosing if you want to use the old school Vive wand controllers or opting for something else like the Valve Index controllers. You can also use the headset with tracking pucks which are used to track other accessories or for adding more tracking points to yourself for full body tracking.

Vive Pro (left), Vive Pro 2 (right) | Photo by Road to VR

From an ergonomic standpoint, Vive Pro 2 is exactly the same as the original Vive Pro, which means it’s a fairly comfortable headset with a pretty good set of ergonomic adjustments. Notably, the headset has a physical IPD adjustment which ranges from 57–72mm and an eye-relief adjustment, both of which allow the headset to adapt to a wider range of users. Two things I also would have preferred but aren’t included: springs in the headstrap which make it easier to put on and take off without adjusting the tightness each time, and a wider range of rotation for the display housing.


HTC Vive Pro 2 In-depth Review

Photo by Road to VR

Let’s first talk about the bread and butter of any VR headset: the visuals. With a whopping 2,448 x 2,448 per-eye resolution and a purported 120° horizontal field-of-view, Vive Pro 2 would seem to be perfectly positioned to bring the best of Valve Index and Reverb G2 into one headset. Unfortunately the reality is a little more blurry.

Clarity

Although the paper specs would suggest that Vive Pro 2 and Reverb G2 could have quite similar resolving power, a quick side-by-side with the headsets reveals Reverb G2 to have an obviously sharper image, even before running any objective tests. To some extent, this would be expected given that Reverb G2 packs its pixels a bit more densely into its smaller field-of-view; even so, while Vive Pro 2 is clearly sharper than Index or the original Vive Pro, it still seems less sharp than it ought to next to Reverb G2.

This is very likely a result of the optics, which is one of the biggest changes on Vive Pro 2 compared to the original Vive Pro. While both headsets use Fresnel lenses, Vive Pro 2 adopts the Valve Index approach of moving to a dual-element lens, apparently in an effort to expand the field-of-view. Users of Valve Index will know that the dual-element approach risks introducing additional glare around the outer edges of the lenses (on top of the usual Fresnel god-rays), and we see the same thing happening on Vive Pro 2, more or less to the same extent as Index.

This additional glare, combined with the classically weak edge-to-edge clarity of HTC lenses, creates a sweet spot that at times feels oppressively small. Rotate your eyes just a little bit and the world is blurry until you move your head to recenter your eyes.

This small sweet spot unfortunately detracts from Vive Pro 2’s improved field-of-view. While it is indeed wider than the original Vive Pro by a good margin, the edges become blurry which can give a sense of tunnel vision even when in your periphery.

Field-of-View

Speaking of field-of-view, Vive Pro 2’s theoretical 120° horizontal seems to be just that: theoretical. At least for my personal measurements, I found the Vive Pro 2 to have a notably smaller field of view than Valve Index:

Personal Measurements Vive Pro 2 Vive Pro Valve Index Reverb G2
Horizontal FOV 102° 94° 106° 82°
Vertical FOV 78° 102° 106° 78°

Vive Pro 2 might indeed have a 120° horizontal field-of-view, but only if you could get your eyes close enough to the lenses. Although the headset has an eye-relief adjustment, it doesn’t seem to have the range of motion necessary to maximize the field-of-view, at least for my head. The eye-relief adjustment on Valve Index, on the other hand, makes it easier to squeeze the most out of the headset’s displays.

Photo by Road to VR

You’ll notice a surprisingly small vertical field-of-view on Vive Pro 2. From the shape of the lenses alone you might expect this to be the case; rather than being circular, the top and bottom of the lens are flat. When looking through the headset, it looks like your vertical view has been cropped down, which furthers that feeling of tunnel-vision that ultimately works against the headset’s field-of-view.

Displays

The Vive Pro 2 displays themselves seem quite good, even if their resolution is hampered by the optics. The headset uses an LCD display per-eye, which run up to 120Hz. Unfortunately the switch to LCD on Vive Pro 2 means losing out on the rich colors and deep contrast from the Vive Pro’s OLED display, but in return you’re getting much higher resolution, better pixel fill, and less ghosting.

Like Reverb G2, Vive Pro 2 essentially has no screen-door effect (the visibility of unlit spaces between pixels). The display density is simply too great to make out individual pixels.

In general use, the displays have almost no visible artifacts. I had to search carefully to find some minor ghosting against certain colors. Mura (the consistency of brightness and color from one pixel to the next) is similarly hard to spot and will probably go entirely unnoticed during normal use. Looking carefully against flat colors I could spot some faint splotchy mura, but it’s impact on the overall clarity is very minimal.

When it comes to visual performance, Vive Pro 2 is good, but it doesn’t feel “Pro”, given that it’s bested by Index in field-of-view and sweet spot, and by Reverb G2 in clarity, both of which are less expensive headsets.

Continue on Page 2: Pass-through, Microphone, and Audio »

The post HTC Vive Pro 2 Review – “Pro” Price with Not Quite Pro Performance appeared first on Road to VR.

Grabbing The Bull By The Horns: The Importance Of VR Hands And Presence

We spoke with several VR game designers and developers about the important (and difficulty) of creating believable and immersive hands in VR.

The Importance of Believable VR Hands

VR hands are a strange thing to ‘get to grips with’ so to speak. Not only do they allow you to interact with the virtual world in front of you but they allow you to become part of it. As you shape yourself to fit into that world, it does the same to fit around you. In real life, you have limited strength and ability but VR gives you that rare opportunity to be better than real life; it lets you become an action hero.

“It was pretty clear right off the bat that it was important,” Kerry Davis, a Valve programmer that worked on Half-Life: Alyx, said in an interview “Even if you didn’t have a full-body avatar yet, to at least have hands so that you could sort of connect with the world and actually participate. We all have an innate desire to control the world we inhabit. As a VR user, you don’t simply want to sit back and let the story happen—you want this organic control over the world. “People really wanted to have hands.” 

Half-Life: Alyx’s design encapsulates this. There’s this visceral sense of control you have covering your mouth when you come across Jeff or even that satisfying click you get from loading up ammo. Tristan Reidford, a Valve artist who also worked on Alyx, learned this  previously when working on the Aperture Robot Repair Demo that shipped as part of The Lab.

We didn’t have hands in that… we simulated the controller… that satisfied people’s desires to have representation,” Reidford said.

Oculus Touch - Hand Presence Technology screenshot

The most fascinating thing about VR hands is the spectacle itself, the representation of you. When using a controller, you can disconnect and understand that certain buttons equal certain actions. The uncanny valley nature of movement in VR makes it just close enough to true immersion to become distracting when it’s not. 

The uncanny valley in this case represents that physical and mental border between what your eyes see in the headset lens and what you feel around you. As VR gets closer to real life, it also gets further away. There’s something distinctly recognizable, yet alien-feeling about this imitation of real life. VR is at its best when it’s immersive and compelling but not trying to lie to you. It offers you a fantasy and, in the case of Half-Life: Alyx, that alien feeling comes from somewhere else: Xen

“Now you don’t need as much of an abstraction so you can almost get an exact representation of reality,” Davis said. “It turns out it’s almost harder to do in VR.” 

The complicated nature of emulating some sense of real-life movement means you often have to trivialize or exaggerate that movement. “In VR, your interactions are so close that your brain wants to fall back to actions you’ve known since you were a toddler,” Davis said. “We still have to put this interface layer in there and say we’re defining what the constraints of this virtual world are.” 

You are constrained in two senses when in VR. There are the constraints of your movement—such as how far you can move in your actual room and how much you can lunge forward before colliding head-first into your dresser—and the constraints of the tech itself. There is this wonderful creativity that springs from necessity when creating games atop necessary limitations. 

Oftentimes, a world has to be made less organic and genuine to feel real, as paradoxical as that sounds. The swinging of a sword feels natural but you don’t have to undergo a year of training before you can use it in VR. It throws a little bit of ‘real life’ out the window to provide a more fun and, ironically, more immersive experience. 

 

Limitless Limitations

Over at Streamline Media, a small group working on their first real VR title. “Due to resolution issues they (the team) often went back to using just larger gestures and bigger levers,” Stefan Baier, COO at Streamline Media, said. “Smaller hand gestures didn’t reliably scale and made it not work well with the dev work we were doing for PS4 where you don’t have that input.” 

When working with it, PSVR often has to be at the bottom of the barrel, technologically speaking. This means that whilst hand gestures are held back in some sense, the choice to fit certain actions in are made purely for the player experience. When you can’t show off the tech or provide hyper-realistic details, you only provide what’s necessary. A streamlined control system allows for more natural movement, even if it’s constrained.

“We are always limited by the hardware…Especially with these fairly new technologies…tracking will massively improve”, Christof Lutteroth, a senior lecturer in the department of computer science at Bath University, said. “There’s nothing fundamental that will prevent us from simply tracking our hands. It’s just a computational problem that’s harder to solve.”

Ultimately, we are always held back by the tech but this doesn’t mean we should stop and accept it as it is.

facebook Quest 2 Hand Tracking

“From what I’ve seen…It’s definitely a big step forward. However, it’s still very rudimentary,” Lutteroth said when talking about the Oculus Quest’s finger tracking. “When you come to hand tracking, there’s quite a lot of error involved with machine learning… That’s very often data-driven.”  Due to the varied nature of human fingers (that’s before mentioning those with disabilities) hand tracking technology is dominated by research into what an average hand is. Unfortunately, with the way that research works, it often gets caught up in implicit biases. 

One very highly publicized case of these forms of bias is Microsoft’s AI chatbot, Tay. It was designed to pick up on speech and emulate it to make Tay’s speech sound authentic. Within a day, it was virulently bigoted. This is an interesting microcosm of how these biases set in. If the people you test are racist, your chat bot will be. If the people you test have all ten fingers, your hand designs will be. 

This is why Davis and Reidford were so outspoken in our interview about the power of playtesting. Reidford spoke of finger tracking and the unique hurdles in making your movement feel both organic, yet slick. 

“There’s this sliding scale where, on one side, it’s fully finger tacking and then, on the other side, 100% animation,” Reidford said. ”We had to find the balance there… as soon you put the player under any kind of duress…They just want to slam a new magazine in.

Surpassing Limitations

There’s creativity to just existing in VR. Davis mentioned that testers told him “‘Yeah, I’m playing this. I don’t feel powerful… I feel like my normal everyday self… that’s not why I go into games,’” Davis said. “‘I go into games to feel powerful and skilled.’” Even though it emulates your actions, VR is so captivating due to its ability to emulate the wonderful and powerful. That uncanny valley is less prevalent when the situation itself is one that you choose to put yourself into. When you’re aware of your world and place yourself in there, you can forget all about the gear you’re wearing. 

A fantastic example of this is Half-Life: Alyx’s gravity gloves. “In Half-Life: Alyx it was about having the hands feel so natural you don’t really think about them anymore,” Reidford said. 

You hold your hands up, grab an item and pull it towards you, and hope it lands. As long as you’re close to where you should be, it will always land. The same design philosophy is at work with the doors in Alyx. They don’t function like a normal door. You put your hand up to the doorknob and your character just turns it automatically. 

 

Half-Life: Alyx Combine Elevator

“The player can still turn the handle themselves if they want to but they don’t have to, all they have to do is reach out, make a fist, and the door is open,” Reidford said. “Over time, it looks so correct and it’s what they expect to happen that the player actually believes that they’ve done it. They think that they reached out and turned the handle themselves when really they didn’t. The game did it for them”

The genius of Half-Life: Alyx is that this notion of feeling like “the action hero” is deployed so effectively without making you overpowered. You can simultaneously get crushed by creatures, cower away from Jeff, and giggle at the falling physics of a head crab—yet you still get out there, load your weapon, and take down the bad guys. This is a testament to VR as a whole. There’s a spectacle to it that can only be accessed via your hands. From its early days and crude movements to the beginning signs of significant hand tracking, there’s this bustling sense of creativity that keeps pushing the industry forward.

When you stare into the dark lenses of a VR headset and find yourself staring back, you look around your environment, look down at your hands, then squeeze closed your fists and you become something grander than the every day. You become your own version of an action hero.

Best Must-Have Skyrim VR Mods To Make Tamriel Even More Immersive

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR (PC review / PSVR review) is one of the most expansive video games out there with nearly endless amounts of content. However, it’s not the most immersive from a VR port perspective. Thankfully, the PC modding community is here to fix that.

Skyrim VR Mods: Before We Get Started

Skyrim VR is the type of game that will continue to evolve for years and years to come. The original version of Skyrim first hit PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 nearly 10 years ago and it’s still getting new mods to this day on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Unfortunately, Skyrim VR only has mods for the PC version—not PSVR.

When looking up mods for Skyrim VR on PC there is one important thing to keep in mind: The VR version of Skyrim is based on the Skyrim Special Edition iteration of the game, otherwise known as SSE, and not the original legacy version of Skyrim on PC. Almost all of the Skyrim Special Edition mods will work on Skyrim VR without any trickery needed — you can usually just use them just like you’re playing outside of VR — which is great.

If you’re interested in further expanding your modding and finding even more mods to try out, I highly recommend subscribing to the Skyrim VR subreddit and checking out the Lightweight Lazy List for even more mods and tweaks. There are countless guides, lists, and more on there to check out and people are always releasing new mods and discussing the latest mods they’ve tried.

For my list below, I’ve collected the mods into a handful of subcategories to organize things. First are the required tools and plugins that you need before you can even use most of the other mods on this list. Then we’ve mods I’ve classified as “essential” if you want to get the most out of Skyrim VR, followed by graphics mods, immersion mods, gameplay mods, and “other” mods such as followers and quests.

Preferences, Mod Manager, and Load Order

When it comes to the graphics mods specifically, keep in mind that everyone has different visual preferences so what I list here may not apply to you. Maybe you really love the Vanilla weather effects (if you’re unaware vanilla = unmodded) or maybe you want three different tree mods. That’s up to you, so treat this modding list as a starting point only.

You should also use a Mod Manager to streamline things more. I recommend either Mod Organizer 2 if you’re extremely new to this or Vortex, which is directly connected to Nexus Mods so it’s pretty straightforward as well.

And in regards to Load Order, generally speaking you want to make sure your mods are arranged in order of most general to most specific because if a mod loads later in the list it will overwrite whatever loaded before it if they cover similar areas. For example, if you have a mod that changes all textures in the game and then a specific mod to make the road signs a particular texture, you’d put the road sign mod after the general texture mod. And sometimes there are patches that make mods compatible with each other when they conflict—in those cases make sure patches are loaded after both of the other mods.

For more information on load order, you can read this guide.


Skyrim VR magic spell

Required Tools and Plugins for Skyrim VR Mods

SKSEVR | Nexus Mods Page

This is a script extender which means it’s a mod that unlocks more modding potential for other mods to use. Many of the best mods require you have this one installed already.

SkyUI VR | Github Page

This is technically a UI replacement mod that just makes things a lot better and easer to navigate and the VR version is specifically enhanced for VR. Also, plenty of other mods require this one.

 

Essential Skyrim VR Mods For Everyone

VRIK | Nexus Mods Page | Tutorial Video

This is the big one. Skyrim VR does not natively have a full-body for your player character while you’re playing. This means you just have two floating hands and if you look down you don’t see anything at all. VRIK fixes that with a full body to look at. In addition, it also includes weapon holstering on your body itself as well as gesture-based spellcasting and equipping gear and spells. All of this is powered by inverse kinematics. Requires SKSEVR and SkyUI.

 

HIGGS VR | Nexus Mods Page | Installation Video

Combined with VRIK, HIGGS VR truly transforms Skyrim VR into something that almost feels like it was natively made for VR. This mods adds hand collisions, object grabbing so you can just pick up and use items instead of having to navigate to your inventory menu first, and even gravity gloves like in Half-Life: Alyx for picking up things. Requires SKSEVR and SkyUI.

VR FPS Stabilizer | Nexus Mods Page

Regardless of how beefy your PC is Skyrim VR is a taxing game and the more mods you install the higher the demand goes for your system. This mods won’t solve every issue, but it does help maintain a high framerate and help avoid reprojections and FPS spikes. Definite must-have for everyone. Requires SKSEVR.

Unofficial Skyrim Special Edition Patch | Nexus Mods Page

This fixes a bunch of bugs that Bethesda never got around to fixing and it applies to the VR edition as well.


 

Best Immersion Skyrim VR Mods

True 3D Sound | Nexus Mods Page

It’s bizarre that you need to mod this in, but here we are. This mod makes sure that sounds actually come from the proper direction in 3D space when you’re in VR. It makes a huge difference for immersion.

Be Seated VR | Nexus Mods Page

This mod is simple: it lets you sit down and use beds in more places. It’s a pretty nice immersion bonus to actually feel like you’re part of the world more.

Realistic Mining | Nexus Mods Page

This lets you mine rocks by actually swinging your pickaxe.

Natural Locomotion | Steam Page

This isn’t actually a mod, but it’s a plugin that lets you control your character’s movement in VR by moving in real-life. So you can swing your arms or use trackers on your feet to move around instead of the analog stick. Combined with a treadmill or even just jogging in place, it can really feel more immersive that way. It’s the next best thing besides a VR treadmill like the Kat Walk.

Dragonborn Speaks Naturally | Nexus Mods Page

This lets you use your voice to actually read out dialogue options over your mic rather than selecting with the controllers. It’s a bit complicated to setup, but worth it.

SkyVoice Reloaded VR | Nexus Mods Page

You know how in Skyrim your character “shouts” dragon words to do special abilities? Well, this lets you actually say them out loud to activate the powers. It’s a huge immersion benefit.


Best Graphics Skyrim VR Mods

onyx vr weather skyrim vr

Onyx VR Weathers | Nexus Mods Page

I almost included this one under essentials because of how great and transformative it feels. This is a very lightweight mod that is specifically made for VR to totally revamp the weather and sky to make it all look and feel far, far better.

Noble Skyrim | Nexus Mods Page

This is a massive texture overhaul that improves all of the architecture and some landscapes.

MystiriousDawn’s HD Skyrim Overhaul | Nexus Mods Page

This is the best HD texture overhaul I’ve seen for landscapes that doesn’t massively tank performance at all and works great in VR.

Static Mesh Improvement Mod (SMIM) | Nexus Mods Page

Ever notice how all of the various meshes on random clutter objects look very low-res in Skyrim VR? This fixes that for thousands of objects.

realistic water two skyrim vr mod

Realistic Water Two | Nexus Mods Page

Makes water much prettier. That’s about it, but is a pretty big deal since you see water so often in this game.

SkyVRaan | Nexus Mods Page

This mod emulates water reflections and makes all bodies of water look a lot better. It’s directly compatible with the aforementioned mods, Onyx VR Weathers and Realistic Water Two.

Enhanced Vanilla Trees | Nexus Mods Page

Trees in the base game look like garbage but most mods totally redo them or replace them. This mod keeps the same style, just makes them look better.

ethereal clouds skyrim vr mod

Ethereal Clouds | Nexus Mods Page

Clouds are prettier. Really looks nice—especially at night—and works with Onyx.

Ethereal Cosmos | Nexus Mods Page

More detail and nuance for space, stars, and constellations at night time. Combined with Ethereal Clouds it really transforms the mood at nighttime in Tamriel.

ELFX | Nexus Mods Page

Complete lighting system overhaul. This makes a massive difference for interior locations and night time visuals.

skyrim vr mod character makeover

Total Character Makeover | Nexus Mods Page

This overhauls the textures for characters in the game to generally improve the look of everyone across the board.

ENB + CAS Sharpener | Installation Instructions

This combination will give Skyrim VR a fresh look that is much more vibrant and sharpens the visuals to get rid of the rampant jagged lines you usually see in Vanilla.


 

Best Gameplay Skyrim VR Mods

Smilodon | Nexus Mods Page

This is a big combat overhaul mod. It changes and adds so much you should just read the Nexus page for more details but I highly recommend it, especially for melee characters.

Location Damage VR | Nexus Mods Page

With this mod, you’ll do different amounts of damage based on which body part you hit on an enemy with your arrows and spells. This sounds minor, but Location Damage VR really improves combat a lot in terms of immersion and realism.

MageVR | Nexus Mods Page

This adds more VR-focused interactions and movements to access and navigate menus. As a mage in Vanilla Skyrim VR you spend a ton of time in menus, so this mod changes that. This is basically essential if you plan on playing a mage or using magic, at all, in any way.

MArc | Nexus Mods Page

This adds arcane archery to the game that more effectively lets you combine magic and archery into one character with things like elemental arrows and archery skills based on various schools of magic.


the forgotten city skyrim vr mod

Best Other Skyrim VR Mods

This list of other mods is entirely based on my own personal preferences, so there is a high chance that you may not even like these things—and that’s okay. Take these recommendations with a grain of salt, if you will.

I’ve played through the opening in Skyrim so many times I can’t really stand it anymore, to be honest, so I always use the Alternate Start mod now for something different. Immersive Citizens is a great mod as well to add more behavior variation to NPCs. For some great follower companion mods, I absolutely love both Inigo and Sofia, who are fully-voiced, and this mod which fleshes out Serana even more from the base game.

To add in new content via Skyrim VR mods like quests and expansions, it’s hard to not recommend Legacy of the Dragonborn, which feels like a proper DLC for the game more than a fan-made mod. I’ve also got a soft spot for Helgen Reborn, which lets you rebuild the city of Helgen after Alduin attacks during the intro, The Forgotten City questline which won a Writer’s Guild award for its script, and of course the excellent Moonpath to Elsweyr, which lets you visit the border of Elsweyr, the home of the Khajiit people.


Ultimately, there is no such thing as a complete list of all recommended Skyrim VR mods because everyone’s needs and wants are different—not to mention more new mods are released all the time. Just look over the list of most popular all-time Skyrim mods for more ideas.

Did we miss any of your favorite Skyrim VR mods? Let us know your other recommendations down in the comments below!

Alvo PSVR Review: Surprisingly Rewarding Barebones Shooter

Alvo is a brand new competitive VR first-person shooter on PSVR that can be played with a PS Aim Controller, two PS Move controllers, or the DualShock 4. Check out our full Alvo review for more!

When it comes to multiplayer military shooters on PSVR, there isn’t exactly a wealth of choices. Alvo aims to fill the gap left in the absence of titles like Onward and Pavlov — the latter of which is confirmed to be a PSVR 2 title — by delivering the fast-paced multiplayer shooter that PSVR gamers have been waiting for.

Alvo PSVR Review – The Facts

What is it?: An online competitive shooter for up to 10-players
Platforms: PSVR, Quest and PC VR coming next
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $39.99

Alvo isn’t going to blow your mind with an original theme or unique mechanics. It’s more of an “anything you can do, I can do better” sort of affair — eventually, anyway. There’s no getting around the fact that Alvo isn’t quite finished yet. The build numbers don’t even hide it: it’s version 0.2.027 as of the PlayStation Store release. But what Alvo lacks in content it makes up for in good foundations. This game has excellent bones, even if there isn’t very much to do.

Right now, Alvo gives players the choice between four original maps, with the fifth choice being a night variant of the Monastery map. Each map can be played via three different modes: 10-player Free For All (deathmatch), 5v5 Team Deathmatch, and 5v5 Search and Destroy (team and objective-based). Three additional choices will be available in the near future once development has finished: Zombies, Domination, and private match.

alvo psvr player crouching

Each map is multi-tiered and offers plenty of places to hide or take cover behind, although only one of them is close to the size you’ll find in similar titles like Contractors or Onward — neither of which are available on PSVR, anyway. The largest map, simply called “IndustrialMap”, is a much more tactical experience compared to the others, which are often quite small and can feel a bit crowded in a full Free For All game. The biggest negatives here are the quantity and variety of maps, not the quality.

On the surface, Alvo — a Portuguese word meaning target — seems to take aim at one of the biggest classics in the PSVR library: Firewall Zero Hour. While similar in theme, Alvo eschews the slower, tactical nature of Firewall and, in its place, delivers a formula that’s more akin to Pavlov or Counter-Strike in pacing. Getting shot is quite unforgiving and you’ll find that you die within fractions of a second if an enemy spots you first. Loading times, likewise, are blazing fast, and the multiplayer matches I joined all took mere seconds to go from sitting in a lobby to shooting enemies.

It’s a refreshing pace when compared to Firewall’s wait times, which can be a buzzkill to the excitement that you might otherwise have for the next round. Like Counter-Strike, players will vote on the next map at the end of each round and scoreboards will show who did the best. Unlike Counter-Strike, however, players will earn Alvo Coins based on how well they played. Skilled players will find themselves unlocking an arsenal of weaponry in no time, while other players will need to put in more practice time before they can get a shiny new gun or add-on.

Sensible Upgrade System

While some games in this genre give players access to everything up-front, Alvo gives everyone the same starting weapon collection and rewards players who put time into the game with additional firepower. Players start off with an AK-47-like gun (called an Annihilator) and a pistol, and can also choose between three grenade types, as well as a pick of 13 character models. Six additional primary weapons and one additional secondary weapon must all be unlocked with the aforementioned in-game currency, Alvo Coins.

In addition to the standard weapons, players can earn two types of attachments — a laser and a bayonet — as well as a rather impressive set of seven different types of scopes, and a slew of different skins for each weapon. Since Alvo Coins are earned and cannot purchased with real cash, only the most dedicated players will be running around shanking you with bayonets or shooting you with shotguns.

It only took me a few rounds before I was able to buy a scope (for reference, there are no scopes at all in Firewall Zero Hour), helping long-range shooting substantially. A few rounds more and I had my second primary weapon, which helped me play more to my personal style. That’s the kind of upgrade path I can get behind, as it persuades players to spend time in the game rather than coercing them to spend more money.

A perks category is also listed as “coming soon”, but no additional information on those items is available just yet. As you upgrade your arsenal, you’ll be able to customize four individual load-outs for quick selection in future matches.

alvo gameplay scope

Alvo on PSVR Review — Comfort

Alvo fits squarely into the “intense” category for comfort. This is a game where you’ll be using the joystick to virtually look and move, just as you would on a standard first-person shooter on your TV. Because of the PSVR’s limited range of physical movement tracking, you’ll be using the right stick to turn your character — either by tapping to move in incremental degrees or holding to smooth turn. Jumping and sliding could add additional discomfort for some players as well. There are some vignetting options enabled by default to dim the edges of your view and help with motion sickness, but players who suffer from these effects will likely prefer taking a seat instead of standing while playing. Options for using the DualShock 4, Move controllers, or Aim controller also help provide a range of custom options to aid in suppressing motion sickness.

Fast-Paced Gameplay and Tight Gunplay

As was said before, Alvo relies on speed and intensity to overcome its fairly barebones experience. This will hopefully evolve over time as the developers add more content but, for now, players who love fast-paced shooter experiences and want to play something like Counter-Strike in VR will feel right at home here. You don’t have the slower, more realistic type of physics that you’ll find in something like The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners or complex reloading mechanics like in Onward or Contractors.

This is a more arcade-like experience and everything else reflects that. Heck, you can slide like an action hero by pressing crouch while running similar to Solaris — a move that will absolutely make you feel badass if you kill someone while pulling it off. Turning and aiming both feel exactly as you would expect while playing a light-gun game in an arcade, with no additional interpolation or weapon weight. Weapons will get caught on walls or other objects if you get too close, though, so you’ll need to be mindful of things getting in the way of your aim.

Alvo  PSVR Review — Aim Controller vs PS Move vs DualShock 4

Alvo’s developers have created excellent control schemes for all three types of PSVR controllers. The DualShock 4 and PlayStation Aim controllers will feel most natural at first. In fact, the DualShock 4 even behaves as if you were holding a gun, requiring players to physically aim the controller, similar to Hitman 3 and Firewall. While the PS Move controllers don’t have a joystick — or any obvious way to move virtually, for that matter — Alvo’s developers cleverly devised a way to move in any direction without much fuss by holding the big button where your thumb rests and orienting your left controller in the direction you want to move.

Even though it took me a couple of rounds to get adjusted to this method, I actually found it to be a rather palatable way to play the game. The Move controllers made aiming easier than when using a DualShock 4 and didn’t suffer from any of the weird drifting I sometimes experience with the PlayStation Aim controller. Using the face buttons to turn left and right brought back memories of Goldeneye on N64, which is extremely limiting in stressful close combat situations, but it worked surprisingly well given the controller’s usually limited nature.

Controls are straightforward for a shooter. Square reloads, Circle toggles ducking, Triangle cycles between primary and secondary guns, L1 jumps, L2 tosses a grenade — this was one of my favorite mechanics as it allows you to quickly throw one in a pinch without really needing to aim — and R1 and R2 are used for melee or shooting your weapons. If you’ve played any modern shooter at all, the controls just make sense, and don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Visually, the game is good enough for a PSVR game built with the PS4’s hardware in mind. It reminded me a lot of the recently released Hitman 3 in terms of model and texture quality, while the sound effects were pretty lackluster. You’re not going to be impressed by any of it, but it gets the job done well enough and gave me nothing to really complain about. While I played this on a PS5, PSVR games cannot be built with PS5 hardware in mind, so it’s still running a PS4 game in backwards compatibility support at the end of the day.

alvo vr fps psvr oculus rift

Alvo PSVR Review: Final Impressions

If you’re a fan of multiplayer shooters, there’s no doubt you’re going to have a solid time with Alvo. It’s seriously great fun thanks to lighthearted, arcade-like mechanics and a low learning curve that’s instantly accessible to anyone who’s played a shooter before. Quick matches and fast loading times keep the action going, and built-in voice communication makes it easy to work with teammates without any fuss.

But there’s no denying that the game is quite barebones — something that’s especially worrying for a title that’s been in development over four years and, yet, is only launching with five maps and three game modes with lots of unavailable features in the menu. The $40 price tag seems a bit steep to me for such a small amount of content, even with the promise of plenty more to come.

Still, there’s not exactly a wealth of other options in the PSVR world, With solid bones and what seems to be a welcoming and excited community, it’s likely that you’ll have a fantastic time with Alvo if you enjoy multiplayer shooters. Even in empty rooms, bots will automatically fill up the roster and make sure you have plenty of target practice before the real battles begin. Just don’t go in expecting any sort of single-player missions or a campaign mode, because there isn’t one whatsoever.


3 STARS

alvo psvr content pro con list review

This review was conducted using a PlayStation 5 playing Alvo as a backwards compatible PS4 game. For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines.


UploadVR Review Scale


Alvo is now available on PSVR for $40 with a 25% discount for PS Plus users until 4/27/21. Both PC VR and Quest releases with cross-play are planned for the future.

Rip And Tear: How Archiact Remastered DOOM 3 VR Edition For PSVR

Today DOOM 3 VR Edition launches on PSVR for $20. We sat down for a chat with Ken Thain, Executive Producer from Archiact to talk about what it was like working with id Software to bring this iconic FPS into VR officially.

If you missed our DOOM 3 VR Edition review, that’s live to check out and we’ve got additional coverage as well, such as this graphics comparison with the Quest 2 modded version.

Here are the major excerpts from the interview:

 

Doom 3: VR Edition

DOOM 3 VR Edition Interview


 

David Jagneaux, Senior Editor at UploadVR: Okay so, just checking here: the official title is DOOM 3 VR Edition, is that right?

Ken Thain, Executive Producer at Archiact: It’s a VR edition because we were very particular. It’s not a port. It’s not we threw stereoscopic view on a DOOM game…When we were working with it, they [id Software] were actually quite passionate about the idea that it’s not just a port, let’s make this an adaptation, let’s make this a remaster for VR because we both recognized that Doom 3 is a fantastic game for VR just based on the fact that out of the DOOM franchise, it’s a bit more of a slower first-person shooter.

We as well recognize the possibility within VR and so we consider it an adaptation or remastering because we redid so much. We redid the weapons, we redid the audio, and we can talk about it later, but the VFX: the audio, uprezzing the graphics, uprezzing the weapons, a new diegetic UI. We did so much to it to make sure that it felt like it was for VR from the ground up and I have to say it came out really, really well.

When we first got [the weapon 3D models] it was like, yeah, there’s whole chunks missing because they never had to show them on-screen so you can reveal the weapons and re-texture them up and stuff and then all the additions of the laser target, the flashlights, redoing the sound, redoing the VFX. It really is a remastering and I think once everybody’s able to jump in and play it, they’ll really feel it.

Doom 3: VR Edition Review (1)

UploadVR: I remember when the game first came out there were lots of complaints about how the flashlight worked. How does it work exactly here? Were the weapons totally remade?

Thain: Yeah, it’s just depending on the weapons. We modified the weapons for those that either we had to put a flashlight on it, or we just keep it on your shoulder or it’s on your head where your aim and for VR is particularly good because with Doom 3 being so intense, like you literally playing where a door opens, it’s dark inside, you peek your head in, look around, put your gun in with the flashlight, check out all the dark corners, it feels totally different…The fact that your flashlight is still on a battery, it can run out, you can turn it off and on and you can look in one direction and have a flashlight going in another direction. So I think people will be really happy with that addition.

UploadVR: Can you talk a little bit about getting the lighting and all that, adapting it for VR, just right? How important is that sort of creepy atmosphere in a VR game like DOOM 3? As you said, it’s a slower-paced game, more horror-style than the others—I imagine it really helps amplify things tremendously.

Thain: First off, it was an advantage in the sense that games built back in 2004 were a lot less complicated rendering wise than they are now. So we’re able to bring the engine forward to update it, but like our team had a lot of Doom 3 fans, particularly, and there’s a group of us actually that were motors in an era of this.

Luckily enough, we uprezzed the environments, we uprezzed the weapons, we uprezzed all the UI and stuff. These additions feel really good. They feel really modern. You play the game, it’s super solid frame rates, 60 frames across. It feels really smooth. Everything’s really clear. It has this modern feel to it but yet this nostalgia of the style of graphics and the style of creatures and stuff from the original Doom. From there, it feels really good and then there was a few things we had to work on, like the original Doom 3 had a lot of strobing lights and that’s not good for VR because you are right in there.

We had to go through and do some modification, either tone down the strobing of some lights or leave them on full time. There was some atmosphere that we had to work around with that, but overall, based on all the additions that we did to it, the game itself stands out really well. I mean it’s id Software, they invented the first person shooter.

UploadVR: Have you looked into the Quest version of DOOM 3 at all? Is that something you’re aware of?

Thain: We’re aware of the Dr. Beef Quest 2 version. There’s also a lot of VR mods for DOOM 3 on the PC as well and we’re aware of these and it’s good. Overall, it’s good. We’re all contributing to VR. We’re all creating good content for VR players. There was never a moment we’d looked at it as competitive or anything like that. As far as Archiact is concerned, we support those mods and I’m sure Bethesda does as well as far as making sure that as many people get to play DOOM as possible.

UploadVR: What are your thoughts on DOOM VFR?

Thain: I don’t have any thoughts on Doom VFR.

UploadVR: I didn’t know if that was one you had played or not.

Thain: Well, definitely looked at it. We looked at actually a lot of shooters in the VR space just to see what was working, what doesn’t. Even our experiences ourselves with Evasion, we knew what worked and what doesn’t and the good thing is with id Software, they were very supportive of when we came up with the features and we prototyped them and we had them try it out. We had some collaboration back and forth of exactly the placement of flashlights or even the art. Like, with the double barrel shotgun we have the flashlight taped on because it feels a bit more visceral. Yet the modern machine gun, which is very sci-fi looking, we built the flashlight into it.


Let us know what you think of DOOM 3 VR Edition down in the comments below!

Zenith: The Last City—What It Takes To Build A VR MMORPG | Full Interview Q&A

Zenith: The Last City is an upcoming VR MMORPG from Ramen VR that’s slated to release on PC VR, PSVR, Quest, and non-VR PC platforms sometime this year. Last week, I sat down with Andy Tsen, CEO of Ramen VR, to discuss the game, their ambitious plans, and what players should expect with a game of this scope and scale.

If you’d rather watch the interview instead of read it, which clocks in at just around 45-minutes total, then you can check that out above. We met in the UploadVR virtual studio, the same one that we use to capture and stream our twice-per-week talkshow podcast, VR Download.

Keep in mind this was a 45-minute long conversation-style interview, it wasn’t an email Q&A or anything like that. Enjoy and let us know of any questions or comments down below!

zenith vr mmo concept art wide

Zenith: The Last City—Made-For VR MMORPG

Andy Tsen, Ramen VR CEO: Zenith is a virtual reality MMO and it has kind of a JRPG East Asian aesthetic. It’s kind of sci-fi fantasy and we want people to be able to come into the world and just explore and have a really positive, fun kind of RPG experience that they would have on any other platform except built for VR. We really think that this is the stuff that people have been wanting for a long time, and that’s why we set out to build it.

David Jagneaux, UploadVR: Yeah, you guys had a Kickstarter campaign, right? I’m drawing a blank on remembering how much you guys ended up raising but it was pretty successful, right?

Tsen: Yeah, we had a $280,000 Kickstarter a while back ago. Mm hmm.

UploadVR: Awesome, that’s exciting! You talk about VR MMOs, it’s something that everyone wants, everyone has been dreaming about since Neuromancer came out, since who knows how long. And certainly, pop culture has fed into that with– You know, for me growing up, there was .hack//Sign and then Sword Art Online and The Matrix and Ready Player One, and there’s just so much pop culture centered around that idea of this magical sci-fi fantasy world where we can all go in and hang out and do stuff together. Obviously, VR headsets are getting us closer to that. In what ways do you think Zenith is doing things that hasn’t been done yet?

Tsen: Well, we’re building a full-scale VR MMO and so… It’s basically a lot of is uncharted territory, right? I’m actually a big fan of Orbus and the guys at ATT -A Township Tale. Everybody has their own take on what of their MMO should be. But what we’re really trying to do is create a top extremely polished core game loop that is really, really fun to play that feels a lot more polished and a lot deeper. That’s our fundamental goal; to create an experience where it feels both familiar to MMORPG players as well as completely unique being in the space of VR itself. As an example, Zenith is going to feel a lot more like an action RPG than something like Final Fantasy XIV or WoW where they are basically spreadsheet simulators where you’re pressing macros and you’re doing the whole hotkey dance, right? In Zenith, you literally have to parry enemy’s attacks, throw fireballs, you can slow time. And of course, all of this is tied together by a gorgeous environment where we’ve spent thousands of hours creating unique props and content and just building a world that feels fully alive and immersive. Along with that, obviously, one of the most important things about VR is a sense of presence and I think that that’s something that other genres outside of VR, MMOs can’t really reach. And so for us, it’s all about that feeling of physical embodiment in the world. That’s why we introduced our recent pop one-style gliding, we have climbing, we have full-body IK, right? These are things that will make the players feel like they’re really in the world living a different life essentially.

UploadVR: This is a key question for me that a lot of MMOs don’t handle this well and I feel like a lot of MMOs- like you alluded to- with spreadsheet simulator style gameplay, they’re all very target based. You target an enemy, you use your abilities and you just flow on from there. But is everything in Zenith real time? Like if I cast a fireball, does it travel in real time through the game world where it’ll then hit an enemy or can he dodge it? Or if I miss with bad aim? Is that an aspect of it? Can I target something then automatically hit it?

Tsen: Yeah, absolutely. That’s where you get to the real time action RPG part of this. Yes, things in Zenith do feel like real time. You’ll have to raise your sword up at the right time to block an attack, you’ll have to do gestures to cast spells. We have a pretty innovative casting system that we’re excited to show people. But yeah, if you aim wrong, for example, or you throw your fireball in the wrong direction, it’s not going to hit the enemy.

UploadVR: Got it, got it. That’s pretty cool. I know nowadays there are a handful of MMOs that do stuff like that, like New World is coming out soon a non-VR MMO that’s going to have real time combat, but it’s pretty rare still. Most all the big MMOs are all target-based, you don’t have to really aim anything. So, I’m excited to have a game like that in VR for sure.

Tsen: Yeah, for sure. I think there’s a couple of MMOs out there that are a little bit more action paced in the non-VR realm. If you look at games like Black Desert Online or Guild Wars 2 to an certain extent, they feel a little bit more Diablo-ey or Path of Exile-ey. Also ESO I guess is another example of something that feels a little bit more real time. But for us, we are literally talking about having hitboxes and being able to dodge enemy attacks and being able to parry. One of the things that’s really cool is in Zenith is you can actually parry enemy projectiles. You can block arrows, knock arrows down as they are coming towards you.

UploadVR: Nice. Okay. That’s pretty cool. I think a lot of MMOs right now even going back all the way back to Ultima and the early days, such a big part of an MMO, obviously, the fact that it’s online is the community, right? You have to have a good core community, you have to be welcoming and accessible to new players, you have to have endgame content to keep the core community happy for months and years on end, and there’s just so many layers and facets to it. What are some of the ways that you guys are hoping to keep your community engaged and embrace and encourage social interaction and stuff like that?

Tsen: I think the community is at least as important as the game design and the marketing on the game if not more so. We’ve spent the past two years building up a really passionate and engaged and active community on our Discord where I think we’re over 25,000 people now and that’s just on Discord alone. And that’s been really exciting to see because… Well, there was a bit of time there where we were just heads down on coding and getting ready for all of the milestones we had to submit and we didn’t do much community engagement because we were so busy building the game. What was really cool to see was our moderating team and regular members of the community really come together and form a community that’s not just about Zenith, but also just about being friends and just hanging out and streaming together. We have people that have gotten married because of our Discord. They met in the Zenith Discord and they got married. And we have somebody who’s now one of our top moderators that said that he’s basically a lurker in other discords but was so welcomed by our community and felt so accepted that they actually spoke up for the first time and then became a moderator, and so now this is like a family to them. That’s the kind of community that we’re creating outside of Zenith.

Within Zenith, one of the cool things that we’ve really seen that I’m pretty excited about is our guild system. Because what we’re seeing is people are already self-organizing in our Discord around different guilds and stuff like that. We have a Guild Recruitment channel and a place where people can form guilds and tag themselves. We have a variety of social features within Zenith, obviously. Your standard friend system, parties and guilds as well as things that encourage more emergent gameplay like public events that can be completed with random people all over the world. I don’t know if you’ve played Destiny or Final Fantasy 14 with the FATEs, it’s kind of like that in terms of just having events spawn over the world that you can play together. But ultimately, I think what’s really important is just to have the gameplay reflect the need for collaboration. If you look like EverQuest is still out there today, right? That’s still making money. They still have a full team dedicated to churning out content for EverQuest because so much of it in the early days was impossible to do by yourself, right? You had to–

UploadVR: They just celebrated 22 years this week.

Tsen: Yeah. Yeah. Did you ever play by the way?

UploadVR: Oh, yeah. EverQuest is my first MMO. I played that a lot.

zenith vr mmo crystal

Tsen: Nice. WoW was my first real MMO, Classic WoW that is. What I will say is like with games like WoW and 14, they have gotten so good at basically just hitting a button and getting into a queue with someone, a random person, that you don’t necessarily need as much community. For us, it’s always about striking that right balance of yes, it’s easy for newbies to get in and party up but also, there’s enough challenging endgame content there where you still need to organize and you can’t just do pugs, you need to basically know people and form friendships and alliances.

UploadVR: That’s great to hear because my main MMO that I play personally right now is ESO. Sometimes, I could play that game for three hours straight and never have to type in the chat box, you know? So much of MMO design nowadays is about streamlining in terms of not just accessibility, but streamlining content so that you don’t have to even turn your brain on hardly. So, I think VR is not really the right medium for that type of game design. I think the more interactive and more hands-on something is, the better it is. So, I think you guys are taking a smart approach here where you’re going to try to incentivize real collaboration and communication because… And a lot of people forget every VR headset has a mic built in. So, it’s not like someone could not have a mic and not have a headset, you know? If you’re in VR you can talk, so you might as well embrace that.

Tsen: Yeah, definitely. It’s something that’s important to us. I think one thing we’re excited to explore when we have a chance to implement it, for example though, is voice modulation. I know that a lot of people want anonymity. I certainly do when I’m online. I’ve played a lot of D&D and I played a lot of– I don’t know if you’ve heard of this game, Neverwinter Nights.

UploadVR: Yeah, for sure.

Tsen: Yeah, I used to play it in a lot of RP servers online and in those worlds, you’re typing out what you’re saying so that leaves a lot more to imagination. And if you’re in an MMO, one of the things we want to do is eventually allow people to sound like whatever they want to sound like so that they can basically… they don’t pierce the veil essentially.

UploadVR: Yeah. For me, roleplay is something that I’ve done a little bit here and there in some games but whenever you’re using your real voice, you can feel shy about it especially if it’s around strangers. I definitely think that kind of thing would definitely help encourage them more and I mean, you’re putting on a VR headset. It’s kind of like wearing a mask in a way. You’re becoming your avatar more than when you’re looking at a computer screen so I think that kind of stuff is going to be really great.

Tsen: Yeah. Then the other interesting thing that we’ve seen is typically in a VR or an MMO of any kind, you want to spend several hours in there, right? For most of the, I guess, not even hardcore just like a regular MMO player wants to log a couple hours on a given weekend. At least for me the way that I do it is when I’m really busy weekdays, I’ll do dailies, right? Weekends, I want to put a lot more time into it if I have it. But in VR, you’re not talking about a 30-minute dungeon, that even feels a little bit too long for the average user to start off with. What we really want to capture is the same feeling that people get when they’re going into a game of Pop: One or Blast-On or Beat Saber. You go in and the first five minutes there’s already something that hooks you in. And that experience itself is the thing that gets you into the VR device. But then once you’ve played for five minutes, it’s “All right, I’ll just do another five minutes. And another five minutes.” So that’s been my pattern of the way I play games in VR is that I’ll jump in for a quick game of Beat Saber and then an hour later, I’ll be like, “Oh, how did this happen?”

zenith vr mmo new enemy screenshot

UploadVR: Yeah, it’s tricky, right? I mean, designing an MMO, that’s the type of game that you want your players to play that for hundreds and hundreds of hours and designing it in a way that not only has the content there– You don’t want it to feel like you’re going to punish people if they don’t but at the same time, you do want to reward the people that do. It’s such a tricky balance. I don’t envy the task of trying to balance one of the first ever VR MMOs and make it sticky for all types of players out there. There’s just so many variables involved.

Tsen: Yeah, definitely. Thankfully, we’re not doing it alone. We have a great team. We have a game designer, Colin, that we brought on board that has a decade of MMO design experience. He worked on Rift, ArcheAge, and a couple really other popular games, Atlas Reactor and some other stuff like that. We’re fortunate to have a really amazing team of gaming veterans to help us start to bridge this gap between what a traditional MMO is and what a VR MMO should be.

UploadVR: Going back to that point a little bit, can you talk a little bit about the types of content that will be in the game? I mean, I’m assuming there’s main story quests and side quests and group dungeons and stuff, but for someone that jumps in to play the game, what are the types of events and activities and things that they’ll be able to do?

Tsen: You mentioned main story quests? Those will be there. We have procedural quests that will be able to ramp up depending on what level the player is and what areas they’re in and things like that. We mentioned public events earlier where you can go through and complete quests together, as well as just world boss events and also having group dungeons that people can go into and play together. There’s also just a plethora of things people can do in the world whether that’s going out and seeking treasure chests, kind of like Genshin Impact if you guys have played any of that. Or just going and leveling up the crafting. For example, one of the most fun things in this game right now is fruit gathering because you have to literally climb up the tree. And the distance grab only goes five meters, so sometimes you have to like stretch out to a branch to grab an apple and put it away. I guess what I would say is, all the core experience of an MMO is going to be there at launch, but we have plans to add a lot more on top of that later. I think the thing we want to avoid is stretching ourselves too thin so that we can’t deliver a polished experience across all the things we’re going to launch. The thing we also have to keep in mind is that we’re a small team. Right now, we’re about 10 people fulltime and with a couple other contractors beyond that. So we have to think of clever ways to not be constantly on this content treadmill that bigger AAA studios are able to do, right? If you have 100 artists and 20 game designers and 20 engineers, you can just create content without really thinking about reuse. For us, it’s all about having a really fun core gameplay experience like killing monsters, leveling up, getting loot, completing public events, and having those systems all tied together in a way that can be repeated over time.

UploadVR: Yeah, I know you’ve talked a little bit about the scale of the game, the multiplayer, sociability of it all and all that stuff. But I think the big question a lot of people probably have about games like this is how much is it truly an MMO? How many people will you see at any given time? Is it a truly open world? Are there instances or are the zones segmented? How does the actual game design look from a top level in terms of being an MMO?

Tsen: I think MMO is a term that has been really liberally used especially in mobile. And when I say MMO, what I’m trying to say is an MMO in the sense of something like WoW or Final Fantasy 14, where it will be a large world where you can have thousands of people per shard. Our eventual goal, of course, is to make it even bigger and tie the different shards together to have this infinite world, but we’re starting with just a regular MMO and a regular shard which by itself is hard enough.

UploadVR: That’s what Elder Scrolls Online did, right? They have the “One Tamriel” thing that they do where just depending on whenever you load into a zone, it’ll just assign people into that zone with you on the fly in a way. So, I mean, if I were to go fight a world boss, how many people can be there with me at any given time? Is there like a cap on that or is it just whoever is nearby? How does that work exactly?

zenith vr mmo lizard enemy

Tsen: It’s going to be whoever is nearby, right? We need to take into account traditional load balancing issues that other MMOs have as well. You see this with Black Desert Online or Warframe and to some extent FFXIV and WoW as well. But basically, for example, if you’re in a party and you’re in a highly dense zone, your party members are prioritized in terms of latency and how well they’re rendered. And then the other people, you know, depending on what platform we’re playing the game on, are either at a lower level of detail or if there’s hundreds of people, you kind of just call it out completely. So like in Warframe, for example, you’ll be able to see most of the players around you but if you have a really dense zone like in a city or something, you’ll see players that just have name tags or kind of shadows. That’s the kind of thing that we’ll need to implement at launch to be able to support this. But our goal is to have it be a full-scale MMO with full-scale world bosses and things of that nature.

UploadVR: So you mentioned depending on platforms, I guess you’re alluding to the fact that on Quest, for example, if more than a handful of people are nearby, it’s probably you’re not going to see fully detailed avatars, right?

Tsen: Yeah. It depends on… Even within the Quest platform, there’s like Quest and Quest 2, right? And so one thing that we will make sure to do is that we’re not sacrificing anything from a gameplay perspective. That’s the most important thing to us, is that across all the different platforms people can have a… They won’t be hampered by having an older device or a weaker device versus, you know, PCVR, for example.

UploadVR: Cool. And it’s coming to PSVR as well, right?

Tsen: Yeah.

UploadVR: I got to ask, how does it play on PSVR? Because the move controllers don’t have analog sticks and so I mean, they’re kind of limited a little bit from a playability perspective. Is it going to be teleport only on PSVR or how does it work?

Tsen: Yeah. We can’t reveal too much about that yet. Partially because we’re still deep in the dev cycle for that, I don’t want to kind of say anything that might change later on. But what I can say is that we’re going to try to offer the same types of movement mechanics in PSVR as you have on other platforms. Yeah.

UploadVR: Gotcha. Yeah, there’s a lot of devs that have been creative about ways to do that. So that makes sense.

Tsen: Yeah, we have on our team people with decades of experience at Sony working on networking and gameplay so, you know, we’ll have a good idea. We’ll do a couple of iterations and I think people will be happy. Also excited about like the new controllers that have just come out.

UploadVR: I was just about to ask you. Well, what do you think about those?

Tsen: I think those are awesome.

zenith vr mmo screenshot 5

UploadVR: They look great.

Tsen: Yeah. I am really excited about just how VR is coming together. You’ve probably been doing this for a while David, but my experience started with the DK2 back in like 2015. And every year since then, people have been saying like, “This is the year for VR. This is the year it’s going to take off.” And I really think we’re starting to kind of hit that inflection point. It’s really just about how many people have been able to hang in during that entire kind of strenuous time where there wasn’t a lot of revenue and it was the dark times.

UploadVR: Yeah. I think the important thing that the industry has seen is it’s expanded enough to have something out there for everybody, including the accessible, cheaper hardware, like the Quest 2 that is still super good, super great, has a good library. But then if you want to go high end with an index and a PC you totally can. And then you’ve got the console with the PSVR, which has an amazing library of games. Hopefully, it seems like the next headset is going to be better from a hardware perspective. I think that that’s the big thing for me, just seeing so many different options that are all viable is super exciting because for the longest time it seemed like everything felt so unfinished and experimental. But now we’re finally at that point now where I could… If I have a friend that is a gamer or something like that, I feel comfortable just recommending a Quest 2 nowadays without any caveats. Because up until then it was always like, “Oh well, if you don’t mind never turning around, you can get this headset,” or “If you don’t mind setting up and mounting cameras on your walls, then you can get this headset.” But now all that stuff’s gone and it’s exciting. And I think games like Zenith are exciting and they’re the kind of games people have been wanting to play. I’m excited to try it for myself. I haven’t gotten to try it yet, I’m really eager to try it out, hopefully.

Tsen: Yeah. Definitely love to run you through. We’re currently kind of crunching on the Alpha that, as you know, is coming out in about a month and hoping that’s going to be a really good experience for everybody. To go back to your point of kind of how you can recommend headsets to people now, I used to have to recommend people headsets. And now I’m in people’s homes like my brother-in-law, I’m just seeing people that are like- they just bought it! Not because I was like pushing it like a drug dealer, but like they have it and they’re like playing it. And one of them had a broken controller and it was like, you know, that’s how you know you’ve put a lot of hours into it when you’ve slammed your wall on accident so hard that the controller breaks.

UploadVR: Those controllers are pretty sturdy too, so that was… yeah, rest in peace that wall. That was probably pretty hard impact.

Tsen: Yeah, it was a zombie… It was one of the zombie defense games, he didn’t tell me the title.

UploadVR: Classic.

Tsen: Yeah.

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UploadVR: Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s a great anecdote that I think a lot of people are starting to have more and more nowadays where instead of people asking me, “Should I get a VR headset?” It’s, “Hey, which game should I get for my VR headset?” It’s a very different question that I get more commonly now. So that’s pretty awesome to see.

Tsen: Yeah. And we were kind of excited to be able to get the major platforms really excited about Zenith as well, working with both, as you guys saw, being on the PlayStation store coverage as well as the Oculus coverage. It’s just been a really great experience for us. I think there is a unique moment in time for companies of our size to succeed right now. Basically, we are in a period of time where people want this, but AAA studios haven’t exactly committed to building MMO yet, right? Because it’s super, super expensive for that kind of scale. And so if we can deliver an experience now, we could really help set the kind of tone and define a lot of the mechanics that become known in this next group of, this next wave of MMOs to come out.

UploadVR: Yeah. You look back and Meridian 59 and Ultima, you know, those had to come before EverQuest and WoW could come. It’s a kind of a similar trajectory and, you know, it’s exciting to see. I do want to speak a little bit about some of the other things on the horizon out there. Like I know you talked a little bit about Orbus. Have you seen much about Ilysia? Is that one that you’re aware of very much? And how does Zenith compare to Orbus and the other VR MMOs that are on the horizon? What are some of the differentiating factors?

Tsen: To be honest, we’ve been really deep in development on Zenith. We haven’t had much time to come up for air. Ilysia is a game that we’ve definitely heard about, but we haven’t really delved too deep into it. What I will say is competition is always healthy, it always makes for a better product. And ultimately, I think, there’s going to be a lot of differentiating factors that players will be able to choose from when they play or choice when they have the products in front of them. I’m really personally excited about the features that Zenith has and I think we’ll be able to have a lot of people excited about that as well. Again, I haven’t done too much research into this, it’s mostly, you know, seeing it in our community. Like, “Hey, have you heard of this other game?” type of thing. But I guess a lot of it comes down to just the core game design as well as the aesthetic that we’re trying to hit. I think with us, we kind of have this JRPG, Sci-Fi fantasy, really colorful, stylized cel-shaded look. Other games are different.

UploadVR: The kind of the Cyberpunk almost sort of Sci-fi fantasy style, like you said, is not super common. I think most people when they think of MMORPGs, they have in their head kind of the Ultima, EverQuest, WoW style of medieval fantasy. But you guys are going for a little bit different of an aesthetic there while still having swords and magic, but also having skyscrapers. It’s kind of an interesting amalgamation.

Tsen: Yeah. I guess a good example of this would just be something like Final Fantasy, right? Final Fantasy, if you’re a fan of VII or any of them really, there’s always this kind of element of technology or steampunk or dieselpunk, but then there’s also kind of if you go far enough out into the open world, a lot of it can feel like fantasy because it’s natural environments, it’s wide open plains to explore, it’s lush forests. And we have all of that. I think is just… It’s going to be exciting.

UploadVR: Cool. One other topic I want to talk about is I would love to hear some more from you about the moment-to-moment gameplay. Because I know that you guys have previously described your melee combat as similar to Beat Saber. So if you could talk a little bit about what that’s like for the player, you know, like what they’ll physically be doing and how it works, that’d be great.

Tsen: Yeah. So that was like really early on. And I remember saying that and then getting coverage about it because Beat Saber was like the biggest thing back then. Well, first of all, there’s 30 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay footage on our YouTube- it’s not cut or edited at all- that anybody can just go on and check out. That’ll give people a good feel for what the gameplay is going to feel like. But second of all, in terms what we meant by in the early days having Beat Saber-inspired combat, was that you would be able to block things. You would have to time things to make sure that you were hitting things optimally. Now in the early prototype, what we had was literally lines that you would kind of slash through, and you’d have to slash it at the right time.

UploadVR: Oh like Until You Fall style, kind of?

Tsen: Yeah, like Until You Fall style. We got some feedback on that that was a little bit too gamey for what people were looking at for an MMO. They wanted something that’s a little bit more visceral. So we modified that so that timing is still important, but it’s no longer so obvious like you have to do this or you have to like… Yeah, and so combat now is basically… I think one of the most important things is the enemy stagger gauge. The idea is that you would be doing movements in real time, like parrying, blocking or if you’re made, to sling fireballs. And then that would all be incrementing attacking the enemy stagger meter. And then when they get staggered and vulnerable, that’s when you’d go in and you do maximum damage.

UploadVR: Got it. I’m nearing the end of my play-through of Final Fantasy VII Remake. So the term stagger is very large in my brain right now because that’s a huge part of that game. Yeah, that’s common mechanics, that makes sense.

Tsen: Yeah. If you’ve seen the stagger gauge in Final Fantasy VII, it’ll feel a lot like that.

UploadVR: Cool.

zenith vr mmo beach dock town

Tsen: There’s also this problem with energy fatigue. If you’re going to be playing a game for two to three hours, you need to make sure people aren’t getting exhausted while they’re in there. So our goal is to kind of make the game reward reflexes and strategy more than like just raw physical prowess. It’s definitely not a game like Blast-On where you’ll be literally dodging things all the time, there’s going to be a component of just reaction time and timing and strategy.

UploadVR: Got it. And the last topic I’d love to touch on a little bit is, I know you mentioned things like loot and stuff earlier, but what is the gear system like? Are there lots of items and customization in terms of armor and weapons? Can I look down and see my entire avatar? Because you mentioned full body IK, I’m just curious to know how deep and detailed is that system.

Tsen: Yeah. Players will be able to look down and see the different armor sets that they’re equipping. We’ll have a lot of different armor types, really awesome looking unique armor sets that people will be able to put on. If you could imagine something that’s kind of like any other MMO, where you have tons of loot and gear to grind after, you know. You have modifiers and stats on those things. For us we also want to take that one step further and kind of allow people to continue making their armor sets more and more powerful over time. Enchanting those armor sets, making those better, enhancing them. That’s how we kind of think of loot. And also just making it extremely apparent when you’ve gotten a really powerful piece of loot. We want people to feel every piece of armor they get. Because again, it’s kind of like an action RPG mixed with an MMO so you can’t just get something that increases your stat value by five and like increases your DPS by one, that’s not going to make you feel more powerful.

UploadVR: Yeah, that’s very important. That’s definitely good to hear. Reminds me of two very specific important questions from one MMO player to another is, will there be transmog? Can I change the look of things to look like other things?

Tsen: We do want to have a transmog system. It depends on whether or not we can get it at launch, but that’s definitely something that we’re going to put in.

UploadVR: Okay.

Tsen: Yep.

UploadVR: Cool. And the second one is: In terms of trading, will there be like a player economy type of thing going on where high-level gear that you get from one place you can sell to someone? And will things be bound to you when you pick them up? Is that going to be part of the game design at all?

Tsen: We’re still pretty early on the player economy side of things. All I can say is that there will be one, that’s something that we promised our backers on Kickstarter when we raised that. I think what we want to do is we want to introduce it in a way that is sane. We’re not quite EVE Online where you can literally sell everything and your job is just to become a corporate overlord. We think of our ourselves more like a traditional kind of MMO where there’s some player economy in there, but there’s also a game economy outside of that. Players that choose to participate in it will be rewarded handsomely but it won’t be a requirement.

zenith vr mmo alpha beta timeline

UploadVR: Okay, cool. Well, sounds like you guys are checking a lot of boxes and hitting a lot of bullet points, and I’m very excited to check out the game. Hopefully during the Alpha, I’ll find some time to try it out and play it. Why don’t you go ahead and let everyone know the dates of the upcoming Alpha, how they can pre-order, and platforms, when it’s coming out… and all that good stuff.

Tsen: Yeah, sure. The game, the first pre-Alpha starts on the 19th, and it’ll run for about a week.

UploadVR: Of April, right?

Tsen: Yeah. Sorry, April 19th. Some people were messaging me today about why it hasn’t started yet. It’ll start on April 19th and run for about a week. Unfortunately, pre-orders have closed at this point. We just had a phenomenal amount of demand and we want to make sure we can fulfill that and make sure everybody has a good experience. We’re working hard to be able to open that up, but no guarantees on that yet. I would just encourage everybody to come check out our Discord and our mailing list. Yeah, Alpha will be the first taste people get of the game publicly so we’re excited for everybody to try it out. Important thing is to just note that it is a real Alpha not like a marketing Alpha, so it’s going to be rough, it’s going to be a little bit unpolished. There’s going to be crashes and bugs, you know? We want to set expectations on that. We still think it’s going to be a really fun experience though.

UploadVR: Right. So this is an Alpha test, not a free demo. It is an Alpha test.

Tsen: Yes, it is an Alpha, a real one.

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For more on Zenith, make sure and check out all of our past coverage here. Check out the official Zenith: The Last City website and join the extremely active Discord server to stay up-to-date on everything.

Resident Evil 7: How VR Elevates An Already Great Horror Game

Resident Evil 7 is one of the best horror games in recent years and its VR support is still, over four years later, exclusive to PSVR. We take a look back at the title, analyze what makes it work so well in VR, and imagine how great Resident Evil 8: Village could be with VR support.

Some mild spoilers for Resident Evil 7 follow below


Resident Evil 7 and VR Horror

Let me preface this by stating that I’m a nerd for horror. I love the challenge of a new horror game. There’s something so raw and exciting about being terrified and that’s why I love horror games in particular. With the rise of VR, horror is getting more chances to truly shine. That’s why I jumped at PSVR on day one and awaited a true showcase of its horrifying potential.

I’m driven to play horror games in VR in search of the answer to one simple question: Can this game scare me more than I’ve ever been scared before? The launch of Resident Evil 7 VR in 2017 answered that question in spectacular fashion. 

With VR now solidified as a well and truly established platform, we have the capacity to be scared by developers to levels that we could only have imagined way back when the first Resident Evil game came out in 1996. After the brilliantly spooky showcase of Resident Evil Village and the internet’s collective obsession with tall vampire lady, I got to thinking about my terrifying experience with Resident Evil 7 in VR and what it might mean for the future of the series. 

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Resident Evil 7 was a huge departure for the franchise as a whole. Just how Resident Evil 4 changed camera angles for a more personal approach, Biohazard placed you in first-person—as close to those molded and grotesque Bakers as possible. This after all, was a giant lateral sidestep for the series. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of its roots. This was the return of Resident Evil the survival horror game and away with the games that tried to have unnecessary over-the-top macho action.

Following Resident Evil 4, the next two main entries in the series went for bolder and bigger setpiece action sequences. Resident Evil 7 on the other hand was much more focused, offering a more stripped back and primal experience. As series producer Masachika Kawata said in an interview with us back near the game’s launch, they were hoping to “make an experience that’s more intimate which allows for higher immersion.” They more than succeeded.

Read More: How Capcom Is Bringing ‘Resident Evil’ Into VR For The First Time

Adding VR into the mix was like holding a magnifying glass to the horror genre as a whole, amplifying everything. The tension, the scares, the action, and the incredibly detailed environments all came to life like never before. The Baker mansion itself feels like a character when you’re this invested inside its walls. 

So, what makes Resident Evil 7 and it’s VR mode so damn terrifying? As the first game made using the RE engine, Resident Evil 7 is a very good-looking game. Even the inevitable visual compromises made in VR have very little impact on how gorgeous it is. In fact, seeing things in VR allowed me to see many more details that were just not as pronounced when looking at a flat TV screen.

Everyone is aware of that infamous dinner table scene with the Baker family. The difference it makes when it’s not only Ethan, but you, the player as well, getting some kind of horrendous rotten meat shoved in your mouth really ramps up the intensity and disgust. 

Not only that but every single confrontation is transformed. I’ve played the game since without VR and the scares, fights, and key moments of high tension are, while still powerful, just feel a little flat (pun intended) without VR by comparison. The boss fights gave me goosebumps, especially with Marguerite in her four-legged form.

Having to physically look around with your head to locate where she could be crawling all over the walls felt incredibly haunting. When you hear those 3D audio sounds to let you know that she’s behind you and you have to look over your shoulder, it really sends a chill down your spine; I never want to do that again. 

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The moments where nothing is happening are probably the parts where VR makes the biggest change, as strange as it sounds. There were two occasions in my first playthrough where I literally paused the game and had to stop due to simply unbearable tension.

This happened when wading through the water in the introductory section and when crawling through the pitch black vent on the abandoned Annabelle ship. The atmosphere alone is what made these sections so terrifying.

The silence, the not knowing if or when something is about to happen, was all too overwhelming for me. Since I’ve played my fair share of horror games before I just knew that something was probably going to happen. Each time I removed the headset, took a deep breath, and questioned if I was ready to dive back in. 

The discomfort of being in VR with water up to your neck is something that can’t be explained, it needs to be experienced. As someone that’s already scared of tight spaces, it was a real nightmare. The rancid water bubbles in front of you as you’re trying, desperately, to keep your head above were disgusting. And then after all that, guess what? Nothing happens. You just drop out and continue. But the sheer weight of not knowing in VR meant I almost couldn’t continue. 

If you haven’t already and you enjoy horror, you simply have to experience Resident Evil 7 in VR. Despite the fact that it only uses the DualShock 4 and not any motion controllers, no other horror experience has come close for me. It completely terrified me and I wish I could experience it all over again for the first time.

And now, I want Capcom to top it. I’d love for them to scare me more than I’ve ever been scared before once again. I want to see all 9 feet of Lady Dimitrescu and that beautiful castle of Resident Evil Village in VR. They haven’t confirmed VR support (yet) but I really, really hope they do.

I’m ready to be frozen on the spot and begging for reprieve all over again.

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs Review – A Shooting Success

Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs released in 2019, bringing the famed franchise into VR for the first time. Since its release, the game has received a wealth of updates and new content. But does the transition to VR bode well for the birds or does it all come crumbling down? Here’s our full Angry Birds VR review.

Angry Birds has been around since 2009, originating as a mobile game that spawned a bunch of sequels, spin-offs, merchandise and even a film series. 10 years on from the original, Resolution Games released the franchise’s first foray into VR with Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs. Initially just featuring 52 levels set across over four worlds, the game has received frequent free content updates over the last two years and become quite a beefy package.

Angry Birds VR Review – The Facts

What is it?: A VR arcade game where you slingshot birds at evil pigs housed in charming but unstable structures.
Platforms: PC VR, Oculus Quest, PSVR
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $14.99

In addition to the original main campaign, there’s now a set of 52  ‘spooky’ levels and a full custom level creation system, with the ability to upload, play and rate levels created by others. If you’re an Angry Birds die-hard who just got a VR headset, there’s a lot to love.

Watch Those Birds, You Dirty Pigs

For a game that originated as a 2D mobile game, the iconic Angry Birds gameplay has translated remarkably well to roomscale VR.

Much of the gameplay is similar, if not identical, in concept to the original game, with some small adjustments to take full advantage of the new medium. It’s a fantastic translation — not only is the core gameplay preserved, but it all works intuitively in virtual reality with little to no explanation needed. If you had never heard of Angry Birds before playing Isle of Pigs, you could be forgiven for thinking the game was an original concept made for VR.

For those who have been living under a rock, here’s the quick version of how almost any Angry Birds games plays out. The evil green pigs have stolen the birds’ eggs. To get them back, you’ll play through short levels that involve slingshotting birds at structures housing the pigs, with the aim of taking out all the pigs before you run out of birds. You can do this by damaging the structure and causing it to collapse, or shooting the pigs themselves. Given your limited number of birds and increasing number of pigs per structure, you’ll often want to go for the former.

The structures are made out of ice, wood and stone, and different types of birds work better against certain materials. The standard red bird is the all-rounder, while the yellow bird is effective against wood, the blue bird against ice and the explosive black bird against stone. The birds also possess power-ups that can be activated with the trigger after they’ve been shot — yellow will speed up and fly completely straight, blue will split into 3 birds heading in slightly different directions, and black can be detonated to cause explosive damage to blocks around it.

You progress to the next level by killing all the pigs, but you’re also given a 3-star rating on your performance. The less birds you use and the more of the structure you destroy, the better.

Shooting Into Roomscale VR

All of this is standard fare for any Angry Birds game. Where Isle of Pigs differs is the subtle changes it makes to enhance the experience in VR. Instead of playing 2D levels where you shoot towards a structure from one angle, Isle of Pigs gives you much more freedom. The levels consist of stunning and creative 3D structures housing the pigs, which can be approached from 2 or more different shooting angles.

There’s no right or wrong approach to the levels, but assessing all angles will often reveal secrets or weaknesses that proves useful. An alternate angle might reveal a hole that exposes a TNT block in a critical position, for example, guaranteeing a higher score.

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It’s a perfect change for VR that adds a richness and depth to the strategy of the levels that’s not found in the traditional 2D versions of the game. Plus, it means that the game deftly avoids the need for almost any guardian management while playing. A common design pitfall in VR games is not considering smaller play spaces and the annoyance of constantly managing your guardian while playing, which can hinder full immersion.

By using specified shooting positions, the player almost never has to worry about the outer limits of their guardian or having to recenter it. Had Resolution Games not specified any shooting positions and encouraged players to simply walk around the circular structures of each level, the size of your play space would have an impact on your ability to enjoy the game and become fully immersed. It’s a small but absolutely sublime design choice that eliminates an annoyance prevalent in so many other VR games.

Pigging Out On Content

There’s an incredibly solid amount of content available in Isle of Pigs.

The main campaign is a quaint reintroduction to the traditional Angry Birds mechanics and gameplay. It slowly introduces each bird type as you progress through the four worlds, gradually increasing the difficulty and requiring you to think about levels and structures in new ways.

As a veteran Angry Birds player, I managed to cruise through the main campaign in about an hour with 2 or 3-star ratings on most levels. The difficulty does ramp up as you progress, but it’s definitely still pitched to someone who hasn’t played Angry Birds before, or is getting started with VR in general.

angry birds vr Party Peak

A newcomer would likely find the levels more challenging. Likewise, the target demographic for Angry Birds games has always understandably skewed to the younger side. The difficulty starts to feel appropriate when you take that into consideration as well. Nonetheless, veteran players will want a bit more of a challenge.

The second ‘spooky’ campaign that was added gradually post-launch provides a little more of a challenge. These 52 extra levels aren’t necessarily much more difficult, but they introduce some new mechanics and require you to approach things in new ways. Unlike a lot of the main campaign, there are situations where you can’t just brute force your way through. These levels often rely on one specific creative solution, which you’ll need to discover and perfectly execute in order to progress. In some cases, there’s only one method and you’ll just have to experiment until you find it.

Angry Birds VR Spooky

While this does mix up the gameplay and prove more challenging, it’s not always for the better. One of the best parts of the Angry Birds formula is being able to find your own approach and feeling that wonderful ‘a-ha’ moment when you discover a flaw in a structure. Those moments make you feel smart, as if you’ve discovered a loophole in the level, even if it’s likely a carefully designed option by the developers.

This feeling is lost in some of the spooky levels, and it sometimes feels more like a puzzle game than one of strategy. Not all of them are limited in this way, but the ones that are can be a bit frustrating and less compelling. The Angry Birds physics and interaction system is also a bit wonky by nature —  a structure will never fall the same way twice, even if you use the exact same method. This can lead to some moments of confusion, unsure if you’ve not found the right solution or if something just went slightly wrong in your execution.

That being said, this is bonus campaign is clearly trying to offer something different from what came before it. Had it been more of the same, I might have felt equally disappointed. It’s still worth playing through and it’s fantastic to have extra content, the levels just have a different pace of play.

Build Your Own Chaos

One of the major post-launch editions to Angry Birds VR was the level editor, allowing you to create and share you own Angry Birds levels. The creation tools are mostly intuitive (but a duplicate attachment like the one in Gadgeteer would be a nice quality-of-life addition to speed up building) and allow you to build crazy structures with pigs abound. You can pick which 3 birds will be used in the level, along with their order, and then test it yourself before uploading the level online for others to play.

angry birds vr online level builder

You can browse other users’ levels online, with a system in place to rank ‘hot’ levels, based off the post-game thumbs up or down rating users can give a level after finishing it.

My one gripe with the custom level system is the absence of the 3-star rating of your performance found in all ‘official’ Angry Birds levels. It’s an understandable omission — each level in the official campaign probably has the threshold for each star rating calculated manually by the developers, and can’t be done automatically — but it’s nonetheless disappointing.  The goal simply becomes to destroy all the pigs, with no motivation to go back and do better on a second attempt.

Angry Birds VR Review – Final Verdict

Angry Birds VR is a truly fantastic, intuitive VR title. For younger VR players or fans of the Angry Birds franchise, it’s an absolute perfect fit. The move to VR works seamlessly, retaining the gameplay from the original series while adding in some new VR twists that give it just enough of an edge to be different.

While I found both campaigns to be pretty easy, I think it’s important to keep the target audience in mind. Angry Birds has always been a franchise for the younger demographic and for them, this is a perfect VR game. It’s got a mix of interesting campaigns, a fun aesthetic, some challenging levels and huge creative potential with the level editor.

The main campaign itself was already a massive win for Resolution Games, but the mountain of additional free content that has been added since release makes this an absolutely fantastic package. This is a VR game that is easy to pick up and hard to put down, even if you’re an absolute beginner. Don’t sleep on it.

4 STARS

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For more on how we arrived at this score, see our review guidelines. What did you make of our Angry Birds VR review? Let us know in the comments below!

UploadVR Review Scale

How to Watch the Super Bowl in VR With Friends for Free

Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s Super Bowl is set to be very different. If you have a VR headset though, you can still host that Super Bowl Sunday party with your buddies while staying safe at home. Here’s how you can watch the Super Bowl in VR for free with with your friends using the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, and all SteamVR-compatible headsets.

There won’t be any 360 immersive video options to watch the game like in years past, however you can leverage VR to watch the normal TV broadcast of game in a huge virtual theater where you’re sitting right next to your VR headset-owning pals.

For this method to work you just need two things:

1. At least one PC user with access to a stream of the Super Bowl on their computer (CBS will stream the Super Bowl for free without any subscription at CBSSports.com).

2. A headset that supports the Bigscreen app (free).

Bigscreen is a cross-platform VR app that lets you and multiple friends get together in a virtual reality personal theater where you can stream your computer’s desktop screen onto a huge virtual screen that everyone can see.

Image courtesy Bigscreen

Bigscreen is free and available on Steam (supporting Vive, Rift, and WMR), Oculus (supporting Rift, Quest), and WMR (supporting Windows VR headsets). Luckily, Bigscreen is also cross-play between all of these headsets, so even if your friends have different headsets you should have no problem watching together (note that Bigscreen unfortunately doesn’t support PSVR).

Once everyone who will join your social viewing of the Super Bowl in VR has downloaded the Bigscreen app on their headsets, the rest is pretty easy.

How to Watch the Super Bowl in VR With Friends using Bigscreen

Note: Thanks to its 100+ streaming channels, the app also provides public access to CBS Sports. however it’s a public room so it may not be best for party viewing. Until Bigscreen makes streaming TV available in private rooms, we’re suggesting the following tips for now:

1. Select someone in your group with access to the Super Bowl stream on their PC to be the host (it will be easiest if the host is also using a VR headset on their PC, but if no one in your group is using a PC VR headset, you can still stream your PC’s view into mobile headsets by following these instructions). Ideally your host will be whomever has the best bandwidth so that guests will see decent quality when streaming the Super Bowl in VR (easily check your bandwidth here).

2. Have the host launch the Bigscreen app and select the ‘Create a Room’ button under the ‘Browse Multiplayer Rooms’ tab (house icon). Give the room a name (select ‘Big Room’ if you plan to have more than four friends watching). Set the room to Private, unless you are open to strangers joining your viewing.

3. Once the room is created, click the ‘Invite Your Friends’ button and copy the Room ID and share with guests who will join the viewing (the Room ID looks like this: room-uqaebpj4). Guests will enter this Room ID into their Bigscreen apps to join your session once it has been created.

4. Now the host should put on their VR headset and use their floating desktop screen to pull up the Super Bowl stream on their computer. Once the stream is playing, open the Bigscreen interface and click ‘Display on the Big Screen’ (this will now show your monitor to everyone in the room).

5. Click the Desktop Audio button (speaker icon) to allow guests to hear the stream audio. (if you or your guests are hearing echoing audio, check this support page)

6. Kick back and enjoy watching the Super Bowl in VR with your friends in a multiplayer personal theater.

Tips for maximizing your social Super Bowl in VR viewing experience:

  • Any stream will work: This method will work with any Super Bowl stream, whether it’s the official stream through CBS in a browser, or another stream through a TV provider’s PC app. As long as the host can get a video of the game to show on their monitor, you’ll be able to stream the video into Bigscreen for friends to see.
  • Test ahead of time: It’ll take you a few minutes at least to find your way around Bigscreen. Don’t risk missing the kickoff, be sure to test ahead of time to iron out any issues.
  • Move your screen: When you first get into Bigscreen, anyone on PC will have a small screen floating in front of them which is sometimes in the way. Using your controller you can point to the screen and drag it out of the way, or use the ‘Customize your screen’ tab (monitor icon) on the Bigscreen interface to make further adjustments.
  • Pick the ideal viewing environment: Bigscreen offers a range of environments from a modern living room with a projector screen to a huge movie theater cinema. Use the ‘Choose an environment’ tab (world icon) to pick the one that suits you.
  • Bandwidth = quality: The more people in the room, the more upload bandwidth the host will need to ensure guests are seeing good quality video in their headset. If guests are complaining that quality is low, the host can adjust the streaming quality to reduce bandwidth. In Bigscreen, use the Settings tab (gear icon) and Multiplayer menu turn down the ‘Video Stream Resolution’ option until guests are consistently seeing smooth video. As a last resort, consider changing the room environment to any of the environments with the green leaf icon, which reduces the performance demands on the host PC.

Update (February 2nd, 2021): Included all supported platforms and additional links for livestreams.

The post How to Watch the Super Bowl in VR With Friends for Free appeared first on Road to VR.

Land Of Amara: How This Farming Sim Aims To Plant The Seed To Be Like Stardew Valley VR

In this feature we investigate how Paw Stamp Studio aims to recreate the simple farming pleasures of Stardew Valley in VR with their in-development game, Land of Amara.

Note: This game has been in development for several years and has undergone significant changes. The images and videos embedded in this article may not represent the game’s final version.

Land of Amara

Developing a game is a lot like farmwork. At least, that’s what Finn Pinkenburg discovered when he created Paw Stamp Studio and started his debut game, the VR farm simulator Land of Amara. It’s based on Pinkenburg’s love of games such as Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, but like with starting a new game of Stardew Valley, Pinkenburg quickly realized the magnitude of the task ahead of him.

“I changed or completely reworked the project a lot of times and changed direction because I realized things weren’t working the way I wanted them to or the project wasn’t scalable,” Pinkenburg said. “That’s because I learned [game] development while doing it and made a lot of mistakes (and still am making quite a lot of mistakes). But it’s becoming better and better.”

Before founding Paw Stamp Studio Pinkenburg worked as a level designer for Quantum Frog Software in Hamburg, Germany. He became interested in programming after a while, which opened a new door for him.

 

land of amara giant hand

“I realized I’d like to make something on my own because it’s totally a different thing when you do something for other people’s ideas instead of pursuing your own vision,” Pinkenburg said.

That vision was rooted in VR almost from the beginning. Pinkenburg first started tinkering with various test builds on PC, starting with an AI-controlled sheep. Shortly after that the seed for his idea sprouted and he purchased his first VR set, the Oculus Rift DK2, just to see how challenging VR development was.

The ease of creating a scene and, moreover, experiencing what Pinkenburg calls “real 3D” convinced him it was time to nurture his project in earnest.

“It was super easy,” Pinkenburg said of his first small VR development attempts. “You basically only had to exchange the camera rig to see everything in 3D. When I saw the sheep in front of me in 3D, I was blown away. It’s hard to describe. That’s when I decided to start Land of Amara and haven’t stopped since.”

Despite his newfound determination, Land of Amara was still very much a vulnerable seedling at that point.

“The project didn’t start with a vision of what it should become,” Pinkenburg said. “The only thing that was there was my experience playing games I always loved, like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon. I had a goal to do something similar, but because I wasn’t aware I wanted to make my vision a fully playable game.”

He started a Land of Amara Patreon account in August 2018 to gauge interest in the project. The positive fan response — which Pinkenburg attributes to the absence of AAA developers in VR — encouraged him to continue, and in 2019, he brought a friend on board to help with design so he could handle programming. That’s when the difficulties started.

Like planning a new field, figuring out Land of Amara’s foundational features became Pinkenburg’s first challenge.

“I learned you can’t just go for things, since everything is a separate system on its own,” he said. 

The first few builds released, including 2018’s playable demo, focused on testing prototypes and contained no actual gameplay systems. The latest playable version, released December 20, 2020, is the first with recognizable farming gameplay loops and a host of additional improvements, such as a tutorial system, new scenes, and a stamina system. It’s also laying the groundwork for relationships with NPCs through a new gift-giving mechanic. Additional systems leading to deeper relationships are still a ways off, though, since they aren’t as crucial for shaping the core experience.

stardew valley screenshot
Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley VR Ambitions

One thing Pinkenburg said he loves most about farm-sim games and wants to focus on is how, if designed well, they make simple grinding tasks feel worthwhile.       

“I always felt Stardew Valley has a good balance between grinding and not giving you the feel it was grinding, when in the end, everything is grinding,” he said. “Relationships are a grinding system because of how you approach the townspeople every day. But it doesn’t feel like it because the end goal is a good way of making the grind feel rewarding. The same is true for other tasks like feeding the animals.”

Skill-based activities form another important element Pinkenburg wants to include, and he used Stardew Valley’s fishing as an example. While you can buy upgrades to make fishing easier, skill and learning the system ultimately determine success.

“You cannot lose the skill,” he said. “You gain it and always have it. So even if you start a new Stardew Valley game, you’re still good at fishing.”

Though he has a few physics-related ideas in mind, Pinkenburg said he’s not sure what kind of skill-based mechanics he wants for Land of Amara just yet. 

However, adding gameplay elements with such evident similarities to existing games presents another challenge: balancing the heritage crops with the new hybrids. While Pinkenburg said he believes familiar mechanics feel fresh in VR just because players have to use them differently, he still isn’t satisfied with grafting other ideas onto Land of Amara.

“I don’t like copying things.I initially tried too hard to be different [with Land of Amara], and that caused my development progress to stop in some ways,” Pinkenburg said. “But I realized it’s way too hard to learn [game development] and re-invent the wheel at the same time. I think it’s pretty much impossible not to copy something from other games anyway.”

land of amara floating island

Pinkenburg used fishing as an example again. Land of Amara’s current fishing mode has players casting their line into the clouds beneath their island, but it’s mechanically similar to Stardew Valley’s fishing. Players use their hands to reel the line in and try to keep it in the sweet spot long enough to catch the fish. 

It’s good enough — for now. Pinkenburg said he wants Land of Amara’s mechanics to stand out for more than just using VR physics and plans on overhauling them in future builds.

Speaking of VR mechanics, Pinkenburg ran into a bit of a quandary shortly after starting Land of Amara’s development, one that had far-reaching effects.

One thing Pinkenburg appreciates about VR is how it removes the extra interface between player and game. 

“There was always something in between with other games, like a controller or keyboard, that converted actions,” he said. “VR doesn’t have that restriction, so the brain directly understands how things work because we know how to use our hands and how throwing works or how to chop a tree. That’s a huge difference, this instant transition into the game with your bare hands.”

That’s all well and good, but Pinkenburg soon realized it doesn’t make for a relaxing farming experience.

“I realized there are only a VR few games where you can just sit in your chair and chill while playing,” he said. “Imagine a game like Stardew Valley you sometimes play for hours in a row, and you have to move all the time. That would be way too exhausting. You should be able to play the game without doing anything physically, just sit in your chair and press one button again and again and get in this brain AFK mode.”

Pinkenburg took a four-month break from active updates earlier in 2020 to develop a solution to the problem, one that transformed both how he approaches Land of Amara and how players will experience it.

land of amara axe toolInstead of using a first-person approach with physics-based controls built in, Land of Amara now lets players swap between first and third person at will. First person uses movement and motion controls, while in third person players see their farmer and move them around with controls, just like Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon.

He said he’s confident Land of Amara’s graphics and VR’s real 3D will keep players immersed, even when playing in third person, and perhaps even more so because they can appreciate the music and other effects even more.

Pinkenburg has a few ideas in mind for Land of Amara’s music that he thinks will likely raise some eyebrows. Stardew Valley uses a blend of retro and synth, while Harvest Moon gets by with charming, bucolic tunes for each season. He plans on Land of Amara’s farmers handling their daily routine accompanied by a specific kind of hip hop.

“I listen to a lot of lo-fi music when programming, and I discovered lo-fi is quite fitting,” he said. “So I put in some low-fi tracks which in some way is uncommon. The bass in lo-fi hip hop is not really something I know from most other farming games. I’m interested to see people’s reactions when they hear hip hop lo-fi in the latest version.”

Pinkenburg knows lo-fi hip hop won’t match everyone’s tastes, though, and added a radio system in the most recent version so players can import their own downloads to the game for a custom soundtrack.


To keep up with Land of Amara’s development, consider pledging to the Patreon.