‘Envelop’ Launches Open Beta of Immersive Windows Desktop Platform for Vive and Rift

Envelop, the virtual reality desktop platform for Windows, has launched as a public beta for anyone with a Vive or Rift to enjoy.

After announcing a $5.5 million Series A investment at the beginning of 2016, followed by a closed beta at the beginning of July, Envelop has now launched as an open beta for anyone to use their HTC Vive or Oculus Rift to turn their Windows computer into a VR desktop environment.

Envelop essentially takes your standard Windows desktop and blows it up into a sphere around you, allowing you to drag your usual windows and programs anywhere around you—as if you had a giant wrap-around monitor. In concept, it’s pretty much exactly what comes to mind for anyone envisioning the future of VR desktop computing.

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One particularly cool feature of Envelop is the ability to use a webcam to pipe a live view of your keyboard into the virtual desktop environment, making a huge dent in the can’t-see-my-keyboard-while-wearing-a-headset problem. Users can also change the visuals of the surrounding environment on the fly with the click of a button.

In the future, Envelop VR’s SDK will allow developers to extend existing applications out into the Envelop virtual environment, enabling a wide range of uses like on-the-fly data visualization, 3D product views, or even virtual real-estate tours loaded from a web listing.

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‘Wake Up’ is a Surreal, Immersive Vive Puzzler with Killer Sound Design

Wake Up from Austrian developers Black Cell is a new, surreal subversion of the traditional puzzle and exploration genres sporting some beautiful art direction and some arresting sound design.

Many’s the time I’ve waffled on about the importance of sound in VR (as have many others), but I’m here to do it again. Except this time, I’ve an example of how things should be done, in the form of new exploration puzzler Wake Up.

The premise for Wake Up is simple, if a little mysterious. Traverse a surreal dreamscape guided only by an elusive red butterfly, solving motion-controlled, room-scale puzzles and riddles as you go. That’s it! If that seems a little ‘lightweight’ compared with traditional, bloated triple-A gaming fayre, it is and that’s intentional. Black Cell are a small, independent game developer who say they’re focused on “new experiences with a focus on a great mood, through the use of carefully created audio and visual design.” To that end, Wake Up can be viewed as an experimental taste of what Black Cell might have up their creative sleeves – with a playtime of just 20-40 mins.

The title has more than a whiff of one of my favourite VR experiences to date, La Peri from Innerspace VR. But, instead of an experience built around a mostly linear narrative, Wake Up‘s focus errs more towards interactive gameplay than Innerspace VR’s virtual reality ballet, at the same time it attempts to build an immersive, evocative world and does so largely through the use of sound. Wake Up features a pulsating, ambient background theme overlaid with bright directional effects and booming situational and incidental effects that do a great job of enveloping the player – even before you take into account the effective, stark and minimalist visuals.

The title is built for the HTC Vive only at present and demonstrates that emerging collection of titles that really only work in VR and which are difficult to categorise in a more traditional gaming context. What’s more, its available for free via Steam, a price hard to argue with. I look forward to more immersive audio visual experiments from Black Cell in the future.

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‘Aerofly FS2′ Brings Ultra Realistic Flight Simulation to Rift and Vive

Aerofly from developers IPACS is a flight simulator which aims to bring realistic visuals to the VR-enabled civilian flight-sim genre, and it looks stunning.

One interesting side effect of virtual reality and its early adoption by the games industry is the chance to give me a reason to return to a genre that previously held no interest to me. With the promise of placing you inside the game-world, titles which left me cold when framed by a flat screen, can suddenly make me sit up and take interest. Flight simulators is one of those genres.

But with VR, the prospect of being sat inside that cockpit, feeling like I was present at the controls of a multi-million dollar aircraft, the attention to the minutiae of recreating that mechanical realism of flight seems a whole lot more appealing.

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Aerofly FS2 is a flight sim which aims to give you the chance to take control of all manner of commercial and civilian aircraft from twin engine jet airliners to one man, engine-less gliders and to let you fly them all over realistically recreated terrain and landmarks. It’s available via Steam’s Early Access platform right and, most importantly, it has early support for both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

Early feedback from the game’s supporters on Steam has been very good, with comparisons to seminal examples of the genre like FSX and X-Plane being made. The addition of VR however seems to have elevated the title, despite its pre-release stage of development, to must-have status for enthusiasts. And it certainly has alluring visuals to immerse yourself in, with staggeringly detailed aircraft models and some photo-realistic terrain.

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Currently 16 aircraft come as part of the base package with further paid DLC adding additional high resolution terrain packs for Switzerland. What’s more, the game’s visuals pack a real punch, with height mapped geographic features and modelled structures, and some 150 airports from the bundled ‘map’, letting you gawp at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island from the air.

Aerofly FS2 joins the well respected DCS (Digital Combat Simulator) from Eagle Dynamics in a relatively sparsely populated market of VR enabled flight simulators right now, and it seems to be shaping up nicely. Check it out on Steam here.

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