Eyes on the Horizon – Takeaways from Gamescom & GDC 2016
Once a year the beautiful city of Cologne, Germany, is overwhelmed by hordes of geeks & gamers. Every August thousands of game developers and hardware manufacturers present their latest and greatest to nearly half a million fans whom have travelled from around the world in what can be best described as a pilgrimage to witness what next year’s games industry will look like.
But GDC & Gamescom are not just about games, they are an opportunity to get a peek at what great developers from all industries and professions are working on both in terms of new hardware and software and of course this year the hottest technology was virtual reality. We at Glitch joined this year to experience the countless VR experiences and hardware to bring you the best ones that really made an impact on us;
Oculus took a very prominent position at Gamescom this year showing off its input solution the Oculus Touch which are releasing later this year. The Touch are a pair of lightweight hand devices that allow for intuitive and natural input into VR. We found them both super comfortable and offering excellent hand tracking. Although criticized for delaying their release it seems the move is paying off as the devices feel lighter, more comfortable and more ergonomic compared to the HTC Vive devices.
Sony’s PlaystationVR which is releasing in October of this year was being shown by both Sony and various software producers. Of all the VR hardware that is currently released or releasing there are very high expectations for Sony’s PlaystationVR as the company already has a user base of 40 million worldwide. Many analysts believe Sony’s VR solution will help project virtual reality as a technology towards mass consumer adoption over the next few years.
Mexican based Vivoxie were debuting their PowerClaw haptic feedback glove for virtual reality. The device allows the user to feel hot, cold, electrical and even soft & rough textures while wearing the glove opening up a new dimension of immersion in VR through the sense of touch. Although somewhat bulky it’s great to see hardware manufacturers pioneering into haptic devices which, like with audio, is a somewhat neglected aspect of the VR ecosystem.
Xsense Motion Capture Suit
Although there are several full motion capture suits already on the market Xsense offer their users a suit that can also act as a full body input solution. At the moment virtual reality input is constrained to movement of your head and your hands but very little else. Xsense boasts the ability to capture your entire body and can comfortablly track up to 4 full body suits in a single experience offering almost perfect real life body motion in a VR experience.
Star Trek Bridge Crew
Dozens of software producers were exhibiting their up & coming virtual reality applications from WB Studio’s BatmanVR through to Crytek’s Robinson’s Journey however the experience that got us most excited was Star Trek Bridge Commander. For any sci-fi fan this is a dream come true to join a team of four players who take different roles from captain to chief engineer in controlling a starship through perilous space. What was most exciting about this VR experience was the multi-user cooperative aspects, sitting next to a ‘team member’ who could be in another country and feeling their presence next to you as you work together on a common objective. Expect to see many more co-operative multi-user VR experiences in the very near future.
Cycling in VR
Cycling solutions for virtual reality were surprisingly popular with several manufacturers, startups and student teams presenting their own take on comfortable, affordable and fun ways of cycling in VR from simple blue tooth trackers you attach to the pedal to USB plugins that talk to your cycling machine. Many of these solutions seem to be aiming to get a market entry into fitness centres however although fun and fairly intuitive the problem of perspiration and heat build up behind the headset still remain a problem.
Training in VR
Although not a new application for virtual reality Gamescom was an opportunity to see the very wide spectrum of use cases for training. From driver training for forklift trucks to helping with training with autistic children VR is seeing an explosion of educational applications. Its still early days to predict which of these will stick and which will blow over as a passing fad but it cannot be denied the huge potential VR has in revolutionising the way we learn and retain information.
So if you have doubts that virtual reality won’t be seeing mass adoption I suggest you take a trip to GDC or Gamescom next year and see for yourself. We might bump into you there!