Oculus VR

Rock Band VR review: It’s neat, but it’s not a breakthrough experience

In Rock Band, you pretend to be your favorite music group. In Rock Band VR, you pretend to be a cover band that doesn’t quite get the songs right.

Rock Band VR may be more of a fundamentally different experience than what you’d expect from a Rock Band game. Good virtual reality games don’t just tack VR onto an existing design. They are built specifically for VR, so to a point Harmonix Music Systems and Oculus Studios had no choice but to make Rock Band VR a fundamentally different experience.

A glorified port wouldn’t cut it.

While some of these necessary changes undercut the illusion of being a rock star, there are enough elements carried over from the main Rock Band games that fans of the franchise ought be satisfied with Rock Band VR and find a game that will become a core element of their Oculus Touch lineup.

Above: Bass player Maddy (left) and drummer Wes (right) hanging out in the band clubhouse.

What you’ll like

How to be a VR rock star

In the main Rock Band games, the camera is mostly set behind the audience, looking out at the stage. Rock Band VR flips the camera to the first-person perspective of a guitarist (you) looking out at the crowd and the venue.

Derek, Maddy, and Wes (the other three members of your band) are featured in brief backstage cutscenes where they argue about who wrecked the band’s van, what costumes they’re supposed to be wearing for a Halloween show, and whether or not to capture the goat that another band left behind. The story elements are short and endearing.

Once you hit the stage, you see how Rock Band differs in VR from its past incarnations. Rather than matching notes that scroll down a vertical track, you follow a horizontally scrolling “song map” that provides cues for playing chords, not notes. For the most part you play the chords free-form, earning points for repeating patterns of chords that you make up as you go along. You also earn points by following chord prompts that ensure you’re in the correct key and making the most appropriate sound for that part of the song.

Where the main Rock Band games are about precision, its VR cousin gives the player leeway in how to perform the chords. A two-fret chord requires you to hold down two side-by-side frets. Which frets doesn’t matter, which gives you four different fret positions you can use for a two-fret chord. A three-fret chord has three different positions you can use, and so on.

Focusing on chords versus notes is a smart accommodation for VR. In the main Rock Band games, you can glance down at the neck of your guitar and see where your fingers are positioned, which comes in handy if you need to move them quickly and aren’t good enough to do so purely by touch.

You obviously can’t see your fingers in Rock Band VR, and that might make it difficult for new players to be precise. A classic mode is included with Rock Band VR almost as though Harmonix and Oculus wanted to prove a point about why the changes to the traditional Rock Band formula were required in order to make for a satisfying VR experience. I only played a few songs in classic mode because it was so dissatisfying when presented in VR.

Above: You can change positions around the stage, in this case jamming next to Wes, the band’s drummer.

Rock Band VR uses motion to sell the illusion

Successful VR design also depends on how well players are allowed to project themselves into the virtual space. Having your hands tied to a guitar means no hand-tracking, and hand-tracking has become a quintessential element by which VR developers help fool the brain…

Oculus is pumping up support for its developer site

Facebook wants to get better at helping its Oculus Rift developers.

The virtual reality division of the social-networking behemoth announced today that it has collaborated with its development community to find out what resources it needs to provide to empower creativity in the people making VR experiences. In a blog post, Oculus explained that it has upgraded its online portal for game makers in a number of key ways. This comes as a direct result of polling various studios and independent developers on what they want.

“We recently conducted a global developer survey. The purpose of the survey was to better understand how we can improve your VR experience as a developer,” reads the Oculus blog. “We received a lot of valuable and actionable feedback. The main themes of which included [calls to] improve the developer site, to improve documentation, and to provide more communication and support.”

Oculus is putting those changes…

Microsoft insists on calling AR and VR ‘Mixed’ Reality. Maybe we should too.

Microsoft insists on calling AR and VR ‘Mixed’ Reality. Maybe we should too.

Back in 2015, when the the world was just beginning to pay serious attention to virtual reality, Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing HoloLens. Instead of surrounding you with virtual imagery – like Oculus and every other VR company – HoloLens brought the digital world into the real. To date, it remains one of the coolest things Microsoft has ever made.

But along with HoloLens came Mixed Reality, a term that seemed to confuse pretty much everyone not working in Redmond. ‘Virtual’ and ‘augmented’ reality were the established lingo, and HoloLens seemed to be just a fancy form of the latter. ‘Mixed’ reality reeked of marketing buzzword, it sounded lame, and so I avoided it as much as possible.

Now I’m starting to budge. In the last two years – culminating in this week’s Build conference – Microsoft has laid out a foundation for its grand scheme to fundamentally change how we interact with our devices. Knowing why Microsoft so stubbornly adheres to mixed reality is crucial to understanding how it plans to get there.

HoloLens was just the start.

Mixed Reality includes AR, VR, and beyond

Over the past few months, I’ve had several discussions about mixed reality with Greg Sullivan, Director of Communications for Windows and Devices at Microsoft. In each, he’s repeatedly drilled into my head the idea that mixed reality is a spectrum – one that encompasses VR, AR, and everything in-between. In fact, the term has academic origins that long predates modern virtual experiences.

So no, you’re not wrong to call HoloLens an AR headset, it’s just that AR is but one part of the mixed reality spectrum. The term also encompasses a wealth of other device categories:

  • Fully immersive VR headsets like Rift, Vive, and Microsoft’s offerings coming later this year.
  • Camera-based AR, like Snapchat’s funky masks or games like Pokemon Go.
  • Augmented virtuality experiences, whereby real-world elements are brought into a virtual experience.
  • Potential future devices, that can do the best of both worlds, changing between being opaque like Rift, or transparent like HoloLens.

While HoloLens happens to be an AR device, Microsoft would be doing itself a disservice to limit its scope to that bit of spectrum. HoloLens was the first device in the Windows Mixed Reality platform, which seeks to enable immersive experiences in all the above form factors.

But why go with HoloLens first? After all, VR headsets seemed to have more immediate consumer applications for things like gaming, and are a lot less expensive to produce than HoloLens.

According to Sullivan, Microsoft wanted to start by solving the more difficult problem. VR headsets have the luxury of obscuring the real world. You can create more interesting experiences with some environmental interaction, but VR can be fun even while your feet are stationary.

HoloLens, on the other hand, required an understanding of the environment around the user. It was a deeper problem to solve, but one that would reap rewards; Sullivan says Microsoft used what it learned from HoloLens to create affordable VR headsets that beat the competition to the punch with inside-out tracking.

That means that, unlike Oculus and Vive, Microsoft’s partner VR headsets can map your movements in the real world without the need for messy external sensors. I’ve spent a fair amount with the…

AR/VR Weekly: Don’t doubt virtual reality

Virtual reality is here to stay — shove your doubts aside.

Last year, we saw a couple of mood shifts on the VR scene. It was up — meteoric, really — as consumer solutions rolled out from HTC, Oculus, and Sony. Games and other entertainment experiences came out on a steady drumbeat, and some like Owlchemy Labs’ Job Simulator found fame and fortune.

But VR entered a “trough of disillusionment” hit at the end of the year, spilling over into early 2017. How’s it going now? GamesBeat turned to Dennis Scimecca, who’s been covering the emerging VR game industry, to dive deep into the scene at the recent Game Developers Conference. In his interviews and reports from numerous sessions, we find an industry that’s looking ahead and, instead of trying to find where it fits, it’s looking for how to grow into its own thing — and this, it appears, will rest on the people making games and experiences for VR.

One of my favorite parts of this how even the best designers are still learning how to move VR development forward. Carrie Witt of Owlchemy said that “Believability is more important than fidelity,” while others talked about how they’re moving forward on, well, movement.

The VR scene remains vibrant. And now, the people making games are full of confidence. And so are we.

–Jason Wilson, GamesBeat managing editor

P.S. Last week’s discussion at GamesBeat Summit about the future of augmented reality.

From GamesBeat

Uncorporeal Systems, a maker of virtual and augmented reality software, and Radiant Images, a digital cinema innovator and rental house, have partnered to enable Hollywood companies to create VR and AR experiences. Radiant Images will provide studio services and production support that’s paired with Uncorporeal’s cloud software. The partnership will initially focus on deploying Uncorporeal’s […]

Nvidia is expanding the capabilities of its VRworks toolkit to streamline the development process. The tech company revealed its new VRWorks audio and 360-degree video software development kits today. As part of the company’s presence at the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, Nvidia showed off how the VRWorks Audio SDK can do real-time calculations […]

Maker Pro News: Printing Houses, Flying Cars, and More

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“Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections… like giant Legos.” —Bloomberg

Is VR Still a Maker Pro Market?

Facebook rolled out a beta this week of its social virtual reality app, Facebook Spaces, in the first major crossover between the web giant’s eponymous social properties and its Oculus (@oculus) acquisition. The takeaway for maker pros: it’s as unclear as ever whether the future of VR — assuming it has one — will be typified by mega-corps like Facebook or by the DIY tinkerers we highlighted in Make: Volume 52.

The irony, of course, is that Oculus itself was a maker pro startup, until it took a $2 billion buyout from Facebook. Founder Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey), who left the company in the wake of the sale, literally hacked together his first prototype in his parents’ garage.

Needless to say, what really excited us this week was the news that mixed-reality hardware startup Avegant (@avegant) closed a $13.7 million investment to further develop its elegant, next-generation headset.

Focus on Factories

Factories that build houses on an assembly line, like automobiles, have been driving the Chinese construction industry for years. Get takes from both Blueprint Robotics (@BlueprintRoboUS) and Ritz-Craft Corp (@Ritz_Craft), a pair of manufacturers profiled by Bloomberg, in a fascinating read on how the trend is now catching on in the domestic market.

“Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections,” wrote Prashant Gopal (@mrgopal) and Heather Perlberg (@HeatherPerlberg), “which are transported on trucks, then laid down on foundations by cranes, like giant Legos.”

In textiles, Amazon won a patent this week for an on-demand clothing fabrication system. The maker pros at watchmaking startup Shinola (@Shinola) have been touting the company’s progress