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Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR Review

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is a new VR experience located in Downtown Disney. We were able to grab tickets on pre-sale last year before they sold out, and this morning, after months of waiting, was our turn to don the suits, helmets, and blasters and recover the Imperial intelligence.

Here's a quick story synopsis from the official Secrets of the Empire website:

Under the orders of the budding rebellion, your team will travel to the molten planet of Mustafar. Your mission is to recover Imperial intelligence vital to the rebellion’s survival. Alongside the pragmatic droid K-2S0, your team must navigate through an enemy facility walking into danger at every turn. Disguised as stormtroopers, grab your blaster, solve puzzles, and fight giant lava monsters in an effort to fulfill your team's orders.
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3

OrbusVR Shows How Far VR MMOs Still Have to Go

The Oculus blog released a preview interview of OrbusVR which, as far as I know, is one of if not the first real attempt at making a VR MMORPG.

It looks... rough. I think the style is nice, though simplistic, but the world they've shown is very "landscapey" and empty. 

Combat looks a bit clunky -- as does most of the gameplay -- and everything feels very low-budget-indie. It suffers from looking like art assets were sloppily placed in a world built as more of a tech demo.

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17

This is Why I Can’t Get Into VR Right Now

There are plenty of small reasons why VR bugs me, but none of them really matter when compared to the biggest reason of all.

VR tech is evolving too quickly.

Right now we starting to see a surge in VR. Suddenly it went from being that gimmick that 12 people owned to being super hypy and all over CES. Now it's growing even more as VIVE announces their "Pro" headset... as if the $600+ price tag of the non-pro wasn't discouraging. 

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7

Mainstream VR is Still So Far Away

Despite the best efforts of developers and big media companies, VR is still so far out of touch with mainstream gaming.

Despite offering neat ‘enhancements’ to certain aspects of gaming, VR is a limiter, not an expander. By that I mean every time you place the VR headset upon your head and take hold of those controllers you aren’t giving yourself more options, but rather taking them away. You lose the input of a mouse and keyboard, which in many ways gives you more control in a world when VR is limited to the length of their USB tethering overlord.

Movement and interaction, despite being seriously disguised by the ‘reaching out of touching’ phenom, are greatly hindered. Graphical quality and how a game looks are also hindered. Instead of 1080p (or at we at 4k now?) crystal clear gorgeous refresh rates and FPS quality, we’re looking through a mask at a somewhat grainy filter while trying not to strain our necks from the weight of the device. And if you’re among the 6 out of 10 people in the developed world who wear corrective lenses, you’re doubly effed.

The best game we’ve had for VR has been a Star Trek game. Although fun for a sitting simulator, the depth and scope of the game were completely experienced within hours and the longevity waned fast.

That said, the media companies keep trying.

Facebook (or was it Oculus? Zuckerberg?) announced today that Respawn Entertainment( Titanfall dev) is working on an exclusive VR shooter that will launch in 2019. I chuckled. I’m sure thousands will buy it.

Not only is that potentially 2+ years away still, but for a ‘realistic’ shooter to succeed at all on a virtual platform, we’re going to have to see huge improvements to the tech. Sadly, we’re inching closer to the 3D TV and movie theater experience with these VR gimmicks — a novelty, and inferior.

I would rather see other technologies develop that allow us to interact more with our games — a true virtual reality, and not a simulated one. I’m not talking how we SEE things, but how we INTERACT with things — or rather, how they interest with us.

I would rather interface with games the same way (mouse/keyboard/controller) but be able to speak to the game or have characters in the game read my facial expressions measured by a camera than put on a headset and see the world differently. Intelligent NPCs and AI matter more to me than reaching out and pretending to touch something.

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Star Trek Bridge Crew Review

Alright guys, here we go... boldly where no Keen has gone before: Virtual Reality.

Star Trek Bridge Crew is a VR title for PC and PS3 that released on May 30, 2017. You play using a VR system compatible with your platform of choice. For PC it's the Vive or Rift, and PS3 it's obviously the PSVR.

Graev was kind enough to hand off his Vive to me since he now owns a PSVR. After much trial and tribulation, I finally got my Vive to work.

I went into this with a few preconceived ideas:

  1. Star Trek is always awesome
  2. VR is gimmicky
  3. Bridge Crew would be a gimmicky tech simulator

The Gist

In Bridge Crew you take control of one of these key positions on the bridge:

  • Captain - Gives orders, receives objectives, sees the overall big picture
  • Helm - Controls the movement of the ship
  • Tactical - Weapons, sensors, and scanning
  • Engineering - Controls power to the ship and all of the stations, and repairs ship

​For most of the game you're crewing the USS Aegis (NX-1787), which is a prototype vessel from the Kelvin Timeline. For the uninitiated, that's the timeline created by the newer movies. I like to call it the 'J.J. Abrams ruined Star Trek timeline.'

The Aegis is trying to find a planet for the Vulcans to resettle after the loss of their planet in Star Trek (2009). You can either play through these missions or run on-going missions which are basically just one and out randomized missions.

​Fulfilling Roles & Gameplay

Overall gameplay itself is pretty dynamic depending on your mission and who you have on your crew. A good player at the con or in tactical makes a big difference. Perhaps even more important is how well everyone listens to the captain.

Objectives come in to the captain, and the captain gets the big picture of the mission and has the task of relaying those orders to the rest of the crew.

Each mission seems to have a theme: Attack, defend, assist, explore, etc.  The "go here and scan this" missions can get a little old after the novelty of "wow I'm a crew on a star ship!" effect wears off.

The game really shines when things get hectic. For example, when three Klingdon Birds of Pray decloak and start bombarding you. A solid crew will keep cool and play their roles.

There's a moderate degree of being 'good' at your role, but it all mostly comes down to teamwork.​

Missions Types & Missed Opportunities

There are type types of missions: Story and On-Going Missions. The "Story" missions are the same every time and follow you through a narrative whereas the "on-going missions" are one-and-out semi-randomized encounters where you complete one of the aforementioned types of missions.

I think they missed a huge opportunity to make "on-going" missions truly that: On-going. There's nothing "on-going" about them.

I would have preferred a mode where you have a static crew and a static ship that's flying around a sandbox galaxy. Having to dock at space stations for fuel and armaments, relying on survival, etc. could have been neat.​

Roleplaying at its Finest

What I like most about Bridge Crew is the roleplay. My first time playing with Graev we immediately fell naturally into the "aye Captain!" and "Helm, set a course" type lingo. We're both such diehard fans of the series (watched them all so many times we lost count) that it felt second nature.

Playing with random people we never met before presented a little bit of hesitation. I was embarrassed at first to go all out roleplay... would they judge me? Would they think I'm stupid for being so in-character?​

Nope! Everyone seems super into it. Some people are naturally better than others. Some people bring in the super casual "okay where are we going?" rather than "orders, Sir?" stuff. ​I'm not roleplay-elite or anything, but I do like people to stay in character. I think for a VR game it sorta relies on that.

The worst experiences are when you get into a game with a little kid who is clearly 8 and doesn't understand what to do. He just flails his arms about and yells in the mic and fires torpedoes at everything. Equally bad are the dude bros playing music in the background who won't take orders.​

How's the VR?

The VR tech functions pretty well. I've played a few VR games now and I think this one performs about equal to the rest.

I'm using the HTC Vive which has comfortable controls that naturally become virtual 'hands'. I have the ability to make a fist or have 1 finger awkwardly pointing -- neither of which matter because once the virtual hand is near the console it automatically responds and shapes as it should to interact with the controls.

There's still a degree of jankyness. Occasionally a character's arms will spaz out and flail all over the place -- happens to me often. For me this is a case of my sensors being poorly placed or my chair scooted too far out of the "playable area".

You get to play this one sitting down (thank you!) so there's only a small degree of movement.

Being able to turn your chair around on the bridge is awesome. I can look back at the captain, he can wave, etc. You can see everyone moving as they would if they were there. The immersion is definitely top notch.​

I often criticize VR for being gimmicky. Nothing here has changed my mind. The scope of what you can do is increase visually in some ways thanks to VR, but in other ways restricted because you're bound to a box and arm movement.​

Conclusion -- Worth It?

Star Trek Bridge Crew is a fun game, and a solid VR experience.​ I can happily say it's better than I expected it to be.

If you already have a VR system and would even be mildly interested in Star Trek, then I say get it. I would definitely buy it again.

Where I struggle is whether or not the title is worth the investment in a VR system. I think that will depend on your financial readiness to make a $500+ purchase. Would I go buy a full system just for this? Probably not. If you're on the fence to go VR for this and much more, then I think ​you can confidently take the plunge. 

Star Trek Bridge Crew ticks all of the boxes for me.

13

SteamVR & Vive Errors 306, 307, 405

Bit of a grumbly post this morning.

Graev just got the Playstation VR and gifted me his HTC Vive — which you may recall I blogged about some time ago. I was super excited to bring it home and get it all working so that Graev and I could play Star Trek Bridge Crew.

I brought it home, hooked it all up the same way we hooked it up at Graev’s place, and was met with brutal disappointment. It wasn’t working.

“Error: SharedIPC Compositor Invalid Connect Response (307)”

That’s the error I was receiving in SteamVR.

Everything was green. All items were detected: headset, both hand controllers, both sensors. Yet for some reason I was getting the 307 error on Steam, and in the SteamVR little window in the bottom center I had a “A key component of SteamVR isn’t working (306).”

I proceeded to spend the next 3 hours unplugging and replugging, rebooting, resetting, uninstalling, reinstalling, swapping cables. Nothing.

Brutal!

Fast forward to the next evening. I have a long day 12 hour work day and finally have time to play so I cross my fingers and run into all of the same errors.

This time Graev recommends I try putting SteamVR into beta mode. Done.

Now I get error 405 – Compositor can’t create graphical device. For hours it appeared I was the only one on the planet getting these errors and that nothing was going to fix my problem. Then 12 hours ago (aka last night when I was in the thick of things) it looks like another poor soul has my same issue.

I’m going to try doing display port to hdmi for my monitor and see if hdmi to the link box fixes my issue. If that still yields no success, I’ll be giving the Vive back to Graev and giving up. I can’t waste 3 precious nights of gaming time futsing around with gimmicky VR crap that doesn’t work right out of the box.

Seriously, it’s 2017 and you release a product that doesn’t work out of the box? As a consumer, I have no patience for this type of experience — strike that, I have 3 days worth of patience and now a whole ton of bad will.

Update: Fixed for Vive and SteamVR errors 305, 306, and 405!

I tried swapping cables and having my monior being on the display port with my Vive Linkbox using hdmi but that didn’t work. You can see a bunch of my solutions above. None of those worked.

What ultimately worked and solved my issues with the Vive error 306, 306, and 405 was rolling back my Nvidia drivers. Huh? Wtf? I know. That’s exactly what I thought.

I rolled my drivers back to version 381.89. I did a clean installation of my drivers. Just to be safe I went to the standard windows program removal and removed the drivers there. Then I used the install utility (what I linked) to do a “clean installation” of the 381.89 drivers. I left the Nvidia experience and audio drivers alone but clean installed the 3d and other drivers back to 381.89 or whatever version came with these older drivers.

Then I restarted my computer. While off, I unplugged all of the cables for the Vive.

I booted the computer back up and plugged my cables into the linkbox in the following order (I have no idea if it matters): USB, power cable, HDMI (or mini display port — I tried both ultimately and they both work).

Then I plugged in the Vive headset in the same order.

I booted up Steam, then SteamVR.

To my complete shock, it freaking worked.

And it wasn’t even the latest Nvidia drivers causing the issues. I had a few versions BEFORE the latest version. It didn’t work with those, it didn’t work with the newest. I only worked when I used Nvidia drivers 381.89. Also, note that I am using the BETA version of SteamVR that you can use by right clicking on SteamVR in your tools library and going to properties and enabling it there.

I hope this helps you solve your problem! May you struggle less than I did.

16

Hands on with the HTC Vive

So, Graev got an HTC Vive.

He was kind enough to let me spend some time playing around with it and enjoying my first real dedicated time spent with VR tech. I’ve always had a less-than-accepting attitude toward new tech. Most are always gimmicks. That has been my opinion of VR as well, but did my time spent with the HTC Vive change how I feel?

HTC Vive Room Setup

I had no idea that VR required this kind of setup. I assumed it must require some sort of spacial configuration, but it’s no joke. You need to set up sensors around your “play area” that are spaced out to define your area.

HTC Vive Defining a Play Area

 

Your play area can be pretty small and even oddly shaped. Graev’s setup leaves him a playable area that resembles an amoeba rather than a square or rectangle.

These sensors must be mounted, clipped, or otherwise positioned in opposite corners. That was the obnoxious part. They must be plugged in, so finding defined corners with plugs wasn’t easy.

You also have to do all of this within reasonable reach of your PC. Speaking of PC, Graev has the Nvidia 1070 which has 1 HDMI port. The headset takes up that spot meaning you can’t use a monitor unless you have a second HDMI port or a display port. So we went and bought an HDMI to Display Port adapter which actually worked flawlessly.

Configuring the HTC Vive

We ran into a few snags with configuring and calibrating the HTC Vive to work properly. We don’t know if it was a problem with the wand or the headsets, but occasionally they somewhat desync and there’s problems. We think we ironed out most of those.

Configuring the HTC Vive

We had to run the setup a few times to get the headset to visualize the playable space properly as well. That process involves standing in the room jumping through the hoops of aiming the hand devices, looking around, etc.

The HTC Vive Hardware

Spending $800, these things should feel amazing. Good news: They do. The controllers look a little weird, but are nicely balanced and ergonomic.

The headset is a little more hit or miss for us. Both of us wear glasses, and although they claim the HTC Vive works with glasses… we beg to differ. I actually had to take mine off to get the headset to fit well. Graev is truly blind without his glasses and has to wear the headset with less comfort to accommodate them.

The HTC Vive headset is heavy. After only 30 minutes of wearing it, I felt like my head was floating when I took it off — that same feeling you get when picking up your phone after lifting weights where you almost throw the thing because you don’t realize your own strength.

Both of us also complain about how the HTC Vive headset picture is grainy. After looking this up, that seems to be just how it is — it’s apparently even better now than it used to be. Some people like Graev say the image looks blurry, but I didn’t see that.

After playing for 10 minutes, I was at least happy that the graininess became less noticeable because my eyes adjusted.

There are a lot of tweaks and adjustments that can be done with nobs and things on the headset to adjust FoV. Graev is still looking for a way to adjust pupil distance.

The VR Experience

Playing with the “games” (Tech Demos) that come with it provides a glimpse at the Vive’s (and all VR’s) potential. The drawing thing was cool, but what sold me was this Star Wars experience…

I watched as the Millennium Falcon landed on top of me! R2 gave me a lightsaber and I deflected blaster shots back at storm troopers. Holy crap that was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. But then it was over. The whole thing took less than 5 minutes and it was done.

I think that’s going to be the story of VR, at least for now. Very little of the full “walk around the room” VR experiences will be true fully-fleshed-out games. As I initially though when trying out and commenting on VR, it’s going to mostly be about “experiences” that are limited to small areas.

The biggest reason is room size. That’s the hardest part about Star Trek’s holodeck… creating infinite space out of a finite area. You walk 3 feet and you smack into a wall (or in the HTC Vive’s case your headset tether reaches its limit).

But dang… if that’s not the coolest thing to experience, even if it’s limited to “games” that feel more like tech demos.

Games where you can sit or use the “Standing Room Only” feature are much more realistic. VR in general is definitely not for sitting. Even the “looking around” loses so much value if you can’t TURN AROUND and have the full 360′ experience.

To VR or not to VR

Graev’s HTC Vive has me tempted to pull the trigger. That initial “Woah cool” factor is strong…

I’m going to research the games out there with multiplayer, and look more into true “GAMES” that offer an experience beyond bite-sized experiences designed to feature VR. They may not exist yet, and that may mean I wait a bit before jumping fully onto the VR wagon.

6

Star Trek Bridge Crew

[su_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/romB8e5nMp8″ width=”700″]

You’ve probably seen my skepticism over this VR craze these past few months. I’m not a believer. I’m not sold on it. I think the price points and the gimmick levels are high—real high. BUT… how awesome is it that you can be on the bridge of a Star Trek ship?!

Seeing LeVar and the crew able to all play together like that made me want for nothing more than to throw on one of those gimmicky headsets and start looking around the room like a doofus too.  The nostalgia and the setting would drive me to buy one if nothing else.

star-trek-bridge-crew

Where I’m concerned about Star Trek Bridge Crew is in the details. Is it more than a button pressing simulator? Is it more than FTL with $600 goggles? I want more than simply simulating a few mini-games here. I want that experience of navigating a sandbox galaxy. I want to run into the Borg while delivering aid to a race of people on a planet I’ve never seen while trying not to violate the Prime Directive.

I can’t get my hopes up. I have to come back to reality. For this to really work you have to have four people in a room all with $600 goggles (AI playing ruins the experience). Totally unrealistic of me to expect more, but perhaps a fun social experience (for the 1% elite) nonetheless.

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