If you regularly follow geek culture, you’ve probably seen early versions of Dirk Loechel’s spaceship comparison chart, which shows the relative sizes of vehicles from science fiction games, movies and TV shows. Well, it’s finished — and it’s even more authoritative than the last time around. Get the full-size version and you’ll see Babylon 5‘s Vorlon Planet Killer, Mass Effect‘s Normandy and seemingly everything in between. The chart even includes a real vessel, the International Space Station — at 328 feet long, it seems downright puny next to its make-believe counterparts. Some story franchises have better representation than others (EVE is full of colossal ships), and you won’t see moon-sized spacecraft like Star Wars‘ Death Star, but it’s otherwise hard to imagine a more complete view of sci-fi transportation.
Source: Dirk Loechel (Deviantart)
With the PlayStation Now beta just opening to a larger chunk of the gaming population, you might be wondering how the streaming service came to Sony in the first place. Why did Gaikai drop its entire PC audience to join a console maker? Thankfully for you, Gaikai chief David Perry has just shed light on that transition in an interview with GameInformer. Simply put, streaming on computers was becoming a nightmare for Perry’s team before the 2012 acquisition. The sheer number of compatibility problems was “massively reducing” the number of titles Gaikai could support, and the software required increasingly elaborate tricks (such as image recognition) just to run at all. The company wanted to escape these headaches by going to a platform with standardized elements like controllers and copy protection. When Sony came knocking, it quickly became clear that the PlayStation was a good match — it solved many challenges in one fell swoop.
Perry is more than willing to talk about game streaming’s present and future as well. He notes that the PlayStation Now test run has been going smoothly, and that it exists primarily to give his crew freedom to experiment with new techniques before Now is ready for primetime. It won’t just be a matter of refinement in the future, though. Besides introducing social features like Share Play, Perry is hoping to expand device and game support; he has already promised streaming for older PlayStation releases. He’d ideally support “every game ever,” so long as the technology allowed it. In the long run, he also sees the cloud enabling software that isn’t possible when you’re limited by the processing power of a box in your living room. “You could just completely let [developers] go wild and free,” he says. That’s not likely to happen soon, but it’s good to know that streaming could improve the quality of the games you play, not just how you play them.
Making a pilgrimage to the Videogame History Museum has been tough so far; most of its collection is in storage, and what little you do see has been going on cross-country tours. Pretty soon, though, it will have a permanent public display. A Frisco, Texas community board has approved a deal to give the Museum a 10,400 square foot location inside the city’s Discovery Center by this April. That’s not gigantic — a little larger than a baseball diamond — but it means that you can easily revisit some of the consoles that defined your youth. This venue is just the start, for that matter. After launch, the founders hope to raise enough cash from corporate sponsors to get a far larger base of operations. While Frisco isn’t the easiest place to reach unless you live in the Dallas area, it sure beats hoping that the existing nomadic exhibit will eventually reach your ‘burg.
Filed under: Gaming
There was no shortage of VR headsets at the Tokyo Game Show this year — but that didn’t stop the lines forming endlessly over the weekend. Hidden, at least slightly, in Hall 8 was Cyberith, demonstrating their now successfully crowdfunded VR gaming mat, the Virtualizer. It pairs a second-generation Oculus Rift headset with three different sensor arrays, which, with the assistance of a low-friction mat and some “rental socks” from the Cyberith team, we got to test it out. How does it work and (most importantly) when can the rest of you play it? Well, for the latter, a commercial product is planned for launch in 2015 and for the former, we’ll let the founders do some of the explaining in a quick video after the break. We’ll fill you in on the rest.
Running while strapped into the Virtualizer takes some skill — we weren’t entirely satisfied with our zombie-like gait. That said, we didn’t realize this until we saw the video above: the team is getting the immersion part very right. To ensure you’re able to rotate around and slide-jog in any direction, the wiring for the Oculus Rift headset is attached to an arm, meaning no wire-based mishaps, and making it feel kind of wireless — even though it’s still very much tethered.
Let’s break down the sensors at work inside the Virtualizer itself: there’s six holes in the flat base plate, with optical sensors tracking your feet. As they trace over these holes, the computer does the math to work out which way you’re attempting to virtually go. These sensors also work in tandem with those found in the ring that goes around your torso, monitoring the positioning and adjusting your in-game movement to match. The clever thing about Cyberith’s gaming setup, however, is the third sensor group, inside the trio of pillars keeping that torso ring up. Inside, sensors also monitor the height of the player — and because it’s sensor based, crouching becomes less of a toggle-based function, but something that could (depending on games that choose to use it) be an analogue range of motion.
Playing a demo inside the system was, well, fun. The horror-based demo we (literally) walked through, however, didn’t entail any sort of in-game controls: movement was all done through your legs and we liked the fact that you could also walk backwards, once you got the knack of walking-jogging on the spot. Depending on the movement speed of your feet, this directly translates to the game, although turning gently while moving appears to be something that needs a little training. This particular game wasn’t compatible with virtual movement, so we couldn’t crouch while strapped into the manbaby-bouncer, but Cyberith informs that it’s working to add full support to all movements inside virtual gaming worlds — and other VR-powered projects. Although you’re strapped into the thing, it doesn’t drag or weigh you down that much, as the pillars around the ring keep it supported for you. Kickstarter shipments are scheduled to arrive in March 2015 and to see some early demos of what they’re already working on, we’d advise taking a look at the team’s crowdfunding pitch below. 180-degree mid-game jumps are the future of gaming. We hope.
Presence. It’s the ability of VR headsets to fool your mind and body into thinking that you are actually in a virtual world, and that experience is what Oculus seeks to deliver with its latest prototype. Codenamed Crescent Bay, it’s an evolution of the DK2 headset that only recently started making its way into the hands of developers. I got to try out the new hardware today at Oculus Connect, the company’s inaugural developer conference. Come live vicariously through me, dear reader, as I tell you how it went.
I’m fortunate enough to have worn every Oculus Rift since the first prototype was revealed to the world almost two years ago at CES 2013. Each time I put on one of the company’s new headsets, it has been a markedly improved experience over prior iterations. Crescent Bay is no different.
First off, the hardware, despite being a hand-built prototype, is surprisingly well put together. This time around, Oculus ditched the elastic ski goggle strap of its forefathers in favor of a plastic chassis and nylon straps to snugly fit it to your melon (akin to Samsung’s Gear VR). It also has integrated headphones attached to the frame, so external headphones are no longer needed. It’s noticeably lighter than any other Rift I’ve held, and that drop in weight makes it more comfortable to wear. My only qualm was the light leakage around my nose, but once the demos cranked up, the issue was hardly noticeable.
Unlike some past Oculus demos, this newest one was on rails, so I was not in control of where I was going. However, I could very much control what I was looking at. The headset works using a new camera (Oculus wouldn’t say what’s different between it and the one paired with the DK2 we saw back at GDC), and with this new combo comes 360-degree depth and head tracking in about a 1.5 meter square space. What that means in real world terms is that you can now truly explore a virtual environment and examine closely every object or detail as you would in real life. It’s a much more immersive experience, and one that gets awfully close to delivering the feeling of presence that Oculus craves.
It’s not perfect. When moving my head side to side or squatting then standing up, I noticed some juddering and tearing in the objects around me. Those little glitches kept me from feeling fully immersed in the various digital scenes I was dropped into. Still, being able to shuffle around and examine the switches and knobs in a submarine or squat beneath an exploding car as it hurtled over my head is a thrilling experience. The sounds coming through the headphones wasn’t as powerful as I expected them to be, either, but that was probably due to a lack of volume more than any failing in the audio implementation.
I did come close to the feeling of presence, I think, during one portion of the demo that had me moving slowly forward through a giant disintegrating orb. I wasn’t moving, but my brain definitely thought I should be, and I found myself slightly swaying forward as a result. It truly felt like the digital world had begun to take over more than just my visual perception. The feeling was fleeting, but Oculus’ latest dose of virtual reality gave me a glimpse of presence. And that taste has me wanting more.
When we saw the Samsung Gear VR at IFA, Oculus CTO John Carmack showed us a basic version of an app store made for mobile virtual reality. But when the headset ships to consumers sometime later this year, the VR outfit has bigger plans. It’s rebranding the current Oculus Share “store” into Oculus Platform and turning it into a launcher of sorts for apps and other experiences, as noticed by TechCrunch. Platform will act as common store across the firm’s entire platform including the Rift and mobile. Like the prototype from earlier this month, the store will exist within virtual reality and will house games, apps and stuff like the virtual movie theater, Oculus Cinema.
The plan is eventually to have it available on just about any platform you can think of: Android, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, iOS, Safari and Windows Phone. In case you were wondering just how seriously Oculus and Samsung (OcuSam? SamUlus?) were about this whole thing, that list should help erase any doubts. What’s more, when Oculus releases its own apps to Platform it’ll release them as open source as well. Want the Oculus-branded movie theater to look more like your local multiplex? You’ll be able to fix that.
Bad news if you were hoping to pick up an Xbox One in Beijing next week: Microsoft has just delayed the game system’s launch in China from September 23rd to sometime before the end of the year. The company isn’t saying just prompted the last-minute pushback, but it claims that it needs extra time to offer “first rate gaming and entertainment experiences” — in short, something is still pretty rough around the edges. Whatever the reasons, Chinese gamers will have to wait a little while longer to get their first major console since the country lifted its years-long ban on fun-minded machines like this.
Oculus VR has a new headset. CEO Brendan Iribe showed the prototype, dubbed Crescent Bay, off today at the first Oculus Connect conference. It has built-in audio, it’s lighter and packs 360-degree motion tracking. Iribe says that the jump between the new headset and the previous developer kit (DK) is as dramatic as the jump between DK1 and the recently shipped DK2. Of course, it has a higher resolution screen and refresh rate, but the focus on this version though, seems to be audio. The headset sports onboard headphones (that apparently can be removed if you’d rather use your own), and custom audio software (with help from the University of Maryland) to make “presence” much more convincing. “We’re working on audio as aggressively as we’re working on the vision side,” Iribe said. Which makes sense, considering that audio is at least half of the experience for most entertainment.
Source: Oculus Blog
After a year of development and another year on life support, Clang — the sword-fighting game from science fiction writer Neal Stephenson and Subutai games — is finally dead. Thing started off well enough after it topped its $500,000 crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and an early beta was released to Steam. But a year later the Kickstarter cash ran out and Stephenson, reduced to working part-time on the project, said that the prototype “wasn’t very fun to play.” With no more cash to improve it, Clang has now been terminated, though Kickstarter investors can receive a refund on request. Stephenson accepted part of the blame in the final update post, adding that the story of the failure could fill a book. In fact, he did write a short book about it, which may eventually get published — we imagine that would be far more interesting than the game itself.
[Image credit: Subutai Corp.]
Filed under: Gaming
Microsoft announced this week that it’s buying hugely popular game franchise Minecraft for $2.5 billion. For that money, Microsoft gets rights to the game and ownership of its Stockholm, Sweden-based development studio, Mojang. It doesn’t retain the company’s founders or Minecraft‘s infamously outspoken creator, Markus “Notch” Persson.
Does that sound like a lot, $2.5 billion? Well, it is in human dollars, but not so much when you’re Microsoft and you’ve got $85 billion in “cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.” Regardless of the fact that this week’s deal only cost Microsoft around 3 percent of that, here’s the real kicker (in the form of a statement from Microsoft): “Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even in FY15 on a GAAP basis.” Woof, that’s a doozy of a sentence right there.
Here’s the translation: Microsoft expects the purchase of Minecraft/Mojang to make it a lot of money. And that is why Microsoft bought Minecraft.
Admittedly, that’s a rough translation of all that Microsoft’s saying in that jargon-filled sentence. And it’s a crucial statement in the several-paragraphs-long press release that announced the deal. So let’s break it down, piece by piece!
A trailer for Minecraft‘s recently released Xbox One version
- “Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even …”
This one sounds simple, but there’s a lot of information in there. First and foremost, “Microsoft expects” is a heavily abridged way of saying, “Microsoft lawyers and accountants painstakingly went over the past financials of Mojang and projected earnings for the next two to five years. After doing that work, we expect these results.” Companies don’t “expect” anything they haven’t deliberately calculated. This is not a guess; it’s an equation.
The middle bit — “the acquisition” — is simply referring to the purchase of Minecraft and Mojang for $2.5 billion. Nothing hidden there.
To be break-even” isn’t to say, Minecraft and Mojang will recoup the full $2.5 billion Microsoft spent on the acquisition. Instead, it only has to make about $25 million to make this a “break-even” deal. Why? Well, as reported in Polygon, analyst Michael Patcher pointed out in a talk at Games Beat 2014 that $25 million is about the amount of interest Microsoft could expect to make if it just left that money in the bank. As he puts it:
“Well, $2.5 billion, the interest on that is just $25 million a year. When they say break-even they don’t mean they’re going to get $2.5 billion back. That’s sunk cost, they don’t care. They’re talking about from a GAAP reporting perspective – EPS Microsoft Corporation – they will make more from Minecraft than they lose from not having that money in the bank, generating interest …”
- “… in FY15 …”
Okay, bear with me — this isn’t as complex as it sounds. “In FY15″ directly translates to “in Fiscal Year 2015.” To understand what that means, we have to understand how Microsoft’s fiscal year works (surprise: It’s not the same as the calendar year the rest of us exist in). Microsoft’s fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th, every year. Despite it being calendar year 2014, Microsoft’s in fiscal year 2015 right now. So!
If Microsoft is in “FY15″ right now, and the company’s fiscal year ends on June 30th, Microsoft expects to break even on its purchase by June 30, 2015.
Sunrise in a modded version of Minecraft
$25 million in one year is certainly quite a bit less than $2.5 billion, but compared to the $85 billion Microsoft has in cash, $2.5 billion is a relatively small number. Ultimately, Minecraft can pull in more money on that $2.5 billion than Microsoft could if it was just sitting in the bank. And here’s how.
MORE THAN JUST GAMES
Mojang makes a few other games (Scrolls, for instance), but nothing anywhere near as significant (financially or otherwise) as Minecraft. That’s okay: Mojang’s gotten very good at expanding Minecraft into a franchise and property. The game itself is available virtually everywhere. Both Microsoft and Sony dedicated precious press conference time to say the game would arrive on their current game consoles. For a game that originally “launched” in 2011, that’s unheard of. It’s outright something that doesn’t happen.
In the last 24 hours, roughly 7,500 copies sold on PC/Mac: worth around $200,000.
There’s a mobile version on both iOS and Android. You can play it on Fire TV! Sure, why not. It is quite literally available on every major game platform, with the exception of Nintendo’s consoles and the PlayStation Vita (it’s in development). And yes, it is super, super weird that Microsoft will now be the publisher of a game on competing platforms. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer explicitly says in the acquisition announcement that, “We plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms — including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC.”
There aren’t accurate measurements for the game’s sales across all those platforms on an ongoing basis, but the official Minecraft site keeps a statistic of the game’s PC/Mac sales across the past 24 hours (in perpetuity). In the last 24 hours, roughly 7,500 copies sold on PC/Mac: worth around $200,000. That’s approximately $73 million across one year, on just PC/Mac. When I checked last Saturday, it had sold just shy of 15,000 copies in the previous 24 hours.
And that’s to say nothing of merchandising (which there is a considerable amount of), or licensing (also considerable), or the annual convention (appropriately titled MineCon). Also, Microsoft acquires all the financial assets of Mojang in the process. Whatever money Mojang had on-hand goes to Microsoft, and that could be considerable.
A fan wearing the head of Minecraft‘s protagonist, Steve
MINECRAFT’S CULTURAL IMPACT
Anyone who’s been to a mall or walked down a touristy block in Manhattan lately knows the cultural impact of Minecraft: T-shirts and Creeper heads are commonplace at tchotchke stands the world over. More importantly, however, is that millions of children grew up with (and are still growing up with) Minecraft. Its iconic characters (main character/silent protagonist Steve and the hilariously explosive Creeper enemy), distinct visual style and — most of all — unlimited potential for creativity left a lasting impact on both the game industry and a generation of kids.
The next time you attend a Minecraft-themed kids birthday party, think about this acquisition. Minecraft is Mario for millions of kids, and that’s a very big deal. Microsoft stands to make a lot of money as the arbiter of a beloved franchise.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Microsoft expects to earn back the full $2.5 billion it spent in acquiring Minecraft and its maker, Majong. In fact, it only has to break even on the interest that would have been generated by those assets.