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15
Apr

Let your music power the world with Groove Planet (review)


Groove Planet Review

 

As an iOS app developer, I can’t imagine my life without music. I open Spotify before Xcode and Google Chrome to make sure I don’t go crazy. Music is an integral part of our lives, and several games have tried to capitalize on that importance. The most obvious examples are Activision’s Guitar Hero and Harmonix’s Rock Band. These titles were game-changing back in the days, and their success ignited several related series on mobile. Remember Tap Tap Revenge back in the App Store’s early days? Now, several years after that initial boom, Aminoca Brands presents Groove Planet, a different take on the genre with an interesting premise and amazing features.

Gameplay

Groove Planet GameplayGood guy DJ Keith.

After the usual Google Play Games integration, you’ll receive a welcome message by DJ Keith, a character similar to that guy who walked you through basic aspects of the game in Pokemon Red. He will make some (bad) music-related puns, and then ask you to name your planet. Yes, your planet. In Groove Planet, you’re the mayor of an uninhabited planet, and it’s your task to populate it through music.

DJ Keith will return to teach you the basics of the game. In fact, every time you need something, DJ Keith has you covered. Everything is actually pretty simple. Tap anywhere on the screen and you’ll get points. Tapping along to the rhythm of the song will make you perform combos.

Extending your combos will increase your bonus, which is a multiplier for the points you get with each tap. You can also slide your finger through the vinyl at the bottom to watch your city as it grows. If you slide to the beat, it will also count as a part of the combo, so you can mix your taps with swipes in order to check out the rest of the land.

These points, called notes, can be used to construct new buildings, which can generate new notes for you automatically. Each building in the game can be upgraded, and they generate more notes per second in the process. Upgrading your buildings will make people flock to your ever-growing planet, and you’ll start seeing more and more of them dancing to the tunes.

Groove Planet GameplayWinter is coming.

However, not all buildings are accessible from the start. One of the situations that I don’t like about this game comes from this fact. When your planet is full of buildings, you won’t be able to construct more. In order to progress in the game, you’ll have to create a completely new branch, which forces you to start the game from zero, albeit with a 100% multiplier bonus for the notes each building generate.

Although this is made to improve the game’s replayability, I don’t like deleting all of my previous work and start over just after some minutes. At least, the multiplier makes it easier each time you have to reset your game.

You also have a base (think of it as a town hall) that can be upgraded to get more notes with each tap. There’s also a hidden building called the Recorder, which will gather notes for you while you’re not playing. Pretty cool stuff!

To make things a little bit harder, there are UFOs that appear and kidnap your villagers. To protect your people, simply tap on the UFO and it will fall to the ground. There are also yellow satellites that work the same way, but, after being destroyed, show you a popup asking you to watch a video ad and increase your current amount of notes.

Groove Planet GameplayUpgrade your buildings to get more notes.

Sometimes, destroying these ships will earn you gems in the process. These gems can be used to buy notes, super charges or skip the effects of the chance roulette.

The chance roulette… I have a love-hate relationship with it. After a certain amount of time, a purple disk will appear from the bottom, letting you access the chance roulette. You’ll have to choose between three characters, and your choice can either yield you additional notes immediately, enter a 30-second period where each of your taps will earn an insane amount of notes, or lose notes/buildings. You can either watch a video ad or spend two gems to double the effect if it’s positive, or skip it if it’s negative.

Also, to spice things up, the game will give you a mission, which will be at the top of the screen at all times. These include destroying a certain amount of UFOs, tapping a specific number of notes, and construct a new building. Completing them will give you a significant amount of notes, so make sure you complete them.

Options

Groove Planet OptionsNot many options to choose from, but cloud save is a welcome addition.

Even though the game itself has a lot of features, it doesn’t have a lot of options. You will be able to turn on or off the music (seriously?), sound effects and a notification that tells you when the recorder has its notes ready. It is important to note that the game supports saving to the cloud, which is a big plus for people who game on multiple devices.

Graphics

Graphics for the game are never complicated or overdone, but they follow the same dark, neon-lights, vibrant style at all times. When performing combos, your villagers will start dancing and there will be fireworks in the background, which is a nice and charming addition.

Buildings have very intricate designs and are a joy to look at, and special effects, such as when you tap the screen or upgrade buildings, are very pleasant. Unfortunately, when there are a lot things going on, such as building upgrades, long combos, and people dancing, some performance hiccups occurred. Nothing serious, thankfully, but it is worth mentioning.

Music

A music game without a good soundtrack is like a Netflix session without pizza. There are eight included songs, all with an electronic, dance club vibe. Even though I’m not fond of that music style, there is no denying that the soundtrack is outstanding and catchy, and does a great job in immersing you into the gameplay.

One of the greatest aspects of the app is, without doubt, the ability to import your own music into the app. I frankly didn’t expect much when I first read about the feature. However, after trying several songs made by several artists and with different tempos, I can say that this aspect of the game works almost flawlessly.

Groove Planet GameplayGraphics are nice and follow the same theme throughout the game. Also, music is outstanding and integration with your own library works without hiccups.

The app somehow analyzes your track and adjusts its gameplay accordingly. You need to actually go with the beat of each song to rack up points. Jamming along Delain’s newest single “Suckerpunch,” Dragonforce’s fast-paced “Through the Fire and Flames,” and Queen’s classic “Don’t Stop Me Now” was a pleasant, smooth, and almost-native experience.

It is important to know that there’s no way to tell the game which folders to scan when it’s searching for music, so, if you have other music files (such as voice notes), unfortunately, they will appear in your library too.

Achievements and Leaderboards

Groove Planet LeaderboardsGoogle Play Games integration gives you access to leaderboards and achievements.

Thanks to its Google Play Games integration, you will be able to complete achievements to increase your level. Many of these achievements are pretty hard, so you’ll definitely need some time to complete them. Curiously, the game also offers its own implementation of achievements. Some of them coincide with the ones offered through Play Games, some don’t.

Leaderboards will let you compete with people around the world in aspects such as UFOs destroyed, population, number of taps, and completed tasks.

What we like

  • Many features to improve gameplay
  • Charming graphics
  • The option to add your own music works flawlessly

Room for improvement

  • An option to unlock more buildings without having to start over
  • Less intrusive ads

Conclusion

With its captivating graphics, strong gameplay, and the option to add your own music to the game, Groove Planet manages to tick all the boxes. Although there are some minor annoyances, such as having to start over to unlock new buildings, and mildly pesky ads through chance satellites, the top-notch execution of the music library import is one of the best I’ve seen in a game. If you enjoy music (and who doesn’t?), then you’ll love tapping along to the beat with Groove Planet.

Download and install from the Google Play Store.

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15
Apr

HTC’s new Boost+ app is one of the least useful things they’ve ever made


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HTC. Stop. What are you doing?

HTC has made their Boost+ app available for everyone today. It’s also a pre-installed application on the HTC 10. And it’s something they never should have spent time to make, and that you should never use.

To be fair, there are a couple good things happening in the Boost+ app. You can lock apps away from prying eyes if you give the app access to track what apps you use and how often you use them through the security settings on your phone. You can unlock those apps with a pattern or fingerprint access. I can see how people would find that useful.

There’s also a quick way to delete “junk” — cache files, app installation files, ad tokens and temporary files. It’s not exactly difficult to delete those files through the system itself if you really need to do so, but having that all in one place and done with the press of one button makes it convenient. People like convenience.

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Beyond that, though, things turn south.

The manage apps portion of the program uses 78MB of your memory to show you a list of apps and give you the option to uninstall the ones that are uninstallable. The very same list you’ll find in your device settings. Well, it’s not a complete list. System apps are not visible, and neither is the Boost+ app itself. Nobody needs this. This does the exact opposite of what HTC claims the app will do — improve performance on your phone.

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And then, we get to the part where HTC wants to be Clean Master.

Yes, a feature of the Boost+ app is the ability to kill running processes and apps that are using your precious RAM, because for some reason someone thinks RAM not being used is a good thing. But not the 78MB of RAM used by Boost+, which is absent from the list of apps and processes you can kill.

On my Nexus 6P, the first time I fired it up it wanted to close 18 apps by default. 14 of those will instantly start back up, because they need to run in the background to do things like listen for incoming messages or control the lights in my house, or talk to my Huawei Watch. Three of the remaining four are apps I don’t want closed — I wouldn’t have installed them if I didn’t want to use them. The remaining app is the keyboard, which will probably start right back up, but if not will need to start before I do anything smart with my smartphone. This means your RAM once again gets used (which is what is supposed to happen), your CPU is used to start these services which uses more battery power, and you get a chance to use Boost+ to close them all again because it didn’t get pushed out of memory.

Apps not selected by default are things like Play Services and a handful of other system apps that you should never close, but you’re able to choose to kill them. And set up a schedule to kill them when Boost+ thinks you need to through the automatic boosting settings.

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The Boost+ app only works with phones running Android 5.0 and up. The versions of Android that have a pretty damn good track record of keeping what needs to stay running and closing what needs to be closed on its own. If you tried to tell me that your old phone running Froyo would benefit from this sort of thing, I’d disagree but see why you think that way. When you try to tell me that your Jelly Bean phone needs anything like this, I’d be more than willing to tell you why you’re wrong, throw a few hundred links at you and tell you to never trust any company who tells you such things.

HTC, I’m not sure why you’re doing this. I imagine you have reasons, but I doubt I’ll agree with any of them. What I will do is tell people that they don’t need your Boost+ app, that they shouldn’t download it from Google Play and it should be one of the first apps they disable when they get their new HTC 10.

HTC 10

  • HTC 10 preview
  • HTC 10 hands-on: a Canadian perspective
  • HTC 10 specs
  • These are the HTC 10 colors
  • Our first photo and video samples
  • Meet the Ice View case
  • Join our HTC 10 forums

HTC

15
Apr

LG G5 second opinion — at least the camera is nice?


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A stellar camera and capable processor aren’t enough to make me recommend this phone to most people.

LG has had a fascinating journey over the last couple of G-series releases. Their phones have a tendency to stick out as uniquely LG, but those hardware decisions don’t usually add or take away from just how good the phones are. This year things are a little different. LG has made the shift to metal with the G5, but made sure to keep the removable battery and expandable storage that helped the G4 stand out last year. Unfortunately that transition comes off a clumsy and awkward, with a host of fairly bland accessories standing almost as an attempt to distract from what LG has assembled.

We’ve already written a full review of the LG G5, and Phil’s thoughts on this experience do a great job focusing on the whole picture LG is trying to assemble this year. As someone who only has the G5, and who isn’t really interested the “Friends” that dock in the bottom of this phone, the picture is a lot smaller. It’s also not quite as clear as what LG has offered in the past, making the overall experience less than great.

But, hey, at least the camera is nice.

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How we got here

LG’s relationship with metal on phones has never been great. The G-series has always been plastic, living somewhere in between the creaky flexible mess Samsung used to use and the rigid, smooth plastic HTC used to use. Glossy, metal-colored plastic coated the outside of the G4 last year, and while that doesn’t give a premium sense to the phone it can’t be denied that LG released one of the best pieces of hardware we saw last year. As is all-too-often the case with LG phones, what dragged it down from that top spot was software.

The LG G5 feels like a violent mashup of all the phones released last year.

Late last year LG released the V10, a massive Android phone with polished metal rails and a grippy, flexible backplate that offered access to the battery. It was the first time LG had really messed with a mostly metal phone, and it worked well for people who enjoy those large experiences. The V10 was the first time we saw LG try a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone where the power button was, which maintained the “rear key” design while adding features to the phone. LG moved on with Google’s guidance to a much better fingerprint sensor on the back of the LG Nexus 5X, which ditched the “rear key” design for volume buttons on the side of the phone.

The LG G5 feels like a violent mashup of all the phones released last year. The profile of the phone is undeniably LG, with an edge that leaves you almost ready to pull the back off as though it were a G4. The smooth metal rim of the phone feels like a compromise between the G4 and the V10, and the fingerprint sensor on the back feels like a combination of V10 functionality and 5X performance. All that was needed now was a way to access the battery, which was solved by making the bottom “chin” of the phone removable.

g5-brick.jpg?itok=BDVmAFE0

The hardware

It’s clear that LG’s design team was focused on familiarity while executing all of these different ideas. What isn’t clear is why so many of those executions lack polish. The retail G5 I’ve been using (we bought this one from AT&T) lines up with the removable just fine, but distortions in the back plating where the primer didn’t set evenly looks unfinished. It’s the kind of look I’d expect in a pre-production model, but for a retail unit this is the kind of thing that should never have left the factory.

Lets talk about that primer for a minute. LG has done something technically impressive with the antennae in this phone. Instead of breaking the design up with those rubber or plastic lines that make it so the radios can reach out into the world no matter what, LG put the antennae between the metal back of the phone and the paint that covers the metal. There are no antennae lines on this phone, which is impressive. You do feel a texture difference between the back of the phone and the sides of the phone as a result. The sides of the phone have that cool to the touch metal feel, but the back plate isn’t quite as metallic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it doesn’t feel like metal, just that it doesn’t feel like the sides. That may be off-putting to some, but not nearly as distressing in my use as how easy it is to completely cover the speaker grille and muffle all sound with my finger.

The edge that separates the back and sides of the phone is another point I found myself appreciating. The metal is almost sharp in the way the two sides angle away from one another, and even has a rough quality to it if you run the edge across your finger. Since it’s on the back of the phone, however, your fingers won’t touch this edge much. Instead that edge catches the palm of your hand, and adds just enough grip to make the phone feel comfortable. This idea would have been brilliant, but the edge is alongside the wider back point of the phone with sides that taper in. This means anyone with larger hands is touching the screen every time they reach across to tap something, which is the exact situation you do not want grip. This was less noticeable on most G4 models due to the way the leather backplates would extend beyond the back a little, but on the G5 is makes using the phone with one hand painfully awkward.

All of this comes together to form a phone that doesn’t feel like it was made to compete in a premium space.

LG’s spectacular bragging rights when it comes to the screen to bezel ratio on their phones has been sacrificed to the removable battery this year, but that doesn’t mean the glass isn’t special. The curved top of this phone feels fantastic when on a phone call — yeah, people still do that — and looks damn nice when set down on a table. The design of the bottom is clever enough, you push in a button that isn’t likely to even be pressed accidentally and out comes a corner of the bottom. Pull the rest of the way, and you have a battery. If you ignore the things you can also shove in this slot to add mostly pointless features to the G5, the battery slot is a little unusual. It doesn’t look like you’ll be able to put a larger battery in this space, which means your only real option is to keep a separate charged battery with you at all times. That isn’t unheard of, but this method of battery removal feels slightly inferior to the V10 design in its ability to extend battery life.

It’s not often that the display on a phone is one of the last things that need to be talked about when discussing the hardware, but here we are. LG’s display is spectacularly average for a high-end display, and feels mostly the same as the G4 and V10. The 2560×1440 resolution IPS display is great indoors, and is plenty sharp for images and text. Outdoors, things aren’t so great. The phone leans a little towards the blue side and auto-brightness doesn’t kick up to full brightness fast enough. Manually setting to full brightness works in most situations, but direct sunlight isn’t one of them. It gets the job done, but don’t expect any situations where you find yourself in awe of what the display is capable of.

All of this comes together to form a phone that doesn’t feel like it was made to compete in a premium space. There’s nothing about the outside of this phone that lets you know it was made to compete for your attention as one of the best phones available today, despite being priced as such.

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The software

Android 6.0 is alive and well on the LG G5, with no shortage of modifications from LG — and in my case AT&T — to scratch your head at. If such a thing as peak bloatware exists, we’ve reached it on this version of the LG G5. AT&T is desperate to tell you about their DirecTV partnership as a persistent notification, and beyond that you’ve got the usual suite of worthless apps pre-installed that can only be hidden. When it was all said and done, navigating through and removing the AT&T nonsense took me nearly half an hour. No user should have to go through that as part of the setup process, and while most of this is AT&T’s doing this is something LG allowed to happen.

Imagine a world where these hardware manufacturers started telling the carriers where they could shove all of this user unfriendly crapware. Alright, now back to reality.

Nerds on the Internet collectively wet themselves over LG’s decision to remove the app drawer in their new LG Home design, and then LG bent over backwards to make sure there was an option available to install when the phone started shipping. As someone who keeps almost no apps on the single home screen, the new LG Home isn’t my thing and was quickly replaced. No outrage, no fist shaking, no swearing this would be the end of LG. Just three quick taps in the Google Play Store, and all is well in the world. Whatever you do, don’t try to install the LG Home 4.0 with the launcher. On top of not being available through the play store (it’s in LG’s own “SmartWorld”, it’s painfully mediocre. The Play Store has lots of excellent launchers, go try one. Or see how you like life without an app drawer. Who knows, you might not hate it.

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LG’s notification tray looks like it takes up more space than most, but in reality it’s almost the same amount of consumed space as Samsung’s notification tray. LG’s is flat white, which makes it look like it takes up more space. As much fun as it is to jump on the “why can’t you be more like Google” bandwagon, I like a big friendly slider for manually controlling brightness when I need it. LG could give me the ability to ditch the screen sharing and file sharing buttons that I’ll never use, but it’s not a huge deal.

The most important thing about LG’s execution of Android 6.0 on the G5 is that nothing appears to be obviously broken. No LG features get in the way of Android being Android, which is a nice change of pace for LG. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the experience “toned down” but it’s clear LG listened to criticism and fixed behaviors that were obviously broken. On top of this, the Snapdragon 820 processor in this phone screams. Apps launch faster on this phone than any other Android phone I’ve used to date, which is great.

All told, the LG user experience isn’t bad once you spend upwards of half an hour dealing with the mess AT&T and LG made in the beginning. Unfortunately, outside of the double-tap on the volume down key to launch the camera, there also doesn’t seem to be much that feels uniquely LG about the experience anymore.

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The camera

While they didn’t quite make it to the top of the pile last year, LG’s cameras in the G4 and V10 are exceptional if you know what you’re doing. The auto modes aren’t much to write home about, but the manual modes have been incredible. This year LG decided what we really needed was a second camera so we could all get nice and artsy with our photos, but that is just the headline of a long list of impressive things this camera can do.

LG’s second camera is an 8MP sensor with a 135-degree wide lens, which complements the primary 16MP sensor in several interesting ways. The first is a sort of picture in picture mode, where the standard shot is seated within the wide shot for a creative double photo. There’s also a mode for taking pictures from all three cameras at nearly the same time, for those interested in showing off what was happening with the front-facing camera at the same time. More than anything, these camera modes are a ton of fun to play with.

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LG sacrificed none of the features from the previous generations in the G5, which means an already complex camera became just a little bit more full of features. To me, this is fantastic. If all you want is a camera that takes a quick picture, the Simple mode exists and removes all of the options. If you like playing around with modes and filters, the Auto mode is there to give you something to play with. If you want to see just how far you can push a smartphone camera or you’re a real photographer who wants to use familiar tools to get the best possible shot, Manual mode is for you. It’s a complex camera for sure, but there really is something here for everyone.

There’s no arguing with the results, either. LG’s cameras focus quickly, capture great colors, and there’s a ton of detail in every shot. It’s a camera that easily competes with the Samsung Galaxy S7 in its ability to take a quick, great picture. While it could be argued that maybe LG should consider making Simple mode the default, there’s nothing about this camera experience I would change.

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The bottom line

With exception of the camera, there is very little I enjoy about the LG G5. While I applaud LG’s efforts in making it so you can do more with your phone by extending it with various “modules” I struggle to see why I would recommend this phone over the V10. (The much better fingerprint sensor, perhaps.) LG could have gone all-in with these modules and made it so there was something for everyone, or they could have made this phone priced more competitively, but instead we got neither.

This phone seems to exist because someone at LG decided the next phone needed to be metal without compromising the things that make LG phones stand out, and in the process the G5 feels like several different compromises all at once.

15
Apr

Be sure to check out our LG G5 video review!


We’ve got a plethora of new and awesome Android phones available — or soon to be available. And that means we’re knee deep in reviews for all sorts of things.

One of our more recent reviews is the LG G5. As you’ve no doubt heard by now — from us as well as others — is that it’s an unconventional phone. That’s not to say it’s a bad one. But different doesn’t always work. There are some things about the G5 that are spot on and are excellent reasons for picking one up. And there are some things about it that are a cause for concern — or are at least a reason to do some serious thinking before parting with your hard-earned cash.

There’s a lot going on with this phone, and we’ve got the broad strokes in our official LG G5 video review. And when you’re done with that, be sure to check out our full written LG G5 review as well.

15
Apr

Pebble Time priced at just $90 for today only at Meh.com


If you have been wanting to get a Pebble Time smartwatch but didn’t want to spend a lot of money, you might want to jump on today’s sale on Meh.com. The site currently has priced the Pebble Time down to just $90.

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That’s a savings of nearly $60 compared to buying the smartwatch directly from Pebble’s website. It will also save you over $30 compared to its price on Amazon at the moment. The catch? Meh.com’s $90 price for the Pebble Time expires today, so you might want to grab it now.

See at Meh.com

15
Apr

Skype nixes plug-in requirement for web-based chats


Skype for Web offers a handy way to bring your chats and calls to your browser. However, to us it on the web, you had to install a plug-in or extension before you could make audio or video calls. As of today, those extras are no longer a requirement, making good on a promise the company made back in 2014. With the Microsoft Edge browser, Skype for Web won’t make you install a plug-in to communicate via audio or video. And yes, group chats are included as well.

Skype says it’s working to bring the extension-free workflow to Chrome and Firefox, and will do so when those browsers work with the H.264 video codec. In addition to reducing the annoyance of having to install a software add-on to get Skype up and running in your browser, plug-in free support also opens up the ability for the full service to be used on devices like Chromebooks. This new version is available for preview starting today, but the company plans to roll it out to all Edge users by the end of the month.

Via: The Verge

Source: Skype

15
Apr

Best HTC Vive VR games you can download right now


We’ve been playing with the full consumer version of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset for the best part of a week and will soon be posting our extensive review. However, before we do we wanted to share our thoughts on some of the games and experiences currently available on Steam that work wonderfully with the new device.

We’ve been working our way through everything that works or is native to the HTC Vive, having downloaded them on Steam. That includes games that have incorporated Vive compatibility even if they are usually played in 2D.

Here then is our list of the best we’ve experienced so far. We’ll also update this round-up as and when we play additional titles – after all, there are 35 games or experiences that we’ve got installed already. It’ll take us a bit longer to get to them all.

For now, here are the games and experiences we think you should consider downloading for your Vive.

READ: HTC Vive preview: An experience that’s out of this world

Cloudhead Games

Best HTC Vive games: The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed

An amazingly immersive adventure, The Gallery offers such a rich and detailed environment and story that it took us a while to readjust to the real world when we removed the headset. It is inspired by 80s fantasy flicks but initially reminds of games of the ilk of Myst or, more recently, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Objects can be interacted with and carried, while puzzles must be solved as you are tasked with searching for your missing sister. Where it stands out amongst other big scale VR games is that it provides you with two floating hands with which to interact with the world, and this tricks your brain into thinking it is more tangible than it is. Even the wireframe tutorial beforehand is better than some other virtual reality experiences we’ve tried in the past.

If we have one complaint, it’s that the first episode is quite short for a game that costs £22.99. That said, we can’t wait for episode two.

READ: How to set up HTC Vive in the real world and the problems you will face

Dylan Filterer

Best HTC Vive games: Audioshield

A basic idea but possibly one of our favourite VR games to return to often, Audioshield is a rhythm game that uses a virtual space very well indeed. It places a blue or orange light shield in either of your hands, mapped onto the real world controllers, and you have to raise them to fend off the same coloured balls that head towards you.

That sounds simple but considering this is a rhythm game the balls come down in time to chosen music – generally fast dance beats – and often come in different whoops and swirls. You must follow the shapes with your shield or risk ruining your end score.

Song choices found inside the game are limited, but it can also be used with any song file. There are also songs of the day that change.It’s also extremely funny when you give the hardest level a try. Heaven knows what you look like to the external world.

It costs £14.99 and is essential for Vive owners we feel.

i-Illusions

Best HTC Vive games: Space Pirate Trainer

Space Pirate Trainer is only in Early Access at the moment, which means it’s still in development and is missing several key features. However, at £10.99 you can safely take a punt on it and play what’s there until the developer, i-Illusions, adds the rest through regular updates.

What you get to begin with is a decent shoot-em-up in a big virtual play space. The controllers are turned into weapons that can be customised to shoot different kinds of bullets or even double as a shield, while robotic drone-like craft fly around in front of you, trying to shoot you instead.

It’s not too complicated and great fun if not a little tricky to get to later stages (tip, use the shield often). It also gives an impression of the potential for using the motion controllers in games.

Valve

Best HTC Vive games: The Lab

Whenever we’ve talked to people who have briefly tried the HTC Vive The Lab is one of the games they’ve dabbled with. It is Valve’s own free demo software and is therefore an essential title to download right from the bat.

It’s actually a collection of mini-games, experiences and tech demos, but is also something we’ve happily revisited a lot during our testing.

As the developer of Portal and its sequel, Valve has used the setting and characters to present The Lab, with many of the little challenges and games themed around Aperture Science Laboratories and experiments it carries out.

We particularly like the Longbow game, where you have to fire arrows at a horde of vikings who are trying to sack your castle. One controller represents the bow, the other arrows. Soon you genuinely feel like you are stringing arrows and firing them at foes.

Wevr

Best HTC Vive games: theBlu

Not quite a game but an interactive experience, theBlu is another that many have tasted during HTC Vive demos at shows. We only got to play one section during our original trials though, so it was great to find out that there’s another couple of experiences available too.

The whale section, where a giant blue whale swims past you while you are stood on the deck of a submerged ship, is the experience we’ve tried before. It’s no less impressive second or third time around though.

There is also a section based in a coral reef with migrating fish and jelly fish swimming around you. And another places you on the sea bed of a dark, deep world with stranger, luminous creatures lurking. The latter turns your right controller into a torch, so you can peer around more effectively.

At £6.99, theBlu isn’t cheap considering the amount of content available, but it’s definitely the best software for showing family and friends the immersive qualities of VR without them having to do too much.

Owlchemy Labs

Best HTC Vive games: Job Simulator

Job Simulator shipped as a free download for those who pre-ordered the HTC Vive and is still available in a freebie pack, alongside Google’s Tilt Brush and Fantastic Contraption, if you order your headset soon. It’ll cost you £29.99 otherwise.

That might be a bit steep, but it is very funny and offers plenty to do.

Several different work situations are available to try out, from office worker to chef, and you have to complete silly tasks using virtual cartoon hands and the items around you. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is another that people who have never experienced VR before have been able to pick up immediately.

VRUnicorns

Best HTC Vive games: #SelfieTennis

There’s not really much to #SelfieTennis for its £14.99 cover price, but what it does offer is a fun and silly game you can play by yourself.

One controller spawns balls, while the other can be used as a racket and you are stood on a fantasy tennis court. As soon as you hit a ball across the net, the view switches to the other side and you realise you are playing against yourself. The idea is to keep rallies going back and forth for as long as possible.

There are other silly asides, such as the ability to take a selfie and post it onto social media from within the game, but the fun really lies in you trying to hit the ball back to yourself as much as possible.

It’s actually quite calming. Until you realise that the other you is rubbish at tennis.

Frontier

Best HTC Vive games: Elite Dangerous

Both Elite Dangerous and the Elite Dangerous Horizons pack are VR enabled and compatible with the HTC Vive.

We played the original game on an Oculus Rift a couple of years back and loved it then. It is just as great a VR experience now, although you will need a decent PC graphics card to play without lag or low resolutions, we found.

The normal, 2D version of both games are already brilliant, but add the ability to look around your craft and gaze into space and it further becomes the simulation game promised.

It requires a controller or, better still, flight controls, and you can’t use the Vive’s own wands, but we used an Xbox One controller with a wireless adapter for our PC and it handled well. Be prepared for a steep learning curve though, as this isn’t a mere shoot-em-up.

Elite Dangerous currently retails for £19.99, while an Elite Dangerous: Horizons Season Pass will set you back £24.99.

We’ll be adding more of our favourite HTC Vive games as soon as we’ve played them enough for recommendation.

15
Apr

Watching surgery in VR isn’t for the faint of heart


Next month, my mom will retire as a theatre nurse. For almost forty years she’s been walking into her hospital on a near daily basis, donning a fresh pair of scrubs and helping a surgical team save people’s lives. I couldn’t be prouder. But truth be told, I know little about her job and what actually happens when someone is wheeled inside the operating theatre. In my head, it’s just a nightmarish blur of sedatives, scalpels and face masks.

That’s why I leapt at the chance to watch some surgery at the Royal London Hospital. Not from inside the operation room — oh no, I’m far too much of a scaredy-cat for that — but through a VR headset. Doctor Shafi Ahmed, co-founder of AR and VR firm Medical Realities, made history as the first person to live stream surgery in virtual reality. You could watch it in a browser or using a smartphone with the VRinOR app for iOS and Android. I went with the latter, slipping my Moto X Pure Edition into a beaten up Google Cardboard that’s been gathering dust on my desk.

The stream on my phone went live a little late, so I missed some of Ahmed’s introduction explaining the intricacies of the operation. But here are the basics: a British patient in his 70s was suffering from bowel cancer. Ahmed and his team needed to perform laparoscopic or “keyhole” surgery to dig inside and cut loose a section of his intestine which contained the tumor. An incision would be made to remove it, followed by some delicate patch-up work. It was a routine operation and unlikely to cause complications, but they placed a one-minute delay on the broadcast anyway, just to be on the safe side.

The first 40 minutes were a flurry of hands and instruments. Looking down towards the end of the table, I could see Ahmed with a pair of cutting forceps, carefully picking at the patient’s innards. A section of the torso was clearly visible, but the poor lighting and a slightly pixelated stream meant it was difficult to make out what, exactly, happening. That wasn’t helped by the four or five other people huddled around Ahmed, holding additional forceps and the all-important “telescope” camera.

I was constantly squinting and craning my neck to see the nearest monitor, which was angled awkwardly in relation to the camera rig.

Everyone’s eyes were fixed on two monitors showing the camera’s perspective. That’s where the action was happening. Here, you could see Ahmed expertly tugging and cutting to free the tumor from its surrounding tissue. Occasionally, he would request that someone adjust the camera or reposition their tongs. I felt sick but kept my eyes on the nearest screen, watching the team quietly work.

At this point in the procedure, watching everything unfold in VR seemed a little pointless. Here I was, starting at a video feed inside a video feed. I was constantly squinting and craning my neck to see the nearest monitor, which was angled awkwardly in relation to the camera rig. A simple live stream of the camera inside the patient’s stomach would, in many ways, have been more insightful, provided it was supplemented with the chatter from the operating theatre.

A 360-degree video made by Medical Realities for training purposes.

Those feelings evaporated, however, as soon as the team started to extract the tumor, because everything was happening in plain sight. Ahmed performed the incision and the specimen was quickly on the table, clearly visible to everyone in the room, including myself. I didn’t need to squint at a monitor anymore — I could just watch the surgeons as they worked right in front of me. A few targeted snips and the infected colon was in a petri dish, ready to be whisked off to a laboratory. The team then took out scissors and thread, repairing and re-plumbing what was left of his intestines. It was fascinating to watch, and at this moment I noticed the theatre nurses coming into their own. Whatever Ahmed needed,they were two-steps ahead and ready with the correct utensil.

Watching the operation with Google Cardboard was a little finicky. My headset doesn’t have a head strap, so it was tiring to hold it in position for a couple of hours. On a number of occasions I also noticed the headset’s orientation beginning to drift. To look flat along the operating table, for instance, I would eventually find myself staring at the floor or up at the ceiling. Eventually the app would register the problem and reset, snapping my vision back into the proper position. These moments happened with such frequency, however, that I quickly became irritated. The image quality was also pretty poor — I suspect, however, that this was because of the live stream, rather than my own connection or Cardboard headset.

Despite these technical niggles, I was enthralled by the experience. Afterwards, I Skyped my mom to ask some questions about the procedure, and for the first time, well, ever, we had a conversation about her work that went beyond ‘it was a stressful day’ or ‘the operation had some complications.’ For that alone, I’m glad I took the time to strap on a Cardboard and watch Ahmed work for a few hours. Even if it meant feeling queasy and rushing to the bathroom a couple of times.

15
Apr

A supernova once blasted the moon with radioactive iron


Stars are gigantic hydrogen bombs that normally produce helium with little fuss. When the hydrogen is all gone, however, they implode, causing exotic new elements to be formed by the massive gravitational pressure. If a star is just the right size (eight to 15 times our sun’s mass), it will go supernova, ejecting heavy, often unique isotopes into space. Researchers have found some of those isotopes on the moon, meaning that our solar system was once hit by dust from a supernova just a few hundred light years away.

Scientists studied rocks from several NASA moon landings between 1969 and ’72, including Apollo missions 12, 15 and 16. Within those rocks, they found a radioactive iron isotope called 60Fe that is created almost exclusively in supernovas. The team was able to date the isotope to about 2 million years, based on its half-life of 2.62 million years. That corresponds well with the discovery of the same isotope here on Earth from Pacific Ocean crusts.

The moon’s isotopes provide a better cosmic record than those found on earth, since they’re not altered by passing through our atmosphere. As a result, scientists were able to deduce an upper limit for how much 60Fe reached the moon, and further calculate where it came from. “The measured 60Fe-flow corresponds to a supernova at a distance of about 300 light years,” says Technical University of Munich researcher Dr. Gunther Korschinek.

That means that a Milky Way star not terribly far away went supernova, and the material actually hit our planet. Luckily, those particles were small when they arrived, and if it happens again, we will get a heads up. Supernova ejecta travel at one-tenth the speed of light, max, so if we happen to witness a similar explosion, the consequences won’t hit us for at least 3,000 years.

Via: UPI

Source: Technical University of Munich

15
Apr

AMC decides not to let people text in theaters after all


Well, that was fast. Just two days after AMC CEO Adam Aron said he was considering ways to let patrons use phones in theaters, the company has decided to put the kibosh on that divisive — and potentially terrible — line of thinking.

“With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres,” Aron said in a statement posted to the company’s Facebook page. “Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

As anyone with a pulse could’ve guessed, that one juicy bit of the interview with Variety led to a social media trial of sorts. To be fair, Aron — who has only been AMC’s CEO for about four months — never said these sorts of changes were going into effect immediately. Instead, he conceded that the movie experience needs to change to get young people going to theatres with the same ferocity their parents did and that the most likely option was to put asshole texters in their own auditorium. Anyway, it’s time to put those pitchforks down: AMC plans to continue courting that lucrative millennial market with more large screens in theaters, better food and more comfortable seats. Now, if only AMC took a harder line on people nudging their friends and raucously whispering “DID YOU SEE THAT?” (because of course they did), we’d be all set.

[Image credit: Jeff, Flickr]

Source: Facebook

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