Blaine Kyllo: Cloudhead VR; The Division beta; and three new releases

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      This week in video games: January 25 to 31


      This week, Cloudhead Games shows off its virtual-reality game at the B.C. Tech Summit, The Division beta begins, and new releases, including Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Resident Evil Origins Collection, Life Is Strange, and The Witness, from designer Jonathan Blow.


      VR is happening in Vancouver

      Cloudhead Games is not the only developer in Vancouver creating games for virtual reality (VR) headsets. But last Tuesday (January 19) at the B.C. Tech Summit, I got a chance to try out their upcoming game, The Gallery: Six Elements, on the Vive VR system (which HTC is creating in partnership with Valve). 

      Where the Vive experience differs from other VR headsets is that players can actually move around. A space, about three metres by three metres, is observed by a couple of cameras, which translate that space, and the player within it, into the virtual world. 

      Being able to move around really helps with vestibular disconnect, the nausea that can result from your brain getting competing signals, with your eyes suggesting that you are moving around but your body insisting you’re stationary.

      Cloudhead’s creative director, Denny Unger, told me that early development on The Gallery happened on the first developer version of the Oculus headset. At CES in 2014, he demonstrated what they had been working on for Valve’s Chet Faliszek.  

      A few weeks later, Cloudhead was invited to visit Valve in Bellevue, and Unger found himself in a room with nine other developers, most of which were AAA studios. Cloudhead was the only Canadian operation. The group were shown an early VR prototype that has become the HTC Vive.

      It turns out that the 10 studios had been hand selected to be the first developers to help prove the technology prior to its being revealed to the public in the spring of 2015.

      That’s how impressed Valve was with the early development on The Gallery.

      I spent 15 minutes in the first part of the game and got so immersed in the world that I completely forgot that I was in the middle of a convention centre. I was so involved in trying to reach out and grab objects to investigate that I actually stepped outside the active space and the system went into pause. If that hadn’t happened, I’d still be there now, exploring the caves and crannies on that beach.

      Unger was part of the Innovation Showcase at the B.C. Tech Summit and got my vote for the B.C. company I’d invest in, given the means. I gave my vote before actually trying the game, because Cloudhead has figured out how to use the Vive VR for performance capture. 

      What this means is that actors who are performing for digital characters can actually be in and interact with a digital environment, instead of having to imagine what’s around them. 

      This new method of performance capture is able to capture the same fidelity of movement in an actor’s body at a vastly cheaper cost, Unger said. It could enable smaller studios with smaller budgets to take advantage of performance capture when creating new games.

      It was a process that Cloudhead used to animate the character of the Watcher in The Gallery, played by Adrian Hough.

      The first chapter of The Gallery, Call of the Starseed, is a launch title for the Vive, and is expected to be released this spring.



      Beta for The Division begins this week

      The Division, a new game from Ubisoft, takes place after a pandemic puts New York City into a state of chaos. The action role-playing game puts teams of players into an open world and against other teams that may or may not have cross purposes. 

      The beta release of the game becomes available to Xbox One players on Thursday (January 28), and the next day, Friday (January 29), for PS4 and Windows players. You'll be able to play as much as you want until the beta ends on January 31.

      Ubisoft is promoting the game with a three-part documentary series with Vice Media. The first part of Infected:was launched online on January 21. The next two episodes go live on February 2 and February 9. 


      New games you can play right now

      In Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, for Nintendo's two handhelds, the 2DS and 3DS, the brothers team up with Paper Mario, a two-dimensional character in a 3-D world. This role-playing game includes turn-based combat as part of the adventure. 

      All five episodes of Life is Strange are now available in a boxed collection for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One. The game features elements of time travel, an ability of Max Caulfield, a young high school student who saves the life of her friend. With two female characters at the core of the game, Life is Strange is a rare and admirable thing.

      Resident Evil Origins Collection brings together remastered versions of Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil, both originally released in 2002, which establish the storyline for the franchise of horror adventures. The collection is available on disc for PS4 and Xbox One ($40), and digitally on PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One ($20).


      Puzzler The Witness releases tomorrow

      From game designer Jonathan Blow, who also created Braid, The Witness arrives for PS4 and Windows tomorrow (Jan. 26). An iOS version is planned.

      The game takes place on an abandoned island, and players will attempt to piece together what's happened, and what's happening, as they explore.

      Atmosphere and environment are key to this game, as is exploration. There are audio recordings to be found throughout the island, but they are not the straight-forward, plot driving logs that other games have featured as a device to "lay some pipe" (as the professional TV writers would phrase it).

      Blow says there are some 650 maze-based puzzles created for The Witness, including some that are overt mazes and others that are more conceptual.