In the inaugural Patch Notes – a simple series where I cover some of the news of the week and offer my views – we chat about the new Oculus Rift announcement and the future of VR, as well as Google’s new game streaming service, Google Stadia. Oh, and there’s the whole Steam vs Epic thing.
Facebook’s New Oculus Rift S
Let’s kick off with Facebook announcing a new iteration of the Oculus Rift, inventively named the Oculus Rift S, which will replace the older version. By far the most intriguing idea is that the Oculus Rift S won’t require any form of external sensors, with everything it needs built directly into the headset itself. Removing sensors means no more fiddling with trying to position them in your house, and your computer’s USB slots won’t be getting hogged by Oculus any more. It also means that everyone will have access to full 360-degree and room-sized tracking.
Also on the spec sheet for the Oculus Rift S is a change of screen. The 90Hz dual OLED screens with 2160×1200 resolution has been swapped out for a single screen LCD running at 80Hz and a higher resolution of 2560×1440. A bump in resolution is always appreciated given how easy it is to discern individual pixels when your eyeballs are practically touching the screen. The low of 10Hz, though, is a bit odd as smooth motion is vital to the virtual reality experience, especially to help stop people bringing up their lunch.
A small bump in FOV of was mentioned, but no specific details have been announced. The narrow field-of-view on the Oculus Rift and other headsets has always been a niggle of mine since it breaks the immersion, constantly reminding you that you have a giant mask strapped to your face.
The controllers are getting a redesign with the motion-tracking rings being shifted to the top of the controllers, making them look a lot like the Vive’s current controllers. This is a step back in my eyes because the current Oculus Rift controllers wrap their ring around the back of the hand, and as a result the controllers feel nicely balanced in the hand, whereas having the rings at the top will throw that balance off.
The new Oculus Rift S will replace the existing Oculus Rift and will be retailing at $400, which probably means us UK folk will bafflingly have to pay £400 for it. It’s a price-tag that continues to keep VR away from the masses. This is the biggest challenge VR faces; it isn’t something that can properly shown off in a video, trailer or advert. You have to try VR personally to understand its brilliance, but shelling out a few hundred quid is too much of a risk for most people.
The Oculus Rift S is due to launch sometime in Spring. It doesn’t look like a worthwhile upgrade if you already have the Rift, but if you’re seeking to get into VR then the S version does offer some marked improvements.
Google Stadia Wants To Stream The Future.
This week Google unveiled plans to continue its march toward all-out world domination with Google Stadia, a game streaming service that will offer 4K HDR support as well as 60FPS.
On the one hand streaming games is an exciting prospect that turns my nerdy brain into happy mush. However, I just don’t think it’s a realistic thing to aim for currently and swapping over to streaming would mean putting up with lower quality imagery and much higher lag.
As you’d expect what Google is offering is the ability to stream a game from one of their own powerful systems straight to any screen that supports Google Stadia. Since you don’t have to run the game you don’t have to worry about lacking hardware with enough oomph to handle it.
Unsurprisingly there are a lot of issues with the concept. Right now Google reckons that for a 720p, 60FPS game you need 15Mbps of Internet speed, and frankly such performance remains out of the hands of many people. Vast chunks of America, for example, have crap Internet connections. Personally here in the UK I live a few miles outside of town, so I deal with slow speeds that definitely wouldn’t support streaming games.
Even if you have a superb connection, though, the image and audio is heavily compressed. On a smaller screen it’s not too bad, but if you stuck it up on your big living room TV the artefacts and blurring would become highly noticeable, as reported by Eurogamer who got some hands on time with Stadia.
Then there’s the hefty input lag that comes with data having to be bounced back and forth across the Internet highway. You can get away with this in slower games, but anything fast-paced would suffer heavily. Trying to play something like Apex Legends could be a real nightmare.
Check out this video from Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry for more information on the Stadia’s performance, because while I don’t think streaming is a viable solution at the moment there’s no denying that some of the tech is damn impressive.
As for Google’s plans for Stadia, they seem to want to integrate it with Youtube. As an example, imagine watching the trailer for a new game, then at the end a “play it now” button pops up which you can click and immediately play the game without having to download it or faff around. I mean, that’s pretty cool. Likewise, sending a friend a link with a message saying, “play this!” would be a great thing to be able to do.
Epic Store Continues To Snatch Up Games
Onto the last topic of the day, which is how the Epic Store has announced even more “exclusives” coming to the platform which has left a lot of people rather pissed off. The list includes the likes of Pheonix Point and The Outer Worlds, both of which will be coming to the Epic Store for 12-months before presumably turning up on Steam. Apparently The Outer Worlds will also be available on the Windows 10 store at launch, though.
The reasoning is pretty easy to grasp: the Epic Store will take a relatively small 12% of a game’s sale price with a further 5% knocked off if the game was made using the Unreal Engine, whereas Steam take a substantial 30% of every sale, only offering small decreases if the game sells a considerable amount. It’s a huge difference, and from a business perspective its easy to see why developers would want to launch their games on the Epic Store platform where they can reap much larger profits and potentially even offer a lower RRP since they aren’t losing out as much per sale.
The other reason is that Epic themselves are willing to throw around a lot of money to snatch up games, either in the form of true exclusives or timed exclusives. It makes sense because this allows Epic quickly haul themselves up the ladder in order to compete with Steam.
Speaking of which, Steam needs to up its game. Developers have long been unhappy with how much Steam takes per sale, and while other platforms have offered a better deal they haven’t been able to really take the fight to Valve. Epic, though, are forcibly storming the market, an aggressive style that has annoyed a lot of games but has also indisputably made them feel like a big deal in a short amount of time.
Furthermore, Epic have commented on how they won’t be allowing “crappy” games on their store, a direct jab at Steam’s lack of curation where good games typically get buried under mountains of tat.
Epic have a long way to go as well, though. Aside from the fact that people don’t want to bother with yet another launcher to play their games with, the Epic Store lacks a bunch of features that people take for granted now such as user reviews and forums. There’s also reports of less than helpful support when it comes to refunds or issues.
Personally I view the competition as healthy. While I understand the annoyance of another launcher it isn’t something that irks me, after all I’m perfectly happy to shop around a few different stores in town to find the best price or just because one shop has its own brand that I find superior. If nothing else the Epic Store might give Steam the kick up the arse it needs.