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MEETMIKE – The Improvement of Real-Time Rendering Is Scary!


MEETMIKE: Pushing the Limits of Live, Real-Time Animation

MEETMIKE is the name given to a VR experience demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2017 conference – the same one where we had the chance to see the fascinating Neurable.

The joint effort of Mike Seymour (the “puppeteer”, thus the name MEETMIKE), Cubic Motion (face image tracking & solving), 3Lateral (facial rig), Wikihuman (Mike Seymour scan) and a slew of other companies has resulted in a significant overall improvement of real-time rendering technology.

End result? MEETMIKE, looking as real as it gets, rendered in real-time at 90 frames per second in VR using Unreal Engine.

If you haven’t seen MEETMIKE yet, do it now! Here’s a video:


  • MEETMIKE contains about 440,000 triangles being rendered in real time, which means rendering of VR stereo about every 9 milliseconds. Hair consumes a whopping 75% of all triangles.
  • There are 80 joints in Mike’s face rig. Again, majority of those are used for hair and facial hair movement.
  • Face mesh requires only about 10 joints for jaw, eyes and the tongue.
  • The final version of the head mesh combines these joints with around 750 blendshapes
  • The system relies on complex traditional software design and as much as three deep learning AI engines.

It’s almost unbelievable, right?!

Now, what if I showed you a real-time rendering presentation that won the award for the best real-time graphics & interactivity last year at SIGGRAPH 2016?

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Looks quite impressive, right?

What you just watched, all of that live performance capture and real-time rendering, is the backbone for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a single-player adventure set in the Viking age, developed by an indie studio Ninja Theory. It follows a young female Celtic warrior Senua, trapped in the personal hell of psychosis and schizophrenia. Throughout the game, Senua is traversing the pits of hell in search of her deceased lover’s soul, but in reality, she’s battling her mental illness.

It has just been launched on Steam (August 8), and it has received overwhelmingly positive reviews so far.

Now, the game itself is far from VR ready. But, all the facial shots of Senua, as well as her whole body, share much of the same technology required to run MEETMIKE.

Without going too deep into the matter, it’s obvious that live, real-time rendering technology is within our grasp. It’s slowly finding its way into the mainstream gaming and video animation.

Amazing future awaits us!

Unfortunately, most of the current hardware and tech is at its limits when it comes to live, real-time rendering and performance capturing. Add VR into the mix and you are really pushing it.

For those reasons, we’re still a few years away from performance capture rendering becoming an industry staple.

However, progress is inevitable, and with new generations of graphics cards, real-time rendering will surely become a viable option for developers and studios.

Imagine – a VR game where you meet somebody you know in real life. The person’s real-time rendered in-game avatar looks exactly the same as the person does in real life.

Fascinating. And scary.

MEETMIKE Real-Time Rendering Mike Seymour
He’s laughing NOW! But what if it’s already too late for humanity…

Should Free VR Game Demos Become a Thing?


August 14 update: It looks like Oculus Store has just rolled out free trials similar to Xbox One! You can download and try the game for free, and if you like it, you pay to unlock the rest of it. Defense Grid 2 is the first game to become available this way.

Let’s hope more developers and publishers follow suit!

VR Game Demos – Why and Why Not?

Now, let’s be seriously blunt and bluntly serious– VR is awesome, but it is still an emerging and rapidly developing technology. Therefore, buying VR games is a gamble for everybody with middle-of-the-pack PC + VR setups.

You could retort with a counter argument that most VR games at the moment basically ARE demos. And I would agree. However, things get increasingly complicated when you involve monetary transactions in the whole process of acquiring said games… demos… products… Whatever they are.

Certainly, there are VR games out there that are obviously dumps. They are created and published with the sole purpose and intention of making a quick buck off of early adopters.

In a Wild West situation like that, wouldn’t it be prudent for developers to rise above the junk and trash by offering demos for their legitimate products?

I’d make a statement that it would.

Now, from the developers’ perspective, demos have gained a lot of notoriety over the last 2 decades. There are several factors that play a key role here:

  • User plays the demo, doesn’t like it, decides not to buy the full game
  • User tries the demo, but still on the fence about purchasing the game
  • Increased dev time associated with making a demo
  • Demos can never fully represent the whole game

All of these are valid points to be made, especially in this day and age with closed and open betas, review copies, various game review websites and YouTube channels and so on. If you want to see the game in action, a quick search on Google and YouTube will give you all the data and info you need to make a rational buying decision.

However, with VR, it’s different. 3D adds a level of complexity and experience that significantly surpasses the capacity of any established online multimedia channel. You can’t accurately describe and review any VR game with words, images and/or video.

The person on the other side has to feel it in order to get the full picture.

This is where game demos would fill the void.

The Steam “Demo” Route

If you happen to buy VR games primarily from Steam Marketplace, there is always a refund option – for any reason.

Therefore, even if you’re not sure the VR game you’ve set your sights on will work well on your setup, you can freely buy it, try it and then decide what to do after.

However, you can’t just go willy-nilly with this method. There are limits.

You can’t refund your newly purchased VR game if you’ve had it in your library for more than 14 days. That’s 2 weeks – more than enough time to come to a conclusion. Also, make sure you didn’t play it for more than 2 hours. If you did, Steam will deny your refund request.

Additionally, there’s this. Steam obviously has means to detect your activity, so if you suddenly start buying and refunding a bunch of VR games, you will probably get this warning after a while. At the moment, there’s no information on what Steam considers “significant number of refunds”.

Oculus offers a similar refund policy for Oculus Store purchases – no more than 14 days old and 2 hours of playtime. The catch is that it’s only applicable to users in the United Kingdom. Hopefully, Oculus will expand this option to the rest of the world soon.

VR Game Demos – Final Thoughts

With the VR games rapidly oozing into the mainstream, the barrier of entry is still relatively high. In other words, it’s a significant investment for an end user.

Even if money is not the problem, you may easily find yourself fumbling through myriads of forums, videos and blog posts for hours, trying to find a solution for some technical roadblock.

This is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of VR games at this stage of VR expansion are… experimental, to say the least. Despite their supposed minimum and recommended requirements, they often don’t perform well on your particular setup. Optimization takes time, and most of the developers are rushing through the development cycle just to launch their VR games as soon as possible.

In such an environment, offering free demos would certainly help the users figure out whether playing their VR game of choice is even feasible.

Sadly, money and profit margins often take precedence over end user experience. This is the biggest reason why we probably won’t see more free VR game demos any time soon.

Unless, of course, the biggest VR game stores like Steam Marketplace and Oculus Store make it a requirement. It would certainly be in their best interest to do so – they would win over the customer trust and provide more satisfaction in the long term.

How to Add SteamVR Games to Oculus Home


Add SteamVR Games to Oculus Home

Rifters across the globe, we’re getting there! Slowly, but steadily!

Oculus Rift developers have recently announced that Third Party Apps, namely SteamVR games, would be accessible in Oculus Home with the 1.17 software update. The update was rolled out on August 3.

At first glance, this is a massive improvement over Valve’s own SteamVR Home. SteamVR Home also technically enables you to have an all-in-one solution for your games, but you have to manually search for the right executable (.exe) files to be added to SteamVR library.

However, users still report various problems with the Oculus Home’s newest feature. Most prominent issue is that SteamVR games still don’t show up in Oculus Home.

So, how DO you add SteamVR games to Oculus Home exactly?

First of all, it’s necessary that you allow third party apps:

  1. Start the Oculus app
  2. Click Library in the menu at the top.
  3. Click the Filter drop-down menu in the upper right corner.
  4. By default, Include Unknown Sources is Off. Click on the switch so that it turns blue (On).
How to Add Steam VR Games to Oculus Home
Upper right corner, don’t forget…

Now hold on, you’re one quarter of the way through, more or less. In order for your favourite SteamVR games to appear on Oculus Home screen, you’ll need to first launch each and every one separately.

You’ll only need to do it once for each game. Here’s how:

  1. Close SteamVR. Shut it down completely.
  2. Open your regular Steam client
  3. Select your game and launch it.
  4. SteamVR will auto-start and your game will be auto-added to Oculus Home.

Nevertheless, you might still experience certain roadblocks along the way. It mostly depends on the game title. Project CARS has been reported unable to launch from Oculus Home by dozens of users. Dirty Rally is also supposedly on that list. A bunch of smaller games run into all kinds of problems. I’m sure Oculus is aware of these issues and working actively on patching and fixing them.

At the moment, playing any game that’s not available on Oculus Store, including Steam VR games as well, will make you appear as ‘Online’ to your Rift friends. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it, but hopefully it gets addressed soon enough.

Add SteamVR to Oculus Home

Now, some of you out there prefer SteamVR Home to Oculus Home. For whatever reason.

That’s perfectly fine – if you have no problem manually adding each and every non-Steam game into your Library, then who am I to stop you or judge you?

So, you could simply resort to quick-launching SteamVR from your taskbar, sure. But, what you really need is a shortcut to SteamVR on your Oculus Home. This will let you seamlessly switch back and forth between SteamVR Home and Oculus Home.

At the moment, the most straightforward way to do it is with the nifty little program called Oculus Tray Tool. If you haven’t yet installed it, do it now. Trust me, you won’t regret it. It has a boatload of features, but for this purpose, one is of particular interest to you.

Oculus Tray Tool lets you swap one of your current apps with the SteamVR app. Just choose any small and free app from the Oculus Store, something that you know you won’t use.

Here’s a great video on how to set it up:

Have a trick up your sleeve? Maybe you know a better way how to add SteamVR games to Oculus Home?

Let us know in the comment section down below!

Neurable BCI HTC Vive – The Force Is Strong With This One!


Neurable – What, Where, How?

“Use the Force Luke!”

Just as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s words echoed through the galaxy far, far away, so does the invisible “force” of mind move virtual objects across the screen.

It’s 2017, and in the sea of start-ups, one stands out. It’s called Neurable and it was founded in 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tech enthusiasts and computer professionals had a chance to try this sensational VR/AR BCI (Brain Computer Interface), eye-tracking and machine learning innovation for the first time at this year’s SIGGRAPH.

Neurable maxwell planck
Moving objects in VR with your mind – fascinating, isn’t it?

Neurable is basically a heavily modified HTC Vive. It’s got EEG (Electroencephalography) sensors placed inside the interior of the headstrap. These small, non-invasive, comb-like structures, when in contact with your scalp, measure your brain’s electric activity and search for patterns. In combination with a proprietary eye-tracking technology borrowed from German company SMI, Neurable offers unparalleled VR/AR experience.

Now, the technology has been around for decades. Scientist have been researching and developing BCIs since 1970s, mainly for use in medical space (ALS, brain stroke, spinal cord injuries…).

Neurable is a significant step forward in applying this technology for non-clinical purposes. Its real secret is the advanced machine learning algorithms that achieve levels of performance unseen so far.

Neurable – Gaming and Entertainment

The possibilities for this attractive new development are vast.

Enter Awakening, a game developed by eStudiofuture specifically for Neurable. You play as a child imprisoned in a government lab that does all kinds of experiments on you. These experiments have given you telekinetic powers. The goal is to use these powers to break out of the cell and escape the laboratory.

In the demonstration above you can see the reporter successfully picking 1 out of the 5 objects on the screen, over and over again, without any handheld controller.

Neurable’s machine learning algorithms pick up patterns in your brain activity as reference points upon which individual calibration takes place. By just thinking “grab” when focusing on an object, Neurable can quickly and correctly bring the object you have in mind to the front of the screen.

Later on, you can use the same mechanic to grab the objects around you and toss them at robot guards trying to prevent your escape from the laboratory.

According to Ramses Alcaide, the President and CEO of Neurable, there are two modes. Pure EEG mode simply determines which object you want and delivers it to you. Hybrid mode adds eye-tracking, which has a function similar to a PC mouse, allowing you to use eyes to navigate the screen.

Neurable – The Future

In the recent press release, Michael Thompson, Vice President of Neurable, states:

“…This tech is already capable of typing on virtual keyboards and controlling prosthetic limbs, entirely from brain activity. Such intent-driven interactions hold tremendous promise for mixed reality environments, where current problems with user interaction constitute a significant barrier to more widespread adoption.

The best solution is a brain-computer interface that allows users to scroll menus, select items, launch applications, manipulate objects, and even input text using only their brain activity. Imagine the productivity revolution that a high-performance, non-invasive, intuitive BCI would unleash in mixed reality.”

For developers, Neurable offers Unity-compatible SDK that comes with the headset and accompanying documentation and guides to quick-start your ideas into the development pipeline.

Neurable raised $2 million in a seed funding back in December 2016. They currently employ 13 people.

The potential is definitely huge, but the competition won’t take time to wait. Neurable is pioneering the field of VR BCIs with machine learning for quick response, but top dogs with big budgets can easily come up with their own innovations.

There are already BCI startups, such as Muse and Thync, that measure your brainwaves and help with focus, calmness and meditation. The tech is easily available to be re-branded in whatever way one sees fit.

One thing’s for sure – as an end user, this is an awesome time to be alive!

Last, but not least, remember:

Neurable Keep Calm Trust Force
Because lightsaber is just a toy really…