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A while ago, I started writing a blog about my views on Virtual Reality. But about a third of the way through, I suddenly realised something. Let me explain.
My original blog was on 'True' Virtual Reality. I then realised that my concepts and theories on 'True' 3D and VR were virtually the same. And so I restarted the blog, gave it a new name, and threw some new ideas around.
So here we are.
We've all heard of 3D graphics, and we've all heard of Virtual Reality. Above, I mentioned 'True' 3D and 'True' Virtual Reality. But what am I talking about?
3D and 'True' 3D
3D graphics that you see in cinemas, games and even TV shows are all well and good. But as long as it's on a screen – which is a two dimensional plane, by the way – it will never by truly three dimensional. For it to be truly 3D you need it off a screen; depth will need to have a physical presence.
So, whenever you see a movie claiming to be 3D...it really isn't. They are still giving you the illusion of depth – just an enhanced stereoscopic image – and charging you more for it.
However, current 'false'-3D technologies are becoming increasingly more convincing. The 3DS, for example, projects depth into the screen rather than out. However, I discovered something far more interesting last year. That was HoloVizio (HoloGrafika). Some of you early adopters may have heard of this.
HoloVizio isn't like any conventional 3D screen. Here's why. First of all, unlike other 3D screens, HoloVizio uses voxels instead of pixels. Each voxel can project multiple light beams – each with different intensity and colours – in multiple directions simultaneously. What that means is that everyone crowded around the screen – at whatever angle they're sitting at – have a different perspective to each other. And the best part? No glasses required.
*At the moment, HoloGrafika have four different displays available – all of which are compatible with PCs only.
However, that brings me back to my original point. Despite how brilliant that tech is: it isn't 'True' 3D. But at CES 2010 and 2011, there were tech demos of 'True' 3D from two separate companies: Burton Incorporated and InnoVision.
Both were highly impressive, however, the Burton demo of their 'Aerial 3D Plasma Device' was the most impressive. Now, I would explain it, but the following video from the two companies at CES 2011 is much better.
Virtual Reality and 'True' Virtual Reality
Let me start with this: as many of you will have heard, Sony recently unveiled their Personal Headset Display (PHD) at CES 2011. Some articles are shouting out that it is 'Virtual Reality Reborn!' or the 'VR Viewer'. But that is all false. In fact, the PHD is more in the line of 3D Headset Display rather than VR.
The concepts and theories of VR are vast. Some think of it the way some think of Sony's PHD; just with movement and physical action involved. You might even think about the movie Gamer when you think of VR, and who could blame you? It does involve the correct theories. All of those ideas are perceived as Virtual Reality. However, as you probably expect, I disagree.
During my research for this blog, I discovered that my own theory on VR is similar to philosopher, Philip Zhai's (or Zhái Zhènmíng), views on VR.
In his book, entitled 'Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality', Zhai critically asks if Virtual Reality is just a mere video game that totally consumes and distracts the player immersed in its simulations? Or is VR an immaterial world rich with meaning that beckons humanity to migrate into a better world held inside computers?
These two questions show two opposing theories on VR. To me, it appears that the majority of VR researchers seem to lean towards the first. Zhai, on the other hand leans towards the second. I also lean towards the second – slightly.
Zhai's theory is as follows:
"The combination of three technologies – digital simulation, sensory immersion and functional teleoperation (telepathic operation) – in a well co-ordinated manner amounts to a Re-Creation of the whole perceived universe. In other words: Virtual Reality could literally replace the living world if we choose to live in the newly-formed universe..."
My theory is that 'True' Virtual Reality is exactly like Zhai's vision of VR, and the 'False' VR is like other theories. However, is 'True' VR a good thing? Is it a good thing to lose yourself in a false world?
I don't think so, myself. Otherwise we will be living in a very Matrix-esque world. Besides, what should happen if the tech that we've wired ourselves too breaks down? Zhai explains that it would be an event on cosmic levels in the real world. I don't think so. Cosmic levels would imply an implosion of our universe or explosion or disintegration. In fact, if something like that were to happen while we are wired in, we – like in the Matrix – would simply just cease to exist.
So, that is my view on what 'True' VR is. The Matrix films, to me anyway, appear to have either voluntarily or involuntarily shown the world what 'True' VR is. This brings me to the point of my blog.
'True' 3D. 'True' Virtual Reality. One and the Same?
Above, I explained my views on what I mean by 'True' 3D/VR. But now I ask, aren't they pretty much the same thing?
If the future 'True' 3D in gaming is the projection of environments, characters and objects, then isn't that nearly the same thing as 'True' VR? The only difference – albeit a large one – between True 3D and VR is the platform: real world and digital world.
You see, the problem with True 3D is the barrier of the 5 senses. True 3D only really accounts for the visual (and probably audio), but what about touch, taste and smell? Okay, sure taste and smell would be fine leaving out of it, but feeling is important.
If you cannot feel the environment around you, then how do you tell if you've been shot, or if you are leaning against the wall or even standing on the ground? We could probably do without the feeling of pain, but physical pressure of weight and the pure physicality of the world around you need to be felt. If we cannot feel it, how can we play properly?
True VR answers this. However, it takes place on a false environment – an illusion. A false world. All three axes are an illusion. Which brings us back to the fact that True VR isn't truly 3D.
At this point, you're probably wondering "if they are so different, how can they be the same"? Simple: Both are aiming at producing the exact same effect. They both produce a world which you immerse yourself in. Both try to convince you that it is the real world by playing on your senses.
True 3D and VR has only one difference. A big one, I admit, but only one.
True 3D takes place in the real world around us. True 3D is the physical projection of a world and its characters and objects. True 3D is a Physical projection.
True VR takes place in a Virtual World. True VR is a world and its characters and objects which are projected into your mind – tricking you into thinking it's reality. True VR is a Mental Projection.
Thoughts on the Dragon Age II Demo (PC/Xbox 360)
*Note: gamespot won't allow me to say c.l.a.s.s (without the '.') or s.t.y.l.e (forbidden .html error apparently).
**SPOILERS AHEAD!**Dragon Age: Origins Spoilers**SPOILERS AHEAD**
**Note: My opinions are based on the demo. Many of these opinions may change after the official release of the game. This is not to be seen as a full review – simply as a hands-on preview.
Now, unless you've been living in a cave for the past year, then I'll assume you have heard of Dragon Age: Origins (DA: O). And besides, if anyone is actually reading this, I'll assume you actually played DA: O (or at least done homework on Bioware's hit game) - so I'll keep the introduction short.
Dragon Age II (DAII) is the follow-up of DA: O (duh?). In DAII, you are placed into the shoes of Hawke, a former resident of Lothering. And, as you probably know, Lothering is consumed by the Blight after the DA: O hero completes the first of four Grey Warden treaties. This is where the demo steps in...
This is probably what your most interested in, so this is why I'm talking about this first.
The gameplay for DAII has been totally reworked from DA:O. Instead of a real-time strategy (RTS) based Role Playing Game (RPG), it's a mix between RTS and Action RPG. For the 360, your primary attack is mapped toAwhile your special abilities are mapped toX, YandB. As you would expect from an action game, there is a little bit of button-mashing involved. However, this only counts for theAbutton, so button-mashing is kept down to a minimum.
Meanwhile, on the PC, you have the same interface (with changes – detailed under HUD section), so the key bindings should be familiar. However, there is one difference. Unlike the 360 version, the basic attack (A) is automatic, and is mapped to the right-click of the mouse – so not button mashing involved. Other abilities are mapped, like DA:O, to the number keys (under function keys – not numpad). So those who played DA:O for the PC should be on familiar ground.
The Mage c.l.a.s.s is my favourite, simply because it is very powerful. At the start of the demo; you get a taste of what the mage is like at higher levels. And it is damnably powerful. As the mage, you have multiple AoE or Cone-Area attacks that deal extreme amounts of damage. The mage c.l.a.s.s is the best at crowd control, as you are able to immobilize groups, knock down those that get too close, or just make all your enemies explode.
However, at the lower levels – which is where the 'real' story takes place – the mage is significantly less powerful than the other ****s. You start off with only your staff, and an ability to knockback surrounding foes. You will find your squad/team dealing the most damage until you begin to level up.
On the PC, there is a slight issue with the AoE spells. It's nothing major, it's just an annoyance. But when you cast one, highlighting your target area can be tricky, as it will only work when you target the floor; targeting an enemy as the center point will cause the cursor to go grey – cancelling the spell if you right-click. Doesn't sound bad, but it is bad when you have a large group circling a friendly and you can't select your target area.
As for the animations; they are slick and far more interesting than DA:O animations. When at range, the mage will use the staff to fling small fireballs at your target – adding in a few spins and twirls for good measure, and finally finishing the animation-reel with a trail of fire emanating from the tip of your staff (featured in most of the trailers). As for your other abilities, the animations are a welcome change from Origins. The animations make Hawke appear far more powerful than any other mage out there – with the exception of a very different looking Flemeth.
Out of the three c.l.a.s.s.e.s, this was my least favourite. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as entertaining as either the rogue or mage. That said, the warrior is very efficient at holding the attention of surrounding targets – especially when you get taunt. The sword and shield warrior works differently from the two-handed warrior:
- Sword and Shield:
The sword and shield is considered the tank c.l.a.s.s in both DA:O and DAII. The warrior who uses shield can absorb more damage than the two-handed warrior, however does slightly less damage. Unfortunately, you cannot taste what the sword and shield warrior is like at the later levels, as that part of the demo features a two-handed warrior only – and you cannot switch weapons until afterwards.
The shield-warrior is good at holding the attention of his/her enemies. However, watch your health carefully, or you will find that your main character will fall in the first 'boss' battle.
The animations are pretty good, and feel more powerful than it did in DA:O. Your attacks are faster and appear more brutal – and you even use your shield every now and again as a bludgeon. If you opt for defensive abilities, your animations change accordingly. Instead of fast slashes and blinding arcs, you use slower forward thrusts, while using your shield to guard yourself.
- Two-handed Sword:
The two-handed warrior is a mix between damage dealer and tank. You absorb more damage than a rogue, but deal less damage than a rogue. That said, due to the slower attack speed, I think the 2-handed warrior should deal more damage per hit at these lower levels – as I found my attack power (damage + attack speed) was significantly lower than that of other c.l.a.s.s.e.s. The only edge the 2-handed warrior has over a rogue is the fact you hit multiple targets with one swing of your giant blade.
The 2-handed warrior at later levels is extremely powerful. Your attacks deal massive amounts of damage, and you also have better crowd control abilities. You have two cone attacks and one AoE – all of which deal large amounts of damage. The 2-handed warrior is almost as good as the mage at crowd control.
The animations look far better than it did in Origins. Instead of large slow arcs, it's small, fast arcs and slashes and hacks. Individual abilities, such as mighty blow, look far more brutal.
I probably had more fun with the rogue than any other c.l.a.s.s This is because, at lower levels or higher levels, the rogue maintained his/her ferocity and speed. The Rogue also has the most interesting moves – especially in terms of animations. The rogue is very fast, and deals a consistent amount of damage throughout the demo.
As the rogue, you can choose between archery or dual blades. Archery is incredibly powerful, you have abilities that include explosive arrows, scatter arrows and even a rain of arrows – so the archer is capable of both crowd control and damage dealing. Dual blades on the other hand are more efficient at taking down individuals. Backstab is by far the best ability; upon activation, Hawke will throw a smoke bomb to the ground, disappear, then reappear behind his target. As I said earlier: I had the most fun with the rogue.
The HUD featured in the demo is significantly better than DA:O. There is far less clutter on the screen than before. The action bar is slimmer and partially transparent - it actuallyreminds me of the task bar on Windows 7.
The mini-map has also improved. Instead of a map-compass hybrid, it is just a translucent map with clear directions. The character health bars are smaller and easier to manage as well. The health bars are located on the bottom left of the screen, just above the task bar, and only take up a little room.
The interface is far better than Origins' blade menu. The biggest difference is in the skill tree screen. Instead of those linear, bland connecting boxes, you have similar connecting boxes that move off in different directions according to requirements – level requirements, or spell/ability requirements.
The pause screen (Esc/Start buttons) you have the similarly structured screen seen in Mass Effect – albeit in slightly different order. So it is far better than DA:O's list structure pause screen.
Unfortunately, I cannot really make a judgement on the PC graphics because my current graphics card is sub-par (basically s@#t) at the moment. So I will talk about the 360. Some of my comments on the 360 do apply to the PC as well.
The graphics are better than Origins; especially the character models. The character models have far more detail now – especially in terms of clothing/robes and armor. The armor and clothing all have multiple layers which aren't just bump textures, allowing better looking characters than before.
The textures are better than Origins, but not as improved as the character models. The textures look like a mix between Origins realism and a DAII's distinctive art s.t.y.l.e seen in the concept images. That art s.t.y.l.e instantly make DAII graphics better than DA:O in my book.
The conversation wheel first featured in Mass Effect (ME) makes an appearance here in Dragon Age II. And it is brilliant. Having a main character that can speak is one thing, but being able to tell him what to say makes it instantly better.
Hawke in conversation is a lot of fun – especially if you opt for the Shepard-esque jerk (or A@#ehole if you prefer) role. For those of you who have yet to play, I won't spoil the fun for you. – The conversation system has definitely improved over MEs system. The previous problem with the convo-wheel in ME – no visual representation of which option was good or bad – is solved. If you want to be evil, you will get a rather menacing little icon in the center of the wheel. If you want to be good, you will get a heroic-looking icon instead. If you don't want to be either or just want to be funny, there is another icon the looks like a smiling side of the drama mask.
The demo was a lot of fun to play, and I doubt you will be disappointed. Unless you were a fan of the original combat system, then I don't think you will have any problems with this small taste of Dragon Age II. This demo makes me glad I preordered...
**Dragon Age II will be released on the 8th of March in North America, and 11th of March in Europe**
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