This past weekend, Melbourne welcomed the first ever tech-specific exhibition open to the public in Australia (it takes a long time for anything to get down here, alright!). Hosted inside the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the Technology & Gadget Expo 2016 is a unique take on a typical convention in that you are able to purchase pretty much anything that’s on the show floor on the day.
In typical Melbourne style, the weather outside was cold, wet with rare glimpses of sunshine. But inside the exhibition hall, Power Up Gaming could not be more at home. There were solar-powered cars, ‘meat wellness’ scanners, compact wearable surround sound systems and, one of our favourites, virtual reality demos.
The first VR experience for the day was a mini-game called Slingshot, part of a compilation of small games from The Lab, courtesy of Valve. Using the Oculus Rift, players are transported to a warehouse filled with massive stacks of boxes with blue and red cubes. The retail release of the Oculus headset was definitely a better version than the one I used at PAX Aus last year. Not only was it lighter but the resolution stood head and shoulders above the dev kit I previously played with; it’s impressive to see what six months worth of development can do.
Using the trigger on the Oculus controller, players interact with a catapult to launch metallic balls into crates – blue cubes are score bonuses and red ones trigger explosions.
This location features a massive chasm that separates the player and the boxes, and my senses kicked in when approaching the edge and watching all my handiwork plummet into the abyss. If your multiplier remains constant, you’ll have the added bonus of a directional guide – a dotted line – to assist when aiming the catapult. Overall, it’s quite a stimulating experience with all the explosions reverberating around the warehouse and there’s a conveyor belt behind you that’s always moving. Just watching people react to virtual reality for the first time became a favourite of mine, as several VR newcomers became too enthusiastic at the booth – hitting a few innocent bystanders when venturing too far from the ‘safe zone’.
After that was a huge queue for Red Cartel’s double showing of their own virtual reality Formula 1 simulator, as well as an underwater experience called The Blu by Wevr Labs. I got my shot after around 45 minutes and opted for an extended demo of The Blu, using the HTC Vive. In terms of comfort, the Vive headset felt better than the Oculus – less bulky and more user-friendly with more straps for a snug fit (essential if you wear glasses like me).
Despite this particular experience being over 12 months old on the VR platform, the graphics still hold up. I couldn’t control where I swam, but fish intelligently evaded my presence, with anemone closing and reeds waving when touched – that was all in under three minutes. Then my simulation froze and, despite this technical difficulty, I wouldn’t get another shot. My demo concluded on a sour note and I moved on to try the Samsung Gear VR after a lunch break.
The user interface of the Samsung Gear was really quite intuitive. You move around menus with head movements as if directing a computer mouse and a ‘back’ button and touchpad assist with file selections. The bright blue circle in the centre of the screen is easily identifiable and acts as your cursor. Much like a smartphone, I was told to swipe the pad to progress further along the menus and press the pad to confirm a choice. Aside from a short Pacific Rim experience from 2014, there wasn’t a whole lot from the VR side when it came to this piece of tech. All other files were of ‘fly-overs’ – five-minutes videos where a Go-Pro has been strapped to the underside of a helicopter, for instance.
I briefly spoke to one of the IT assistants on hand who said, to his knowledge, the company has no plans to develop any full-scale games; “Creating those larger games is something that Apple’s looking at, though,” he said.
My last use of virtual reality gaming for the day came after I secured a hands-on session with the Vive at the HTC booth. I was shown The Blu again but this time as a quicker, two-minute demo. I was underwater hovering above a sunken ship with schools of fish and large manta-rays floating around and over my head. But then a whale of gigantic proportions sneakily appeared before me and, for a good five seconds, I was shivering in my shoes. It glided up to the ship, looked me in the eyes and swam away with its massive fin shaking the ship as it went. Not since my time with Earthlight have I forgotten that I was wearing the headset – even if it was for a brief moment.
Then came the highlight of the day. Audioshield, from developer Dylan Fitterer, is a rhythm-based game where players are bombarded with an array of coloured blobs and must match them up with a corresponding shield. Mash it together with a loud, energetic soundtrack and you’ve got an awesome party game on your hands.
When the music slows down, so too do the blue and orange coloured orbs. But it’s when the beat picks up that things get hectic really quickly. It’s like a horde of enemies are firing clouds of flaming arrows and you have to block all of them with a specific hand. Not only that, but the colour purple makes an appearance – sometimes curving from left to right or vice-versa – and that’s when both blue and orange go together. Using your peripherals is key because I was using both my blue and orange paddles in separate directions – sometimes even crossing them over – for long durations. What’s great is that Audioshield can sync with your own music library, which opens up lots of new content and seems like a game where adding new stages and surroundings would be a fairly simple transition.
My 10-minute demo at the HTC booth concluded my time at the Melbourne’s 1st Technology & Gadget Expo. There were lots of short ‘experiences’, as people were calling them, at TGE 2016. But I think what we all look forward to is when this piece of technology find its feet and develops more fully-fledged games like Resident Evil VII, featured at this year’s E3.
For a debut and from a gaming perspective, the show as a whole wasn’t too bad. But the latest in computers, smart watches and exploding chewing gum failed to make an appearance. Who knows, hopefully next year!
Power Up Gaming would like to thank the Melbourne Exhibition Centre for hosting the event and those involved for granting us a Media Pass to the show.