Why Virtual Reality Games Will Be a Technological Revolution

Is virtual reality the future of gaming? They might be, if controllers like this are anything to go by. 


Earlier this month I attended the Worlds Fair Nano in New York City. It was a festival devoted to the future of technology. The idea was lofty, and the festival’s talks and exhibits were were more tangential toward than supportive of that idea. But in the midst of social media discussions and drone demonstrations, I saw potential for a real innovation: a video game controller.

That controller is the one in the photo above. It’s a lightweight plastic gun that’s an exact replica of the one in the zombie game on the bottom left of the screen. The controller is made by Ilium VR, a startup that makes realistic controllers exclusively for virtual reality consoles, like the HTC Vive headset pictured above. This controller is an exact replica of the rifle in the demo zombie game in the display. It was the most popular exhibit at the event, with lines of people waiting 15 minutes to waste zombies for 60 seconds

Most of those people waiting to shoot zombies did not play shooting games or zombie games. Many of them were women. That’s impressive because only 48% of gamers are women, and few of them play shooting or zombie games:

Credit: Big Fish Games / YouTube

Virtual reality games have yet to catch on, but they’re getting there. Headsets like the Sega VR and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy have been around since the late 1980s, but the technology is finally coming into its own thanks to the Oculus Rift. The Rift is the result of an incredibly successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign. The technology allows gamers to move through immersive virtual environments like Tuscan villas, Arctic wilderness, and roller coasters. Those games were so successful that they inspired licensed virtual games like Alien: Isolation and Minecraft. They also inspired more virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive, the Playstation VR, the VirtuSphere, and even the discontinued Google Cardboard.

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Oculus Rift Headset. Credit: Oculus VR

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Playthrough gif from Elite:Dangerous. Credit: Kotaku / Frontier Developments

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Tuscan Villa from Tuscany Dive Google Cardboard Game. Credit: Fabulous Pixel

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Alien: Isolation screenshot. Credit: Sega

For all that promise, there are still some limitations before virtual reality gaming embraces the mainstream. For starters the headsets cost hundreds of dollars, making them too expensive for most gamers. Developers are creating all kinds of virtual reality games, but Oculus’ parent company was acquired by Facebook and wants to use its technology for film rather than gaming, hampering the progress of the major player in the market. Until the technology becomes more accessible and the prices comes down, there won’t be an opportunity to test the tech with the consumer market.

That said, Ilium’s controller might help. I wasn’t able to wait in line to play the demo, but I did play with the controller. It was lightweight but a bit bulky for me (I’m petite; everything is too big for me). It made the prospect of playing a shooting game more intuitive to me. I appreciated that, since using a regular dual analog controller to play first-person shooter games is a bit prohibitive for me (figuring out what all the buttons do is fine; controlling the camera makes me crazy). I was encouraged by a controller that had almost no learning curve, and I felt confident about walking around a bunker to waste zombies.

Hopefully, controllers and other accessories like it will help ease other hesitant or even non-gamers into playing video games. The potential for immersive technology is too great to miss out on. Besides, I’d love for controllers like this to be offered in different sizes (I would like something I can actually hold, please!). I’m not sure when that will happen, but it will. I was sitting in a room full of eager young people who were just as inspired as me. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.

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Credit: Laurie Vázquez / Worlds Fair Nano

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.


Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Study: The effects of online trolling on authors, publications

A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

Maxpixel
Surprising Science
  • It's well known that abusive comments online happen to women more than men
  • Such comments caused a "significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future"
  • Some news organizations already heavily moderate or even ban comments entirely; this should underscore that effort
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