2021 in Review: Games, Experiences and Technology
2021 was a stand out year for XR. Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) saw some technological leaps, some great videogames and a glimpse of the future. Both technologies are shaking up several industries while laying the foundations for the metaverse. To celebrate the year, we’ve chosen some of our highlights as we look forward to what 2022 might bring.
After the Fall
Probably the biggest VR launch of 2021, After the Fall brings zombie-slaying back and makes it more fun than ever. With co-op modes, cross-platform play and constant action, it’s a title that feels perfectly at home in VR. The game is gorgeous – aside from the grisly zombies – and playing on high-end hardware ensures a smooth experience. The intuitive controls allow for a great experience, and while there are some minor flaws, After the Fall is set to be one of the biggest and best VR games in recent years.
Resident Evil 4
The best Resident Evil game finally has a VR option! Armature brought everything that made the game such a standout success and revolutionised it with plenty of accessible VR additions. We loved the new interactive features; cocking and reloading the weapons, the malleable storage system, pulling grenade pins, all of these bring the action to life like never before. While it’s not the prettiest game, thanks to the browns and beiges of the original game, it’s still a great spectacle to behold.
VR often brings out the best in rhythm games, mostly due to the accelerometers embedded in the controllers. It gives a sense of interactivity that button presses can’t achieve. In Ragnarock, thumping away on the drums feels invigorating and refreshing. It helps that this Viking environment is backed by a soundtrack of rock and metal. Energising your boat of rowers, you bash out rhythms and melodies on small drums in the hopes of scoring well. Even when you don’t, it doesn’t feel like a chore replaying songs, because who doesn’t love bashing drums and creating a foot-tapping moment of bliss?
Niantic Labs’ games always want us to go outside. They’re urging us to put down the mouse or controller and interact with life outside our four walls. Pikmin Bloom is its latest attempt to get us exercising and interacting with the natural world. It’s more about walking than Pokemon Go, as there’s very little need to stand around. Players must find seeds that hatch into cute Pikmin then nurture the relationship by walking, with the app counting steps. It’s a very sedate experience, it’s one that teams up with the nature around us offering a peaceful escape from our world.
The Climb 2
If there’s a better looking videogame in VR, we haven’t seen it. And we’ve played a lot of games! The Climb 2 is a stunning view, whether climbing snow-capped mountains or high rise skyscrapers. Stopping every few minutes to appreciate the scenery is a joy, and that’s no surprise given the game is running on the Crytek CryEngine. Perhaps better than the view is the feeling of adrenaline when climbing, leaping and saving yourself from a deathly fall. The game gives a light workout to your arms, but it’s entirely welcome. The dynamic objects which could spell disaster at any second keep your heart in your mouth and your fingertips gripping on for dear life. The Climb 2 sounds sedate on paper, but in (virtual) reality it’s a nerve-shredding experience!
Sadly, in 2021 the global COVID-19 pandemic is still a thing. This means that artists, musicians and film studios are looking for new ways to interact with fans. VR and AR experiences are a booming business and a guaranteed path to extra revenue in a world where concerts are being cancelled or moved from date to date. Through VR apps like Oculus Venues and MelodyVR, you can still attend the gigs of your favourite stars. Megastars Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi and Khalid are leading the way, and the adoption of low-cost headsets will make these experiences even more common in a post-pandemic world.
Wizards Unite is Closing
Sometimes you can have too many eggs in a basket. Niantic Labs has seen massive success with their headline game Pokemon Go and their latest release, Pikmin Bloom. This has perhaps overshadowed Harry Potter Wizards Unite; it certainly didn’t help that players didn’t shift from pocket monsters to waving magic wands. Wizards Unite just wasn’t sustaining itself, making $39.4 million in lifetime revenue compared to the $1.1 billion from Pokemon Go in 2021 alone. Sometimes a smash hit brand just isn’t enough.
As VR technology evolves, so too does the need and want for more haptic feedback. We’re beyond rumbling controllers and racing seats that thud and jerk along with a game. Companies like HaptX, Meta and Tesla are all investing heavily into technology that will encompass our entire bodies; gloves that mimic the pressure and weight of physical objects when in a digital world; bodysuits which can react to impacts or environmental changes in a metaverse space. Each of these companies showcased their tech in 2021 to the astonishment of pretty much everyone, for better or for worse.
If you somehow missed Facebook rebranding to Meta, you must have been living under a rock! Mark Zuckerberg shook up the tech world by announcing his company Facebook would now be known as Meta. Why? Because he envisions the future of the internet as the metaverse, a term first coined in the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. This future, according to Zuckerberg, will be an extension of our physical selves into the digital landscape of web 3.0, through VR and AR technology. Meta wants to help usher in this technological revolution using its power, influence and money to research and launch new hardware and software which will take us into the next evolution of the internet.
The metaverse is here! Well, kind of. The latter half of 2021 has been awash with talk around a metaverse. What was once a concept that few people acknowledged has now become a buzzword that even your grandmother knows (Thanks Facebook… oh, Meta). Whatever your thoughts on the metaverse, it’s coming up fast. In fact, to some, it’s already here. If you’re playing Fortnite or Roblox then you’re already on the first rung of the ladder, and projects such as Somnium Space, Decentraland and The Sandbox are waiting for you to jump in. This ownership driven, decentralised digital space is an important change to the way we use the internet. Are you ready?
Unreal Engine 5
2021 finally saw the release of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5, bringing a dearth of powerful development tools to the industry. With so many developers utilising Unreal Engine to create their projects, this new iteration gives us a glimpse of what’s to come over the next decade. Launching with an interactive ‘“experience” collaborating with The Matrix Awakens, players and creators have seen the potential and it’s revolutionary. The level of detail and fidelity UE5 will bring is likely to change the landscape of games, from battle royales to VR puzzlers.
Sony’s 8K headset
As reported by our very own Peter Graham, Sony unveiled a prototype VR headset with not only 8K visuals (4K per eye) but also ultra-low latency. This bodes well for the company’s future, given they are soon releasing an upgraded VR headset for the PlayStation brand. Will we see this fidelity over there? It’s unlikely, but the new technology could make waves in industrial and medical avenues. This jump in technology bodes well for the future of Virtual Reality.
If you’re an AR developer, then 2021 was a good year. Niantic Labs, the company behind pretty much every hugely successful AR mobile game, released their ARDK tools for developers to use. What does this mean? Well, it means that the software they use for their titles, including mesh mapping and semantic wrapping, two features that track and map the world seen through a smartphone camera, as well as their multiplayer API, can be utilised by any development team. This sharing of technologies can only benefit the AR community as a whole and further achieve great things in the world of AR.
AR/VR in medicine
Many see Augmented and Virtual Reality as something built for games and experiences. Contrary to that view, both AR and VR are breaking down barriers in the world of medicine. Therapists are using VR to virtually visit their clients or help PTSD sufferers acclimate to the world. AR helped frontline workers learn how to care for those ill with COVID, using phone apps to triage patients when needed. Back in the virtual world, surgeons are completing spinal surgeries and trainee medical students are learning how to intubate patients using the technology rather than plastic dummies.
In 2021, the world of influencers got a bit more digital and a bit more creative. Since the advent of social media, influencers have become ubiquitous with the software – a selection of people touting products for corporations. However, with graphical software innovations, virtual and augmented reality, plus motion capture, we can now find digital avatars living the influencer life. Though right now, they aren’t trying to sell us anything, except maybe their art. CB from Casas Bahias, CodeMiko and Blu are amazing CGI avatars living digital lives, creating comedy, drama or interactive experiences.
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