The Oculus Mobile VR Jam 2015 - Thoughts from a Judge

posted Jun 4, 2015, 9:08 AM by Brad Herman

The Oculus Mobile VR Jam 2015 has ended, the winners announced and what a competition it’s been. I was lucky enough and honored to be asked by Oculus to be part of the panel of judges. This was not a task I took on lightly and giving 61 experiences their due attention was  more work than I expected. The entrants didn’t make it easy on us. Such amazing projects to explore. I learned a lot from the process and got the chance to see some very innovative apps. Hopefully many of you had the chance to try them too, I would imagine many of them will come back in the oculus store as full products some day. I wanted to take some time to mention some of my favorites that won and some that didn’t. I also wanted to extend an offer to all 61 finalists that if they would like to know privately what I thought about their entries I would be happy to talk to them.


Apps and Experiences

The Night Cafe, The judges choice and yours! This is good art, I liked it a lot. It’s a clear idea that was executed very well. The touch hold to move mechanic worked very well, I hadn't seen it quite like that before. I can see this concept working well for lots of types of experiences and games.  It always kept frame rate and left me wanting more. I would love to explore more paintings.


Colosse is an animated film, as I work at an animated film company I tend to be a pretty hard judge in this genre. This is a great example of 2D staccato style mixed with fluid CG, it all serves the story and draws the eye to what you should see. The only real dig is that it ends abruptly. Other than that it’s more polished than many attempts at realtime animated short films for VR I have seen. Like The Night Cafe, the first thing I did after reviewing this was turn to the person next to me and say, “you have to try this”.     


Along the Trail was a real surprise and eye opener for me. I tried this twice, first with the sample dataset, and a day later with my own facebook data. It was an intriguing experience with the sample data, enough me make me jump through the hoops to get my own data into it. With my own data it was an incredibly emotional experience. It gave me an amazing glance into the digital footprint I leave behind. Things that will remain long after I am gone. As it shows glimpses of conversations and posts from my history it came across the time while my three year old son was in the hospital for cancer treatment. It was words I had typed but not seen in a long time. It brought tears to my eyes to relive those moments. What I love is that this isn’t a social media browser, it’s a piece of digital performance art with your facebook life as the paint and Virtual Reality as the canvas.


Soundscape VR is multiplayer, network multiplayer, thats a gutsy choice for a game jam. I like making music but lack rhythm, I’m horrid at Guitar Hero but pretty good with creation apps like Propellerhead’s Figure. This reminds me of figure in some fun ways. I was able to make some cool music and in multiplayer I found some random people to jam with and it was like a virtual reality version of venice beach.


Speech Center was a type of entry I had hoped to see. It shows the power of VR to train people in a brave new way. This is the kind of app I wish I had a few years ago. I do a lot of speaking these days, if you're reading this you may have seen me speak ( You may have seen Ted & Amir at the same event, Hi Guys!). I had to learn the hard way and get used to public speaking, This app does an eloquent job of teaching, it needs more chapters and to be something people can buy. If you build this, they will buy it.


DMZ has great and powerful content. It also has some framerate and ux issues. Above that it does a very good job of telling a story and explaining things in a very good and visual way. The information is delivered and I have completely different perspective on the Korean DMZ. When you visit a place in VR it has the ability to create memories in the same way as visiting a real place.


NeoS: The Universe was one of my absolute favorites in the overall experience criteria. This is good VR, really good VR. This is my new go to demo for showing off the GearVR to people. It is exactly the type of thing that in one time though makes people want to buy a VR headset and show it to the next person. Virial VR in the best way. I love the constant scaling and depth change of the floor. The staggering amount of content at every scale gives the universe context.

House of Languages taught me some spanish that I can remember a few weeks later, that’s more than I got out of high school. It’s a cartoon raccoon named Mr. Woo with a top hat walking around teaching you a foreign language, how can you not love this? It’s immersion education you can take with you. It’s polished, fantastic art direction, very detailed, and doesn't drop frames. This is a glimpse into the future of education.


Tana Pura is pretty, it’s art and it’s pretty. The soundscape is compelling and it’s art that can only exist in VR. It’s also reactive taking the user's head movements into consideration, this is something that to few art experiences do. I really liked the way the particles formed the logo, from a visual effects standpoint it was very well done. The way the particle characters emit from the the ground in 3d space has a lovely sense of depth to it.          


Telescopic takes you out to the night sky and lets you explore the cosmos. It’s extremely polished and makes use of the best practices of VR. It’s novel system for large scale movements and small scale adjustments is very clever. The use of real space data and the information about what your looking at is just cool.


Circumpaint is pixel art painting with your head. At first I was not expecting much, if I want to make art I would really like to use my hands. I ended up animating a pixel dragon breathing fire, it was silly but cute. It made me laugh and want to play a bit more. The developer clearly understand the limitations of trying to paint with your head, I appreciate the choices that they made to deliver a surprisingly satisfactory experience.


Science360 brings whiteboard style animation to life. It’s electric neon palette mixed with great science content is another example of the power of education in VR. I enjoyed this a lot, it’s something that I can show my kids and help them learn. I love that it’s 2D drawings and art in a 3D stereo world.



Games

SteamCrew VR caused some yelling in my office. It also required us to switch positions in the submarine in order for us to figure out what the heck was going on. Once we did that we played this over and over again. It reminded me of one of my favorite cooperative team games, SpaceTeam. I love cooperative games and there were a few in this jam. This one stood out on looks and game mechanics. It had all the things I look for in a good game, the first of which is I wanted to play it again.


Drift reminded me of the game superhot, I love the time mechanic. This was popular game around the office. It presented a strong art direction with a unique point of view. There is no other game in the game you would confuse this with. The way it leaves your previous try as a 3d trail is a lovely effect.


Daydream Blue was one of eight projects in the jam to get a perfect score from me. I wasn’t sure if this was a game or an experience and frankly it doesn't matter, It works on both levels. It’s a world I enjoyed spending time in, It’s one I plan to spend more time in on my next airplane flight. lovely sound effects and music. There are lots of things to interact with all over the world in surprising ways. Every time I enter this world I find something new.


Scorched Battalion starts in one direction then makes a hard right into WTF land. I loved that about it, it’s part regular game and part animated film with interactive elements. I don’t want say to much because it would spoil it for you. The mix of game and story work well. Overall it’s a better combination than just pure tank game.


Neuralgia took us a few tries to figure out. Once again we had to switch positions to understand what the other person was talking about. The two views of the world are so different. Once you figure out how to help the person in the white world solve the puzzles it’s more fun. We did find the puzzles complex and frustrating at times.


Bazaar gets some serious credit for building an engine and a game for this jam. No unity or unreal, they made this engine, and they made most of it just for this jam, That’s hardcore. It’s got a great look that reminds me of my friend's project Land’s End. This is a harder look to pull off than you would expect.


Tactera is a great game with replay value. I drained the battery on my Note 4 playing this. RTS is a genre I enjoy and I wanted to see how far I could push the unit types. I went back and wanted to play more. This game is polished and went the extra mile of having comfort settings and positional settings. I look forward to this being a full game on the gearVR and hopefully a walk around game on the desktop Rift. I would love to play this multiplayer in VR with my friends.    


Polo is at its best in multiplayer mode. Having your friends try and chase you around with their flatland phones while you scurry around in VR. We found ourselves constantly trying to see how close we could get to getting caught and get away. We played this a few times and each was better than the last.


SMS Racing was the first entry I played in the Jam and I used it as a guide for everything that came after. Few games scored higher, and everyone in the office took turns playing this. It’s a game that frankly only works in VR and that’s awesome. It’s such a nonsensical thing to try and drive and look down and use the gamepad to send a text message. It’s a pretty fun driving game on it’s own and the sms part could be expanded into a casual game, together you have an awesome combination.


TECHNOLUST: THOUGHT CRIMES is beautiful. It’s amazing how much detail they packed into this room. Lots of clever optimizations and new UX tropes defined in this game. It’s a strong story with a unique point of view. It puts the player into an interesting set of moral delmas, something very different from a lot of other games in the jam. The quality of the audio here is a real standout, it helps ground the world and make it feel all the more real.


Blind Swordsman in an interesting one to judge, is this VR? How do we define VR? This is such a unique entry. Not only is it a hard game, it forces you to focus and play different. This is achieved by blinding you and knowing where you are looking. You make a mental picture of the world around you and try and fight. Perhaps it’s a bit like being daredevil?


The Bouncinators is the community choice and one of my picks as well. It’s quirky and fun, I liked the art direction and while disorienting at times the game mechanic felt pretty unique. I appreciate it when developers take chances and don’t follow the easy paths.   






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