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‘I am the Batman’: why VR is all the rAge

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Virtual reality came into its own at the weekend’s annual rAge gaming expo, helping to cement its role as South Africa’s premier digital event, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

I am the Batman. That is probably the single biggest epiphany I have ever had while playing a computer game. No, it is not a claim to being a superhero, nor a brief delusion of grandeur. It was an experience while immersed in a virtual reality demonstration.

The game, Batman VR, created for the new PlayStation virtual reality headset, has not yet been released. However, one of its designers was in South Africa to demonstrate the beginning of the game at the rAge gaming expo this past weekend.

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The scenario has Bruce Wayne’s Butler, Alfred, handing him a key to the secret entrance to the batcave. When one dons the PlayStation VR headset, one sees the game from Wayne’s perspective. By the time “you” have descended into the batcave and donned Batman’s suit with its belt of tricks, the virtual you has become immersed not only in the game environment, but also in the persona of the main character.

That is both a sign of the brilliance of the game design and a pointer to what will make great VR in the future: not only being immersed in virtual worlds, but also in virtual characters. That, of course, will lead to many anguished words written and spoken about how people will lose their own identities when they play these games.

Tell that to the millions of children who are forced to surrender their identities when they become part of the sausage factory of our 19th century education system that stresses rote learning, conformity and industrial age jobs. At rAge, the kids of all ages were out in force to find the next big experience that would redefine their entertainment lives. But for some, it goes beyond mere entertainment.

The rAge event itself was redefined by three major trends. Virtual reality was the most obvious, with almost every major VR headset brand on display or in use to demonstrate new games. Oculus Rift, which provides the technology for the Samsung Gear VR, competed with the HTC Vive for presence, the former used by the likes of Eagle Flight and the latter by Blue Ocean VR to demonstrate their offerings.

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However, PlayStation VR was the standout VR presence at rAge, as Ster-Kinekor Entertainment set the scene for an early-2017 launch, likely to be one of the biggest gaming hardware events of the year. As the price of headsets comes down, VR will become an even bigger presence at the next editions of rAge.

Second, the event was also the biggest gathering ever in the South Africa for the ultimate expression of devotion to fictional characters: cosplay. Short for “costume play”, it sees hundreds of people spend hours, days and even weeks before the event creating costumes that are as faithful as possible to those of characters in games, movies and comics.

The third big trend was the arrival of eSports – or electronic sports – as a serious business. Telkom sponsored R1-million in prizes for competitors in a three-day contest between teams of gamers playing two wildly popular games, Dota (Defense of the Ancients) 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

The big winner, the Bravado Gaming squad, won R200 000 for taking first place in CS:GO and R90 000 for being runners up in Dota 2. It had separate teams competing in each, an indication of just how much strategic energy such teams put into gaming. Such teams are known as Multi Gaming Organisations, and eight of them took part in the two tournaments.

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The Dota 2 winner, White Rabbit Gaming, took home R200 000, while Carbon eSports won a total of R130 000 for taking second place in CS:GO and fourth place in Dota 2.

Telkom may be the biggest, but it is hardly the only game in town. Three years ago, the prize money at rAge amounted to about R10 000. Last year, it went to R60 000. This year, it has finally come into its own.

“You can’t even kit out your team with that kind of money,” says Kimberley Blake, marketing manager of Syntech, distributor of hard drives and peripherals for gaming, among other. “We came along two years ago and said, how can we assist the gaming community, for them to win real money. We started Crucial Cup, an online gaming LAN (networked computer) tournament twice a year. The pot started with R30 000. This year it’s R50 000, and we’ve rebranded it as Ballistics Masters SA.”

Syntech has a powerful role model in Micron, the company behind computer games Crucial and Ballistic. It sponsors one of biggest gaming teams in world, Ninjas in Pyjamas. In South Africa, it puts half a million rand a year behind tournaments and team sponsorships.

MSI, the world’s leading maker of gaming computers and a global eSports sponsor, is also a major supporter of rAge and backs local eSports team The Gathering. This year it built South Africa’s first permanent eSports studio, from where tournaments can be broadcast across the world.

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Not surprisingly, MSI has also caught the virtual reality bug: at rAge it announced the new VR One I/O, an all-in-one virtual reality kit with a backpack containing both computer and power source. The manufacturer predicts that VR will soon move beyond gaming, into design, architecture, and even space exploration.

Clearly, the kids looking for their next big thrill may well also be discovering the careers of the future. For now, however, it is all disguised as fun.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

 

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Naspers feeds into Latin America’s tech funding

Movile will get $400m funding from the SA-based technology investment giant for iFood expansion.

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Movile is to receive US$500-million in funding for iFood in the largest tech funding in Latin America to date. Naspers and Innova Capital have committed to invest $400m of new capital into Movile to use for further investment in iFood, the leading online food delivery platform in Latin America, of which Movile is a majority shareholder.  

Movile and Just Eat have already invested $100m in iFood during 2018. iFood’s extraordinary growth and the vast market opportunity in Brazil and more broadly in Latin America has driven the increased investment commitment. 

iFood’s monthly orders in Brazil have fed more than 9 million customers in the past twelve months, 16 times the nearest online competitor, in terms of daily active users. This means its partner restaurants are serving the biggest population of consumers ordering food in Latin America. iFood has 50 000 restaurant partners and uses 120 000 couriers. 

The increased investment commitment from Naspers, Innova and Movile is expected to accelerate growth, speed up product development and innovation, and fuel geographical expansion for iFood across the region. The company’s vision is to gain deeper knowledge of consumers through artificial intelligence technology, to personalise the food delivery experience – and at a reduced price, because of improved logistics. 

“Movile is very fortunate to have long-term investors who have supported us for the past decade to help achieve our goal of transforming the lives of more than one billion people and thus we are able to continually back iFood to ensure it remains the market leader,” said Fabricio Bloisi, Movile CEO. 

“Our entire ecosystem of companies is focused on allocating resources and energy towards our one billion people goal. iFood is leading the way, fueling unprecedented growth through its innovative technology platform, providing consumers, couriers and restaurants with the best experience in food ordering and delivery.”  

Larry Illg, CEO of Naspers Ventures, said: “iFood has established itself as a technology leader in Latin America and its success stacks up with some of the most innovative food companies that are leading regions in North America, Europe and Asia.  We have been impressed by their execution in Brazil and remain committed to backing the company on its path to transform the entire food chain to better serve consumers.” 

Online food delivery is experiencing massive expansion globally. According to latest reported results, Grubhub grew daily average orders 39% year-on-year, reaching over 416 000 orders per day. In Latin America, iFood has reached 390 000 orders per day just in Brazil in the last week of October, compared with 183 000 in October 2017, representing 109% growth.

iFood CEO Carlos Moyses said: “We want our consumers to have an amazing delivery experience from the moment they order their food to the moment it arrives. Our partners – the restaurants and delivery fleet – make that happen by living our purpose of improving people’s lives using our services.

“iFood exists for our customers and, with an increased investment commitment of this size, we will be able to build out our state of the art technology platform, and increase our courier and restaurant partners to even better serve our current and future customers in Latin America.”

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Hide your sheep, Spyro is reigniting

Spyro, the iconic purple dragon that entertained living rooms worldwide in the late ‘90s, is making a return with the release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

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Spyro Reignited Trilogy introduces players to a fully remastered game collection with a re-imagined cast of characters, animations, environments, new lighting and recreated cinematics—all inHD.  Now fans can explore more than 100 lush environments filled with new detail, that brings the Dragon Realms and Avalar to life . The trilogy is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro and the family of Xbox One devices from Microsoft, including the Xbox One X.

South African distributors Megarom provided the followjng information:

In Spyro Reignited Trilogy, lead developer Toys For Bob is giving fans an all scaled-up version of the original three Spyro games that started it all, Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, but with a modern-day feel that makes it fresh and fun for today’s player. Adding to the fun, voice actor Tom Kenny is returning to the franchise as the voice of Spyro in all three remastered games. Longtime fans will be treated to Toys For Bob’s reimagined version of the classic soundtracks, in addition to an all-new title-screen theme from original soundtrack composer Stewart Copeland.

Additionally, the new game brings an in-game audio feature that allows players to switch between the original and the newly remastered soundtracks, for those who want a more classic gameplay experience. Players can simply fly in to the “options menu” at any time during gameplay, unleash their preferred nostalgic or scaled-up groove, and glide right back into the Spyro action without losing saved data.

“It’s been a real pleasure to bring back one of most iconic video game characters of all time through the Spyro Reignited Trilogy,” said Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head at Toys For Bob. “We’ve poured everything we’ve got into making sure every detail was done right to deliver a great Spyro experience for fans. We hope players will have as much fun revisiting the Spyro world and characters as we did remastering them.”

In the road up to the official release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, created a first-of-its-kind, life-sized, fire-breathing and talking Spyro Dragon drone. The drone took off from “Stone Hill” castle near New York City, spreading his wings across the U.S. to explore the cities and iconic landscapes that resemble levels and themes from the original Spyro games. As part of the tour, the Spyro drone chased sheep, fired up some BBQ and delivered an early copy of Spyro Reignited Trilogy to fellow O.G. and entertainment icon, Snoop Dogg. Highlights from the Spyro drone’s delivery to Snoop Dogg can be found here.

“Fans have been asking Activision to bring Spyro back for some time now. The response to Spyro Reignited Trilogy has been great thus far, and we’re absolutely thrilled that we’re able to continue to reimagine and reinvigorate some of the most iconic videogames and characters of all time with our remastered experiences,” said Steve Young, Chief Revenue Officer at Activision. “With this year being the 20th anniversary of Spyro, there’s no better time to pay homage to everyone’s favorite purple dragon.”

The Spyro community is invited to geek out and elevate their fandom even further through the elite global partnerships from the Activision Blizzard Consumer Products Group (ABCPG). Collaborations with Funko, Traly Pins, Exquisite Gaming, KidRobot, USAopoly, Trends International, Rubber Road, and Changes have created new avenues for fans to share their love for the return of Spyro, the original roast master. Spyro consumer products across apparel, collectibles, figurines and more are now available at retailers worldwide. Fans can also take advantage of the GameStop exclusive Spyro TOTAKU Collection.

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