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Review: Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter on Linux

Posted by Norbert, 2 weeks agoMon, 13 Mar 2017, 14:51 (0 comments)
Game Information:
Name: Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter
Released: December 20, 2016
Developer: Croteam VR
Rating: 8/10

Hardware Specifications:
Processor: Intel i7-4770K, s1150
Video Card: Nvidia Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Windforce OC 6G
Memory: 16GB DDR3; Corsair Vengeance LP 1600
Hard Drive: Samsung 840 EVO, 250GB SSD

Software Specifications:
Distribution: Linux Mint 18.0
Graphics Driver: Nvidia 375.27.10 (beta)
Desktop Environment: Xfce

Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter (SSVR:TFE; Steam), an arcade-style first-person shooter by Croteam, is still in Early Access. The game is basically finished, but its developer is still ironing out bugs and the upcoming Fusion update will bring solid modding support via Steam Workshop. I have no plans to try out user-created content, nor did I run into any gameplay bugs, so I feel comfortable reviewing the "beta" version of this product.

In February 2016, I pre-ordered an HTC Vive. On the 29th; paid €972.81 including shipping. It's still one of my most expensive purchases ever, considering I don't have a lot of money. The VR headset was delivered late April 2016. I upgraded my GPU from a GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB to a GTX 1060 Windforce OC 6G in December 2016. In February 2017, SteamVR arrived for Linux in beta. On the 21st. Two days later, Croteam released SSVR:TFE for Linux. Three days after that, on the 24th, I managed to get SteamVR up and running on Linux, and I started playing SSVR:TFE.

If I remember correctly, the Vive is the second thing I've ever pre-ordered. The first was The Talos Principle, which, like SSVR:TFE, is a game by Croteam. Their Serious Sam 3: BFE (SS3) was the 10th game I bought on Steam, in 2013. In my experience their support of Linux has always been excellent. The €36.99 price tag for SSVR:TFE seems fair. Even if it would not have worked on my PC, I would have still been glad to have made the purchase; to support Croteam, as a thank-you.

Being able to use VR at home 24/7 feels similar to the transition from dial-up Internet access to always-on broadband Internet access. More than twenty years ago, when I was sixteen years old, I got my first VR experience with Virtuality equipment (this is me). I've never really been waiting for or looking forward to using VR since. Valve's support of Linux and their VR hardware announcement made me interested. Having to wait a year, from February 2016 to February 2017, until I could use SteamVR was disappointing.

With the GTX 1060, Dying Light is basically still unplayable for me. This made me worried that SSVR:TFE would not run properly on my system. I was happy to find that it runs well - really well! Its menu gives me only 49 fps, but in-game I get a solid 90 fps. Consistently too. I haven't experienced any nausea, even when playing up to a full hour non-stop. I first tried some 1 versus 1 briefly, but VR input, especially for movement, does not feel ready for proper deathmatch games. Then played through and finished the entire single player campaign, on Serious difficulty no less. Finally, I earned myself a global top 10 spot in survival mode. I now have 23 hours on record.

So, how much fun was all that? First of all, as they say, variety is the spice of life. Experiencing proper, modern VR for the first time is awesome. Having Kleer Skeletons run up to your face, killing charging Sirian Werebulls and seeing their corpses slide towards (and through) you, literally look and shoot around corners; it's fun. The game is played with two controllers, an in-game menu allows you to quickly and easily switch guns separately for each hand. Imagine not only being able to play with two mice, but being able to point them anywhere you want all around you. And then imagine holding two XM-214-A miniguns, haptic feedback and near endless amounts of enemies to kill. Now, that's what I'm talking about! It's interesting that using the side grip feels more natural on the wrists. High structures are impressive in VR. Also, standing in real life, for a change. My back noticed that.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows. To start with VR itself. Using SSVR:TFE on Linux means using the beta versions of Steam and SteamVR, and a bleeding-edge GPU driver. Any software update in these departments can remove your ability to use VR. This has happened to me a few times. All that software also impacts on the game in other ways. There was a short period when SSVR:TFE was crashing every ten or so minutes, and I was relying on its autosaves. A SteamVR update fixed this. I gave up on trying to make pavucontrol pass audio to the plug on the head-mounted display (HMD), and just taped an audio extension cord to the Vive cable. The vision you get with VR makes it feel like you are wearing a diving helmet. To figure out where enemies are, you'll rely more on audio clues than you do when playing in flat 3D. You'll deliberately move into corners, to better see what's moving towards you.

The game itself is repetitive and formulaic. Picking up an object or moving into an area has a chance to spawn enemies. You kill the enemies, pick up more objects and move into new areas. Occasionally the game locks you into a room or area. Or enemies spawn above or behind you, but that's about all the variation you can expect. Every now and then it tries to bring change by spawning lots of enemies of the same type. The game's narrative is weak, it has no real puzzles. Most environments look alike. It also surprised me how much the Egyptian theme and the enemies are like what SS3 delivers. Enemies that are far away, such as approaching Scythian Witch-Harpies, are nothing but smudged pixels. Such great distances are not suitable for the Vive's resolution.

The game has various locomotion modes, but in my experience quickly moving around by teleporting with both controllers is the only way to go. When I felt enemies were likely to spawn, I pointed the controllers in opposite directions, briefly teleported forward and then quickly away. In large areas, teleporting can be used to very quickly create a huge distance between yourself and enemies. That way you can slowly kill even the biggest enemies with just your .45 Schofield. Circle strafing is difficult, with the Vive cable, but is possible by using one controller to shoot projectiles and the other to shoot teleport exit points around the playing field, including behind your own back.

Perhaps one of the reasons I did not get nauseous was my choice to only move around by teleporting. (I never 'moved' in-game while standing still in real life.) My play area is just big enough for room scale VR. In survival mode, the battle field frequently became so hectic that I no longer noticed SteamVR's safety grid that marks the play area border. A short anecdote. I'm being Rambo, but suddenly the game disappears. Did it crash? I take off the HMD. Stove? Apparently I'm in the kitchen. By the way, the very first time I took off the HMD, I realized that the 'Oh, this is where I am.' experience - at least for me - has nothing to do with returning to real life, but with your position in the room and the direction you are looking at.

My final thoughts. I'm giving this game a good rating. It's fun and entertaining. However, it is a game with a (mandatory) VR mode and not a VR game; not a game made for VR. A first-person shooter such as this one is suitable to play in VR, the dual wielding is a nice touch, and Croteam did a good job adding VR support. But some events in the game made me realize how much more interesting an actual VR game could be. One example is a barely lit section where you need to pass a "wall of darkness": nice and spooky in VR. Another example is that the game never expects the player to peek around corners or manipulate objects with two controllers. Nothing was designed with VR in mind. When I was doing something as simple as playing catch with someone else in Destinations, I felt I was playing an actual VR game. This is also why I'm looking forward to playing Valve's upcoming VR games and not Half-Life 3 with a VR mode.

Release: Custom Vronlinux.com CMS Released as Free Software

Posted by Norbert, 2 weeks agoSat, 11 Mar 2017, 04:33 (0 comments)
In the very first article posted on this website, I wrote:

NorbertThis website uses a custom built content management system (CMS) that I will probably release as free software one day.

Well, 5F CMS is now publicly available! It is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

The 5F_CMS_Features_and_Philosophy.pdf document explains the philosophy and rationale underlying the software. Oh, if you try to hack this website (or one of its features) and succeed, please be gentle. Face-wink

Site News: Moving to User-Submitted Articles Only

Posted by Norbert, 3 weeks and 3 days agoTue, 28 Feb 2017, 03:02 (1 comment)
A little over 10 months ago, in April 2016, this website was launched. At the time, I wrote:

NorbertReviews, interviews, speculation; anything related to using virtual reality on Linux, that's what you will find here.

I've written about 60 articles for this website, and I've learned and noticed several things along the way. Including:
  • I didn't expect Phoronix to cover so many Linux VR related topics.
  • I didn't expect GamingOnLinux to cover general Linux VR topics.
  • I expected more user submissions. (Three people each submitted one article. I am, of course, grateful for their contributions.)

I never expected to end up in a position of being a lonesome editor trying to keep up with websites whose owners' full-time job is scouring the web for news. What I want(ed) to provide is an ad-free place for Linux VR users to publish writings. Similar to Medium, but centered around Linux VR. Of course, this website's custom content management system is still basic, and its features very limited compared to Medium's.

Anyway, I will keep hosting this website, but won't write any more articles. Other than, maybe, an occasional VR game review or opinion piece on Linux VR. What you will find here are user-submitted articles only. I'm aware this might mean no other articles will ever appear on this website. We'll see. Face-wink

Report: OpenXR Spec In-Progress; New Nvidia Vulkan Driver

Posted by Norbert, 3 weeks and 3 days agoMon, 27 Feb 2017, 16:55 (2 comments)
The Khronos Group has announced OpenXR, an open standard for VR and AR applications and devices. Their OpenXR Working Group is creating this open and royalty-free standard to combat (API) fragmentation.

The Khronos GroupIn short, fragmentation slows the adoption of VR/AR devices, generates unnecessary work for developers and limits the ability of new and innovative devices to gain popularity.

The OpenXR standard comes in two parts: an Application Interface ("write code once that will run everywhere") and a Device Layer ("allows VR/AR runtimes to interface with various devices").

(continues after the image)


In related news, there's Vulkan 1.0.42. Mentioned in their Vulkan at GDC 2017 PDF document, and it introduces new extensions. As GamingOnLinux writes: "We know Khronos will be at GDC, so it's likely some of the Vulkan talks will mention these new extensions for VR use."

These new extensions have already made it into Nvidia's beta Vulkan driver 375.27.12. It's unclear to me if this means we can/should now move from 375.27.10 to 375.27.12. The SteamVR-for-Linux GitHub page still says 375.27.10.

Also, Valve's Joe Ludwig talks about OpenXR in a Voices of VR podcast interview. I haven't listened to it yet, but that should be interesting. Voices of VR writes: "Given that it was first announced in December 2016, then I'd expect that we might be seeing a 1.0 specification for OpenXR sometime in the first half of 2018."

Opinion: Larabel of Phoronix on SteamVR Beta for Linux

Posted by Norbert, 4 weeks agoSun, 26 Feb 2017, 18:37 (0 comments)
Phoronix has published an article by Michael Larabel titled Trying The SteamVR Beta On Linux Feels More Like An Early Alpha. Larabel's first impressions of setting up SteamVR for Linux, and trying out available games. He had no real prior experiences with modern VR headsets. He got off to a slow start:

Michael Larabel[I] assumed it would just take me a few minutes to get it working on Linux. But nope, it ended up taking hours. This is what makes SteamVR on Linux feel more like an early alpha than beta.

Roughly speaking, he ran into a "SteamVR failed to initialized for unknown reasons. (Error: Shared IPC Compositor Connect Failed (306))." problem, and a segmentation fault when starting SteamVR. He fixed the former by starting Steam with "STEAM_RUNTIME_PREFER_HOST_LIBRARIES=0". He initially used a workaround for the latter - reinstalling Steam after every single use of SteamVR - but fixed the problem by replacing his Ubuntu 16.10 installation with Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS.

Michael Larabel[It] doesn't seem to be the only issues. Take a look at the other SteamVR Linux bugs and you'll quickly find other issues outstanding and a range of Linux distributions being used from Debian to Antergos.

Trying out available games:

Michael Larabel[My wife] had a good time with the HTC Vive while playing Destinations but began losing interest when there were quality/performance oopses along the way. I only tried Dota 2 for a few minutes so far as those types of games generally don't interest me. For not being a "gamer" in a number of years now largely due to lack of time, I did have a LOT of fun with Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter.

It's unclear if Larabel tried actually visiting the playing field of a Dota 2 match. At first, I didn't know this is possible, but if you click the playing field you can watch the battles up close. Today, sat on the floor for a while, watching groups of these small creatures walk around is kind of fun.

Larabel also comments on SteamVR for Linux "requiring" Vulkan:

Michael Larabel[This] is good not only for better performance than OpenGL but also in pushing for greater adoption of this high-performance graphics API. [But,] unless we see more game studios make use of Vulkan for rendering on Windows and the Khronos industry VR standard efforts really take hold, I am concerned about the number of virtual reality games that will be ported to Linux and done so in a performant and reliable manner.

See the Phoronix article for more information and details.

Work-in-Progress: List of Linux VR Games

Posted by Norbert, 4 weeks and 3 hours agoThu, 23 Feb 2017, 23:48 (0 comments)
In June 2016, I posted a huge overview of VR games that "do, will or might" support Linux. Now that SteamVR for Linux has been released in beta, it makes sense to look into this again. GamingOnLinux already mentioned Destinations and the Dota 2 hub. And Serious Sam VR: TFE has also arrived. There are better locations than this website to work on and discuss such an overview. It's safe to say that most Linux VR gamers are on Steam, so this thread that was recently created by Teq seems like a good place for this. If you have been testing games and have anything insightful to report, please supplement the list.

Release: SteamVR for Linux in Beta

Posted by Norbert, 4 weeks and 2 days agoWed, 22 Feb 2017, 01:48 (1 comment)
GamingOnLinux reports that SteamVR for Linux is now in beta:

GamingOnLinuxValve have put up SteamVR for Linux officially in Beta form and they are keen to stress that this is a development release. You will need to run the latest Steam Beta Client for it to work at all, so be sure to opt-in if you want to play around with it. VR on Linux will exclusively use Vulkan, [...] On NVIDIA, you need to have the 375.27.10 "Developer Beta Driver", which can be found here. There's also this PPA for Ubuntu users. [...] For AMD GPU owners, you need a very recent build of the open source radv driver (Mesa), likely from git.

Great news, of course! Face-grin

Croteam recently semi-released Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter for Linux, with the note that it "is waiting for updated SteamVR for Linux to be released. Once that is out, we will enable the Linux download for all owners". At the time of writing, the game's Steam page does not yet have the SteamOS icon, but it will probably be available soon.

Release: Serious Sam VR TFE Semi-Released for Linux

Posted by Norbert, 1 month and 5 days agoThu, 16 Feb 2017, 12:56 (0 comments)
About two weeks ago, we posted that Croteam was ready to release Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter for Linux. There are new developments, and we've now ended up in an even more interesting situation.

Alen Ladavac (@alenl), Croteam's chief technology officer (CTO), has posted an announcement and created a sticky topic about the game's update #291416.

Update #291416VR is now supported on Linux! Vulkan API supported and recommended for VR. This is waiting for updated SteamVR for Linux to be released. Once that is out, we will enable the Linux download for all owners. Note that this whole system is very early, and there might be problems with stability and performance.

In other words, the game is ready for action and has been semi-released for Linux, but... SteamVR for Linux is not. As I see it, Croteam is encouraging - gently pushing - Valve to release SteamVR for Linux. This is a major update of the game, also in many other areas. Croteam decided not to wait with rolling out the full update, including its Linux elements.

Report: Valve Developing Several New VR Games, Linux Support Likely

Posted by Norbert, 1 month and 2 weeks agoFri, 10 Feb 2017, 12:06 (0 comments)
Gamasutra's Alex Wawro writes about a recent press briefing at Valve's Seattle office. During the briefing, Gabe Newell confirmed three new VR games in development at Valve:

Gabe NewellSo one of the questions you might ask us is 'Why in the world are we making hardware?' So right now, we're building 3 VR games. And what we can do now is to be designing hardware at the same time that we're designing software. This is something that Miyamoto has always had, right?

Not small experiments, but full, commercial games that use Unity and the Source 2 engine. As Michael Larabel of Phoronix writes in response to this news, "given Valve's VR Linux investments, these new VR games should see Linux support".

Report: The Talos Principle VR and SS3 VR Coming to Linux

Posted by Norbert, 1 month and 2 weeks agoWed, 8 Feb 2017, 14:28 (0 comments)
In a recent blog post, Croteam announces that VR versions of The Talos Principle and Serious Sam 3: BFE are coming to SteamOS and Linux. This is great news! We'll also be able to play The Second Encounter on Linux. All these will have Vulkan support, and VR and non-VR players will be able to join forces in multiplayer. Meanwhile, Valve's Pierre-Loup Griffais has tweeted a related screenshot; he comments:

Pierre-Loup GriffaisEarly Serious Sam VR and SteamVR builds are coming along nicely on RADV + AMDGPU stack!

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