Korix: Technical Preview & Developer interview
RTS games used to be ever present in previous generations across console and PC. From god like pillars such as Populous to seminal titles in Mega-lo-mania (Tyrants:Fight through time in America), Command and Conquer, even the all-conquering Warcraft have enjoyed releases across many platforms.
But VR is not one that is inundated with real time strategy tiles with which to enjoy..but that is about to change.New Indie developer StellerVR is changing all that with its very first title Korix and it is not the only big impact it plans to make, more on that later. The game stays true to the roots of old school games that achieve a simple to learn but a lifetime to master hook, within the first hour you will go from being little more than a floating head wielding an obscure lazer gun whilst your minions die below you. To a tactical scalpel, launching attacks, building an army and scavenging resources from the board like a greedy child at tea time.
The premise of the game also follows the same minimal aim, we have no long story driven narrative commencing with a dramatic CGI render. Instead you choose a disembodied head, a map and then learn the trade via a simple onscreen tutorial. This beds you in and then allows you to fall over yourself time and again just as you think you have mastered the game, boom! You are hit with a spaceship attack on your base or even worse. It has a full progressive single player mode as you play against ever increasing AI to dominate this galaxy game board and a fully integrated online Multi-player with multiple modes.
It is the simple draw of the title that works so well, I know you may be asking “But VR..Why?” and it soon makes sense once you pop the hat on and dive into the game. The first thing to address is this game may not win any awards for its graphical beauty but its simplistic, low polygonal design, clean geometric edges and angular style lends it even more of a retro meets modern amalgamated vibe. With such sharp triangles, it could suffer from shimmer and pixel pop, but this is subdued thanks to the technical proficiency on display in the display. Not content with simply rendering at a full 1920x1080P, pah that is for the lose.. other users. Here our eyes are presented with a pristine 1.4x that level, approximately 2304x1296 and in addition this is further refined with a 4xMSAA pass to sharpen those edges to within an inch of their lives, careful you could have an eye out.
This is both beneficial to the games already high levels of IQ and the best decision due to its art style. Using a combination of vertex and pixel shaders it does not rely on high frequency texture maps and instead solid strong colours adorn the objects, meaning the games Multi-sampled AA works its magic across all the edges leaving no need for other solutions that would take care of the texture work. The results speak for themselves here even if they are hampered by the public box 1280x720 output limit and reduced FOV, its high image quality is evident even through that. The results come from a smaller view of the right eye in the headset and the low limit resolution due to this being fed from the USB feed back into the box out of the console. This is why the limit remains even on the Pro and makes pixel counting true resolutions beyond this level almost impossible at this point even though many titles, just like this one, do indeed render at higher resolutions than this.
But the headset has no such limit and instead the full 960x1080 is displayed per eye, just to be clear here this is duplicated per eye like all VR systems and each eye receives the benefits of the high pixel density and down sampled image quality making this one of the sharpest and cleanest VR titles I have played, even under close scrutiny. All we have talked about appears in the standard PS4 and the Pro does not see a large set of improvement but it does gain a decent one in the form of HBAO (Horizon Based Ambient occlusion) that adds extra depth and shadows on the screen here. This stands out clearly due to the games clean and sharp edges and straight geometry just adding a touch more refinement to the presentation.
I sat down with Mark from StellarVR and had a chat about the game, development, PC, console and just how easy those high framerates are to hit. This is new feature I am starting in 2017 and I have other developers lined up to talk about their games, engines and much more. Some of these are much bigger dev's than you would expect. Watch the interview below
How fast is she?
Framerates are a vital part of gaming and VR is at the peak of these needs with PC headsets setting a limit at 90Hz as a minimum and a maximum, the PSVR does have the option to display at both 90Hz and 120Hz native refresh rates within the headset. Some achieve this using reprojection from 60hz or frames per second back up to the 120Hz level. 90Hz titles cannot do this as this is not divisible evenly and as such you have to maintain this refresh rate of 12ms frame times or lower without the fall back of reprojection. This can come from Sony’s own solution or your engine itself, something which Unity supports and is in use here as a safety net in case dips below the games native 120Hz refresh rate occur, that is 8ms each and every frame a small window indeed to hit.
As a Unity powered title it proves that with effort, care and the all important optimisation it has no issues achieving very high and demanding performance levels. All this one achieved by 2 developers and the tools available to them (another vital ingredient in software development and performance tuning) via Unity itself and Sony’s own Developer tools.
AA visuals it may not have but this is far from a bad looking game, using the tech, resource and design to complement each other. And this is still an Indie game all every sense of the word, created by a single man who quit his day job to start his own company and use VR as his springboard to enter the precarious word of game development. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Mark which you can check out the interview on my channel and the links below or onscreen, he talks honestly about his experience making this title that is a PSVR times exclusive with a later PC release coming on Vive and OC.
As somebody who suffers from VR wobbles himself it may seem odd he chose a VR game to make and as I also suffer this after around an hours play or much less on certain titles. This game does not have that effect on you, a comfort option has been added to navigate around the board as you play. Swooping across for those not negatively effected by this or instead a simple warp to spots makes this a very comfortable title to enjoy. I played non-stop for over an hour as all 3 of us did with some co-op and then versus online play with no side effects afterwards, good job as I had to drive home afterwards. But as you get into the game and play with 2, 3 or 4 players the VR world allows you the kind of scope that just would not be possible or as immersive outside of it.
Floating in space like an extra terrestrial deity, mining resource, building empires, weapons of defence and attack complete with upgrades and boosts it allows you to play a large-scale desktop strategy game across the globe but as if you are in the same room. Mocking each other, observing what they are building, how they are defending their resources or even just zapping them in the face it makes it far more personal and as good as the AI is, nothing compares to human opponents.
You can check out more info in my developer interview, another new feature I am adding to my channel and website this year and on the company’s own website at stellearVR.com.