We’ve all seen the ads on TV and the web showing happy people asking their Amazon Echo for something. “Alexa, call Susan.” “Alexa, play The Black Keys.” “Alexa, turn on the lights.” “Alexa, give me a foot rub.” (Note: Alexa does not do foot rubs.)
This, I thought to myself as I ordered one, is The Future™ at last!
It is not.
I spent the weekend trying to learn Alexa’s language. If you phrase your request even slightly wrong, it will either say it doesn’t know how to do it or just do nothing.
“Alexa, turn on the lights,” I say, enunciating clearly.
After a moment of lights spining and flashing: “I don’t know how to do that.” Grumble, grumble. I try again.
“Alexa, turn on ‘My Lights’,” I say, since that’s the name I gave to my lights.
Flashing, spinning. “Okay,” she says agreeably. Great, I think. Now we’ll see some—
Similar conversations went on all weekend. At it’s worst, I was listening to CBC Radio and Alexa thought it heard the command to turn off the lights. I was plunged into darkness. As I told CBC’s Stephen Quinn,
I was listening to the radio, and my Amazon Echo decided that somebody told it to turn off the lights. Plunged into darkness. So @CBCStephenQuinn, that’s a new superpower you can look into.
“Alexa, volume 10.”… “Alexa, play ‘Never gonna give you up’ by Rick Astley”
I’m not an expert in usability (actually, I am a bit), but I think there might be a bit of a weakness in Echo’s voice interface. It usually takes two or more tries to get a command right, if it works at all, but it will interpret random conversation as commands.
And then, to top it off, last night it decided that it couldn’t connect to the Internet. All of my other devices were fine, but my Echo couldn’t figure it out. I actually had to use light switches! Barbaric.
I need to unwind. Alexa, play some classical music.
“I’m sorry. I can’t find anything called ‘classical’. Would you like to listen to ‘William Shatner – The Transformed Man’?”
No! Alexa, you’re useless. And turn on the lights. Fine I’ll do it myself.
Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew releases Tuesday, May 30.
It’s like Santa showing up two days before Christmas with exactly what you asked him for. This morning, virtual reality fans woke up to discover that this week’s big VR title, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, was available for purchase and download. Discord user Erthican posted the news:
Star Trek Bridge Crew is available now for Oculus Home through Ubisoft’s website, instructions to get it ready to go are pinned here. We have members online and playing, looking for crew, and loving the game already. Looking forward to meeting you on the bridge!
New spread quickly to Reddit. Apparently, it only worked for users in the US and Canada, but of course a VPN comes in handy for other countries, notes Redditor, Decapper:
Just vpn to USA, you can download from U.K. Once you get key then you just need to vpn again to login. That it close vpn and play
It wasn’t long until reports of amazingly immersive gameplay rolled in:
i get a total nerd thrill out of saying out everything i’m doing like i’m on the show plus theres an absolute joy in not taking action you know you need to take because you havne’t been ordered to yet…
like when i was at tactical and we were headed towards mines but i didn’t get permission to fire yet and the captain was in the middle of talking so i just had to sit and watch them get closed until he was done so i could get permission [Discord user Rotalumiz]
And then the fun came to a sudden, abrupt end, when suddenly activation keys stopped working, and installed copies of Star Trek: Bridge Crew vanished from their Oculus Library. Poof!
So what happened? A Redditor and apparent Ubisoft rep, UbiCeeCee, posted an explanation:
Some players have received access to Star Trek: Bridge Crew prior to the official launch of May 30th. We have since followed up with how these were distributed and corrected the issue. As a result of this correction, if you receive an Oculus key early and try to redeem it, you will get an “unknown error has occurred when redeeming this code”. This is normal and you will be able to redeem your code when the game goes live at 12:00am EST on May 30th. We’re sorry for any confusion or inconvenience this may cause. We looking forward to seeing you all in the Trench on Tuesday
So the wait continues. But we have this description from YesICannabis420 to whet our appetite:
I have successfully completed a few missions with a brave crew and a fantastic captain, bumbled through captaining a mission myself, blown up Klingons and disabled engines on a freighter…
The response from players so far has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the actual gameplay and general Star Trek feel. I for one feel like a dream has come true.
My new Oculus Rift arrived by Canada Post on Friday afternoon. It’s elegant, packed with high-tech optics, and — like Hotblack Desiato’s stunt ship in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe — it’s so black your eyes just slide off it. Every part of the Rift VR headset, including the packaging, is elegant, solid, and so very, very black. On the top of the box is embossed the black, sideways “O” of the Oculus logo, which is somehow even blacker than the surface of the box. I knew I had something good.
Setting up the Rift is made easy by a setup wizard, which uses a combo of drawings and video to walk you through everything from pulling the protective film off various surfaces to positioning the motion sensors correctly. As a tech writer, I appreciate clear, concise instructions. Oculus clearly hired some talented people, because the Rift user manual is a pleasure to just look at. But enough about the instructions. Let’s get to the good stuff.
What Rift apps have I tried in my first day? Among the free apps included with it is a short, but wonderful demo called First Contact. The lights come up on the inside of an RV/mobile home that’s just packed with broken and worn out bits and pieces of computer and robotic technology. Helped by a little robot buddy, I learned how to pick up and manipulate objects.
And punch furniture.
That last one isn’t part of the simulation. Immersed as I was in a virtual space, I forgot to be cautious about reaching quickly to grab something in virtual space only to skin my knuckles on a set of very real shelves.
The feeling that you’re in a real space is overwhelming. You’re not just watching a computer simulation. You’re in it. You’re part of it. And when you remove the headset, you feel like you’re returning home after travelling somewhere.
Other VR apps I’ve tried:
Google Earth VR. I try to describe the feeling when confronted with the entire globe floating in front of me but I end up just sputtering things like “wow” and “that’s incredible”. Every part of the planet has been photographed, mapped, and modelled in 3D. Just reach out, move, and examine any part of it. At one point, I found myself towering over a waist-high miniature St. Paul’s Cathedral like Godzilla on a sight-seeing tour of London. Again, “wow”.
Facebook Spaces social VR. For something that’s supposed to represent the future of social VR, it was fun but disappointingly shallow. The environment is a 360-degree park photo (not 3D) and you’re glued to one spot. You can sketch objects in 3D, take selfies with a (shudder) selfie stick. You can call someone in Facebook Messenger — or so they say, because none of my calls went through. They’ll have to add some meaningful content and functionality here before it’s worth Facebook’s massive investment in Oculus.
Robo Recall from Epic Games. It’s a first-person shooter where you blow up angry robots. Simple enough. Within your limited real-world space, you can dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge projectiles, but larger movement means “teleport” point-to-point in a small space rather than moving naturally through the virtual space like a regular FPS game.
Shooters generally stress me out, so while I’m impressed by the immersion, I had to pull off Rift abruptly to catch my breath. That’s a testament to the immersiveness of the medium, I suppose.
Rec Room. It’s an oddly simple app, in which you meet other people (real people), as represented by minimalist avatars, and chat with them while playing games like ping-pong, darts, frisbee, and basketball. One room lets teams fight robots in a laser tag arena. Another has people playing a game like Pictionary but in drawing in 3D. Good, relaxing fun.
High Fidelity. This one isn’t so much an app as it is a test platform for VR technology, and it’s something I hope to engage with more in the coming weeks. Philip Rosedale, once founder and spiky-haired front man for Second Life, brings us project for building a VR simulator engine. High Fidelity isn’t the end product, but a framework on which virtual worlds can be built. It’s fascinating to see it evolve slowly, but a bit frustrating that the UI for their test “sandbox” is so poorly implemented. Everyone should keep their eye on High Fidelity, because I have a feeling that it’s going to form the underpinnings of a lot of VR spaces.
Linden Lab’s Sansar. Just kidding. Sansar, the long-promised virtual world from the makers of Second Life, is still MIA. I hope they decide to open it to the public soon, but for now it’s still in a closed beta.
Some people sneer at the thought of a social virtual reality, skeptical that the technology is anything but isolating. Over a decade and a half of Second Life users will disagree, however. Virtual reality has been around for a long time. Though it has traditionally been accessed without the immersive headset, as in ActiveWorlds, There, and Second Life, these virtual worlds thrive on social interaction.
As a passer-by said in Rec Room said last night, this app wouldn’t be even slightly interesting if you couldn’t chat with real people in it. He’s right. The best, most engaging content for VR headsets won’t be solo experiences — they’ll be social.
In 2003, Philip Rosedale once commented that sex was the secret sauce that makes a virtual world work. He was wrong about that. It’s bigger and more significant than that. Virtual worlds are about real people. Social contact is the secret sauce. It’s what makes the experience significant. The shooting, flying, dodging, teleporting, and 3D painting might be just secondary gimmicks.
Alright, they’re fun gimmicks. And occasionally painful gimmicks. In the course of one astonishing day with Oculus Rift, I’ve punched or tripped over real furniture three or four times and tried to lean against a virtual wall only once. I think I’m doing well with only minor bruises. Ow.
So let me get this straight. Darth Vader (Annikin Skywalker) never knew of Luke’s existence because he was kept hidden on Annikin’s home planet of Tattoine with Annikin’s step-brother Owen Lars under the name “Skywalker”. And just a short distance from Luke lived from one of the last living Jedi, Obiwan Kenobi, who cleverly concealed his identity by changing his name to Ben Kenobi.
That’s one of the reasons Star Wars is so awesome: it’s hugely popular despite the fact that most of it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
I’m not sure why I watched Riverworld all the way through, but I did. Tamoh Penikett gave another solid performance, though I have to say his character is pretty much the same as in BSG and Dollhouse. Mark Deklin was entertaining as Samuel Clemens, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a former classmate — Alex Zahara — playing the German airship captain (and a nice performance too).
Overall, the dialogue was painfully shallow and the story thin. I don’t know if it was the editing or the crap script, but in some places it was almost incomprehensible. Scenes jump from one place to another without any establishing shot and events seem to happen without any reason. The sense of place was completely lacking any coherence. Scenes just kind of… happened… in non-specific places with no established relation to other places.
The blue aliens were even more simplistic and weak than the big-headed aliens in Star Trek’s pilot, The Cage. At least those caricatures had a back story.
To sum up: it’s a nonsensical, incoherent adaptation of classic sci-fi, and some fine acting was drowned by crap dialogue, clumsy editing, an obvious lack of character development, and a story that barely makes even rudimentary sense. I would like to see the producer and director tied to each other with heavy chain and dropped into the lake where they filmed it in retribution for the three hours that I will never get back.