Review: Blueplanet VR

Blueplanet VR has no relation to the BBC production, Blue Planet, however it does feature some pretty astounding sights.  Though most scenes struggle from bouts of low resolution textures and ugly shrubbery, each scene has at least one convincing view that justifies the scene.

The most stunning scene is of Antelope Canyon, which exhibits some of the finest modeling and texture work in the whole game.  Looking up through the walls of the cavern, it appears so photorealistic, I feel like I can reach out and touch the rocks.  Gentle music, sound effects and particle effects add a nice touch to the experience.

Beautiful modeling and texturing bring this scene to life.

Blueplanet VR’s biggest strength is its ability to completely immerse you in stunning detail, giving the feeling of actually being there.

There are also fly-over scenes that give you the reins to soar over recreated landscapes.  One that stands out in particular is that of a glacier.  The texturing and modeling of the cracked landscape is so precise, flying over it feels astounding.

Incredible detail in the model and texture of this glacier.

Most scenes give you at least one view that is worth your time, like here in a cave scene, the textures and lighting work together to create a single view that is pretty incredible.

A very realistic recreation of the inside of a cave.

However, if you turn around, the immersion in the scene is broken by sloppy textures and jagged edges.

Flat textures kill the immersion.

There is a degree to how bad some of the textures are, but some of them are really bad, irreparably breaking the immersion.

An ugly patch of flat textures can usually be found.

Pockmarks of flat textures, as well as some incomplete geometry, kill the immersion that is so meticulously created throughout other parts of the scene.  For example, this path along the ruins has clear geometry errors as a result of how the photogeometry is captured.

The geometry of the stairs is jagged and missing the supports that should be connected to the concrete block.

In general, the textures are not a high enough resolution to closely inspect.  Blueplanet VR looks its best when viewed from a distance.  For example, in this stunning scene against a watery backdrop, the textures and modeling look immaculate.  However, upon closer inspection, the textures become pixelated and start to blur.

A very pretty sight from far away.

Using the depth of this shot, you can see how the textures in the foreground are blotchy and indistinct, while the more distant textures are vivid and have a photorealistic look.

Throughout the game, closer textures will blur and pixelate.

These lower resolution textures are typically not a big deal, as you get a sense of where your attention should be focused based on how focused the textures are.  Avoid looking too closely.

Here’s one more example to make my point, notice how from a distance, the bricks look defined and photorealistic; but once I get too close, the illusion is dampened.

That’s real, right?

However, there are some areas where the lower resolution quality is definitely an immersion-killer.  For example, this following scene presents a beautiful tree, meticulously modeled and detailed:


But if you happen to look down at the ground, you see this:


I’m not even that close to those textures and they are blotchy, pixelated, and undefined.  It’s really hard to feel immersed in a scene when there is such a variation in texture quality.

Enough poor-quality textures make some of the scenes really underwhelming; for example, this scene with a bell.  The texture of the bell looks flat, the letters aren’t three-dimensional, and the colors look patchy and blurred.  It doesn’t actually feel like I’m looking at the real bell, even at more of a distance.

The centerpiece of the scene is flat and underwhelming.

It also doesn’t help that the surrounding pillars have errors in their geometry.

Some basic clean-up is required on some of the geometry.

Too many immersion-killers puts the bell scene on the list of scenes that I will never visit again — and there are a few.  For instance, there are panoramic shots of abandoned warehouses, power plants, and other industrial buildings, which have far less appeal than the natural wonders, and are generally uninteresting.

I would never go on a vacation to this location.

There is also an abandoned shed that can be explored, but again, why would you want to?

My next vacation spot, for sure.

One of the biggest immersion-killers for me personally was the shrubbery and vegetation, which, as a result of how the image is captured, appear blocky, with jagged edges, blotchy textures, and a lack of transparency.

Such a beautiful view, blocked by a green abomination of jagged geometry.

For a moment I actually felt like I was going to fall into the Grand Canyon, but then I saw these plants and the illusion was destroyed.

A lot of work has to be done to make these plants look real.

Pretty much anytime shrubbery or vegetation is too close to the camera, it’s going to be a problem.

The foreground shrubbery has non-transparent geometry and textures that block other parts of the scene.

There is something about looking out to a beautiful waterfront view and realizing that none of the trees are blowing in the wind, the clouds aren’t moving, and there are no waves in the water.

Everything is eerily still.

Many of the scenes really leave a craving for something more, perhaps that is the desire to actually visit some of these locations; but more so, it is a vision for where this technology could move in the future.  If video VR technology could add wind to the branches and leaves and rippling waves to the water, the immersion would easily be doubled in certain scenes.

The waterfall effects don’t even come close to looking real.

Pretty much every scene with water struggles to look realistic.  They add some steam effects to this waterfall to make it look like it’s moving, but you’re going to have to use your imagination to imagine the water is moving.  Water and vegetation are the two biggest immersion-killers throughout the experience.


Despite its flaws, Blueplanet VR is still worth your time, granted the spectacular views it has to offer.  However, the price point does seem a bit steep.  For the $30 asking price, I would expect some of the geometry to be cleaned up, especially in regards to vegetation.  For instance, the above scene uses image data from Google Earth to create the scene.

These blobs of green are supposed to be trees.

Especially when it comes to vegetation, the Google Earth data does not always translate so well and certainly could use some clean up.  This exact same location within Google Earth VR has sharper textures and more defined geometry for the surrounding vegetation — and Google Earth VR is completely free.

The same location in Google Earth VR.

It just seems that with a $30 price point, details like that could be cleaned up, especially when the image data is coming directly from Google Earth.

For the content available, $20 seems like a more appropriate asking price, and even then, I would probably recommend buying Blueplanet VR on sale.

Luckily, the developers have more content packages planned for the future, so you can expect more scenes to be added over time.  The ability to snap-turn within scenes is also still being added in, as of review, so there is potential for additional features to be added in the future.

The current selection of scenes available in BlueplanetVR, with room for more volumes.

It would be easier to recommend at it’s current price point if I had a better understanding of where the development was going over time and how many more scenes would be added.  I would also be very pleased if currently-released scenes had more work done to them to sharpen their textures and geometry.

Ultimately, Blueplanet VR is a staple for any VR library, especially given the competition.  I used to keep The Lab installed, specifically so I could introduce new VR users to the experience of being atop a mountain range, to see themselves in a beautiful environment.  Now, I’ve uninstalled The Lab and I keep Blueplanet VR installed and I show them some of my favorite scenes, and there are plenty to choose from.

I may even come back here by myself just to relax and enjoy the view.

An incredible scene to witness in VR.

Reviewed on Valve Index.


Television Review: “Who Is America?”

(Photo: Showtime)

Sacha Baron Cohen returns with the interview-style, impersonation comedy, made famous by the socially extreme, satirical characters he portrays, such as Ali G, Borat, and Bruno.  In this series, he plays four new characters, all of which resemble a contemporary American ideology, which has been exaggerated to its most absurdly logical conclusion.

Like any prank show, the real entertainment comes from the response elicited by the prankster; as in, how far can a persona manipulate this unsuspecting person into saying or doing something they normally wouldn’t.  For this to work, the viewer’s suspense of disbelief is reliant upon Cohen’s target to fully believe that his persona is real.  I personally had a hard time believing that Bernie didn’t know it was some kind of prank show, which deflates the humor to a degree, because it’s less funny when someone knows they’re being pranked.  But for the most part, Cohen is able to maintain the illusion of sincerity and improvise, based on the interviewee’s response, to the scene’s maximum potential.  His greatest success in this matter is getting Republican politicians to publicly support training four-year-olds to use firearms against mass shooters in schools.

By honestly addressing society as personified extremity, Cohen reveals the satire that sits on the surface of what is considered “normal” political discourse.  In the Trump era, when politicians lie and spout Orwellian propaganda, many comedians have pointed out that it’s hard to make fun of these people when they are basically walking self-parodies.  Cohen doesn’t attempt to make fun of anyone; instead he allows his absurdity to reveal the absurdity in others; to expose them for the self-parodies that they are.

Anyone who is a fan of impressions should find something to love in Cohen’s performance.  His characters are believable because he doesn’t just perform them, he lives through them; his walk changes, the way he carries himself changes, his speech patterns change – he really is the master of disguise (despite the fact that the make-up is a little over-done at times).  His absurd characters work because he plays them with deft honesty.  He doesn’t just play an absurd point of view, instead he fully embodies the kind of person who would house such thoughts.

There is definitely a lot of potential to be squeezed from these four new characters, and I’m on board for the ride to see how far Cohen can take this, given how uniquely ridiculous he is willing to go.  However, now that people know of the kind of pranks he is pulling off, I wonder how successful he will be in the future in continuing to fool people of power.  His ability to get genuinely surprised and outrageous reactions in this manner may have a shelf life.

Book Review: The Hike by Drew Magary

The Hike by Drew Magary is a cynical mindfuck of a page-turner, which begs the question: Is it possible to have a more complete understanding of a person after being separated for more than a decade?

The book opens with Ben who, upon a whim, decides to take a hike in the Poconos and somehow gets lost in a parallel universe, or a dream, or a coma; part of the intrigue of the story is the mystery surrounding what precise circumstance has Ben experiencing this metaphysical world.  As he gets more lost, we delve deeper into who he is as person and the memories past, which have shaped him, and in fact, have shaped his current predicament.

The novel presents a complete adventure, from start to finish, which takes Ben across an ever-changing landscape of trials, each one more mind-bending than the last.  The inertia of the narrative is constantly on edge; not just pulling the reader through the story, but doing so at such a rapid speed that you’ll quickly lose track of page numbers.  This is the kind of book where once you read those fated two words, “THE END,” you don’t stare at them and ponder what they entail; instead you slam the book closed, because you know in your heart that everything that needs to be said has been said.

Ben is the perfect character for the reader to discover themselves as: imperfect, lazy, cynical, crude, and deeply hilarious.  He is an unwitting imbecile being prodded forward by fate, quick to notice his own suffering and loud at expressing it.  Much of the humor comes from him trying to pinpoint exactly who is responsible for his situation, God or otherwise, and his feeble attempts to express his outrage.  Ben has limited control; he’s being taken on a journey – just like the reader – and through his experience we get a more profound understanding of what really matters to him, and in turn, what matters to us.  I am he as you are me, and we are Crab together.

As we experience Ben’s predicament, we ponder what it means to our own lives.  For example, being lost in a parallel universe can be very similar to living with depression; people don’t know how to reach you, you feel dead to the world, you trudge along a predetermined path hoping it will lead to happiness.  Then long enough on that path, years maybe, you can look back and see the progress you’ve made as a person, building yourself back up like a castle.  It is in this way that Ben’s psychological experience is transformed from profound to personal, as his pain mirrors our own.

With full force you will be compelled to the end of this novel and (just for the sake of outdoing violent metaphors on the book cover) the ending will bulldoze your face with a spiked baseball bat, leaving your decimated jaw agape in silent wonder.