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Facebook Brings Back ‘Brutally Honest’ VR App Reviews

Legendary graphics programmer and rocketry dabbler John Carmack doesn’t mince words. As one of the creatives behind 1993’s Doom and the former CTO of Oculus (and still an adviser for Facebook), Carmack’s in-person VR app critiques became a popular event at Facebook’s annual VR and AR conferences, as a rare opportunity for up-and-coming designers to get feedback from someone with decades of experience in games and VR.

On Monday, Facebook announced that Carmack’s app reviews are coming back as a series of written posts and videos on the Oculus Developer Blog. VR developers should take note: What Facebook characterizes as Carmack’s “brutally honest” input could end up shedding light on why some apps don’t get accepted to the Oculus App Store.

To kick things off, Carmack takes a look at an app called Space Shooter. “Space Shooter is at the level of many of the apps that I would review in the live sessions at Connect,” writes Carmack in his review. “An experiment/work in progress that would not have been accepted to the main store.”

Carmack points out several issues that would likely prevent an App Store approval (poorly designed menus, a spinning effect likely to trigger motion sickness) but also takes ample space to poke holes in Space Shooter’s appeal to players.

In Carmack’s words, Space Shooter’s levels “wouldn’t cut it on an Atari 2600 game.” Harsh.

Clearly, Facebook is comfortable having Carmack spell out why some VR apps don’t make the grade. If Facebook was being inundated with worthy submissions for the Oculus App Store, that would be a good problem for the company to have.

Instead, if Facebook is seeing a lot of subpar submissions, then developers would do well to take notes on Carmack’s future app reviews (or, if they are confident enough, suggest their own VR projects as review candidates).

A £20 Million Bet on Super-Accurate AR

London-based XYZ Reality raised a £20 million ($28.2 million) Series A round led by Octopus Ventures. According to PitchBook data, this puts the 4-year-old startup at more than $36 million raised to date, all on the promise of a construction-focused AR device due out later this year.

The infusion of cash stands as one of the bigger early-stage AR funding rounds in 2021.

Why the excitement around a company with a bulky, limited-use device? The bet is that by designing with a hyper-specific purpose in mind, XYZ has an AR product that might actually break through in the construction sector. For architects, builders and inspectors, AR can be used to examine 3D plans or models of a project at various levels of detail and scale, helping guide the construction process all the way from initial designs to on-site evaluations.

XYZ’s major selling point is millimeter-accurate positioning of AR content. If a character in an AR game looks like it is floating an inch or two above the ground, that’s forgivable.

In construction, however, minor misalignments could lead to costly setbacks, and that’s exactly what the purported precision of XYZ’s device is meant to avoid: By examining an accurately aligned 3D version of a worksite before construction has begun, plans can be tweaked and verified more quickly.

Ostensibly, XYZ’s competitors would include enterprise headsets like the HoloLens 2 or offerings from Vuzix, but if XYZ’s accuracy claims hold water, it would be a device in its own class. The question is whether XYZ can deliver and carve out a space for itself before a larger manufacturer’s space mapping and tracking abilities catches up.

That’s a risk of making products for engineers—if a tool comes along that works better for the task, it might become the new norm before you know it.

Other news:

  • At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Verizon took the stage to talk up 5G to gamers. It was an odd fit—while faster networks may indeed help AR and VR, people tune into E3 presentations to see trailers for games, not pitches from telecoms.
  • Valve co-founder Gabe Newell also made an E3 appearance to plug Steam Next Fest, an online event starting June 16. Next Fest will feature free demos for upcoming games, including a few VR titles. No word on Valve’s hardware plans, though.
  • VR and AR training company Engineering & Computer Simulations is opening an in-house haptics lab. The lab will initially work with gloves from HaptX, BeBop Sensors and VRgluv in a research program funded by the U.S. Army.

Thanks for reading Reality Check. I’d love to hear your thoughts any time at [email protected] And if you know someone who might like this newsletter, just forward it along and point them to www.theinformation.com/reality-check so they can sign up for it.

See you tomorrow,


Mathew Olson is the writer for The Information’s Reality Check, a newsletter devoted to following trends, innovations and news in AR and VR. He is based in New York and can be reached by email at [email protected] or Signal at 646-694-0692.

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