BILL GIESE TURNING A REVOLUTION IN VIRTUAL MOTOSPORTS

The convergence of gaming and the automotive industry has been a long time coming. As the graphics details in video games become more realistic and as hardware advances to points where it can handle the heavy computational duty required to simulate the driving experience, gaming studios have continued to push the boundaries of how much realism can be integrated into a driving simulation title. With last year’s release of the Xbox One console, gaming finally had a system with graphics and a CPU to fulfill the grand vision of simulated driving in an extremely realistic manner. I had a chance to check out the Forza Motorsport 6 booth at E3 and was quite impressed with the quality of visuals, the accuracy of the simulation, the modifications made to environments like the addition of rain, and most importantly the accuracy of the performances of the automobiles. The latter point was tremendously aided by the partnership with Ford for their new supercar, the GT, which is powered by an EcoBoost V6 engine that makes in excess of 600 horsepower. The partnership with Ford is an interesting development because it bears fruit for both parties. Beyond providing engineers with a system to simulate vehicle performance in a virtual world before track testing, it also allows gamers to join in on the fun and provide feedback that may become helpful in final calibrations of performance. It is like having millions of virtual engineers doing simulations. Ford literally gave Microsoft their CAD files to work with which is unheard of but speaks to the efforts to make this game the ultimate in driving simulation. We have had the opportunity to garner a lot of information on the design and engineering process of vehicles over the years and for this piece we spoke to Ford engineers and designers in addition to designers from the Forza Motorsport side. I had the pleasure of speaking to Creative Director of Forza Motorsport, Bill Giese, who was able to give us insight into the process of developing this game. Our dialogue is follows. We have edited for clarity.
Damola Idowu: Working with Ford, their designers – we’d actually talked to their designers; they use a lot of game design engines to actually design vehicles like this. So talk about, from your perspective, from the game developers, how did that work out?
Bill Giese: Well, Ford specifically was very unique in that nobody really knew the car existed. Even higher execs up at Ford didn’t even know it existed. And so, it was great to be able to get in the ground floor that early. There’s only like five of us in the studio that knew and so we had to develop systems. We knew we were having a Hero car and we tried to build certain things around it and being able to have to use code words and other cars to do it, it’s a very tricky process.
But working with Ford, unlike most manufacturers, we get all the CAD data so when we build our car we have this process called body and wipe. We get the base mold from the manufacturer. We get all of the data that they get from the dynos and all their engine stuff and we run that through our physics system.And so, with any relationship that we do with a Hero partner, they’ve been able to deliver some great things for us.
Damola Idowu: So, moving on in that process then, were you using any virtual reality in some of the modeling of this?
Bill Giese: So, not virtual reality, per se,, but the CAD data that we get, that’s all 3D scan modeling of the car and so we implement that right into our system. They get those files right over to us.
Damola Idowu: Was there any going on to the driving grounds, trying to get some of that experience and how was (cont) that interpreted into the game itself?
Bill Giese: Just like anything else.... So, all the information we get – so we’ve got a great research team. They have the best job in the world where they get to travel around to millionaire’s garages and capture cars, go to dynos and get stuff. And so, they’re able to capture and get that information to be able to put that in the game. But normally, when we work closely with a partner, it’s very transparent. They give us all the information they have, all the data that they’re getting, all the data that they’re running is immediately handed off to us.
Damola Idowu: So how long did that process take of working and interacting with Ford?
Bill Giese: This one? It was probably...I’d say about a good year.
Damola Idowu: So, from a year of…
Bill Giese: ...from concept to what you’re seeing today. (E3 2015)
Damola Idowu: How does that relate to other processes of the other Forza developments?
Bill Giese: It’s pretty much the same. We know that when we start a new product, we want to find a great partner and we want to make sure that we’re able to highlight and show off the car in a very special and unique way. And so, we really try to do it as early as possible so that we can, again, trying to get in early on the announce of the car, it’s incredibly hard to do. There’s so many moving gears to get right.
Damola Idowu: And then you were also talking about the new engine. Could you kind of get more in depth with that?
Bill Giese: Our Forza Tech engine?
Damola Idowu: Yes.
Bill Giese: Absolutely. Obviously, with the integration of night and wet and 1080p60, the inclusion of 3D tire walls, we’re doing a lot more with particulates. We’ve got birds. We’ve got barbecue smoke. We’re really trying to make the track feel more alive.
Damola Idowu: And then also, you have a simulator downstairs. [Are] there any third parties that are actually going to be able to allow consumers to get into that?
Bill Giese: D-BOX is the company that makes that. You can actually buy that hydraulics there. I think it’s like $60,000 or something. It’s pretty high-end. The physics engine that runs through there is based off our code.
Damola Idowu: And then obviously with Kinect and the HoloLens, one could imagine taking this into a more virtual experience.
Bill Giese: I can’t wait to claim more of the HoloLens. I’m so excited.
Damola Idowu: So, as a creative director with Forza, how could you imagine in your mind possibilities of things...
Bill Giese: How much time do you have….. (laughs)
Damola Idowu: Or if you could just toss us something- a nugget...
Bill Giese: You get the idea, the concept of HoloLens- I’ve only done one demo. I’ve only been able to do the Halo Demo, but the concept of being able to project things out in front of you, the possibilities are endless.
Damola Idowu: Yeah, and obviously the 3D sense and…
Bill Giese: It’s fantastic, yeah.
Damola Idowu: Could you foresee this going into a PC arena now, when you’re taking about HoloLens and Windows 10?
Bill Giese: We’re always looking at that definitely now that Windows 10 is going to be streaming Xbox One games.
Damola Idowu: ...In conclusion...so, for students and people that aspire to be able to one day work on that, what would you advise them to do? How would you advise them to prepare to get into game development?
Bill Giese: So, I dropped out of college. I went to work at Nintendo to answer phones before the internet of big things. The biggest thing I’ve learned more than anything is, if you love what you do and you work hard, you can do whatever you want. So if anyone wants, nowadays, you can do to any major college and there’s a curriculum for it – which is awesome. But what I find fascinating is people that want to learn all facets of it from not just development but to marketing to packaging to test, there’s so much that you can learn that makes your job even better.
Damola Idowu: What are the free tools? Would you suggest they use Unity or Unreal Engine 4?
Bill Giese: Absolutely. A lot of the guys that we look at for hiring internally are mod guys, guys that are just making stuff so any of the free tools, Unity and all that. Any of those mod guys, the process of making something, having it fail and learning from that is something that we do every single day so that’s what people have to do. They have to learn to fail to make it work better.
Damola Idowu: Are these for DirectX 11 or DirectX 12?
Bill Giese: This is DirectX 11. We’re now starting to look at DirectX 12 and we’re really excited for what we’re able to do with the possibilities of the future.
Damola Idowu:Thanks so much.

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US Senate committee debates bill to tame Big Tech’s power

Technology companies on the defensive as Congress takes up measures aimed at reshaping regulation

Facebook owner Meta dives into NFT digital collectibles craze

Social media group plans to enter hype-fuelled $40bn market for creating and selling non-fungible tokens

Andreessen Horowitz seeks $4.5bn for new crypto investments

Planned fundraising illustrates how Silicon Valley firms are fuelling boom in cryptocurrency start-ups

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Instagram now lets you create TikTok-like remixes using any video

You no longer need to dive into Reels to create TikTok-style collaborative videos on Instagram. The social network has expanded its remix feature to let you make collaborations and similar reworks from any video on Instagram. So long as the video was released after the update, you can choose "remix this video" from the three-dot menu to create your response to the clip. You'll still need to share the result through Reels, but you'll also have the same editing tools to create collaborations, voiceovers and effects.

Instagram is also doing more to court livestreamers. You now have the option of highlighting your next Instagram Live broadcast on your profile, giving viewers an easy way to set a reminder. You won't need to attach a regular feed post to the scheduled stream, either. While you can't yet tease later streams, this could help you build hype for an interview or ask-me-anything session.

The expanded remix feature could be important. Instagram hasn't been shy about wanting to counter TikTok, and the Duet feature is a significant factor in that rival's success. The option to remix any video potentially gives Instagram users a wider pool of videos to choose from than TikTok, including footage that wasn't originally meant for that short-but-sweet format.

'Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga' will arrive on April 5th

Two years after the game was initially supposed to debut, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will finally arrive on April 5th. The long-awaited title from TT Games adapts all nine movies in the Skywalker Saga, and you'll be able to choose which trilogy to start with (so you might want to get the prequels out of the way first).

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is coming to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. It's said to be the biggest Lego game to date, and publisher Warner Bros. Games provided an in-depth look at what's in store with a gameplay trailer.

There are new combat mechanics, including ways to string attacks together and defend yourself with counter moves "in styles tailored to your favorite characters." Expect fresh blaster mechanics, with an over-the-shoulder perspective and third-person aiming reticle, and a cover system. Of course, there'll be a ton of lightsaber action, space dogfighting battles and many opportunities to use Force powers as well.

Many levels will have multiple paths to explore and you'll be able to take on side missions. Class-based abilities are upgradable and there are more than 300 playable characters to unlock. There's also a Mumble Mode, which will replace intelligible voice lines with mumbling, à la previous games in the series.

Based on the gameplay trailer alone, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga seems like a huge game. However, despite the lengthy delays, the development team was still required to work long hours (or "crunch"), according to Polygon

Several current and former employees told the publication that TT Games has had a "challenging work culture over the last decade and a half" and that, during crunch periods, work weeks of between 80 and 100 hours weren't rare (though overtime is said to have been limited in recent months). TT Games has also reportedly had a high level of staff turnover since work started on Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga nearly five years ago.

Oura’s third-generation Ring is more powerful, but not for everybody

The wearables business is hard, especially if you’re a small startup with a device you could, perhaps uncharitably, call “niche.” Oura, which makes activity-tracking rings worn endorsed by a numberof celebrities, recently released its third-generation model. This new hardware is a technical marvel, packing many of the features that most wrist-worn devices take for granted. But the need to keep the cash rolling in has seen Oura, like Fitbit, Apple, Wahoo and others, pivot to a recurring-revenue model. Oura says that this is key to shift from the idea of buying a device that never changes, to supporting its broader goals of building an evolving fitness ecosystem.

Hardware

Image of the inside of the Oura Ring (v3)
Daniel Cooper

Before we get into the specifics of this new Oura ring, let’s take a moment to remember that this device is still a marvel of engineering. Taking the sensors from a smartwatch or fitness tracker and shrinking them into a ring is worthy of enormous praise. For all of its imperfections, it’s amazing to see Oura push the limits of what is capable in such a small form factor. And there’s much more tech crammed in this time around, despite the size and weight remaining the same as the second-generation version. The headline features these new sensors enable include continuous heart-rate tracking, temperature monitoring, blood oxygenation and period prediction.

The sizing process is the same for pretty much every smart ring I’ve ever tried: The company sends you a set of plastic dummy rings you have to wear for a couple of days. Once you’ve determined the correct fit, which is tight and secure around the base of your index finger, but not to the point where it’s uncomfortable, you can order the real thing. This actually was the most stressful part of this review, since I felt that one size was too loose, the other too tight, but I opted for looseness rather than sacrificing a digit to the gods of fitness tracking. Oura says that the index finger is the best place for its ring, but you can stick it elsewhere if you prefer.

Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t do much about is the size of the ring itself which is a bit too big. I’m a big-ish guy with big-ish hands, but it feels a bit too ostentatious on my fingers, enough that people notice and ask me what it is as soon as they spot it. If you have more slender hands, I’m sure you might have a similar issue with folks pointing it out. I suspect that the smart thing to do is visit Parts Of 4 to get some more adornments to balance out the look.

Software

Without a screen, Oura is yoked tightly to the iOS or Android app where all of this data will be displayed. The Oura app is clean and tidy, only giving you the deepest data when you go looking for it. The app breaks down all of the information generated from your finger and compresses it into three scores, which are shown on the homescreen. These are for Readiness, Sleep and Activity, representing how prepared you are to face the day, how well-rested you are and how much exercise you’re doing.

The only other thing you’ll find on the homescreen is a breakdown of your heart rate across the day, showing you where the peaks and troughs are. You’ll also get advice on your ideal bedtime, which is useful when you’re working late nights and need to juggle sleep with getting things done. You’ll also get periodic reminders to move if the app detects you’ve been still for a while, and advice when it’s time for you to wind down for the day.

Go into one of the categories, like Readiness, and you’ll get scores for your recovery index, sleep, as well as your HRV balance, body temperature and resting heart rate. You can also see that my figures dropped quite substantially during a three-day period when I got food poisoning from a New Year’s Eve takeaway meal. During that period, I was given plenty of warnings telling me I wasn’t rested or well enough to do much else – not that I felt like I was gonna go for a run or anything.

As part of Oura’s plan to add extra value to its platform, the company is adding a series of video and audio guides for meditation, breathwork and sleeping. These guides, which are essentially guided meditation audio tracks, can be backed with a white noise option of your choice. You can pick the hum of a train station, the crunch of a forest stroll, the sound of the tide lapping at the land or rainfall, amongst others. These are a thing for people who find those things useful to fall asleep and feel restful but I, personally, do not find them that great.

That said, where Oura differs from its rivals in this space is that it’ll break down your vital signs during your meditation. If you’re wondering how to get better at meditating then you’ll be guided to more appropriate tracks that’ll help prod you toward nirvana.

Oura is working on adding more features to the Ring v3 over the next year, including more content as well as more accurate sleep and period tracking. These will not actually appear as new features so much as they are behind-the-scenes improvements in the underlying systems. Finally, at some point this year, the ring will be able to identify your blood oxygenation (SpO2) while you sleep in order to help detect disorders like sleep apnea.

In use

Image of the Oura Ring V3 on its charging plate.
Daniel Cooper

The best thing about the Oura ring is that, once you’ve worn it a few days, you quickly start to ignore its presence. And while you’re not paying attention, it begins worming its way into every corner of your life, learning your working patterns and getting ready to make helpful suggestions. If you feel like crap in the morning but don’t have the mental wherewithal to comprehend why, you’ll be told as soon as you look at your phone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing here that other platforms don’t do as well, but this is certainly an elegant implementation of the idea.

Sleep tracking is generally fine, by which I mean it works by tracking movement and therefore can’t tell when you’ve been rudely awoken but haven’t moved. As part of this new pivot, however, Oura is promising that the sleep tracking will soon become vastly more accurate as a consequence of behind-the-scenes changes. This will not be readily visible to users, however, since all you’ll get is a pop-up telling you that things just got more accurate. Still, it offers a fairly good indicator for how the night went, although I find the activity tracking to be a little more on the generous side. Yesterday morning, for instance, it told me that my morning shower was a strength training workout with plenty of burned calories for my trouble. Similarly, it’ll tell me around lunchtime that I need to take a half-hour brisk walk to finish my activity for the day, and then by early evening, having done nothing more than stand at my desk, make dinner and put my kids to sleep, it’ll tell me I’ve completed my goal.

One of the features that Oura is tempting its users with is Workout Heart Rate, which I find inadvertently amusing. Because the ring is so chunky, and it has such a hard edge, that I really don’t find it comfortable to wear during workouts. For instance, if I’ve got a pair of free weights, or I’m doing an incline push up on a Smith machine bar, the ring just pushes into the fleshy parts of my hand. For most of the proper “gym” workouts I’ve done, the ring has had to come off, lest I tap out too early or draw blood from the chubby parts of my fingers. But for more ring-friendly jobs, like running, walking, or cycling, you should find this to be a big help.

In terms of vital-signs tracking accuracy, I think it’s always wise to remember that wearables will not be as inch-perfect as a clinical-grade device. But in a number of random spot-tests, the Oura offered the exact same figures as the Apple Watch on my wrist. In fact, Oura’s reputation for accuracy has always been pretty high, and one of the reasons that the company hasn’t released some of these features is to ensure they’re ready to go when they do arrive.

Oura quotes battery life at seven days, although I rarely managed to get past five without having to drop it on the charging plate. Certainly, real-world stamina is a bit far from what the company is saying, but then it’s hardly a deal breaker since you can charge it full in two hours. It’s become common for me to take the ring off while I’m standing at my desk on Monday and Friday mornings and let it re-juice while I’m working.

Economics

The third-generation Oura ring will set you back $299, which gets you the ring in one of four finishes: Silver, Black, Stealth or Gold. In the box, you’ll receive the charging plate and a USB-C cable, and as part of the deal, you’ll get a six-month trial of Oura’s subscription service. Membership, which costs $5.99 a month for new users, will entitle you to “daily health insights,” “personalized recommendations,” as well as more video and audio sessions. Any existing Oura user who upgrades to the new ring will get a lifetime membership thrown in for free.

I want to be fair here and say that I understand why Oura is pivoting to this recurring revenue model. It’s not as if other companies in this space, like Fitbit, aren’t doing the same in the hope of bolstering their bottom lines. And that’s before we get to talk about how much lock-in the Apple Watch gets as a consequence of Fitness+. But I also think there’s a difference between the sort of product that those rivals are offering compared to Oura’s product.

After all, Apple and Fitbit can both offer coaching both on their devices and on bigger screens, which Oura can’t. Not to mention that Oura is really only able to offer guided audio clips (and short videos) through its app. And that while Apple and Fitbit are selling their devices as (having the potential to become) Capital-F Fitness gear, the Oura really isn’t. But, then again, that’s not what Oura is pitching here – it’s for the meditator, the runner, the cyclist, who doesn’t want to strap something beefy to their wrist.

Wrap-Up

Here’s the problem with reviewing Oura: It’s not a device that every fitness person will love. If you want something with more versatility, you’d buy a smartwatch and have done with it. Oura is more of a subtle product, for people who want to be less ostentatious about their health, or simply want something that slips into their lives and does the job. Honestly, since I’m not a gym bro, I really like the data the ring offers me without any fuss or muss.

As for the subscription, it’s likely that Oura will have to keep squeezing as many new features and insights as possible out of this new hardware. Between that, and vastly improving its currently slender content library, it’s worth it if you’re a paid-up member of the Oura family. But, and this is more a comment on the industry as a whole rather than a slight against Oura itself, I do find this need for every company to squeeze some rental income out of their users to be a little bit grating.

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