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Inside VR (Nov 26th, 2019)

1. Details of the new Half-Life VR game have been announced. Following the official reveal last Tuesday, Valve has confirmed that "Half-Life: Alyx" will indeed be a sort of prequel set between the first and second games in the series rather than HL3. Players will get to embody its title character, Alyx Vance, in virtual reality as she adventures in the dystopian depths of City 17. More concrete details about the plot will likely have to wait until the March 2020 release. The game will be compatible with all VR headsets according to Valve, but it remains to be seen whether it might play better on the company's own Valve Index HMD. – WIRED

2. Customers purchasing an Oculus Quest this holiday season will get "Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series" for free. From  November 21 to January 31, those who purchase an Oculus Quest headset will receive all three episodes (which usually cost $30) free of charge as long as they register their device within 30 days of purchase. Throughout Episodes I & II, players battled a variety of enemies, and enjoyed practicing their skills in the Lightsaber Dojo, yet Kyle Melnick writes that the recently released third and final chapter is shaping up to be the most action-packed episode so far, including a showdown with Lord Vader himself and an updated dojo which lets players dual-wield lightsabers and use Force Lightning. – VRSCOUT

3. Spotlight: Women in VR - Marina Abramović  

By Alice Bonasio

Marina Abramović is a Serbian artist known for her vanguard performance pieces that use her body both as subject and vehicle. Incorporating performance, sound, video, sculpture, and photography into her practice, she invites - even demands - audience participation, in her belief that an artist's function in a disturbed society is "to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.”

Over the past four decades, her work has pushed the boundaries of that relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. No wonder, then that she was drawn to the possibilities of incorporating immersive technology in her work. 

Her VR experience "Rising" (2018) was a warning against the effects of climate change, and featured an avatar Abramović standing in a glass box slowly filling with water coming from melting sea ice. It first debuted in 2018 at Stockholm’s Brilliant Minds conference (an arm of Stockholm Symposium), as part of the launch of VR arts platform Acute, with Jeff Koons and Olafur Eliasson before going on show at the Venice Biennale.

“It is very different when you are surrounded by the image, you really feel it with VR because the brain believes what you see is true,” she said in an interview with Dazed Digital, adding that everyone who had gone through "Rising" felt an emotional experience at seeing the sea ice melt in front of their eyes and eventually drown her avatar. She hoped this would actually trigger concrete action for people: "You start thinking about what you can do on your own to change that,” she concluded. 

Abramović i is now set to become the first artist to sell a Mixed Reality artwork at auction with “The Life” (2019) slotted to be sold by Christie's next year, so the future bodes well for more groundbreaking immersive work as she continues to explore immersive technologies as they develop. 

Every Tuesday we'll shine a spotlight on the female trailblazers making their mark in immersive tech and their work. If you have a story you think we should feature, just hit reply to this email or tweet me @alicebonasio.

4.  Eden Immersive will launch an enterprise VR headset without straps or a head mount. The new 3DOF VR kit is called the Snacker and is scheduled to launch in 2020. It uses a grip that allows users to hold the headset to their face during use. The headset and grip rest together on a stand, and were developed specifically to give companies a VR solution that provided less friction and boosted engagement (i.e. not messing up people's hair or make-up during use). The headset boasts a 105-degree field of view and refresh rate of 72Hz, with a 3840-by-2160 LCD panel. The stand also wirelessly charges the headset and can support 4G or 5G to keep the headset up to date without the need for a wired or Wi-Fi connection. The headset is accompanied by a tablet that allows enterprises to control and guide users through the VR experience. There is also a "self-serve" version of the tablet, that allows the user to control the experience themselves by selecting options on the tablet before raising it to their face. Interested businesses can sign-up for early access. – VENTUREBEAT

5. It's nearly 2020 and virtual reality is still making people sick. This article looks back at the history of VR and how, in the early 1990s when VR first became viable (if still prohibitively expensive) games companies were excited about pushing a technology for which the market just wasn't ready. Decades later, the technology has progressed vastly, but a lot of VR content is still - quite literally - making people ill, and the problem of “cyber-sickness" disproportionately affects female users. For more on the surprisingly long and colorful history of immersive tech, together with some of its epic fails, do check out tomorrow's special edition of Inside AR as we start to wind down for the holidays here in the U.S. – THE ECONOMIST

6. This Black Friday will bring some attractive deals for VR gear and content bundles. Sam Ochanji thralls through upcoming promotions across all VR manufacturers and comes to the conclusion that those who have been waiting to take the plunge and purchase a headset might score quite a good deal. Oculus, for example, will discount the Rift S to $350, in addition to the attractive Vader Immortal bundle deal we covered above. For those looking for a good budget option, the company is also selling the 32GB Oculus Go for $149 (down from $199) and reducing the price of the 64GB model from $249 to $199. Although HTC hasn't yet announced any hardware deals for Black Friday, you can get a VivePort Infinity subscription service with unlimited access to VR apps for $4.99 per month (down from $12.99). Target is also offering a PSVR bundle along with five games for just $200 as part of its "Door Buster" sale.– VIRTUAL REALITY TIMES  

7. Valve will release tools alongside "Half-Life: Alyx" to allow its modding community to create more content for the game (and beyond). Valve announced a set of Source 2 tools for building new levels will be available for the game, and company's studio-level authoring tool has been updated with all of the game’s virtual reality gameplay tools and components and community-made content can be hosted via Steam Workshop, the mod distribution component of the Steam platform. Ben Lang writes that the upcoming release of the VR title and the buzz it has caused in its loyal community has energized the studio, and he argues that with tools available for community modders to try their hand at making new VR content, the potential exists for great ideas to bubble up and spawn significant games. – ROAD TO VR

This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio

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