Appliance Of Science: Valve Adds Global Leaderboards To VR Playground, The Lab

It upsets me that I associate the phrase “Appliance of Science” with Zanussi because it means that at least one of my chances to create a treasured childhood memory was co-opted by a white goods manufacturer’s advertising campaign. ANYWAY. Appliance Of Science is also the name of Valve’s new update to The Lab [Steam link] – its VR experiment anthology.

The big thing? It’s adding competitive global leaderboards for Longbow (the archery one), Xortex (the space shootery one), and Slingshot (the box explodey one).

There are also a number of changes to the modes. I’ll list them out at the end but here are the basic points to note:

MOST IMPORTANT: there’s now haptic controller feedback when petting the Fetchbot.

Longbow has updated its scoring system and has an escalating unlimited number of enemy waves to shoot at (escaling in that they’re faster each time and there’s more chance they’ll wear armour). Every eight waves your cauldrons and barrels reset so there’s incentive to use them rather than save them.

Xortex also gets an infinite mode which swaps out the laser for a bomb. The bomb takes out a whole bunch of threats in an area of effect but it resets your multiplier so you want to keep it as a last resort, I’d say. I don’t really get on with Xortex so I’m less into this one.

Slingshot is getting more of a tweak then a new mode so expect bigger barrel explosions and scoring adjustments. This one is DEFINITELY of interest to me. I am a big fan of knocking stuff over and blowing it up. For Science.

Full update notes:

Longbow Updates

Longbow now features infinite waves and a global leaderboard, visible on the rear tower
– The first 8 waves are the same. From wave 9 onward, enemies slowly become faster, more plentiful, and have an increased chance to wear armor
– There is a break every 8 waves
– Oil Cauldrons and Exploding Barrels are restored after each break
– New scoring system added which awards points for enemy kills, headshots, popping red balloons from enemies if gate health is full, remaining oil or barrels at wave end, and for completing a wave.

Fixed several cases where enemies would get stuck as they tried to walk past each other

Using the -longbow launch command now places the player directly into the game, skipping the approach to the miniature

Xortex Updates

Added Xortex Infinite, a boss-free score attack mode with a global leaderboard visible at game over
– Picking up powerups increases a score multiplier. The maximum multiplier is 10
– Super Laser replaced with a Bomb which destroys nearby enemies, charged by picking up 2 powerups
– Using the Bomb resets your score multiplier
– Enemies and bullets become progressively faster with time
– Added a new enemy which appears in Xortex Infinite and Classic: The Spinner, which spews bullets from its front and behind as it spins

Enemies in Xortex now heat up and glow as they take damage, and then begin to heal over time

Certain enemies die automatically if left alive for too long

Scoring removed from Xortex Classic

Slingshot Updates

Rebalanced Slingshot, and added a global leaderboard visible above the conveyor belt
– Adjusted point yields for towers, barrels, and tracer core boxes
– Adjusted points needed to earn an extra core
– Barrel explosions are now more powerful
– If all platforms are cleared, any remaining cores will yield bonus points

Other Updates

Added voice subtitles and text translations for several languages for the Intro, Hub, Slingshot, Robot Repair, and Secret Shop. The language is set by your current Steam language. Subtitles can be toggled on and off by using the panel in the title scene.

Added a scene selection dropdown interface to the monitor’s viewer window

The computer screen viewer window can now be set to full screen with a launch parameter: -fullscreen

Added more scene selection launch parameters for the Lab, Secret Shop and Robot Repair: -hub, -secretshop, -robotrepair

There is now a haptic controller response when petting Fetchbot. Who’s a good bot?


  1. ukpanik says:

    On the sunject of VR, an interesting read:
    link to

    “there was a measurable degree of confusion and disorientation after prolonged exposure to VR experiences. This disorientation is the reason why the US Military advises against flying a plane or even driving a car for 24 hours after being inside a simulator.”

    • Dritz says:

      That information is from someone whose experience is specifically around military flight sims, and has been pretty vocal against VR. The tricky subject here is that the motion sickness he’s talking about is the body’s response to what it feels not matching what it sees – which possibly gets worse when you put, say, highly trained military pilots into a simulation that fails to give them the g-forces they’re used to pulling when flying real aircraft.

      In any case, I’m convinced Steve Baker has not researched or experienced the Vive at all, because the root causes of VR motion sickness are not present in applications where your movement does match what you see. Games that have artificial locomotion with a gamepad or cockpit games are much worse for motion sickness (gamepad games being the worst offenders), but there’s ways to compensate that I don’t believe were present in those military simulations, and even then players tend to “get used to it” after a while, presumably because they mentally begin disassociating what they can see from their vestibular system. If that’s dangerous or not, I can’t tell you, but I would say most players are much more comfortable staying away from artificial locomotion anyway, and we’re likely to see it mostly disappear from VR applications.

      Basically, motion sickness is a software problem, and the military sims weren’t doing anything to try and get around that, but it’s been Valve and HTC’s entire mission to solve those problems, relying on mechanics like teleportation to never move the player’s view unnaturally. It’s a bit shortsighted to say “VR won’t happen because you can’t have traditional games that work with it comfortably”, as Steve Baker does. Valve and HTC, and the indie devs supporting the VR headsets, have been exploring ways to alter familiar genres so they don’t require artificial locomotion and don’t have these negative effects. That’s the real future of VR.

      • 9of9 says:

        Moreover, it should be noted that the precise study cited for the advise that you should not fly or drive a car for twenty-four hours afterwards is from a single UH-60 simulator in 1989. There are no details given regarding the perceived latency or visual fidelity of that simulation, so it’s difficult to ascertain how it compares to contemporary VR devices and whether the effects would be similar.

        Steve Baker’s misgivings shouldn’t be thrown out without scrutiny, he is significantly more knowledgeable on the matter than the majority of VR naysayers and does bring up valid points. However, without figures and statistics it’s all very much anecdotal evidence versus anecdotal evidence. When he talks about having worked with headsets that had lower latency and higher resolution in the military, what exactly were the specifications, what does he compare them to? Did they have access to low-persistence displays, or late-stage re-projection? Maybe, maybe not.

        The theory that dissonance between vergence and accommodation contributes to simulator sickness is an interesting one. It certainly can contribute to initial discomfort and disorientation when donning a headset for the first time. Research into this would be welcome and interesting to see – there are various display methods in development that would allow for different planes of focus, but nothing consumer-grade in the immediate future I don’t think. From personal experience, this strikes me as a case of comfort but not really necessity. I don’t believe there is that close a link between vergence and accommodation that it would trigger sickness – we endure a variety of things that alter that relationship, from wearing a new pair of glasses to pupil dilation, without any significant protest from the nervous system. Staring at something five inches in front of your face while you’re focusing at a plane twenty feet away is disorientating, yes, but it’s not sickness inducing (anecdotally).

        While we’re on anecdotal evidence, reports of simulator sickness with the Vive are very, very few and far between in my experience – even amidst users wearing it for prolonged periods of time. For instance, having invited my mother to try it out (who can’t stomach so much as watching me play an FPS or run around Venice in Assassin’s Creed, because it makes her stomach churn, as much as she likes the visuals), she comfortably spent over two hours playing various games on her first go, without so much as taking the headset off for a minute.

        I may very well be biased toward a cool new tech that I’m excited about, and Steve Baker may very well be biased – even if he is not entirely aware of it – against a tech that he has worked for decades with, seeing iteration after iteration prove how easy it is to trigger our reflexes of nausea, how difficult it is to match up sensations of acceleration to visual stimuli. But there is little that can be meaningfully said at this point without more data and studies performed on well-calibrated, latest-generation hardware to show us just how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

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      phuzz says:

      There are several claims that the nausea problem has either been fixed, or will soon be fixed, or that application design can be used to work-around the problem.

      Well, it might not be totally fixed for every user, but it’s definitely not a problem for a large proportion of users, so actually yes, I believe the consumer VR industry has indeed cracked the nausea problem.

  2. emertonom says:

    This update is so, so good. Xortex and Longbow were always excellent games, but the fact that they were short and self-contained meant that once you beat them, there wasn’t a lot of replayability. Now that they’ve fixed that, these are some of the best examples of basic, arcade-style action on the Vive. Valve may not release games very often any more, but they haven’t lost their touch.