This is my personal blog site where I write about a variety of topics that interest me, mostly gaming (online, video and boardgames) and anime. I try to post every Tuesday. What this is, is some placeholder text for Google+. This is more placeholder text. I'm not sure how much I need to put here. This sure is boring. I wish I knew why this worked. It shouldn't. It sure is CONFUSING!
[::.WISH LIST.::]
If you are not on Google+, I strongly reccomend it. Most of my future updates will be there as Eric Penn.
You are a fucking cunt
What ever happened to integrity?
I don't see it on MTV.
All I see is choreography
and I'll never be a dancer!
--"Spokesman", Goldfinger
Life just sucks, I lost the one
I'm giving up, she found someone
There's plenty more
Girls are such a drag
Fuck this place, I lost the war
I hate you all, your mom's a whore
Where's my dog?
'Cause girls are such a drag
--"Dysentary Gary", Blink 182
This island is big enough
for every cast away,
But most of us are looking
for someone else to blame.
--"Scapegoat", Chumbawamba
Sometimes we get what we deserve, and sometimes we don't get what we deserve. Somehow, we always get what we need.
Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
--"The Lord of the Rings", J.R.R. Tolkien
Have you nothing of your own?
Nothing that is not:
by others?
"Comes The Inquisitor", Babylon 5
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
Old Race Reports
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Pd world.jpg
PSVR - Proton Pulse

Proton Pulse is more or less breakout/brickout in 3D. You might think that this would be fun, and in concept it seems like it would be! Imagine that you are controlling a paddle on the near side of a corridor and the “ball” bounces away from you, off walls, off the back, and then back towards you, only to be deflected back into play. Simple gameplay; classic brickout but in 3D VR environment! Unfortunately, it didn’t come out that way.

I keep going back to a comparison with DangerBall (found on the PSVR Worlds disc) comparison. DangerBall is a super simple game with spartan, functional graphics. It doesn’t have a lot of “nift” value, but it gets the job done. By comparison,Proton Pulse feels like a neon factory vomited all over the screen. Practically everything glows in some way or another. The player paddle is glowing green. Some (but not all) of the “bricks” glow green. Occasionally, one of the powerups will glow green. The “ball” glows green too! There are glowing red, and yellow elements in there as well, and it’s easy to get lost in all of the glowing neon on the screen at all times. There is so much visual clutter that there were several times while playing that I completely lost track of what I was “supposed” to be aiming for. That is bad enough but…

Proton Pulse lacks "urgency". Unlike DangerBallwhere the pace gradually increases until you are frantically trying to just stay in play, the pace here is glacial. Even when things get a bit frantic, all it takes is a single well played hit and the pace slows back down. Sometimes, randomly hitting some powerup or another would grant me a super big ball that was all-but-impossible to lose. Or a “metal ball” that would rip through everything and win the round without much effort. It’s not a difficult game. Without any exaggeration, my very first session with this game (which was also my LAST session with the game) lasted for over two hours. I could have played for longer – I was in no danger of actually “losing” the game when I stopped – but I was actually getting bored with it.

There are some interesting powerups. One in particular makes your paddle fire laser blasts. I can assume that this was supposed to add “difficulty” in that you would need to choose whethewr to deflect the ball or to fire the lasers at a specific location. Problem is, you can do both with the HUGE paddle.

The game does support the move controllers, just like HoloBall. Pressing a button changes the visor-controlled paddle into two hand controlled paddles. That’s all well and good, but the Move paddles made the game very twitchy. It was actually a lot less fun waving my hands around than it was simply “looking” to control the paddle. I’m not sure why this was even implemented in the game; it certainly doesn’t add gameplay value.

I think there is supposed to be some kind of narrative story involving some Easter Island monolithic heads, but even after playing for a couple of hours I had no idea what was going on. That’s not the end of the world, because it’s supposed to be brickout, not The Last of Us!

Between the brightly colored visual noise, the almost complete lack of any kind of challenge, and the glacial pace of gameplay, this is yet another $10 purchase that will never get played. DangerBall is better.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, January 10, 2017 1:39 PM PT [+]

Welcome to 2107
Well, it’s a new year. Woo!

About this time of year, a lot of people are posting their "Worst/Best of 2106" lists. Why? Because it's low-hanging fruit. It's easy to do and it looks like you worked hard on it. I'm not going to bother.

In 2016, I played a LOT of games. I started the year in full-on indie mode, got all excited and sucked in to Black Desert Online (which, by the way, is not a Bad Game, it's just not a very Good MMO!), took a side-detour into anime and TV-land, and then, as the year went by, found VR.

What I am going to do is repeat myself from a year ago. Last January, I said that I was going to post 52 weeks of content. Looking back on my history, I see that I posted 30 different reviews or impressions over the course of the year. Clearly I did not meet my goal. Rather than set the same goal for this year (which I'm also unlikely to achieve), this year I'm going to aim to improve my posting frequency. So, the number to beat for 2017 is 30 reviews.

We'll see how that goes.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, January 3, 2017 1:56 PM PT [+]

PSVR - HoloBall

HoloBall is a PSVR version of racquetball. It's supposed to be a souped-up version of Dangerball (from the VR Worlds disc), but instead is a buggy mess.

The initial configuration had my player crouching like a monkey, and I had to completely restart the game to fix it. The paddles didn't track well and I could not reach the edges of the playing field without leaving the play area. The game popped up an error screen after every point was scored, stopping the game and forcing me to press the X button to acknowledge it and get back into the game, completely ruining any immersion. The controls scheme was not well explained and two first-time players didn't understand how the paddles interacted with the ball. (It sounds silly, but it actually happened - both of the players who were confused by this are engineers and are very smart people... just not gamers.)

If you have ANY controller wobble at all, HoloBall is almost unplayable. On several occasions, the paddle "wobbled" right through the ball, making a perfect hit into a perfect miss. Overall, HoloBall left a bad impression on everyone who played or watched it being played.

I know not every game is going to for every person, and I'm capable of seeing the draw to most games that I don't enjoy. However, the fact that this game was constantly and consistently throwing up error codes and message after every goal leads me to believe that it was not well tested and had some sort of major errors. It even crashed completely while I was playing! (Which led me to stop playing.)

DangerBall is one of the most requested games in my multiplayer household. If I could get a refund for HoloBall I would. It's not even a good game to use as a VR demo.

- Stupid @ Friday, December 30, 2016 6:48 PM PT [+]

PSVR - Bound

This is a lovely indie game in the same vein as Journey or Flower. It's quite an experience, but not a great game. I do like the way the game looks - it's stunningly beautiful! But the gameplay is lacking in the "fun" factor. The camera controls are really wonky and detract from the experience. (I'm told this has been fixed since I've played it.) I'll finish it, mostly because it's pretty to look at at. But once I'm done, I'll probably never bring it out again. Even with the fixed camera controls, I just don't see this ever being played again, even as a VR demo.

Many people say that this game was an emotional experience for them. I don't get it. I mean, I do get why people feel emotionally attached to some games. I remember my first playthrough of Journey on my old PS3 and how emotional that was for me. But, after playing it again on the PS4, I realize that it really wasn't the game that was such an amazing experience, it was that the game allowed me to have an amazing emotional experience. The feelings that I had on that first playthrough were mine, and came from me, not from the game. I suspect Bound is the same for some people. But not for me. By the time I got to the final "level" I was simply waiting for it to get over, so I could get my consolation trophy for completing the game. (Spoiler: there isn't one.)

It a graphically lovely game. The environments are cool to look at and play in. But the "game" (if you can call it that) is super-linear, and there are no real challenges. The story (such as it is) may resonate with some folks' specific life-experiences (it has to do with loss and rejection), but I found it boring and uninspired. For me the ending was more "WTF?!" than "OMG!"

Overall, I'm glad that I played it so that I can say that I've seen it. But it wasn't rewarding and it wasn't fun. Luckily, it was only $10 (on sale).

- Stupid @ Thursday, December 29, 2016 6:40 PM PT [+]

PSVR - Gary the Gull

This is less a "game" and more of a semi-interactive VR demo.

It's about 5-10 minutes long. The "player" interacts with the environment in the form of nodding to say "Yes", shaking one's head side-to-side to say "No", looking at specific things, and speaking aloud. The speech part doesn't do vocal recognition (although it would be really cool if it did somehow!) but is more like the old DS "blow into the microphone to do [something]" mechanic. As long as you say SOMETHING it detects it and the experience progresses.

The story is basically that you are on a beach somewhere and this seagull flies down and starts talking to you. That's Gary. The writers tried to insert some humor into the experience, but the jokes are pretty flat; I didn't even chuckle, and I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to humor.

The graphics are pretty decent for what it is. There isn't a lot of variation, and the environment is completely fixed. You never "move" during this experience at all. It's as if you are glued down to your beach chair. As a result, the motion sickness issues are non-existent.

It's a cute little vignette and it's over pretty quickly. It's also free on PSN, so everyone should try it out at least once. It's definitely a pretty great first-timer's VR experience. It's much shorter than most of the other first-time experiences, which allows for a new user to get their VR-legs really quickly before moving on to more intense experiences. I'll likely add this to the list of "first time" VR experiences for demoing to friends and family. Outside of that, I don't think I'll ever play it again.

- Stupid @ Wednesday, December 28, 2016 1:35 PM PT [+]

PSVR - Wayward Sky

Just prior to the PSVR’s release, I’d seen this game demonstrated on Penny Arcade’s “Tycho Tries…” series. They only played the first level of the game in the episode, but that was plenty to get a feel for what the game was like. It looked cute, but not like something I would invest a lot of time into.

And then I got my PSVR. Wayward Sky was one of the titles on the demo disc. It started just like the actual game, so it looked and felt very much like the demonstration I'd seen already. One or two screens in, it changed course and turned into the much shorter "demo" experience. It didn’t really have as much of puzzley goodness as the game I’d seen demonstrated on YouTube, but it did have a lot more character. Much more character than I had expected to find. After playing the (pretty short) demo all the way through, I decided to pull the trigger on this one and bought it digitally on PSN. I believe there was a launch-day sale as well, so that probably helped me make the decision. I’m really glad that I did!

The graphical presentation is mostly done in third-person. The camera is perfectly stable, but the player can lean around and look in any direction. It looks and feels like you are looking over on to a tiny world with tiny people that move around. The Move controllers give you a perfect “click to move” interface. As you move away, or through a door, or into a building, the camera quickly fades to black and then comes back up in the new location that you moved into. And every once in a while the game switches into an actual first-person view. Primarily for manipulation-style puzzles. For example, you might need to pull a series of levers in a specific order, or flip some switches, or plug in some devices. (Or shoot some bad guys.)

The story and characters are easily the best part of this game. The style of the character models in the game is very simple. That’s not to say that they are boring, though! Despite the relatively low resolution of the VR world, all of the various characters just plain ooze with personality and charm. The voice acting is not perfect, but it is certainly passable and not cringe-inducing. And as the story progressed and I learned more about the characters and their story, the more I liked them all. Even the minor side-characters that played a very small role in the overall game were presented in a humorous and fun way.

The difficulty of the game levels was very well done. The early levels were quite easy, and even the supposedly “hidden” secrets were pretty trivial to ferret out. But as the game progressed, it started to introduce new and more difficult mechanics that made the game quite a bit more challenging. This worked fine, since a game should get more challenging as you progress. After all, the player is getting better at playing over time, so increased difficulty keeps things interesting.

I didn’t notice it initially as I was playing the game, but about 2/3 of the way through, I realized that every single character in the game was a person of color! Despite being a white male gamer, I found this to be amazing and quite refreshing. Unfortunately, I can see a lot of self-indulgent white gamers finding reasons to not like the game because it lacks “relatable” (that is, white) characters. That point is a bunch of baloney. The story revolves around the loss of a family member, abandonment, insecurity and, ultimately, anger at the unfairness of the world. Anyone who claims that these are “unrelatable” is simply making excuses for their own racist tendencies. The characters in the game are great!

But, the ending of the game is not great. And, as is sometimes said: The Ending is Tantamount. In fact, to me, this is the biggest failing of the game. The writer of the storyline had this amazing story of courage, determination, and the attempt at making the world a better place, fighting against adversity, feelings of betrayal and Byron-esque “screaming at the storm from the mountaintop” moments. And then the story’s final wrap-up felt like all of that was Just Kidding. A happy ending is all well and good, but the way in which this was wrapped up felt really contrived and simplistic. The denouement of the antagonist felt very artificial. I mean, I just couldn’t see someone with that much internal strife just accepting that he was wrong all along and going along with “sure, let’s all just be friends” and sailing off into the sunset with the heroine.

The complete game is not terribly long, but it didn’t need to be. It probably could have used another level or two on the tail end – if nothing else to help ease in to that happy ending a bit more smoothly – but it doesn’t suffer too much from the length. It certainly shouldn’t have been much longer than it is, no matter what. I finished the whole game in one playthrough, lasting about four hours.

Outside of the story’s culmination and the feeling that the third act was a bit rushed, the game was really enjoyable and well worth the time and money invested in it. I heartily recommend this VR game!

- Stupid @ Saturday, December 24, 2016 1:41 PM PT [+]

PSVR - Tumble VR

When the PSVR released in October, one of the things that was included in the box was a demo disc that had demos for 18 games. Well, actually, there were demos for 16 games – two of the “demos” were literally nothing but a splash screen and a “buy now” button. As I played through the various demos, one in particular caught my attention. Tumble was one of the very few games that I had played on a 3D television during the brief time when that technology was in fashion. Stacking blocks in 3D was kind of neat, and the Move controllers on the PS3 were pretty amazing for control. But since the 3D TV set I was playing on was 5-hours from my actual home, I never really invested much time into it.

It’s so much better in VR.

One might think that simply stacking blocks wouldn’t be much fun, but it is! The levels start out pretty easy. You just stack an unlimited number of cubic blocks, without them falling over, to a certain height. Then the block start being not-so-cubic and the odd angles mean that you have to counterbalance them. Then you start getting cylinders, pyramids and other geometric forms. Then there are a limited number of blocks. And then the blocks are made of different materials – some might be slippery, others quite sticky; some are light and won’t contribute (much) to the tower falling over, others are super heavy and will press things down quite a bit. And then the game start throwing crazy stuff at you: there might be a moving platform that will knock everything over unless you build your stack out and around it. You might have to balance the proverbial plate on top of a pencil… and ten put another five blocks on top of that! There are even “hidden” blocks that you can only unlock by stacking up to a “dashed” or “ghosted” image of a block that is floating in the air somewhere. And of course those locations are almost always in inconvenient locations and sometimes so far out of the way that hitting them means that you are going to not be able to beat that level.

The virtual presentation is pretty good. There isn’t any sound to speak of, other than the clicks and clunks of the various blocks being set. There is no built-in background music, which might turn off some players. The graphics are best described as “utilitarian”. I mean, it’s basically blocks, right? And there’s not a lot of action in the gameplay. Each section of the game is introduced by a little robot guy that has a bunch of Portal-esque quips. The humor isn’t as solid as GLaDOS’ was in Portal, but it still adds a little bit of levity to the game and I got a few chuckles out of it.

Tumble VR was the first VR game I bought, and also the first VR game that I played for four hours non-stop. I really enjoyed it, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

- Stupid @ Friday, December 23, 2016 1:49 PM PT [+]

PSVR - VR Playroom
The VR Playroom is a free “game” that is downloadable from Sony’s Playstation Network. It’s kinda-sorta a followup to the original Playroom “game” that was released when the PS4 first came out, only this time, it’s highlighting the new PSVR virtual reality headset. I put “Game” in scare quotes, because it’s not really a game. In fact it’s a collection of five mini-games and one VR “experience”. So let’s talk about the things that are included in this package.

Cat and Mouse is a asymmetric multiplayer title that can handle two to five players. The VR player is the Cat; up to four TV players are the mice. The interesting part about this game is that what the VR player sees and what the TV players see is almost completely different! This is an exciting thing that I hope more future games take advantage of as we move forward with VR game development. The game takes place in a futuristic kitchen, where the mice are trying to steal bits of cheese, and the cat is trying to catch the mice.

The VR player is a controller-less Cat. This player uses their head to look at the mice to aim, and then lunges forward to pounce. The Cat lives in a tiny alcove that is separated from the kitchen by three sheer curtains. When the cat is completely in their alcove, the view to the kitchen is almost completely obscured. By slowly moving their head forward, the cat draws back first one, then the second and finally the third curtain. With all three curtains pulled back, any mouse that is visible is immediately caught and dragged into the Cat’s alcove.

The catch is, of course, that if the curtains remain open for a certain amount of time, a Dog playfully jumps into the kitchen. If the Cat is visible when the Dog is in play, all of the caught mice are released.

The TV player(s) each control a single mouse with the dualshock controllers. From the mice’s point of view, it is a normal (albeit simple) video game. Each Mouse can move around in the kitchen to collect cheese bits, or they can press and hold a button to hide. They can hide indefinitely, but while hidden, the Mouse cannot move, which means they cannot collect any cheese. The Cat’s alcove is clearly visible and the mice can choose when to move (or hide) based on whether the curtains are open or closed.

The first time we played this game at my house, we had a full complement of four mice. To complete a single game took over half-hour. What ended up happening was that the gamer mice would hide almost constantly. If the cat was out of the alcove, the mice just hid. Only if the Cat was completely in the alcove would the mice move at all. And to move, they would only release their hide button for a split second, and then hide again. This allowed them to “pop” move with near immunity. The time that they were visible was so short it was nearly impossible for the Cat to catch them. (Except that he did… it just took for-freaking-ever to get it done.)

So, this is a really clever concept, and perhaps it would work with non-gamers. But with experienced gamers, this became more of a chore than entertainment. As one of the TV players said when we were about 20 minutes in, “I guess the game of Cat-and-Mouse really is a waiting game…”

Monster Escape is another asymmetric game where the VR player and the TV player see different things. This game is also very cute, and actually works for experienced gamers. In this one, the VR player takes on the role of a giant monster that rampages through a stylized cityscape, demolishing buildings and other structures by hitting them with his head (using the motion controlled VR headset). Meanwhile the TV players are tasked with saving as many civilians as possible by choosing which lane on the monster’s route to be in. Debris tossed from the impacted buildings falls on the road and the route chosen needs to avoid the falling detritus.

After a short intermission, the TV players then are given the chance to throw objects – crashed helocopters, bits of rubble, destroyed furniture, barrels of oil, and the like – back at the monster player, who has to duck, weave and dodge to avoid being hit. If the players manage to hit the monster some number of times, they win (by saving the remnants of the destroyed city). If not, the monster wins.

This combination works pretty well. It doesn’t have player elimination, and everyone is always engaged at all times. It does a great job of showing different things to different players.There is some amount of skill involved, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Whether you win or lose really isn’t all that important because it’s silly and fun from start to finish.

Wanted is a 2+ player game. In this one the VR player is an old-west cowboy sheriff in a western themed saloon. He can see two to twenty different non-players in the saloon, and one of them is the bad guy, but he has no idea who it is. His dualshock controller is a “gun” that can shoot one bullet. The TV players are shown a picture of the bad guy who is “wanted” and they have to communicate who it is to the sheriff. Thus the name of the game.

If the sheriff shoots the wrong target, the bad guy drops a bomb and ends the game. If the sheriff doesn’t shoot the bad guy within a really short time limit (around 5 to ten seconds), the bad guy jumps out and ends the game. It boils down to the TV players being able to describe the wanted guy as quickly and as clearly as possible. There is really only a handful of seconds to get the description out and have the sheriff act.

This one is fun and also makes really good use of the asymmetric views. The biggest problem here is that it really only works well with two or three players. Any more than that and the chaos of having multiple people simultaneously describing the bad guy becomes untenable. (This is kind of a first-world problem for me in particular. I know that most people only play with as a couple or trio, but in my house, we actually have to work to have only four players in a game. Even the most casual of game events end up with 6 players, so this one doesn’t really work well for me.

Ghost House has a lot of the same issues and advantages as Wanted. In this game, the VR player is a ghostbuster type character. They look around with the VR headset, and uses the dualshock controller as a flashlight and as a ghost-sucking device. The TV view shows what the VR player can see, with the addition of showing ghosts that invisible from inside the VR headset. The TV players do not get a controller; they simply shout out directions where the ghosts are visible.

This makes really good use of the asymmetric views. And even thoigh it is easier than the Wanted game, the theme didn’t really grab me. Plus it has the same problem as Wanted: it really only works well with two or three players. With 5 people shouting “There it is!” and giving different directions, it became really difficult to play.

Robot Rescue is the final game in this package, and is probably the most fun in the bunch. This is a Mario World style platformer. The VR player is given a 3rd person view of the platform world and uses the dualshock to move their little guy around. The controls are fluid, there are secret hidden passages and overall the game is super fun to play. In fact, the biggest problem here is that this game is so short! It’s only a single level that can be completed in less than 15 minutes. Even if the payer takes their time and looks for all the hidden secrets, it is still well under 30 minutes to complete the game. And with the game level being the same each time, there really isn’t much replay value here.

The game also allows for a single TV player, who drives a tiny little hovercar around in the world. The goal of the VR player is to locate and rescue 20 little robots that are hidden all around the map. The TV player is the standard Player 2 – they have limited effect on the game and are mostly along just for the ride. That’s not to say that there is nothing for them to do. The TV player can use a vacuum on their hovercar to suck up different items on the map and then spit them back out at flying enemies that the VR player cannot reach. There is at least one robot that cannot be reached without help from the hovercar’s assistance. In short, just like the classic Mario-style platformers, while the game is mostly a single player game, it does have some compelling reasons for 2-player action.

This last game is super fun! And even though it really doesn’t have a whole lot of replay value, I’ve played it from start to finish at least four times. It’s just that fun!! It’s really a shame that the team that developed this game has been dissolved and it’s unlikely that the game will be expanded at all. If ever there was a demo of a game that needs expansion into a full-fledged game, this is it.

Overall, the VR Playroom is a good quality demonstration for the PSVR. It offers some really great (albeit short) single-player games, as well as pushing the boundary for what can be done with asymmetric social multiplayer. For the cost (free!) it probably represents the base value game experience for the PSVR headset.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, November 8, 2016 3:19 PM PT [+]

PSVR - VR Worlds
The VR Worlds disc was bundled in with the PSVR for many people. Those that didn’t get the bundle might have ordered this package anyway since it has five different “experiences” on one disc: Ocean Descent, The London Heist, Scavenger’s Odyssey, VR Luge, and Danger Ball. That seems like a pretty good value. And it is! Most people have already seen two out of the five experiences, so let’s talk about them first…

Ocean Descent is one of the public demos that Sony has been using to show the PSVR for the last year or so. This is a non-interactive “experience” where you, the “player”, are put into a shark cage and lowered down to the bottom of a Tropical ocean scene. There is some voice-over that plays in the background that kind of lends a tiny bit of “realism” to the event, supposedly providing some kind of “story”. You’re on a salvage team, sent out by some mysterious guy named “Connor”. Your “boss” is a woman named “Kie” and she is the one talking you through the event. The cage is being winched down (and later back up) by a man who also has a few lines.

This is a great ‘first-timers’ experience, because the player doesn’t actually DO anything. It’s about as interactive as watching a movie. Albeit a 360-degree movie that you can look at from different angles. As the cage lowers into the ocean depths, various sea-life appears and disappears. You go from a colorful reef complete with swimming sea turtles and angelfish, to soaring manta rays, to glowing jellyfish, and finally to an encounter with a large toothy shark.

It’s a fun experience for people new to VR because the feeling of immersion is really present. Even though you know it isn’t real, and it isn’t interactive, you still feel like you could fall out of the cage, and you actually feel threatened by the shark. For people who have experienced VR before, it’s kind of ho-hum. I mean… it’s immersive and all that, but nothing really happens. If you’ve seen any of the press event videos of the PSVR, you’ve already seen this experience (minus the voice-over and “story”). Still, for a first-time introduction to VR, it has value. But that’s really about it.

The London Heist is another one of those demonstration-event games. In this case, they’ve taken the car-chase segment and the desk shooting segment that have both been seen multiple times and stitched them together with some semi-interactive expository segments and turned it into a 60 to 90 minute interactive “movie”. It’s interactive in that the player has to do stuff to progress the story, but it’s still a movie-like experience. The story plays out the same way no matter what the player does.

The story follows the events of a diamond heist gone wrong (or right, depending on the player’s final action). It is told non-linearly, starting with the player seemingly tied to a chair in a lock-up in London, being interrogated by a beefy looking man in a wifebeater shirt. The slow start give the player a few minutes to look around and get used to being in VR. After a few moments, the scene changes to a “business meeting” in a London Pub. Some of the items in the pub are interactive, some are not. There is some expository language that sets the scene for what is about to happen and the player has the opportunity to play with their “hands” picking up different things on the table in front of them. After a short segment that takes us back to the lock-up (and a bit more exposition), the player is whisked off to the first action sequence, the “robbery”. There is one simple puzzle to solve, and then, of course things go awry and violence does ensue. After some expert shooting (or not, depending on the player’s level of comfort with the motion controls), it’s back to the lockup, which serves as the “anchor” for the storytelling. After that there is the car-chase action sequence that climaxes with some really awesome time-dilation effects – “bullet time” has always been a neat FPS convention and it ends up working even better in VR! Finally, it’s back to the lockup for the culmination of the story. The story is fun and there are three different endings that the player can choose, based on their actions.

In addition to the story-mode, there are several shooting galleries. These can be done with or without a laser sight (called “aim assist”). These are score based games, and each one lasts about a minute. Each of the different galleries have a separate online leaderboard, allowing competitive players to compare their scores to others. These are fun, but not something that is going to be a good for long term play.

This “game” is another great intro to VR, and it has some replay value in the shooting galleries and choosing the different endings, but is not a super compelling experience in itself. It ends up feeling like a demo – albeit a really good one – and not a “real” game.

Scavenger’s Odyssey is the first title that most people have not seen before. It was very briefly shown once and then never again. There’s a good reason for that. This game is a cockpit-shooter, that takes about an hour or so to get through (assuming you can). The problem is that the vast majority of people can’t play it without getting horrible motion sickness. Some people have no problem with it. For myself, as soon as the “scavenger” started moving, this one threw me off-kilter. One of my friends had no issues with this at all and found it extremely fun to be jumping around in the game. Another friend played for 15 minutes and ended up being laid out with dizziness and nausea for about two hours after she took off the VR headset. I was able to complete the entire thing by playing it in short bursts, then saving my game and quitting. Each time I would advance the game a bit further. It took about a week, but I got through it.

The story is that you are some sort of oppressed slave-like person that manages to escape a spaceship crash in the middle of some sort of huge event. As the story progresses, you end up fighting space bugs and learn about your people’s origin in a pseudo-mystical religious experience. At the end of the game you have the option to start the destruction of the universe, to “start over” with your people as the “chosen ones”, instead of the slaves that they are.

The shooting uses the VR “look to aim” system (which I think is likely to become the new standard in VR), and movement is still on the controller. It feels odd at first, but since the in-game movement and view are completely decoupled it allows for a lot more gameplay freedom. The really sad part is that it isn’t really a bad game, it just pushes the wrong button for some people. And by “wrong” I mean the “vomit” button.

VR Luge was also shown a few times publicly, but not a lot. In this game, the (obviously male) player is on a street luge that begins hurtling down a hilly road, complete with car traffic. Steering is accomplished by tilting your head – it doesn’t use a controller at all. Luckily, impacting with a car or roadside hazard simple causes the screen to flash red and your virtual speed to decrease. Tucking in behind a car or truck going the same direction (ie. downhill) causes the speed to increase. Unfortunately, playing this game is literally a pain-in-the-neck. Using one’s head as a controller is a novel idea, but in practice, it ends up detracting from the fun, rather than making it better.

The game is fairly simple and easy to pick up and play. There are a few sections on the road where the player flies into the air and those sections can lead to some minor discomfort. Luckily, they are only a second or two long, so most people can get through them without issues. The bigger issue is that the graphics are muddy and aliased. As an “action” game, the poor graphics are a pretty large impediment to gameplay.

The biggest problem with this game is that it is so simple. The only real challenge in not hitting obstacles and getting to the bottom of the hill as fast as possible. In fact, the “campaign” mode is to do four events in a row with an ever decreasing timer. The campaign ends when the player runs out of time, regardless of how far they got into the event. Partial credit is NOT given. And in order to give the illusion of gameplay, the designers set the time limit extremely low. After nearly three weeks, and earning over half of the trophies available for this event, I have yet to complete the entire campaign! (It’s worth noting that the trophies for this game are the most rare ones out of all five experiences.)

Similar to the other experiences, this game is a good introductory experience for players new to VR, but not much else. Completionists will be frustrated by its poor graphics, high difficulty and wonky gameplay. Overall, this is the worst game on the disc.

Danger Ball, on the other hand, is probably the best game on the disc. This is the sleeper surprise. It’s more or less VR Pong, which seems silly and pointless, but ends up being compelling and a ton of fun to play!

In this game, the player is placed just outside of the end of a square hallway. On the near end of the hallway a paddle is controlled by the view of the player. Look up, and the paddle moves up. Look left, and the paddle moves left. On the far end of the hallway is a computer-controlled opponent’s paddle. The ball bounces between the two paddles, deflecting off the hallway walls. Hitting the ball past the opponent scores a point for the player and letting the ball past the player's paddle scores a point for the opponent. A match is won when either player scores five points. It’s honestly three-dimensional pong!

There are several game modes, the most obvious of which is the “tournament”. (Note: I said “obvious” not “easy”!) In this mode, the player is matched up against five random opponents, selected from the eight in the game. Each of these opponents has a “trick”, and they are all unique. For example, the Twins player has two paddles to hit the ball back; Tornado causes the ball to swerve and sway as it returns; Buzzsaw makes the ball “stick” to the sides of the hallway; Dupe sends back two balls instead of one; and so on. After beating five opponents, the player then has to best a unique opponent named Necro. His “trick” is to mimic the same five opponents that the player just beat. Each time the player scores a single point, Necro changes to a new form. Beating the tournament is extremely challenging!

There is also a “quickplay” mode where you choose a specific opponent and a difficulty level. This allows for practice against any one opponent to figure out how to best beat them. Unfortunately, because Necro depends on the prior five matches in a tournament, it’s impossible to play quickplay against him.

Finally, there is a score based mode called “score attack”. In this mode, the far end of the hallway becomes a solid wall that always returns the ball, peppered with a series of targets that decrease in size as the game progresses. The speed of the ball steadily increases over time, and the score attack ends after three balls get past the player. The goal is to hit specific targets to score points. This mode rewards players with lighting fast reflexes and precision ball control.

Because it is such a simple game to play, with three different modes, Danger Ball ends up being a lot of fun. When demoing the PSVR to new people, once they see Danger Ball, they may play something else, but they almost invariably end up wanting to try this one again.

OVERALL, the VR Worlds package has some really great introduction-to-VR titles. If you’ve never used a VR headset before, or plan on showing it to people who haven’t, this is a great place to start! However, for long-term play or compelling repeat gameplay, it really doesn’t offer much. Even the best game on the disc (Danger Ball) has a limited amount of gameplay value – mostly because it is such a simple game. If you were going to buy only one or two VR games, you could do a lot worse than buying this package. Just don’t expect it to be something that you’ll be playing for more than a few weeks.

- Stupid @ Tuesday, November 1, 2016 5:07 PM PT [+]

PSVR (hardware)
A few weeks ago, a friend brought a HTC Vive over to my house. I was able to spend a solid couple of days playing with the thing as well as watching a half-dozen friends play with it for a couple hours each. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and it provided a nice solid benchmark for comparing other VR headsets to. All told, I was inside the Vive headset for at least five or six hours and was able to play a handful of different titles.

On October 13, 2016, Sony released their entry into the Virtual Reality space, the PSVR headset. The stand-out features of the PSVR are its comfort, its “ease-of-use” in setup and its low cost. In this overview I’m going to talk about the headset itself (and its associated bits and goodies). I’ll post a bit more about the “free” software that comes with it, or available for download from PSN (for free) to every user in my next post (which, with luck, will be up in a few days).

First, let’s get one thing out of the way right away. The PSVR is not the same quality as the Vive or Rift headsets. If you are interested in getting into the VR space, and want “The Best”, PSVR is not that. There was a lot of ballyhooing about how the RGB-subpixel display would be equal to (or even better than) the plain-jane 1080p displays in the Vive/Rift. Simply not true. There have been reports about how the field-of-view of the PSVR “feels” wider than the Rift/Vive. I’m not one to discount other’s “feelings”, but from a purely objective stance, the difference is so small as to be negligible. The overall resolution of the PSVR is limited to the same 1080p as the Vive and Rift, but the bigger limit is the video processing power of the PS4, and it just can’t push pixels fast enough for that.

But so what? The whole point of VR is not to display crystal-clear photorealistic graphics. Maybe that’s what they show in the TV advertisements, but that’s just not reality. Even the very best military-grade VR that literally costs hundreds of thousands of dollars is not capable of that. But what you DO get with a consumer level VR headset is the feeling of “being there” inside the game. Cutting edge graphics are not required for that. And the PSVR, running off a standard original-model PS4, has a display resolution that is quite capable of making the user feel like they have been transported into another place. Sometimes it is a TRON-like computer generated place, sometimes it is a soft-focus cartoony place, sometimes it is a sharp-focus marionette world, and sometimes it actually feels like a real-world place... just maybe not this world! Graphically speaking, the PSVR and PS4 display is more than adequate for presenting believable virtual reality.

The optics in the PSVR, on the other hand, seem to be a lot more finicky than the Vive. I wear glasses. In fact, because I’m an “older” gamer (I turned 50 this year), I wear bifocal glasses. Because of this, I can only use the top half of my glasses in a VR headset; the VR optics make it “appear” as if the display is 8 to 15 feet away from your eyes and only the top half of my glasses’ lenses are set for “distance” viewing. For me, with the Vive, I had to keep hitching the display up on my face. It naturally wanted to sit slightly too low for me to have clear vision inside the thing; I had to choose between being comfortable, or being able to see clearly. Because of the construction of the PSVR, I was able to move the headset to the perfect position and keep it there with minimal fussing.

The “halo” design of the PSVR is unique among all three of the commercial headsets. The Rift and the Vive both attach like a pair of goggles – there is a strap that goes around the user’s head and holds the display tight against the face. This leads to the infamous “VR-face” where, after some amount of use, the gasket leaves a red “ring” around the user’s eyes, as if they had been SCUBA diving for some time. Compared to that method, the PSVR seems both bizarre and amazing! The display more-or-less doesn’t touch the user’s face at all. Instead it kind of “floats” in front of them. It is supported by a single hard plastic handle that is attached to the “halo” – a headband that sits on top of the user’s head like a plastic baseball visor. In fact, wearing the PSVR feels very similar to wearing a baseball cap. There is a soft plastic gasket that does prevent light from outside the display from obscuring the view, but this is not a friction fit and is noticeably less cumbersome than the Vive/Rift.

Setting up the headset for use is amazingly simple. There are a total of five cables to connect. At first this sounds like a lot, but two of them are to the PS4 and the other three connect to the PSVR breakout box. That’s it. No drivers. No configuration files. You push a single button and the thing goes “beep” and it’s ready to use. Compare this to the Vive, which requires two “lighthouses” to be set up and configured; a wand to be walked around the play area to set up the boundaries, drivers to be installed and configured for the lighthouses, and then finally the headset is ready for use. With practice a Vive can be set up in ten minutes. Initial setup for the PSVR was less than that, and once it’s connected, getting it ready for use can be done in seconds. That’s not hyperbole – last night I played with the PSVR for a few minutes and the total setup I did was: Pick up the headset, push the power button on the headset, place headset on my head.

There is a caveat for that quick setup and configuration, of course. The reason that the Vive (and to a lesser extent, the Rift) take so long to set up and configure is that they use a high-tech system to locate and track the headset (and motion controls). The Vive uses “lighthouse” technology (which I won’t explain here, but it is really cool) and the Rift uses infrared detectors (which is also cool). Both of these technologies are inherently redundant and self-correcting. The PSVR, on the other hand, uses normal, garden-variety, optical tracking. From a single camera. That has an incredibly tight field-of-view. This results in two problems:
First, the field of view. When you are in the “best” position in front of the camera, you have about three feet to either side of you that is visible to the camera and about two feet above and below (the headset). The side to side range is adequate, but not great. If you stay seated and don’t move around too much, it will capture most people’s outstretched arms. You can move to the side and get a hand/controller out of the tracking area, but it isn’t common. More impactful is the vertical limit. Assuming you are seated (and even if you are standing) and you put your hands down as far as you can, your hands will be (for most people) more than two feet below your eyes. This happens quite a bit in actual gameplay. Even setting a controller on one’s lap will cause it to “vanish” from the virtual world as it leaves view.

The other major problem is that optical tracking is based on visible light. If the room is too dark, the camera can’t “see” and it loses tracking. If the room is too bright, it can’t make out the glowing LEDs on the headset and loses tracking. If there are lights (or reflective surfaces) behind the user, where the camera can see them, it gets confused and loses tracking. And a loss of tracking for the PSVR means that it “jitters”. That is, the apparent location of both the headset and the controllers appears to unpredictably move around slightly. For controllers, this is annoying, but not terrible. Most of the time you are moving them around already and if it moves an extra ½” to the left when you throw a Batarang, you still hit the target. Where it becomes a problem is when the headset jitters. This makes the view/camera adjust for the user’s (apparent, but not real) motion. In effect, the entire virtual world “jitters”, which is disconcerting and unnerving.

The solution to controller and headset jitter is more-or-less to just play with it until you find a solution that works. For my particular situation, where I had originally placed the camera, some bright lights were visible directly behind the user. Moving the camera to another location (above my TV) changed the point-of-view such that the lights were less obvious and cleared up a lot of the headset jitter. (There is still some controller jitter though.) Sitting or standing about 6 feet away from the camera seems to work best. If you are more than 10 feet away, from the camera, the light levels from the LEDs and controllers is “too dim” for good recognition and the whole thing becomes spasmodic.

The controllers used by the PSVR come in two flavors. Many games use the standard DualShock4 PS4 controllers. As many players of the PS4 already know, the battery life on these is pitiful. Luckily, since I am a PS4 user who often hosted other players locally, I already own four of these. As one would go dead, I toss it on the “cooker” and grab another and I’m back in business. Some of the more immersive games use the old PS3 Move controllers, which have been repurposed for the PSVR. These things are often modeled in the game as hands, allowing for more direct interaction with the virtual world. Even though my Move controllers are about 5 years old, they work extremely well and the batteries actually last longer than the DS4 controllers. As described above, they are not as “stable” as the Vive’s wands (due to the optical tracking), but they certainly work and they work well.

All told, the cost for a PSVR is around $400 to $800. On the lower end, assuming you already own a PS4, PS Camera, and two Move controllers, then the “core” system is all you need. At $400 out-the-door, you get the headset, a demo disc with 18 game demos and the free VR Playroom on PSN. That’s everything you need to experience virtual reality. On the other hand, if you own nothing, you’ll need to buy a PS4 (at about $275 these days), a PS Camera (about $50 on amazon), two move controllers (another $75), and the PSVR (for $400). Compared that to the cost of a Rift ($600) or the Vive ($800), both of which require a minimum $900 gaming PC computer with a top-of-the-line video card... the value proposition of the PSVR is unmatched.
For the casual non-core user who has experienced cellphone style VR (with Google “cardboard” or the Samsung GearVR), the PSVR is going to be a HUGE upgrade. Compared to that low-end VR, the PSVR is night-and-day better. It makes those cellphone based system look like toys. On the other hand, for a user that already has access to a Rift or Vive headset, the PSVR offers a solid 80% of that same quality, at about half the cost. The value of the PSVR is head-and-shoulders better than any other VR option available now.

It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It does have some very real limits that may prevent some users from enjoying it. Watching YouTube videos of games played on the thing really isn’t impressive; most of the VR games look like hot garbage on a flat screen. (They really aren’t when you’re inside the headset.) As long as you know what the limitations of the system are and are willing to stay inside the lines it creates, it is extremely compelling, usable, and (above all) an extremely BELIEVABLE experience. On at least two occasions, while hosting friends, they had to tap out because the experience was “too much” to handle (too scary, too creepy, or too upsetting, depending on the person and situation). Overall, the PSVR hardware is a GREAT system and it does a wonderful job of presenting an immersive, believable virtual world to the user. I’m super glad I bought mine!!

- Stupid @ Tuesday, October 25, 2016 9:29 PM PT [+]

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