Jaded's Pub

I guess when you have to consult a calendar to count the days since you started doing something, it’s time to stop counting days. I think VR and I are now past our honeymoon period and have settled into a routine.

I have to admit there was a point between Christmas and New Years when I was starting to feel the magic slip away. I was still jumping from demo to demo and doing the various “experiences” but it was just starting to feel a little shallow. I was ready for a ‘real game.’ My bundle had come with Skyrim but I’d been warned not to start with that for motion sickness reasons, so I hadn’t. It was time.

And I did try Skyrim but bounced off it to some extent. This really didn’t have to do with the gameplay, but just the sheer length of the game. My VR sessions at the time were often as short as 30 minutes and I knew that by playing Skyrim 30 minutes at a time I was going to be playing Skyrim for a LONG time.

And then it happened. I’d ordered the Farpoint/AIM controller bundle, but it’d been out of stock. And it finally shipped. I was honestly a little dubious about the AIM controller. It’s a ridiculous looking thing in real life and pictures made it look kind of cheap. Back in the PS3 days when Sony was pushing the Move and PS Eye for motion games, there’d been a little gizmo that you snapped a Move into to make it seem like a gun, and I feared the AIM was the same thing. Not so.

In fact, the AIM controller is pretty awesome. It has all the controls of a dual shock so you’re not really giving anything up, and it adds the trigger for shooting. When I booted up Farpoint and held this thing in my hands, and my in-game character was holding an assault rifle that I could turn and check out… it was a magical experience. When I looked at the ground and could see my shadow and the gun in my hands there, too.. it’s hard to convey how cool really simple things can be when you experience them in VR for the first time, but this was really cool.

And Farpoint is a ‘real game’ that is very enjoyable. In my opinion, this is the “system seller” app for PSVR. It’s a 1st person shooter set on an alien world. In non-VR terms it isn’t super remarkable. It’s really a corridor shooter. But everything just works so well in VR. Even the ‘cut scenes’ are amazing since you’re really in them looking around. Controls are super-intuitive. To shoot something, duh, you aim your gun at it and pull the trigger. There’s no reticle floating in your field of view. To aim ‘down the barrel’ you hold the gun up to your face and look down the sights. To change between your two weapons, you put the gun you’re carrying onto your back by kind of lifting it up over your shoulder (though you CAN use a button to do this if you prefer).

Farpoint features smooth locomotion which can (and in my case, often does) cause motion sickness problems but somehow the Farpoint devs have done it in a way I find very comfortable. I’ve never quit a session of Farpoint because I was feeling ill (though I have quit because I was kind of exhausted from the tension and excitement of playing it…even though it isn’t a physically demanding game I find I’m often sweating when I come out of the VR world). They offer a nice variety of comfort options. You can ‘click turn’ (which means your view rotates in chunks rather than smoothly, which helps with sickness), you can choose to have a ‘focus dot’ pop up when you turn (giving your eyes something static to look at) and you can choose to have the view blur a bit while turning. Chances are one or more of these options will work for you. I went with smooth turning (after a couple sessions of click turning) and the blur effect.

Anyway, enough about Farpoint. It’s awesome. My favorite VR experience.

I’ve also been dipping my toe into flight sims. Starblood Arena is free for PS+ member, and I bought EVE Valkyrie on sale. I should decide which one I want to play and stick with it. Both of these still make me feel woozy after maybe one match, Starblood is probably worse. Starblood is like playing a Descent 3D Deathmatch in VR…you are REALLY swooping around. Still, I feel like with every session my motion sickness issues diminish.

In fact things I used to dread — like the roller coaster segments of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, or the catapult launch sequence in EVE — I now look forward to. I still feel them in my belly when they happen, but rather than make me feel uncomfortable, they’re now kind of fun in the same way that a real roller coaster makes your stomach kind of flutter in a pleasing way when you go over a peak.

So yeah, I’m a total VR convert now. I play a couple sessions most nights, though I’m sure at some point I’ll burn out on it a bit. But absolutely zero regrets. I’m really glad I picked this up, and I’m looking forward to the next gen of headsets. I’m still hoping Microsoft will put out a mixed reality headset with inside-out tracking for Xbox One X.

Things are still going well with PSVR. I’ve yet to have any severe motion sickness, though a demo of RIGS Combat Evolved came pretty close. I’m still working my way through a ton of demos and freebies and have yet to really sink into any one game for a good length of time.

At some point I gotta do that.

Today I ‘discovered’ a VR genre that I’m going to call virtual tabletop games. I mentioned Tumble VR in my last post and that fits into this genre too. What I mean by virtual tabletop is games that take place on a (virtual) surface that you kind of hover over. It’s a genre that would work well for AR or mixed reality, too. Two examples.

The first was Fantastic Contraption which is a VR version of the game that most of us have played in some form or other. If you’re old, think The Incredible Machine. You have a box of ‘parts’ and you have to put together a machine to achieve some kind of goal. There’s a room-scale version of this for the Vive where you make life-sized machines, but the PSVR version has you working at a smaller scale. My workspace was virtually maybe 2.5′ x 2.5′ (though you can have it as big or small as you like) and I played sitting down. Grabbing and resizing parts and snapping them together worked great with the Move controllers. I’m putting this one on my Wishlist, for sure.

The other was Dino Frontier which is a real time strategy game along the lines of The Settlers or something. So you’re overseeing this undeveloped landscape and you order tiny people to cut down trees or gather food. As they create resources you use them to build sawmills and saloons and such to keep the people housed, fed and happy. You’ve played this kind of game before. Then add dinosaurs that you can capture and train to help you run the colony. Why? I dunno. Cuz dinosaurs I guess.

The UI for Dino Frontier is amazing. Your move controllers become hands in the world and you twist your arm to check your wristwatch and that opens an info screen with quests goals and resource counts and such. You can quickly zoom in or out and pan the map around. Your menu kind of floats overhead above the action, but the various buildings under your control have buttons and things to grab that all work really well. The UI is completely intuitive.

Why do you need this game in VR? I guess you really don’t but it just looks so cool to peer down at these people and look around. Another one for my Wishlist.

Of course (now I’m repeating everyone who has ever written about VR) the only way to really understand is to play. PSVR has the social screen, of course, and I played a video of Dino Frontier captured off the social screen and it just looked like a mess. You really need to be “in” the game to appreciate it.

The nice thing about this virtual tabletop genre is that anyone can play them. Since you don’t move, there’s really no chance of disorientation or motion sickness. The biggest ‘problem’ I had was that my arms got tired, but that’s more about what a lazy slug I am than about the games!

Anyway, everything is still real positive on the PSVR front. Still a fan!

I didn’t get much VR time this weekend because it was holiday decorating time and the living room was cluttered with storage crates full of lights, tinsel and ornaments. Still I think I’m settling into the VR lifestyle.

I ~think~ I’m done fiddling with my set-up for now. I never did find a way to use PSVR without moving furniture. The couch is a little too far away and there’s no place closer to put the camera, so I have to push the coffee table forward and slide an ottoman over in front of the couch and sit on that. Not ideal but not the end of the world either. Of course if I’m doing standing stuff I just need to move the coffee table which I’d have to do anyway. I’m playing around with the idea of getting some kind of tripod for the camera but I can’t find an extension cable for it. Amazon lists some but they’re all “no longer available.”

There’s no getting around the fact that PSVR is kind of fiddly, mostly due to the fact that it tracks using visible light. That means you have to be aware of reflections and other light sources. The Christmas lights play hell with it, for example; I have to turn them off while I’m using it. If you have a dedicated space for your VR endeavors it’s probably less bad but in a living room that gets a lot of use I think you’re always going to be tweaking/re-positioning things. Of course as with most tasks, it gets easier with practice.

Oddly the one thing that surprised me most was how dirty the lenses get. I guess they’re close enough to your eyes that eye-juice spatters on them or something (they can also fog up from it being hot and humid inside the visor). I know nothing has touched my lenses but still they have gunk on them. I ordered a Lens Pen from Amazon that should arrive today and hopefully that’ll help.

I haven’t been wearing my glasses in VR since the apparent focal length is at a distance that I can see OK without them. At some point Angela is going to make some “bumpers” to add to the visor; this is a thing I learned about on reddit. It’s easy to scratch the PSVR lenses by pulling the visor tight enough that the lenses hit your glasses, so folks modify the visor to prevent that from happening. It’s really just a foam bumper that your glasses would hit before they hit the lenses.

That reminds me, the PSVR sub-reddit is an AMAZING resource and, contrary to the overall reddit reputation, it’s actually a friendly and welcoming community.

I bought a little stand thing that charges 2 Move controllers, 2 PS4 Dualshocks, and holds the visor and a headset. Actually it isn’t that little but it keeps things nice and neat. I’m pretty happy with it except for the fact that getting the Dualshocks to seat in the charger can be a bit of a hassle. Still, very glad I got that.

Anyway, so I think I’m done buying accessories and moving stuff around. Last night I had my longest session. I lost track of time but it was somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours of wearing the visor. I was honestly surprised that it never really got uncomfortable or felt heavy or anything. The worst I can say is a few times my nose kind of itched and I couldn’t scratch it. 🙂

As for VR sickness, I’m doing much better than I thought I would. I’m still sticking to mostly static experiences though. I did try the EVE Valkyrie demo and while I was ok flying the ship, when we started really dogfighting with hard turns and stuff, I started feeling a little odd. But the demo was so short (time based, I guess?) that it ended before things got too bad.

Another thing that has surprised me was how quickly VR starts feeling normal. On day 1 I was ogling menus and stuff and just staring around in wonder. I’m already kind of past that; we get jaded so quickly! I also feel like I’m already moving past the “Doing ordinary things in VR is amazing” phase. I’m talking about games like Job Simulator that have you pushing virtual buttons and pulling virtual levers; on Day 1 just the act of grabbing something with my virtual hands was wow-ing me, but now I just assume I can grab things. Now I need an interesting reason to do so.

Basically I think I’m ready to move past experiences and start playing some games. Oddly the game that hooked me most last night was a demo of Thumper, which is a kind of rhythm game that is available in a non-VR form.

It’s visually fairly simple, you’re just flying down this little track. Honestly not something I would play in 2D, but VR makes it feel really special because you and this track are the entire world, if that makes sense. This is one I’ll definitely buy. The VR version of Rez was kind of the same way.

Another game I spent an odd amount of time with (I’ve been working through the two “Demo Disks” Sony has released) is Tumble VR, which is just a block-stacking game. Simple game, but the VR aspect makes it fun (which kind of goes against what I said about being over doing mundane things already, I guess).

There’s a product called, I think, Harmonix VR that mostly feels like a stoner app. Listen to music and watch trippy visuals, man! But it has a mode called Easel that lets you “paint” in the air and that is pretty darned cool since your creation can exist all around you.

I picked the right time to get into PSVR because there are all kinds of VR games on sale right now. I still have a ton of stuff to work through but I have to admit I’m looking forward to getting comfortable enough that I can start playing Skyrim.

TLDR version of this post I guess is… no regrets over picking up PSVR. I’m having a lot of fun with it, and I’m learning a lot about VR. It’s clear this is still a young technology with lots of room to improve and we’re already seeing that in other headsets, but for the price I’m really pleased with PSVR.

I guess I’ve become a VR believer.

I didn’t have time before work to write up a blog post and now I’d kind of rather be playing than writing but wanted to jot down some thoughts quick, mostly for my own sake of recording where my VR journey started.

So setting up the PSVR wasn’t too bad, except camera placement is a bit of a challenge. When I put the camera on top of the TV, the couch was right on the cusp of the “play area.” If I perched on the front of the seat is was OK but as soon as I leaned back I’d get an alert that the camera couldn’t see the visor. So I have to noodle with that. I don’t really want to have to move furniture every time I want to do something in VR.

I had a few tracking issues. Sometimes it was like the camera thought the visor was moving forwards and backwards about a foot. Another problem was that one of the Move controllers wouldn’t track well. The other worked fine, so I’m not sure what the difference was. I even switched them around in case one side of my body wasn’t tracking as well. No difference, but wonkiness followed the one controller no matter where I put it. One was fully charged, the other (the problem one) less so. I wonder if that factored in?

Overall though, stuff worked pretty well but I can really see the appeal of the ‘inside out’ tracking systems where there’re cameras on the visor rather than an external camera. I popped in and out of a lot of the stuff that folks say are easy in terms of motion sickness, and overall I did pretty well. One game (VR Luge) made me pretty queasy but the only other times I felt really bad were when a demo glitched out and put up a 2D static image that didn’t move, which made me sick almost instantly (but was a bug) and when I watched a 360 degree video on YouTube where the person was carrying the camera around.

I had two moments that really floored me. One was doing the tutorial of London Heist where the Move controllers are your hands in VR and you have to pick up a gun in one hand, a clip in the other, and load the clip into the gun. Sounds simple but that was amazing. But this was also where one of the Move controllers was being pissy so I set it aside until I figure that out.

The other was a demo of a game called Moss. Moss has you looking down on a level/landscape, and you have to guide a little mouse through it. You control the mouse (I guess that’s Moss?) using a dualshock like you would in any non-VR game. But you can also ‘reach into’ the world to help him out. Like you know in adventure games where maybe your character has to pull a block over to a switch or something? Moss the mouse is too little to do that so you have to reach in and move things for him. It sounds simple again, but it was really neat.

Moss seemed kind of tiny on the screen…then I realized I COULD MOVE! So I leaned down to peer at him and I swear he peered back at me. Maybe it was programmed, maybe it was a coincidence, but OMG it was ADORABLE.

One other thing I did was watch some of an ‘experience’ called Allumette. This isn’t interactive, you just watch it. It’s an animated story with a kind of claymation feel to it. It’s about a little girl who is selling these things that look like giant matches. The city she lives in is a series of elevated platforms and at one point a gust of wind blows her matches over the edge of the platform she was on, and sure enough I reached out (in real space) to try to catch them for her. 🙂 But again, what it took me a moment to realize is I could move around while I watched this story unfold. I’d be frustrated that something was happening too far away, then I’d remember “Oh yeah, I can go over to it.” I even walked around a bit for this one.

Probably the game I played the most was Danger Ball which is a kind of 3D Breakout game. Your paddle is a square that you control by just moving your head, and you’re standing at the end of a tunnel that you send the ‘ball’ down. It wasn’t fancy but I was stunned at how precise the controls were, and it was all done just by moving your head. It felt like a great game to play to just get used to wearing the visor.

Speaking of wearing the visor, it was pretty comfortable and oddly when I put it on and was in this dark space with just the PS4 dashboard floating in front of my face…it felt kind of cozy. I had anticipated it being an experience that put me on edge a little, but quite the contrary. I didn’t really want to take it off. I liked being in the virtual world!

If all goes according to plan, my Playstation VR bundle will be delivered today. Yup, I finally went for it.

My first experience in VR was Dactyl Nightmare, which came out in 1991 I believe. It was an arcade machine and if I’m remembering right it cost $10 to play it. We look back and laugh at the graphics now but I remember being BLOWN AWAY by the experience and I couldn’t wait to see where VR went. Of course it went pretty much nowhere for the next few decades.

At one point I cobbled together a home-brew VR setup using a Nintendo Powerglove and Sega 3D Glasses. This was my one and only brush with “maker”-dom. I had to solder together a little circuit box to get all this to work (I didn’t design it, just downloaded the plans from GEnie or Compuserve). And it did work, but it was pretty low fidelity. I do remember playing ‘VR handball’ in my bedroom though.

When Sony announced PSVR I was pretty excited about it, but when it launched I balked and backed away. I had a few issues that concerned me:

1) Isolation: My PS4 is in the living room. Usually when I’m playing a game, Angela (and Lola Thunderpaws, for that matter) are in the room with me and I tend to talk to them as I play. Or rub their bellies. Mostly Lola’s belly but hey we’re all adults here. I wasn’t sure I wanted to immerse myself in a world and leave them behind. I’m still not… this is still one of my concerns.

2) Motion sickness: I sometimes get sick playing shooters. I’m worried I’ll get sick in PSVR too. After reading up on using the contraption, and talking to my friend Scopique, I think I can overcome it. I hope I can anyway. People talk a lot about getting “VR Legs” from using VR, plus I think the game devs are getting better about offering ‘comfort’ settings.

3) HDR: When PSVR shipped I’d just invested in a new TV with HDR for playing PS4 games. The version 1 PSVR didn’t pass through HDR signals so I would have had to disconnect it when I wasn’t using it. Knowing me, I knew I’d never bother to set it up if that was the case. There’s now a newer SKU out that DOES pass HDR through the little breakout box, so this is no longer a problem.

4) Cost: Sony is running a deal right now. The Skyrim bundle is $100 off plus I did some other creative financing to bring the effective cost down another $70 for me.

Anyway, I’ve been interrupted 3 times trying to write this post and I have to get to work. I kind of have forgotten the point of it. Suffice to say, I’m both excited and a little nervous about this project. Worst case, I get horribly ill and can’t use it and have to sell it, I guess. Best case, I get transported back to that day in 1991 when my mind was blown by my first VR experience.

Last night was the annual Game Awards show. I was cautiously excited for it, not because I care about the awards but because it is always full of game trailers and I enjoy seeing what is headed our way.

Of course I say I don’t care about the awards but I did vote a few times. I don’t think any of the games I voted for won. Game of the Year went to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, of course. I did not like Zelda much at all. Last year Overwatch won Game of the Year. I HATED Overwatch. I mean with Zelda, I can at least get why so many people love it…it’s just not my thing. But Overwatch? ::shudder::

I get into a LOT of arguments about games, mostly in comment sections of posts. Sometimes just in my own head, by which I mean that I write the dissenting comment then delete it because who needs the hassle? No one ever changed anyone’s mind on the Internet. (I’m pulling out my Hyperbole License for that one.)

The Game Awards are a good reality check for me. A good reminder that everyone likes different things and I tend to like the stuff out on the fringe. That’s why I’m always butting heads. I don’t like the stuff that is popular with the majority, and I do like stuff that most other people don’t.

That, and the fact that I get my nose out of joint when people make statements that are either demonstrably false or state assumptions as facts. Example: In a discussion on micro-transactions the other day someone said (paraphrasing) “I wouldn’t mind these micro-transactions if the money went back into the game, but it just lines the pockets of the greedy publishers.” This comment was made in a discussion about a game that has on-going support (meaning regular new content drops) and no season pass or anything. The comment was getting voted up like mad and I was like “WTF? Where do you think the money to pay for this new content is coming from?” So of course I waded in and got down-voted into oblivion.

I think Truth is important, and it is important not to assume things are true. Question EVERYTHING. Otherwise, as a theoretical example, a reality TV star with a huge number of followers on Twitter could lie through his ass and get himself elected president, then continue to lie on a regular basis and the ignorant masses would just accept his lies rather than question whether he was fit to run a hot dog stand, let alone a country. No offense intended towards hot dog stand owners, and anyway I’m just speaking hypothetically.

Ahem, how about a brain-palate-cleanser:

But back to the Game Awards. I enjoyed them. They weren’t perfect but there was a minimum of cringe-inducing moments and some of the award winners were legitimately moved, which is always nice to see. Of course I compare the show (in my mind) to back when we had the Spike TV Game Awards, which were so god-awful they were embarrassing to watch, let alone be a part of. Still I think the show gets better every year.

This year they added a live orchestra to play some game themes, which was a nice touch. And of course they had to have a musical guest, but they went with a band called Phoenix (who I, being old, have never heard of) who worked some video game synth stuff into their sound, so they felt like they had a connection to the world. There were celebs there, but they weren’t the focus of the show…the focus was definitely on the games and the game makers.

Looking forward to next year, when my personal game-of-the-year once again won’t win!

Has this been a great gaming season or what? I’ve been trying to juggle so many games that honestly I really should let some of them slide so I can make progress somewhere.

Today I just wanted to jot down a quick list of everything I’m playing just to see if anyone out there is enjoying any of the same titles.

Nintendo Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — This just came out last Friday so it is early days, but so far I’m enjoying it. Finally a Switch game I can get excited about. Hopefully this one sticks. Scopique at Levelcapped has a great post on it, btw.

Playstation 4 Pro
Star Wars Battlefront 2 — I play this a little bit every day. Sometimes online MP, sometimes “Arcade Mode” and sometimes a little nibble of the campaign, which I’m trying to stretch out until the next chunk drops this month.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds — I’ve finished the story of this expansion but there’s still more to do and the combat is SO fun for me that I’m happy to stick around to chase collectibles and put poor Aloy in harm’s way. HZD is my personal Game of the Year.

.hack GU Last Recode — Dabbling in this one mostly for the nostalgia. I have issues with the main character (he’s such a dick) but enjoy the kind of low-intensity grindy-combat when I’m feeling less than energetic. There are 4 games in this bundle…not sure I’ll get through them all

Xbox One X
Newest console so spending lots of time here. *deep breath*

Assassin’s Creed Origins — I love the AC games and ACO is no exception. And OMG is it ever pretty. The only thing missing, for me, is that Forest Gump-ish vibe I got from the older games when my character would get stuck into the midst of some historic event I was familiar with. ACO feels a lot more ‘fantasy’ than earlier games. Still, enjoying it a lot.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War — I loved Shadow of Mordor and I’m loving Shadow of War. Orcs are a great bad guy, the nemesis system is cool, and I’m even OK how they changed the lore. My one tiny gripe is that you get no exp from killing regular grunt orcs which centers the game almost entirely on the boss fights. I still cut through swathes of grunt orcs because it is fun as hell, but it’d be even more fun if I was getting a bit of XP from it.

Agents of Mayhem — I picked this up for $20 during a Black Friday sale and I’m happy with it. It wasn’t received well when it came out and most of the complaints were legit, but it is a spectacle of a game and is something fun to boot up for a quick couple of missions. Don’t play it for more than an hour or two at a time, though, or it’ll get too boring.

Call of Duty: World War 2 — Don’t even ask me how/why I bought a COD game at full price so near launch, but I did. As soon as I pulled the trigger I regretted it. Then it d/led, I started playing, and those regrets vanished. I am REALLY enjoying the campaign, which looks stunning on the XBX, but even more surprising is that I’ve been enjoying the online stuff too. I guess it’s the era… things are maybe a little slower or something? But I don’t get nearly as frustrated as I usually do in MP FPS.

Forza 7 — I swore I’d never buy another Forza game because I find them kind of ‘dry’ but I snagged this just as a way to show off the power of the XBX. And y’know, I’m enjoying it as long as I stick to shorter sessions. I do 2-3 races and that’s enough. And man, is it ever pretty! [Sadly transitioning 4K HDR screenshots from the console to a non-HDR, low res copy on the blog loses a lot of the ‘wow’ factor.]

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands — This was another sale. I own this on PS4 but re-bought it on XBX to get the better visuals. I’m that one weirdo who actually enjoys playing this solo. Not that I wouldn’t play it with friends but I don’t have any friends who play it.

So yeah. Juggling 10 games. Am I insane or what? The good news is that I don’t get bored. The bad news is that I don’t make much progress in any one of them. But the good news is also that I don’t feel any need to spend more money on games for a good long while. I make a point of not letting any of them languish for too long so I don’t forget how to play.

I might let go of .hack and Agents of Mayhem, the former because XC2 on the Switch is itching that JRPG itch, the latter because it just isn’t as good as the rest of these games. We’ll see. For now I’m managing to juggle ’em all, though!

There’s a blog post from Raph Koster making the rounds. It’s worth a read, in my opinion:
Some current game economics

It’s pretty obvious that Koster knows more about game development economics than I do, given that it’s his profession, so I was feeling kind of validated when I read what he has to say about pay2win Pay4Power and to a lesser extent, loot crates in general.

On the former he says this, which is exactly the point I tried to make recently:

Pretty much every physical sport uses pay to win. You buy a better tennis racket, better sneakers, better racecar, better golf clubs, because you think it will get you an advantage. We just don’t like it in videogames because digital in theory frees us of that unfairness. Though of course, we cheerfully buy Alienware computers and Razer gaming keyboards… ahem.

And what I said (in the comments of Final SWBF2 drama llama post (for now))

For that matter, on PC the person who can afford the rig to run at the best frame rate and has the fastest internet connection has paid to win over the person who has a modest PC and lives somewhere that broadband is still very slow. There’s dozens of ways one player has an advantage over another.

On the loot crate/gacha systems Koster made this point (he’s talking about potential legislation around them):

But we have to be careful there too, because after all games use random loot drops of various sorts all over the place. Any policies, regulations, or laws will have to be careful to draw that line in such a way that they don’t inadvertently ban Diablo or coin-op Tetris — which also features random drops on a small repeated transaction basis, as do most arcade games actually!

And me, once again from the comments, this time comments to SW Battlefront II drama llama, stage 2:

To me, putting in time to unlock new things is just a natural part of gaming, as is dealing with RNG to see if you get what you want. In a lot of ways what drops from a boss battle and a “loot crate” are pretty similar in that you don’t know if you’re going to get something you want/need or something you’re going to crush for components. I mean clearly HOW you get them is different.

Sorry if I sound like I’m tooting my own horn here. I guess I am. But sometimes when you feel alone in a crowd, finding someone with some expertise who shares at least some of your opinions is really gratifying.

By the way, I still play Star Wars Battlefront II every day. Last night I was at something like 29,000 credits so I unlocked Luke Skywalker for 15,000 “just because” though honestly I prefer playing gun-toting characters to the heroes. My only gripe with the game so far is that the servers have been laggy recently, which is a big issue but has nothing to do with Paying4Power or loot crates.

While most of my US dwelling friends are getting ready for a big ‘ol turkey dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m sitting down to a big plate of crow.

For a LONG time I scoffed at Xbox One’s backwards compatibility. To me it was a smoke-screen: something Microsoft could talk about since it had a system that was less powerful than Sony, few exclusive games and was losing the console war. I couldn’t imagine that anyone was playing old 360 games, particularly since the few times I tried it I ran into all kinds of issues with crashes and poor frame rates.

Now, I have to give Microsoft credit. They’ve stuck with this idea and games are running better and better. That is especially true now that the Xbox One X has arrived. A handful of Xbox 360 games have even been “XBX Enhanced” and look way better than they ever did on the Xbox 360, and many unaltered 360 games still run better on the XBX than they ever did on the 360.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to the game performance pros at Digital Foundry talk about it:

So yeah, I was wrong. Backwards compatibility on the Xbox One isn’t just a smokescreen, it’s a pretty cool feature and I assume that if and when Microsoft introduces the Xbox Two (and honestly all signs point to them just enhancing the current Xbox over introducing a radical new system) they’ll make sure to bring BC along for the ride.

I think one of my projects for this long weekend will be to dig out the crate of Xbox 360 disks I have in the back of a closet somewhere and see how many of them are supported in the BC system.

All this talk recently has me thinking a lot about “Pay2Win” systems and whether there’s a way to make them more acceptable to some gamers. (I fully acknowledge that there’s a segment of gamers for whom there is no wiggle room on the topic. This post isn’t for them.)

The first thing I would do is give these systems a more accurate name. “Pay2Win” is deliberately antagonistic and not accurate. Just because you spend money in one of these games, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win. What it does is make your character more powerful. So let’s call it what it is: “Pay4Power” (and if we want to get really cute we can call cosmetic-only systems “Pay4Pretty”).

“Pay4Power” more accurately represents what these systems are. A way to make your character more powerful through spending money.

So now that we have that done, let’s come up with a rating system for our hypothetical game. Start with a system like Gear Score, but add to it a figure based on the level of the character and ideally, a figure based on the age of the account. My thinking here is that a level 1 character played by someone who has put 200 hours into the game is going to be more powerful than a level 1 character played by someone who just started. I don’t mean the character itself, but that character’s influence on the match based on player skill + gear + any character stats.

(I realize such a system would be easy to exploit via multiple accounts…I don’t have all the answers.)

So now there is a rating assigned to essentially the combination of you the player’s skill and your character’s stats. Let’s use THAT for matchmaking. That feels like a better way to get ‘fair’ matches to me. And it doesn’t matter how you got the gear, but it does reflect that the player who spent 50 hours playing to earn the gear is going to be a better player than the dude who has played for a day but spent $200 in the cash shop in order to get the same gear.

Next step is dangerous: segment the audience. In my hypothetical game there are three leagues that you can choose to play in.

The e-Sports League — If you play in this league, everyone uses standard gear and characters, leaving the outcome of every game 100% to player skill. The rating system is not used in the e-Sports league (it might have it’s own rating system based on win/loss ratio for matchmaking).

The Purity League — This league is closed to any character that has purchased gear. If you went to the cash shop and got a great weapon, tough. You can’t use that weapon if you’re playing in the Purity League. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Purity League

The Casual League — This is where most of the audience will probably be. This is the “I play for fun” league and it doesn’t matter if you got your gear from grinding or from buying stuff from the cash shop. You can play here. Matchmaking based on rating is in effect for the Casual League.

And that is pretty much it. We rename the system to remove some of the stigma from it (and to more accurately reflect what it is) and we give those opposed to cash shops a couple of leagues to play in that aren’t ‘polluted’ by cash shop purchases. By coming up with a rating system that attempts to factor in player skill, we get more even matches in both the Purity and Casual Leagues, the idea being that win or lose, a close match is generally more fun.

And the publishers still get their income from the “whales” who, presumably, will be happy to play around in the Casual League since it pretty much represents the norm in the games we have now. That means that I (in the end, it’s all about ME) don’t have to pay for DLC and Season Passes.

Next up, I solve world hunger and end all wars…