Jaded's Pub

When I was a wee lad, every weekend in winter my mother would drop me off at the local movie theater to see a matinee. I’m going back to the 1960s & early 70s now. The theater had one screen so you paid your 75 cents for a ticket and you watched what they were showing. And usually what they were showing was a monster movie.

I’m talking about the classic giant monster movies. Godzilla was the superstar of course, but there was also Rodan, Mothra, Gamera and others I’ve since forgotten. All these monsters tended to fight each other over and over in different films. Think of them like the Marvel characters of today where we see the same characters showing up in many films. Man I LOVED these movies back then, because I loved these monsters. I knew all their attacks and abilities (as did my friends) and we’d nerd out talking about who would win in a fight.

Which brings me to Monster Hunter. Now listen, I’m new to Monster Hunter. I mean I’ve dabbled in a few of the earlier games but was never willing to put in the work to get good at them, so all the monsters in Monster Hunter World are new to me. Part of learning the game has included watching lots of videos and reading lots of blog posts from long-time fans of the series though, and from them I learned that most (maybe all?) of these monsters have been in earlier games. These long-time players talk about them with the same fondness that I had for Gamera, and running up to launch they’d start geeking out whenever they’d learn another old favorite would be in the game.

(Gamera was one of my favorites because clearly a giant turtle who could retract his legs inside his shell and then have jet rockets shoot out of the leg-holes to make him spin and fly is the BEST monster. Sometimes his attack would just to fling himself at his enemy and now I’m wondering if he was the inspiration for the turtles in Super Mario games.)

I’m sure the developers have changed up the monsters in MHW somewhat just to keep things from getting stale, but my sense is that in broad terms, they’re familiar old frenemies come back to fight you again. I’m kind of envious of the people who have a history with these monsters, but at the same time I’m enjoying getting to know them for the first time. Here’s hoping MHW isn’t the last game in the series to hit the PS4/XBox/PC.

The recent Sea of Thieves beta seems to have been well-received by most. I least that’s the vibe I’m getting… I don’t have detailed analytics or anything. Now I’m curious to see how it does at launch. Why? Because I think at least some people approach beta tests differently than they approach launched games. Before I go too much further into that, let’s back up a little.

Sea of Thieves is a PvP game of piracy. You can play solo or with a crew but the devs warn that solo is for “experienced players.” The basic game loop is spend money to buy a treasure map, follow the clues in that map to go find a buried chest, and bring the chest back to port to earn a reward. Alternatively, the game loop is hunt for other players hauling chests, board them and steal the chest, bring the chest back to port to earn a reward.

The best analog I can think of in terms of other games is the Dark Zone in the Division. There too you can do quests to get stuff that you then have to get to safety and another player can kill you and take that stuff.

I may be remembering incorrectly (and someone will correct me if I am) but I think the Dark Zone was seen as kind of fun in the beta, but most of the people I know avoided it after launch.

Why? Because when you’re playing a beta you know your progress is going to get wiped so you’re not that invested in the development of your character. You found a great item and got ganked and it was stolen? Well it would’ve gone away at the end of beta anyway. But once you hit launch, you get more invested in things and now losing progression hurts more. At least, that’s my working theory.

In The Divsion, most people I know just avoided the Dark Zone and there was still plenty to do in the game. In Sea of Thieves, everything is the Dark Zone. This is why I’m curious about how people will feel about the gameplay after launch.

On the other hand, there’s a big difference between Sea of Thieves and The Division. The Division is an RPG and stats are everything, and the stuff you were losing to other players in the Dark Zone might have had a significant impact on the strength of your character had you managed to extract it. In Sea of Thieves, chests (at least in the beta) are just a token to be turned in for currency/reputation. That might be enough to keep players from rage quitting when they lose a chest to another player. There was nothing super unique about that chest, after all.

On the other-other hand, if chests aren’t rewarding enough, will everyone just be attacking each other since that’s more fun/rewarding than actually going through the bother of finding and digging up a chest? If everyone is pirating and no one is treasure hunting…well that just becomes a treadmill too. Someone needs to be digging up those chests!

So I think they need to balance things REALLY carefully. Make chests rewarding enough that players bother going after then, but not so rewarding that the average player gets genuinely upset if they get stolen.

It’s still not clear to me what progression in Sea of Thieves looks like. Clearly there are plenty of PvP-only games that are super popular (COD, Overwatch, League of Legends) but I’m just not sure if any of them have the direct exchange of “You work for something, then I kill you and take that thing away from you.” I mean, that sounds really fun for the pirates, and of course plenty of pirates will mix up treasure hunting and pirating, and that might be enough audience to sustain them. I just don’t see a place for people who strictly enjoy the puzzle aspects of figuring out the clues that lead you to the buried treasure, but not every game has to be for everyone.

Sea of Thieves is a free-for-all world and that’s a bold move for Rare. I hope it works out for them. The good news is since the game will be in Game Pass at launch, a $10 1-month subscription will let us all give it a go. Or if you’ve never been in Game Pass you can get a 14-day trial and play it for free. If I had to plunk down $60 for Sea of Thieves I don’t think I’d do it; I’m not social enough and I’m the kind of gamer who’ll get annoyed when the same crew kills me for the 3rd time in an evening. But for $10 I’ll probably at least TRY it. Maybe they’ve thought about all this and have a system built that allows for different kinds of play styles, or maybe they really don’t care of it isn’t fun for people who don’t want to join a full crew.

I’m writing this post because right now Sea of Thieves is the current ‘darling’ of the game journalists and their followers and no one is saying a thing bad about it. I just wonder how big the audience for this type of experience is. The first time you join a crew it’s going to be fun, but what happens if you’re the guy who is always in the chart room shouting directions to the pilot? How long will that be fun for? Or how about being in the crow’s nest keeping a lookout? That’s going to get tedious after a while, I think. But again, maybe they’ve thought about this and we just haven’t seen it yet. I hope so.

Last night I took on my first capture quest. I did this solo since it was before dinner and I wasn’t sure when I’d be suddenly called away to eat so didn’t want to involve friends, so I had to figure stuff out on my own.

My “Handler” was there to give advice but her advice seemed wrong. First she told me to grab the trap and tranq bombs from the supply chest, so I did. Then she said to find and fight the monster (one of those dodo looking rock-grabber things…google says Kulu-Ya-Ku) until it was weak. Check and Check. Once it was limping along, she told me to place the trap in its path. Did that. It stepping on the shock trap and was paralyzed by electricity. Then she said to throw tranq bombs at it to capture it. I threw all my tranq bombs at it, to no apparent effect. It either broke free from the trap or the trap expired, not sure which. The Handler, aka Captain Obvious, said “It’s broken free, you’ll have to trap it again.” but I only had the one trap. I forget what went down next but I wound up killing the Kulu-Ya-Ku and failing the quest.

Before trying again, I crafted extra traps and bombs. On my second try, the silly monster died before I could trap it. I dunno if I got a crit or what, but it never went into the limping stage. Quest Failed. Third time was the charm. It started similar to the first attempt. Trapping it, chucked tranq bombs at it, they did nothing and it broke free. This time I had more traps though. I fought it a little more, threw down a trap. It stepped in the trap and QUEST COMPLETED. Huh? So why am I throwing tranq bombs at it? I got the quest complete just using traps. I wonder if the Handler tells you the wrong order? Maybe I’m supposed to use tranq bombs THEN trap it?

I need to figure this out because for sure this one was frustrating. The good news was that each attempt was pretty quick.

After dinner I got social and loaded into a session with the AGE Squad. I started up the quest to take down Anjanath and almost immediately three other hunters joined me. It was a good thing too because in general I was having an “off” night and couldn’t seem to land any decent hits. The game does scale monsters to the number of players so that may have been part of it too. Whatever the reason, they were definitely carrying me in this hunt.

Then a Ratholos arrived and started fighting Anjanath. For a while the two of them duked it out and we were generally content to sit back and let that play out, but then Ratholos seemed to start taking an interest in us hunters. Somehow I remembered a tip I’d picked up from a YouTube vid. I loaded up a Dung Pod into my slinger (made from monster poo, of course) and flung it, hitting Ratholos right in the face. Disgusted, he flew off home to take a hot shower, leaving us to focus on Anjanath once again. I felt inexplicably good about this move…there’s so much happening in MHW that I watch videos to learn to do stuff but don’t retain much of it. Remembering that the scent of a Dung Pod will drive (some) monsters away felt good. Carrying out the attack and getting him right in the snout felt amazing.

And thanks to a lot of help from my friends, Anjanath was vanquished. Woohoo!

After that I returned the favor by jumping into someone else’s quest to defeat Barroth, that mud-flinging pain-in-the-butt. That battle went well too. The person completed their quest and I got the parts I needed to craft some new armor. Everybody wins!

So all in all, a good night of Monster Hunting.

Tough night in Monster Hunter World last night, but a strange thing happened to me.

I was tasked with hunting Anjanath, the big (early game big, anyway) t-rex with wings and fire breath dude. On my first attempt I took my trusty longsword and went hunting. It was a long and pitched battle. I fainted once early (you get 3 faints per mission) but then I settled into a routine. I hacked off the beastie’s tail and had it limping and struggling to get around. It retreated to its nest for a snooze. I thought the battle was won, and attacked with vigor, but then he became enraged and went crazy on me. He knocked me out twice in quick succession. (Both times I was using the tracking camera — which keeps your quarry in view — and “evaded” into an obstacle. I don’t think I’ll be using that again.) Quest Failed. Time spent was something like 40 minutes.

On the bright side, I’d collected parts from his tail and he’d been dropping scales which may be “intel” and may be materials. I forgot to look. And my kitty side-kick leveled up. Unlike players, the cats do grow stronger as they level. So I didn’t feel like the time was wasted, but still it was a little frustrating.

I decided to try again using the bow, which is new to me. I figured I could stay at range and it would be easy-peasy. It had been the first time I used a bow against a Great Jagras. Another lesson learned. Great Jagras is SLOW compared to some other monsters. It turns out Anjanath can cover the distance between himself and you at bow range really quickly. I was back to evading for my life. I fainted twice pretty quickly, both times when I didn’t anticipate his speed and didn’t evade in time. At about that point an AGE Squad member popped in to help me but it was too late. I fainted a third time. Quest Failed. This hunt had only lasted 20 minutes or so, but I really didn’t get anything from it.

So here’s the strange thing that happened. Instead of being frustrated and rage-quitting because by this time I’d spent my entire night trying to do this one quest and failing, I felt more determined than ever to go back in there tonight. I mean, for sure I was frustrated, but the “I can DO this” feeling was stronger than the frustrations. I say I didn’t get anything from my second attempt but of course that’s wrong. I learned a lot about using the bow against fast monsters. I also learned (the hard way) that the ghillie suit prevents monsters from SEEING you, but they can still SMELL you. LOL

Before I take him on again I think I’ll do some side quests. I’ve been trying to rush through the main quests to get to where I can do the time-limited Horizon Zero Dawn event, but my suspicions are that I’m missing out on some of the tools of the hunter trade by not doing side quests where they are introduced. I think, at the least, I’ll learn about building traps and bombs. When Anjanath was napping, I could’ve set up traps or bombs around him before rousing him, and I bet that would’ve finished him off. We’ll see, I guess.

Anyway, need to start treating the game like a marathon, not a sprint, and special time-limited events can go to hell for now.

Spent a decent amount of time playing Monster Hunter World this weekend. I think I’ve finally found a monster hunting game that hooks me. The challenge for me has always been the learning curve. For whatever reason, monster hunting games seem to always have pretty wonky UIs and systems, and I think it helps to have a real cheerleader for a game to help you get over that hump. This time out, there’s enough folks stoked about the game that I’ve had that.

For the most part I’ve played “alone” though last night I joined the AGE group and had a great time, but even playing “alone” I was often playing with others due to one really great (to me) features. The SOS Flare. If you’re out doing a quest and struggling you can send up an SOS Flare. Once you do that, back at camp, other players can join your quest to help you out. This has been my preferred way to play with randoms. I figure if they’ve sent up a flare they need help, and my low gamer self-esteem doesn’t prevent me from joining them. Poor help is better than no help, right? I usually hate inserting myself into multiplayer groups because I’m really not a very skilled gamer, and especially so as a MHW newbie. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers and at worse I’ll be a distraction for the monster you’re hunting, right?

Anyway, no regrets on this purchase. I mean, it is a WEIRD game with some pretty frustrating design decisions, honestly. Sometimes it feels like the controls are intended to be a challenge to overcome. Most quests have a time limit of 50 minutes and there’s no way to ‘save’ mid-quest as far as I know. I’ve had quests where I’ve taken almost the whole 50 minutes, too, and if I’d had to quit for real life reasons after 45 minutes I would’ve been pissed. And OMG the “Clan” invite system is a mess. Only the founder of a clan can invite others, and you and that person have to be on at the same time for him to invite you, or you to accept. And you can’t be in a mission to accept. So your friend invites you and you’re in the middle of a 50 minute quest, that friend has to hang around until you’re done so you can accept. Hopefully they’ll get that sorted.

Of course the only screen shot I have is of me and my cat companion, not of a big fierce monster.

One saving grace for me, at least in regards to time management, is expeditions. When you don’t know that you have an hour to play, you can go on an expedition which is basically a free-roam through an area. You can fight stuff (and get parts) as well as gather materials and study monster footprints and such (this lets you track the monster more easily next time you’re hunting one). It’s good to study the maps anyway (once you find something like a rare cluster of mushrooms, that feature will appear on your map in future) so expeditions are a great way to stock up and expand your knowledge, and you can quit them whenever you need to.

It’s still really early days for me. I’m still trying to decide on a “main” weapon and there are a ton of systems I don’t really understand yet, but I’m hooked on “the loop” of fighting monsters, harvesting parts, crafting/upgrading weapons and armor, and repeating. And I’ve had the first inklings of the satisfaction that comes with learning about how a monster fights. The monsters don’t have health bars; instead you have to watch their behavior. Some things are obvious: if a monster starts limping it’s clear that it is hurt. Others less so. Someone last night pointed out to be that if a monster starts to drool, that means it is getting tired/hurt.

If you’re interested, though, do be aware that this is a game about grinding. You’ll fight the same monsters over and over to get the parts you need to make better gear so you can fight a stronger monster over and over to get even better gear. Your character doesn’t have stats so it’s not like s/he gets stronger…all your strength comes from gear and from you, the player, getting better/smarter about playing. On paper that actually sounds terrible to me, but in practice I’m enjoying it. It’s a kick to have a monster hand your ass to you, then come back later and dispatch it easily, knowing that you’re doing so not because your STR stat has gone up, but because you’ve learned how it behaves and how to exploit its weaknesses (and yeah, your gear is better but you had to work to get that gear, too).

The Sea of Thieves beta started last night and I decided to give it a go. Sea of Thieves is really designed for multiplayer but you can play solo, though the game tells you solo play is for advanced players. Never one to pay attention to warnings, I jumped in alone. Here’s the gameplay loop.

You spawn in on an island with a kind of town. I was alone here so I’m not sure if PvP is enabled or not. I talked to an NPC and bought a treasure map…essentially I got a quest from him. Since I had no gold, the only map I could get was his freebie map. Other (better, I assume) maps cost money.

With map in hand I head to my ship. It’s set up to be sailed solo but doing so is still a bit challenging. First, while still docked, I go below to the chart room. First I examine the treasure map and study the contours of the island. Then I search the charts looking for an island with the same shape. There are no magic indicators in Sea of Thieves.

This being a newbie quest, the island I need is very distinctive looking and close by. I see I need to sail NorthWest to get to it, so I head topside.

To get underway, I first raise the anchor by grabbing the capstan and walking around it to turn it. The ship immediately starts to drift a bit. Then I run to the gunwale where there are two sheets. I use one of them to unfurl the sails. The other sheet is used to trim but the game seems to be pretty forgiving in that just having the sails open gives you some forward momentum; trimming them properly enhances your speed (you can see the direction of the wind by looking up at the sky and spotting contrails). Next I run to the wheel and start steering. There’s a compass mounted on the wheel.

Yo-ho, ah the open sea! I’m thinking this is pretty easy, though I’m not sure I’m going in exactly the right direction. Letting go of the wheel, I pull out my spyglass and have a look around but I’m still not certain, so I dash below decks to consult the chart. The game does at least show you where you are on the chart. I’m going in about the right direction but need to navigate around a smaller island.

Run back topside and oh shit, we’re headed straight for the island I need to go around. I grab the wheel and spin it but too late. With a smash I run aground. Immediately the boat lists and I know we’re taking on water. I hit the capstan to drop anchor, grab the sheet and furl the sail, then I run below. There’s a hole in the hull in the chart room. I take out a board (glad I’d grabbed a few ahead of time) and nail it over the hole, patching it. Then I run down into the hold, which is nearly full of water. I locate a second hole and patch it. Then I grab my bucket. Scoop it full of water, run topside, empty it over the side, run back below, get another bucketful, then back topside. Happily this activity is abstracted a bit and it only takes me 3 buckets of water to empty the ship. Ready to sail again.

So once again, raise the anchor, unfurl the sail, grab the wheel. I clear the obstacle island and see my destination ahead. But I also see sails on the horizon. A bigger ship, headed my way. I do have a couple of cannons but I don’t think I’m up to the task of both steering/sailing and running to midships to fire them. It’d be nice if they gave us a chaser on the stern but nope.

I opt to keep heading to my target island. Get to it ahead of my pursuer, drop anchor, furl the sails and dive overboard and head to land. I’m hoping maybe I can ambush my enemy or something. I’m in the tree line peering back when something hits me. I turn around and a skeleton is attacking. In retrospect I’d heard its footsteps approaching but they didn’t really register. So now I’m trying to remember the button to pull out my cutlass while running from first 1, then 2, and eventually 4 skeletons.

Chaos ensues and eventually I swim for it. The skeletons don’t follow but I know there are sharks in the water. My ship is on the other side of the island. I need to get back to shore. I look up and… there’s one of the pirates from the ship that was chasing me, standing on the shore. He raises his flintlock, there’s a loud BANG and…

I’m dead. I’m on the Ferry of the Damned, which is a kind of ghost ship. After a few minutes a door opens and I pass through it and, a miracle! I’m back on my ship! But my enemy is right there as well. More chaos and soon I’m back on the Ferry of the Damned, dead again. I think this is going to really suck if I keep respawning right next to my pursuers, but when I spawn again, he is moving off.

Why? I guess there’s really no profit in killing a broke pirate. Whatever the reason, I go ashore again. Now I know where my cutlass is, I dispatch the skeletons without too much trouble. Then I pull up my treasure map and study it. There’s a red X by some distinctive rocks. Again, there’re no HUD indicators telling you where the treasure is, you have to consult the map, look at your surroundings, and deduce the location. I go there, pull out my shovel and am rewarded with a metallic clank as I shove it into the sand. A treasure chest! It takes me a few minutes to dig it up, then I grab it and run for my ship.

I am inexplicably able to swim while holding the chest. I get back aboard, stash the chest in the chart room and get underway again, sailing back to “Plunder Island” where the quest giver is. But alas, my harasser is back, though a ways off. I am able to to make it back to Plunder Island ahead of him and I don’t even worry about docking, I run below, grab the chest and jump overboard. Again, no one else around, so I deliver the chest and am rewarded with some experience with this particular faction and some gold.

I head back to the docks where I see my ship sailing itself in circles, hitting the rocks over and over again, until it finally sinks. Then a mermaid appears in the water. If I swim out to her she’ll give me a new ship but instead I just chill. The pirate crew that was chasing me is now in pursuit of another small craft who is fighting back. I take out my spyglass and watch the battle. It goes on for a while; neither seems able to get a solid hit on the other.

It was getting late so I called it a night. It was fun doing a solo run once, but without a crew the inherent silliness of the game doesn’t really come out, and you really are at the mercy of lady luck in terms of who you might stumble across.

I don’t know that I’d buy Sea of Thieves for $60 but I’ll definitely subscribe to Game Pass for $10/month in order to play it at launch. And as far as I know it is ‘cross-play’ with Windows 10 so maybe I can even join the crew of my PC gamer friends, if they decide to play.

PS Sorry for the lack of visuals. I had planned to pluck some of my video clips from Xbox DVR but they’re not showing up there, I guess because the game is in beta. 🙁

Microsoft dropped a bomb this morning. Game Pass (the Xbox subscription service) will get Microsoft Studios exclusive games the same day they launch globally. So why is this a great deal for Xbox gamers?

Game Pass is a $10/month service. Once you are subscribed you can download and play any of the games in its library. Of course if you unsubscribe you lose access to them. These aren’t streaming games like Playstation Now, you download the games and play them normally. There are currently 164 titles in the program though admittedly a lot of them are old Xbox 360 titles that play on Xbox via Backwards Compatibility, but there are some solid titles in the library too. Stuff like Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2.

It already seems like a good deal and something I’d be signed up for if I didn’t have such a huge backlog, but today’s news changes that. Microsoft says that Microsoft Studios exclusives will come to Game Pass on the day of release. Specifically they name-dropped Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 and in general terms say that all new Halo, Forza and Gears games will be handled the same way.

So say you’re on the fence when it comes to Sea of Thieves. You can spend $10 for a month of Game Pass and play it as much as you want (plus play the other 164 games in the service). If you decide you like it, you can then buy it for $60 (which admittedly means you’re paying $70 for the game instead of $60), or keep spending $10/month until you’re done with it. If you’re anything like me, not a lot of games hold your attention for more than 6 months. And again, you’ll have access to the entire Game Pass library, not just Sea of Thieves.

I was planning on getting the 3 titles mentioned, and together they would have cost me $180. Instead I can get a year and a half of Game Pass (on a month by month basis…there is no contract or anything as far as I know).

It seems crazy on Microsoft’s part, but hey I’ll take it. I know some people just need to own things, and for those people Game Pass won’t ever be of interest. For those of us who tend to play a game then never go back to it, it seems like a solid deal now that we KNOW some of the games that will be hitting the service.

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.