VR Workouts 1 Month In

As of this coming Thursday I will have been doing my VR workouts for a month. So far, so good.

I have lost a little weight (about 5 lbs) but a friend who is into fitness tells me not to worry about the scale but to worry about how I feel and how my clothes fit. I don’t know that my clothes feel any different but I definitely feel better. There’s more pep in my step, basically. And when work isn’t doing everything it can to destroy me, my mood has been better too.

The workouts themselves continue to be fun, and VR in general has been bringing me a lot of enjoyment.

I’ve also learned that VR workouts are a real thing and I don’t have to put ‘workout’ in quotes. In fact there are a bunch of fitness aps for the Meta Quest and PCVR platforms.

I started with Beat Saber and The Climb. I’ve added Pistol Whip and just recently, Audio Trip. I’ve so far avoided the actual fitness apps because I don’t really need them yet and I don’t want this to become a chore.

Beat Saber is starting to fail me as workout material because I’ve gotten too good at it. Let me explain. I can now do most of the original songs that came with the game in Hard mode. I can get S rank and sometimes not miss a single note. The problem is that Expert, the next logical step, gets so fast that you don’t really have time to swing your arms to cut the blocks and you have to start relying on a lot of wrist movement. As a game, this is still plenty of fun, but it’s less of a workout than taking big swings with your arms. That’s when I added Audio Trip and that game kicks my ass. As is so often the case with VR, it sounds very simple. You just have to touch incoming icons with a ‘ball’ you hold in each hand. Simple enough, but the game makes you stretch and bend and twist and it really gets my heart rate up.

Here’s an official trailer for Audio Trip. You can see it’s kind of a mix between aerobics and dance. I’m REALLY glad I don’t have to see myself playing this game because I’m sure it is a horrifying sight to behold, but like I said, it does get my heartrate up and the sweat flowing.

Oh and I learned the that Quest Move app will track you while playing Rift games through Air Link. I haven’t tested it with Steam VR via Air Link though. Tonight was supposed to be a ‘rest day’ but I was playing a Rift game that involved some fairly vigorous sword swinging and a decent amount of climbing and suddenly Move popped up to tell me I was half-way to my calorie goal. Accidental workout! By the time I was done I was near my goals so I ran through half a dozen Beat Saber songs just to hit them.

All in all, I’m really happy with my progress and that I’ve found a way to exercise that is fun and convenient. I’m gonna keep going. Let’s see if I can make it to 2 months!

By the way, the screenshot at the top of the post is from Drum Rock on Playstation VR2 and has very little to do with workouts, though it can get you a little sweaty. It’s like having the drum kit from Rock Band, only in VR so you don’t have the storage hassles. Drum Rock is pretty fun but you don’t get licensed music, only covers. I get why…it’s a $20 indie title and I’m sure they couldn’t afford licensed songs. But I can dream, right?

May 2023

I’m a few days early, yeah. But we’re in another hell-cycle at work and I don’t know that I’ll have time to post during the week, and my mental state is once again in a very bad place (thanks 100% to the job), so I’m trying to free up tomorrow (a holiday here in the US) as a completely commitment-free day to try to beat back this depression. So the recap comes early this month.

I’m really thinking I need to find a new job but the idea of being 63 and on the market for a web developer job is fairly terrifying. It’s not that the actual WORK at my current job is bad or hard, it’s the management that makes everything awful because every project comes in hot with deadlines that some exec pulled out of his or her ass with no understanding of how much work is involved and no awareness of what other projects are in process. Because of this there is never enough time to do things properly. I’m not good at just letting this stuff go and I carry the anxiety of impossible deadlines with me all the time and it just crushes my spirit.

Anyway, I bought a copy of the teachings of Epictetus and maybe that will help. 🙂

Last Month’s Games

Only two games made it over to this month.

The first was Honkai Star Rail which I enjoy when I play, but I don’t play very often. I’m really looking forward to it hitting the Playstation and when it does I think I’ll probably throw myself into it in a big way. I’m just back to a “can’t sit in front of this PC for another minute” place because, as mentioned, work has been really, REALLY sucking again.

Creepy visitors trying to trap souls. We must stop them!

The other title is Ghostwire Tokyo which I continue to enjoy and chip away at. It’s probably the (non-VR) game I put the most time into this month, even though that wasn’t a huge amount of time. For sure though, if you have Game Pass or PS+ Extra, check it out. It’s good fun.

New This Month

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart hit Playstation+ Extra. This was kind of a tentpole launch title for the Playstation 5 and was supposed to show off the capabilities of the machine. I kept meaning to buy it but never did, and now I’m glad I didn’t because I can play it for pseudo-free! And…. it’s OK. I mean it is a beauty to behold, but I think I’ve just outgrown the genre. It’s satisfying to hop in and smash stuff and then vacuum up all the nuts & bolts (which pass for currency) but I never play it for more then half an hour before getting bored. So I’m REALLY glad I didn’t pay $70 or whatever it was at launch. A younger version of me would been over the moon for this game, though. Point being that it isn’t a bad game (it got great reviews), just not my kind of game. But it sure is pretty!

Alternate dimension lombax Rivet hangs out with Mort. That’s Mort on the left. also on the right. All these critters are named Mort, dontcha know.

Other than that I’ve been spending a LOT of time in VR. Doing the workouts (which means playing Beat Saber, The Climb and Pistol Whip) has been good for me but does leave me feeling tired and often too lazy to play a conventional game. And when I’m not working out I’ve been playing less-active games like Racoon Lagoon & Shadow Legend. I find it can be pretty hard to talk about VR games, though, because they always sound boring unless you’re in there, doing stuff.


Mrs. Davis — Mrs Davis is a Siri-like digital ‘assistant’ that has basically taken over the world. She tasks a nun with recovering the holy grail. Like literally, THE Holy Grail. Sounds bizarre, right? Well it was, but it was weird enough to be hard to follow, but not quite weird enough to be in that “OMG I don’t know what I’m watching but I love it” category. [See, for example, Everything Everywhere All At Once]. We finished it but found it was not a good show to binge. It was best in small doses and in the end, well, it was OK.

Midnight Club — Teenagers dying from terminal diseases encounter the supernatural while living out their final days in a hospice. I was dubious but it ended up being really good, though as you might expect it’s not always the most upbeat of shows. Still there are moments of joy. There’s also like an anthology series tucked inside with some good stories (the kids tell each other scary stories as part of the titular Midnight Club). In fact it’s kind of 3 shows in once. The ‘short stories’ the kids tell each other, the ‘what supernatural thing is happening’ story, and the story about teenage kids facing their impending deaths together. The ending was not cut & dry, but still felt pretty satisfying even though not all the mysteries were solved. In fact that seemed somewhat appropriate. [Since writing this earlier this month I’ve learned that the show has already been cancelled. I still think it is worth watching but just be aware you aren’t going to get a nice neat ending and there are definitely mysteries that remain unsolved, but it doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger.]

Ted Lasso – I’d watched and loved the first 2 seasons but I could never get @partpurple to try it. Now I have and she is also loving it. Such a great show, full of good feels.


Finished Persepolis Rising and started Tiamat’s Wrath (both part of The Expanse series). Honestly so far this feels like part 1 and part 2 of the same book. Persepolis Rising starts 30 years after the prior book and that kind of saddened me, as of course all the old crew we’ve grown to know and love are now much older and I just feel like we missed out on hearing about so many adventures! The big bad now (spoiler incoming) is a Mars faction that took over a system that held ancient dockyards. Suddenly 30 years later they return with a plan to conquer all mankind, and advanced tech (they’ve been playing with the proto-molecule) to make it happen. Maybe I’ll get sucked back in; we’ll see. I mean both are still good books but not as jaw-droppingly good as I found the earlier Expanse novels.

And I guess that’s about it for May!

Steam VR With Meta Quest 2 via Air Link

So I finally got around to testing out playing Steam VR games using the Meta Quest 2 via Air Link. Let’s unpack that a bit.

The Meta Quest 2, of course, is Meta’s stand-alone consumer VR visor that runs on a mobile chipset and has its own app store. This is what I use to do my VR workouts and it’s a great product for that and in generally a really nice VR system.

Oculus, back before Meta bought it, made a tethered PCVR headset called the Rift S. To use it you’d install an Oculus app on your Windows machine. This app had its own store. A few years back Meta stopped making the Rift S, but they started selling a $70 “Link Cable” that let you use the Meta Quest 2 as a tethered PCVR headset so you could still play (and purchase!) Rift games. (Rift games won’t run natively on the Quest 2, and vice versa, though some games are ‘cross-buy’ and you get both versions for one cost.)

Then 3rd party modders, and eventually Meta themselves, introduced Air Link which let you ditch the cable and use the Quest 2 as a PCVR headset via WiFi. Lots of caveats about the quality of your WiFi network and all that. But it works, at least for me, and not only does it eliminate having a cable to get tangled up in, it means you don’t need to be near your PC to play, though you probably want to be pretty near a WiFi access point. (I play VR in the living room and it just so happens the Google Fiber WiFi router is about 6 feet from where I play.) I set this up a week or so ago without much effort. The only very slight annoyance is I have to manually switch my audio output (on the PC) to “Oculus Virtual Device” before I start playing, or I get no sound.

SteamVR, of course, is Steam…in VR. Steam sells VR titles including what some would argue is the best VR title available, Half-Life Alyx. (I have no opinion on that…yet.)

So with all that out of the way, here’s what the experience is like for me.

I put on the Quest 2 and I get the Quest 2 home dashboard and access to my Quest 2 games. Then I open Settings and tap a button to connect to my PC via Air Link. When I do that the Quest 2 dashboard goes poof and I switch to the Oculus PC/Rift dashboard and I can play my Rift games. So far this has been a great experience. Once I hit some lag but so far, only once.

Going further down the rabbit hole, I can also access my PC desktop via the Rift Dashboard. Once I do that I can load Steam VR just as if I was sitting at my desk. When I do that, the Oculus Rift dashboard goes poof and the Steam VR dashboard appears. For some reason when it first appears it flickers for about 5-10 seconds but so far it has always stabilized. And from there I can run Steam VR games, and at some point I apparently bought Half-Life Alyx, and that’s what I used to test tonight.

I didn’t get very far, but boy it was pretty breathtaking. You start out on a balcony overlooking a city where those big strider things are ambling around, and various drones are hovering overhead while down below in the streets people mill about. All I did, since dum-dum me decided to start this experiment after 11 PM on a work night, is kind of wander around and throw cans at pigeons and stuff, so no comments on the gameplay but it was sure pretty and ran smooth as can be.

So yeah, pretty happy about how well this all works and now I can finally see what all the fuss is about in Half Life Alyx.

Spending ALL the Money on VR

My birthday is next month and apparently I’m celebrating it early because I have been spending SO much money on myself and VR recently. And so far, no regrets.

I’m still doing my VR workouts 4 times a week, hitting all the goals I’ve set for myself and really working up a sweat and getting the heart rate up every time, so in some sense if I squint my eyes and tilt my head just right, this spending is going towards my health and personal well-being. Oh, the lengths we go to justify indulging ourselves!

Of course even that doesn’t justify the really big purchase. In a moment of will-power break down, I ordered the Playstation VR2. I knew after I ordered the prescription lens inserts for it, it was only a matter of time but I didn’t think I’d break down and go for it this soon. But a brief exchange with Bhagpuss got me thinking about how much more time I have when I’ll be fit and able enough to play games so… why keep putting it off? So I ordered it direct from Sony. A few hours later I had second thoughts and logged in to cancel the order but it has already shipped! It arrived next day and I made my peace with the purchase.

I don’t have a lot to say about it as my prescription lenses aren’t here yet (I assumed it’d take like a week for the thing to get here…the overnight delivery was quite a surprise). I had @partpurple 3D print me some lens protectors so I could wear my glasses without any danger of scratching the lenses, but the design isn’t great and they rubbed on my nose enough that it hurt. After one brief session, I decided to try to wait for the prescription lens inserts to arrive.

But new gear means new accessories, so I bought a hard case for it and ordered a ‘comfort strap‘ that a bunch of YouTubers recommended.

None of that means I’m done with the Quest 2 though. As my workouts got more enthusiastic I started having more issues with the visor sliding around and my view of the world going fuzzy as a result. I was using a 3rd party strap (the one that comes with the Quest is kind of crap, but on the plus side Meta designed the Quest 2 to accomodate 3rd party straps) but wanted something better. Today the “BOBOVR M2 Pro Battery Pack Head Strap” arrived and it is really nice. Very comfortable, doesn’t slide around and has an extra battery for if/when my sessions get longer than the Quest 2’s internal battery can handle. [I’ve kind of killed my battery’s health by leaving the Q2 plugged in on standby for like a year straight, so it only holds about an hour’s charge now.] Picture, courtesy of Amazon, at the top of the post.

And then there’s a lighting issue. Even with all our living room lights on, the Quest reports that it’s too dark for good tracking when I use it after dark. Usually I do my workouts early enough that it is still light out but if I want to start doing other VR stuff later in the evening I needed to solve that. So I ordered a couple of IR lights for the living room. The idea being the infrared light won’t bother my eyes but will make tracking better for the headsets. They haven’t arrived yet so how well they work remains to be seen.

So yeah, it has been an EXPENSIVE week thanks to VR. Fortunately my ‘play money’ fund was sufficient to accommodate all this as I’ve been pretty careful about spending for the last few years. Here’s hoping I stick with it after spending all this cash!

More VR Noodling

For the past couple of nights I’ve been using the Meta Quest 2 for my ‘workouts’ and the Rift S for VR gaming. I really have very few complaints about the Quest 2. Yes, the image quality isn’t as sharp as PC VR games but that was something I was fully aware of going in. It’s a question of a mobile processor vs a beefy GPU in the PC.

I have prescription lens inserts for it so glasses aren’t an issue and a third party strap for additional comfort over what came in the box. I also got a nicer interface (the bit that presses against your face) that is easy to clean after a sweaty session.

The Rift S is actually quite comfortable but it is of course a tethered solution. For me that means running a cable from my gaming PC located in the corner, across the room to the spot in front of the TV where I have clear space for VRing. (Is VR a verb?) It’s a pretty beefy cable that eventually splits into 2 at the PC: one strand for display port and the other a USB cable. It’s kind of a hassle because the cable will knock things off tables and stuff as I route it around loveseats, lamps and doggos.

Additionally I don’t have prescription lenses for the Rift S so I have to cram my glasses in there which, honestly, isn’t THAT big a deal once I got used to it. And I could always order a set of lenses.

But the Rift S is older tech. It has a lower resolution (1,440 x 1,280/eye) than the Quest 2 (1,832 x 1,920/eye) and a lower refresh rate (80 Hz vs 120Hz for the Quest 2).

So tonight I decided to try out linking the Quest 2 to the PC. Originally this required a long USB-C cable that was fairly expensive ($80 from Meta) but a while back some clever person figured out how to do this link via WiFi. Originally it was kind of a hack but at some point Meta added it to the software.

I’m pretty old school when it comes to WiFi and gaming. In other words, I’m a skeptic. I have all my gaming consoles and my PC hardwired to Ethernet. But before I spent $80 on a Link Cable I decided to try it “Air Link” as it is called. It was pretty easy to do. I ran into 2 issues. First was I had the Oculus app on my PC enrolled in a ‘Public Test Channel’ and had to back out of that for some reason. Second was that I had disabled the Oculus Virtual Audio device when I was futzing with sound issues. Without that the Quest 2 got no sound.

Once those two very minor issues were sorted, it just kind of worked. You put on the Quest 2 and you see your usual Quest 2 UI. Then you go into settings and turn on the Link and you get the Oculus PC UI. I fired up the PCVR game I’ve been playing and off I went. Tetherless PCVR gaming, yay!

Or mostly yay. It ran pretty smoothly until it didn’t. At one point I had a little glitch where I hit a pocket of lag and then everything caught up. Normally this wouldn’t have been too big an issue but in VR it was pretty nauseating. It only happened once but I was only testing (aka hacking undead skeletal soldiers with a broadsword) for 30 minutes or so. So we’ll see.

I do think if the Air Link doesn’t work out, I may spring for that $80 cable so I can just retire the Rift S. Maybe find someone to sell it too. It’s kind of silly to have both when the Quest 2 can cover all bases.

What I haven’t tried yet is Steam VR with any of this; that’s the next thing on my list to get sorted.

Back Down the VR Rabbit Hole

I had planned to do a couple more ‘first look’ posts about some Game Pass games this weekend; there’s a couple I’m curious about. But I got side-tracked in a big way: I’ve been bitten by the VR bug again.

A couple weeks back I posted about how I’d started doing VR ‘workouts’. I’m still doing those. OK it’s been 2 weeks so I’m not going to claim it’s been a lifestyle change or anything, but I have gotten into a routine. I’ve been doing the workouts Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Thursday. Tuesday and Friday are rest days. Saturdays I do a LOT of walking with Lola so while I’m not doing a ‘workout’ I’m not resting either. Fitbit counts it as an exercise day, so all told I’m exercising 5 days/week which seems reasonable and sustainable.

And when I say workouts what I mean is “playing games that require enough movement to work up a sweat.’ The Meta Quest Move app lets you set 3 kinds of goals: sessions/week, minutes/day and number of calories burned. I set all three quite low to start. I am an old out of shape dude with a history of fatal heart attacks on my father’s side of the family tree, after all. My ‘quiver’ of games so far is Beat Saber, The Climb and Pistol Whip with Beat Saber being kind of the backbone of the routine. But generally I just play the three games until the Move app says I’ve hit my goals, then generally keep playing because I’m just having fun. For example my minutes/day is set at 20 and today I stopped at 50 minutes and then I only stopped because of real world obligations.

So far, this is working just in the sense that I feel SO much better than I have been feeling, both physically and mentally. The workouts are strenuous enough that I feel good and tired but light enough that I can get on with my day after I’m done, and rather than dreading doing them, I look forward to them. My mood has improved so much; like I didn’t realize what a cloud I’d been living under until a bit of exercise seemed to chase it away. In fact last week I had a day where the ‘old me’ returned for some reason and I was like “How did I live like this?” Happily it was just a bad day and by the next morning I was feeling good again. Maybe more importantly when I was ‘down’ I was aware that I was ‘down’ and that what I was feeling wasn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, normal.

But being in the habit of putting on the VR visor 4 times/week has had a dangerous side-effect. I’m really enjoying being ‘in’ VR worlds again and I kind of want more games to play and not just exercise games.

What’s funny is a few months ago I was telling friends about how I’m just DONE with VR. The visors are a hassle, setup is irritating and it’s just not worth it. But after a couple weeks the routine of getting into the VR world takes just a couple minutes. I shove the coffee table one way, shove an ottoman the other way and I have space in front of the couch. Putting the Quest 2 on takes just a second now. None of it feels like much of a hassle.

This weekend, I dug out the Oculus Rift 2, which I hadn’t used in ages and ages. Getting THAT set up was kind of a hassle. Meta no longer makes the Rift so I had to dig around to find the software and get it installed and all that. First I connected it to my gaming PC and had some issues with sound (this PC has given me SO many headaches around sound and I have NEVER gotten a microphone to work on it), plus there is NO space around my gaming PC. Then I decided to try it on my old gaming laptop (in the living room where I have space) and the jury is still out on whether it is really powerful enough to do the job. [Jury is no longer out. The old laptop, which is what I used to use with the Rift, just can’t put out the framerate needed for a comfortable experience. I started getting motion sick using it. Switched back to the new gaming PC and that discomfort vanished. No wonder I didn’t ‘stick’ with PC VR back in the day.]

But the brief time I used it connected to the gaming PC, I was reminded of how much better ‘connected’ VR looks compared to the Quest 2, which of course runs on a mobile processor.

All of which led me to start thinking about Playstation VR 2. I laughed when Sony announced PSVR2 because it was SO expensive, but when I compared it to PC VR headsets, it’s actually pretty affordable. For example the HTC Vive Pro 2 is $800 without controllers or the base stations you need to track it. The Valve index with the visor, controllers and base stations is $1400. Compared to that, PSVR2 $550 doesn’t seem that bad considering I already own the PS5. And the PS5 is right there where I’m doing my Quest 2 workouts so using it should be a cinch.

Next thing I know, I’m down the You Tube rabbit hole watching PSVR2 reviews, tips, and accessories videos, which is why I never got to those Game Pass titles. (Well that and a Genshin event was about to expire and it had a lot of primogems as rewards so I spent a bunch of time crunching through that.) Generally the buzz is pretty favorable with the biggest con being that the ‘sweet spot’ where the image looks best is pretty small so you may need to adjust the visor every so often to make sure is still properly aligned. I can live with that.

While I haven’t taken the plunge yet, I did order some prescription lenses for the PSVR2, which means it’s more or less a matter of “When” rather than “If” I get one. Or I guess I write off the $75 that the lenses cost me as money lost in a fit of madness. But I think I’ll be ordering PSVR2 pretty soon, and I’m excited about it.

Game Pass: Homestead Arcana

Continuing my run of negativity… the next recent Game Pass title I tried was Homestead Arcana.

What I expected: A farming game where your farm is surrounded by something called miasma. When not tending crops you’ll venture into the miasma, fight enemies in there and gather materials. You’ll eventually push back the miasma to extend the amount of farming land you have.

What I got was close but the differences were significant enough to disappoint. Plus…bugs.

Homestead Arcana is a crafting/exploration game with some light farming aspects. Your Homestead is surrounded by miasma and you will venture into it, but you don’t fight the monsters that call the miasma home. Instead you try to avoid them and failing that, you run from them. There are traps to be avoided too. You do gather materials in there and  you do push back the miasma but it is not an ‘organic’ process. Instead you find pre-determined places where you have to dump a crafted item which then opens up some new terrain to explore.

Homestead Arcana made a bad first impression on me as I couldn’t create a custom character that I was happy with. Then I found the interface was pretty clunky at times, and the art style wasn’t my cup of tea. Not saying it is bad (the art style I mean), but just not a personal favorite. There’s a tutorial of sorts but it is pretty vague. One of the first things you have to do is plant a stalk of corn. It must be planted in the garden. Where is the garden, though? It turned out to be the one place you WOULD NOT plant corn in real life: in the dirt right near the trunk of a giant tree. I know it’s just a game and all, and I wouldn’t have minded if the tutorial said “Plant the corn in the garden” and then the garden area was highlighted or something, but it wasn’t, and the ‘correct’ spot was literally the last placed I tried since it made no sense.

I was convinced this was the garden based on all the other gardening games I’d played. I assumed I’d be clearing this debris out to prepare the field and such:

This is NOT the garden. I’m not sure what this is, to be honest

Instead, this is the garden. By the way if this is gardening than I’m a gardener based on the fact I have a pepper plant in a pot on my balcony:

The actual garden because growing veggies in the shade of a giant tree makes perfect sense

So your garden consists of individual plants that you tend. It’s a unique system and probably the thing I found most interesting about the game. You can do the basic stuff like water or fertilize plants, but you can also do things like trim branches or even train them to grow in specific directions. You can also ‘channel’ mana into them to get them to grow faster and you probably will need to do that since you have so few plants and need so many crops.

This is the gardening UI. You can do some interesting things to the plants you grow

At the same time, having to harvest each ear of corn or each tomato individually loses its appeal pretty quickly.

If you use channeling too often on a plant you’ll damage it. The game does warn you about this, but not in specific terms (if the mana you gather turns purple you’re about to damage the plant). I learned this lesson on my only cotton plant. Damaged plants are supposed to recover on their own but I have no idea how long it takes. There’s also a potion that you can make to cure them. I made one but couldn’t use it on my damaged plant; this appears to be a bug since I’m not the only one struggling with the issue. If I can’t find another cotton plant or recover from this bug, my save is basically ruined.

I was considering restarting, but then I went a little deeper into the miasma and had an experience that just turned me off the game: encountering critters. These little mouse-like creatures live in holes in the ground and if you get too near one, they’ll jump out and chase you. If they catch you they kill you pretty quick. I found this more frustrating than anything, having to run away from a mouse.

There’s a potion you can drink to let you see how close you can get to their holes without triggering them but it lasts a very short time so you need a ton of them. Which means growing (in the case of this potion) a lot of corn, ear by ear.

Once you grow the corn you have to craft the potions, and that takes time. All crafting takes time. Generally not a lot, but long enough to make me impatient while I wait for the timer to count down. You also need to eat, and you are eating the same produce you’re crafting potions from. Maybe later in the game you get tools to automate some of this but I’m not going to stick around long enough to find out.

While I seethed over the killer mouse experience and hoped for my blighted cotton bug to resolve itself, I did some ‘side quests’ for the folks back home. There’re a ton of these, mainly around crafting something. You get these quests via letters…so many letters arrive. You craft what is requested and send it via UPS (or the game’s equivalent) and a couple days later you’ll get some currency and plans for (cosmetic, as far as I can tell) clothing items. At least that’s what I’ve gotten so far.

So yeah, this one is not for me. Even without the game-breaking bug I wasn’t enjoying it very much but I’m CERTAINLY not going to restart. But maybe I’m just a crank. What does the rest of the world think? Well there’s not a lot of buzz about it. It has Mixed reviews on Steam based on only 31 reviews. On the Xbox it has about 2.5/5 stars based on 137 reviews. So maybe it’s not just me.

Game Pass: Ravenlok quick look

I decided to try something really crazy. Instead of waiting for games on Game Pass to be “Leaving Soon” maybe I’d try them when they first hit the service. My goodness sometimes I impress myself with this kind of out of the box thinking!

So this morning I devoted a couple of hours to Ravenlok, which is an action-adventure game that seems to be targeted at kids or folks who just want to chill and not be challenged very much. You play as little girl who has just moved to the country with her family. First order of business is helping mom and dad with the move-in. Everything seems so ordinary until you find a magic mirror that sucks you into a Lewis Carroll inspired fantasy world. You’re immediately declared as being Ravenlok, the savior of the world. Then you’re put to work. You just go along with it.

Ravenlok’s job is to run around and talk to vaguely creepy looking creatures to get a ton of seemingly random quests almost all of which are fetch quests or “kill ten rats” type combat quests. You’ll spend most of your time roaming around looking for 4 of these or 6 of those in order to complete a quest. There is no map which can lead to a decent amount of back-tracking as you search for that last Macguffin.

One of the creepy “firendly” creatures who’ll give you a task to do.

Combat is pretty button-mashy and not very difficult. The biggest challenge you’ll face is the camera. Ravenlok has a kind of a 50%-3D world. What I mean is you can’t move towards the screen but you can move back into the screen. The trouble is that the camera only moves about 180 degrees. The net effect is that if you go too ‘deep’ into a scene during combat, enemies will end up ‘behind’ the camera and you can’t spin it around enough to see them.

This would be a game-crippling flaw if the combat wasn’t super easy to begin with.

I keep thinking this is meant for kids but then I have to kill things and drag their body parts back to a quest giver

I have to say, I didn’t like Ravenlok very much but I don’t think I’m the intended audience. It’d probably be a great game for a parent to play with a child, or just for a child to play on their own. Oh and if you need some Achievements you’ll get a bunch; in the hour or two I played I unlocked 13.

Other folks say the game is only 4 or 5 hours long, so it’s not a huge commitment. I’m not sure if I’ll go back. I was searching for 9 of something and had found 6 and was getting really tired of roaming around searching for the last 3 since it was about the 10th time I’d had to roam around searching for stuff. Basically I just found it all kind of boring.

Worth noting that on the Xbox it’s got an average of 4 out of 5 stars, though the PC version doesn’t fare as well. Opencritic has it at a 68/100 rating. If you’re not on Game Pass and want to give it a try on PC, you’ll have to go to the Epic Store or the Windows Store. It doesn’t seem to be on Steam, at least not yet.

Game Pass: Check out Before We Leave before it leaves

Once again I’ve been caught in the Xbox Game Pass “Leaving Soon” vortex. I saw a new batch of games (just a few this month) were leaving and one of them was Before We Leave, which at some point I’d heard enough about that I wanted to give it a try while it was still free.

Before We Leave is a city builder, I guess? I can’t keep my genres straight these days. We used to call these 4X games though one of the Xs was for eXterminate and I don’t think there is any combat in Before We Leave. At least not in the early game.

Let me back up. So the premise is that some unspecified disaster forced the population of this planet underground. Now decades or generations later, they’re ready to emerge, with your help. So you build them houses, you build them farms, you place a woodcutter to gather wood. Build a library to research new technologies. Very familiar stuff.

Couple things set it apart. The world is hex-based and you start on a fairly small island. Everything you build has to be connected together by roads, and a road takes up an entire hex. You have to really put some thought into where you build your roads as you can block yourself off from resources pretty easily. So that’s somewhat unique. And since your island is small one of your first goals is to build a ship to set off in search of a 2nd island and when you do, start a colony on it. You’ll almost certainly need to ship goods to your new colony to help them get started, so trade routes are a big deal.

Bad Road Layout
Here I’ve really botched things up with my road building. So much wasted space. Live and learn!

Riffing off this trading requirement, Research comes in several colors. (Why? No idea!) Each island seems to produce research of a single color, but some technologies require specific quantities of research of specific colors, meaning you’ll definitely have to ship research points between islands to get a Library stocked with enough of the right types of research to discover new tech. I find this interesting because it forces you to keep your colonies connected on some level rather than just building a bunch of self-sustaining colonies.

As I said, I haven’t played for very long but since it is “Leaving Soon” (in 10 days as of the time of this writing) I wanted to get this out asap. It’s on Game Pass both for Xbox and PC. It’s also available on Steam for $20 and has a “Mostly Positive” ratings with a bit over 1000 reviews. (The Steam version came out in 2021.)

Sending potatoes, wood, tools and research to our new colony, which has nothing to send back to us yet.

The thing that really hooked me is that the console UI is actually decent. So often strategy games feel pretty clunky on console, and to be sure there are a few rough spots in Before We Leave’s console UI, but it is definitely better than most strategy games I’ve tried.

The devs refer to this as a cozy game. What makes it cozy? I have no idea. Maybe that your new colony survives on the bones of its dead ancestors? (You ‘mine’ rock and iron from mostly-destroyed skyscrapers and such.) Or that fact that some of your buildings generate pollution that can adversely affect your people? Do these facets make it cozy? Really I’m baffled as to why they call this a cozy game, but based on my couple hours of play, it is a good game.

Definitely worth a try if you’re a Game Pass subscriber and you read this in the next ten days!


VR “Workouts”

So now I’m into VR again.

I’m honestly not sure how it happened. But something got a bug up my [redacted] and I updated the Quest 2 and controllers, cleared a space in the living room and fired up, what else? Beat Saber. And had fun!

And I discovered the Meta Move app, which is like a fitness tracker. I set calories burnt and ‘minutes moving’ goals and off I went.

The games I play would probably not count as a workout for a marginally fit middle-aged person, but for my old self who spends most of his time at a keyboard, I’m able to work up a decent sweat playing.

The only two games I’ve been playing are Beat Saber (which is all about cutting blocks to a beat using totally not light sabers because copyright) and The Climb, which is about mountain climbing. I don’t get why The Climb feels like exercise. You pull yourself up a rock face by your hands, but of course you’re just standing there. You’re not really carrying weight UP anywhere. And yet I get tired. Maybe just because of all the time waving my hands around over my head? But hey, it’s fun and gets my heart pumping….I’m not going to question it.

There’s a table tennis game I want to add into the rotation but since I just bought The Climb I’m waiting a bit and hoping for a sale.

After just a couple of days, the process of clearing space and getting the visor on has become routine. I’m really glad I sprang for prescription lenses for the headset as not having to fit it over glasses helps with ease of use.

I dunno if I’ll stick with it, but for now it is working and I actually tend to feel pretty good after playing. I’ve never bought into the, y’know ‘endorphins’ effect of exercise. Every time in the past I’ve decided to exercise I was left feeling like crap after. But this must be hitting the sweet spot because it is improving my mood and, dare I say it? My energy levels.

So who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with it for a while.

No screenshots cuz VR. Sorry!