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Tycho / on Mon, Oct 24 2016 at 11:04 am

There is a quote from George R. R. Martin on the cover of Dinosaur Knights, which is the second volume of what may or may not be called the Dinosaur Lords trilogy.  Here is the quote:

It’s like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.
- George R. R. Martin

except generally, cover quotes traffic in something you might consider laudatory.  This doesn’t sound like praise, even!  It’s a spartan statement of fact, like

I’ll take the number three.  With Canadian back bacon ham, yes.  I order it that way so I’m always right, wherever I go.
- George R. R. Martin

Maybe it’s good! I don’t know.  Seems like there’s a couple other ways they could have gone with it.  I often have to get after Gabriel because of his common tastes, but what I realized while interrogating him last week is that we are doing the same thing - opening books - for completely different reasons.

He is specifically trying not to think.  I can’t even imagine what that would be like, not perpetually, uselessly splitting the universe cube by cube until I have discovered the smallest coherent volume of its nonsense, forgetting it, and beginning the process again.  He finds that in books, of all places.  But it really did explain everything.  He often chooses books specifically for qualities which result in psychological slumber.  So if he has taken a medicine, and it has delivered its intended effect, getting mad about it probably isn’t strategy for success.

  (CW)TB out.

Tycho / on Fri, Oct 21 2016 at 11:12 am

The first time I saw Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes must have been a couple years ago, when Virtual Reality gear was even more rarified than it was now: the presentation involved a card table and what must have been an Oculus DK2.  In the real world this configuration wasn’t much to look at, but the real world is a woven fabric consisting primarily of lies we have agreed to believe.  I spent a very long time there watching other people play it because I’m obsessed with asymmetry.  And Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes is asymmetrical as fuck.

This game is about the part of the movie where a neophyte is presented with an explosive device, and over a tinny landline a expert with a calm voice must help them dismantle it.  The Defuser can see and manipulate the various controls of the bomb.  The Expert has a manual on the television, and they use the descriptions from the Defuser to determine the proper means of defusal.  There can be as many Experts as you want, though, because you can just download the Bomb Manual from  Which will probably get your ass on a naughty list somewhere.  But!  There is a version of me in an adjacent universe where I write technical manuals for a living, and even through the space-walls that separate our realms, I can feel the pulse of his hearts increase.  The manual is a peripheral!  Italics!!!

This is, to my mind, one of the more novel scenarios VR presents.  Not just Keep Talking in particular, but one game with different perspectives.  Sony’s Playroom VR is the flagship for this, and is the first experience of its type that many people will ever see: one person takes on the role of a hungry cat versus other players who are mice, or a stompy, massive reptilon pursuing a troupe of heroic others.  Each sees different things.  You can tell in these that the PS4 is working its ass off, which is part of why there’s such a thing as a PS4 Pro.  The WiiU was savvy initially about this type of play; maybe designing two games at once isn’t something most people want to do.

The apotheosis of this shit, of course, is a Cyberpunky, Shadowrunny game where one player is the netrunner and the other players are the rest of the team, playing an interconnected experience, either as a videogame or as part of a puzzle room.  I will sit here, very still, while someone makes that.  Please let me know when you’re done.

  (CW)TB out.

Tycho / on Wed, Oct 19 2016 at 10:03 am

(My first iteration of this post was thoroughly dramatic on account of an open italics tag. Let’s try this again.)

Somehow, and the route is somewhat odd, but somehow we became:

- Creators of a comic which posits gaming as a discrete culture
- Founders of a convention based on same

So far, so good.  But then we also became

- Founders of a charity that delivers toys and games around the globe as though Santa Claus were real and knew what games were cool

which is a little oblique maybe from the other ones, but sometimes you have to be the person who is needed at the time.  Once a year, in the prosecution of that goal, we operate an amazing Dinner & Auction where people dress up and have dinner and then, as though by magic, a process is catalyzed which comforts the young and suffering.  Tickets for this event are available now, by the way - tickets for individuals, and tickets for sponsored tables if you want to roll deep.  For charity.

Something Gabriel and I offer at this auction is a custom comic strip, to be displayed on Penny Arcade, and this time Popcap was able to elbow others (charitably!) out of the top spot and secure the strip for themselves.  We got back in touch with them a few months ago about it, did they have any specific ideas, etcetera, and they said they were working on something cool but couldn’t talk about it yet, and maybe that would be a good match.  I said that was fine, provided that it was sufficiently rad.

It is

Plants vs Zombies: Heroes is a game I played a paper prototype of, hand-cut cards sleeved for durability, and I disappeared into the table.  I was floored by it.  In the same way that PvZ made “tower defense” digestible to humanity at large, Heroes has the potential to take Magic: The Gathering and take the concepts of type, deckbuilding, and even PVP and finish the work that Hearthstone started in the wider culture.  Here’s the strip they commissioned, and it was a pleasure to do it; if they need another strip, I’d gladly accept payment in digital cards.

(CW)TB out.

Tycho / on Mon, Oct 17 2016 at 10:25 am

This is how I tried to explain to Gabriel how wrong he was, about Gears, certainly, but also about every other topic.  Hummus.  Cravats.  There’s simply a disconnect between him and the reality we experience.  I’m fucking with him of course, but I also believe what I said.  Anytime the environment is more than just occlusion, my proposal is that we’re talking about something that isn’t a straight shooter.  It was when I realized that I thought of a Gears level not as a three dimensional space but as a 2D kind of maze that I thought there might be something else going on.

I spent a bunch of time with the PSVR over the last few days.  The question I asked myself as my left hand shimmied and then sailed into the distance was this: does the PlayStation VR know where my hand is?  Because if it doesn’t know where my hand is, or my head, and that’s why everything seems to be breathing in an odd way, we’ve got a pretty substantial problem.

My initial experience with it must be considered optimal: I had a chance to try Wayward Sky with the actual Wayward Sky guy, camera placed high, high up looking down.  That’s one of the major tips you hear about improving the tracking already.  Then, the whole thing took place in a green screen cube that Josh had built, whose light was reliable and even.  The camera was close, ish.  Within four feet.  The experience was great, I’d say; a real tip-of-the-spear moment for consumer VR.

Things are not the same at home, and it reminds me of all the Kinect shit frankly.  This stuff has to be a good guest in your house: it absolutely must not shit on rugs.  I’m probably the only person on earth who had to move a Crokinole board to improve my tracking.  But if I’m not close to the camera, my hands are wobbling.  Games like Driveclub, EVE: Valkyrie, or Rez - oh, sweet Rez - don’t have these problems because they use the regular DualShock inputs and don’t endeavor to place the controller anywhere in the virtual space.  They’re exquisite, landmark experiences.  And when I’m closer to the camera, something not every game likes, the hand drifting stops completely - it operates like the much more expensive versions of these products, except it’s in my living room.  We talked about rituals on Friday, and that’s the phase we’re at now with PSVR if you go online to seek restoration.  Center your tracking area in the left camera, I have heard it said.  Recalibrate for different times of day, rasps the sage.  Look, I like troubleshooting.  But there is troubleshooting, and then there is boiling the organs of things in a cauldron in the hopes that a woman will love you.  Right now, the needle on some of this collective wisdom is edging toward the latter.

I can’t tell if my feelings on this are because it’s actually a serious problem, or if it’s the result of my having used prototypes forever, and then retail hardware for substantially more expensive, more future-proof visions of these experiences.  I think about the Wii Motion Plus; an add-on peripheral that nearly three years after launch made the promise and perceptual magic of motion controls real.  What Sony has accomplished here, with what they had, is stunning.  The question is: are they done?

  (CW)TB out.

Gabe / on Fri, Oct 14 2016 at 10:56 am


I was able to secure a PSVR at my local Fred Meyer yesterday morning and spent a good chunk of the day exploring the virtumal realms. I’ve had some bad experiences with VR in the past and so this time I decided to take some Dramamine before donning the headset. I wasn’t sure it would work but it did and I was able to play a bunch of games without any nausea.

The setup was incredibly easy and I was playing games within 10 minutes or so of cracking open the box. There’s really just a handful of cables to pop in and then you are off to the races. Once you have it plugged in the PS4 will take you through a quick set up that teaches you how to put the headset on and get it situated correctly on your face. After that you’re just looking at your PS4 menu as though it were projected on a giant screen floating in front of you. From here you can do all your normal PS4 stuff including playing any normal 2D game. I gave this a try for Destiny and it was pretty cool. I would never choose to play a game this way all the time but the novelty factor is high and it was fun.

The first actual VR game I fired up was REZ Infinite. I was honestly surprised with how good a lot of the launch titles I played were, but REZ is by far my favorite. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this game. The original still ranks somewhere in my top five games of all time. Playing it on the PSVR was absolutely incredible. Ben over at Polygon called it “one of the first masterpieces of VR.” and he is right. I have experienced a lot of “interesting” things in VR space but REZ Infinite is proof to me that VR is a place I want to play games.

I checked out a few other games as well. I had a lot of fun in Battle Zone and loved the retro vibe. Valkyrie was a blast, especially when I got in a squad with Tycho and we were dogfighting in VR space together. The Driveclub VR demo has very nearly sold me on purchasing the full game, it’s that fun. The real winner of yesterday was the Playroom VR edition though. For a collection of mini games that comes with the device it was surprisingly awesome. The best thing about it is that it lets a group of people play along with the person in the headset.

Normally playing VR games is very isolating. I told my wife I was “going in” and she understood I would essentially be gone for the next 30 minutes or so. The Playroom let’s other people play along on the television screen with their own control while one person plays inside the PSVR. It’s similar to what Nintendo did with Nintendo land when the WII U came out. In one game for example Kara, myself and Gabe were all mice trying to steal cheese. Noah was playing as the cat and trying to stop us. He saw the game in VR through the cat’s eye’s and tried to swat us. We saw the huge cat looming in the background and had to move quickly to avoid him pouncing on us. The kids loved these games and I have to admit I really liked the little platform game they put in there.

I’ve had some experience with various other VR set ups including the Vive, the Gear VR and the Oculus. Out of all of them I have been most impressed with the PSVR. The helmet itself is easily the most comfortable of all the headsets I’ve worn. It was easier to setup and use than the Vive. It’s also much more comfortable than wearing my burning hot phone on my face with the Gear VR. Really it comes down to the games for me though. REZ Infinite is certainly the killer app but I came away really impressed with a lot of the games I played. The PSVR has delivered the best overall VR experience I’ve had. Like I said, I’ve played a lot of this stuff and I have to say the Sony offering is my VR platform of choice.

-Gabe out

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