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Tycho / on Fri, Mar 25 2016 at 11:31 am

I can’t emphasize it enough: VR is real.  I have a revolving door at my house of people from every demographic slice that I strap into “my realmz,” and nobody can believe the power of these devices to hijack senses and provide presence.  They emerge from these places slightly disoriented from the, you know, other false reality, but they aren’t nauseous and they are almost always ready to go back in.  I feel like there’s opportunities to increase the stakes of these cyber glades, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I have a brand new problem at my house, I don’t know how common it is in general, but you tell me: do you have a hard time getting these Goddamn neighborhood girls to stop using your VR rig?  If I had one complaint about young women, it would be this: it is literally impossible to get them to remove your state of the art HMD and to stop creating virtual artwork.  They will use it until the controllers have no batteries at all and then they will try to interact with objects exclusively with their face.

These kids are already gamers, though, so for them this stuff is about breaking “established paradigms” of interaction.  In Tilt Brush, which most people use, you know, standing up, one of them actually sits on the ground instead and draws a place around her - essentially, making the virtual equivalent of a pillow fort.  But Ronia doesn’t really have the rules of gaming down well enough to “break” them.  This is something I thought about quite a bit when I was playing Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer or Amiibo Festival with Ronia, two games that leverage incredibly cute, kid-friendly iconography with lo-fi mechanics that both ran afoul of the critical consensus.

When you see those games in operation, you realize how little most games care about teaching people how to play.  They’re like books, in that if you open up most books, there’s no entre for the illiterate.  You can read or you can’t.  Games like the ones I mentioned show Nintendo at their most clever: they’re on-ramps.  These are games that teach young people to be gamers.  If I show Ronia Final Fantasy X, she’s going to understand that a dress made of belts is pretty sweet and that’s going to be about the balance of it.  She hasn’t developed that literacy yet, and it’s not in a position to teach her.  I understand why the games I mentioned might not get great reviews, in the same way we could expect Ebert wouldn’t have sung the praises of Elmo’s World.  The difference is that we would have understood that Ebert’s tools were not appropriate for baby shows.

Those games teach skills for an older type of game, though, and I hope she values them, but the ones they need for games in the goggles are skills they already know.  One of the girls next door was serving robots in a simulation of a corner store, and after she’d sent the customer away with a huge sack of quarters, slushies, gum, and mustard, she waved.  Just because she wanted to; she did not need to press right bumper or be instructed to.  She wanted to and she did.  Play in reality has an instinctive quality, an automatic, biologically reinforced delight, and we have just begun to port that kind of play.

(CW)TB out.

Tycho / on Wed, Mar 23 2016 at 12:06 pm

In what may well be the end of a School Camp Trilogy, today’s strip is about school camp and is the third of its kind.

My own memories of School Camp are like stalactites of crystalline horror that grow down from inside my skull, all around my brain, forming a kind of “brain jail.”  When I started typing that sentence I didn’t know how it was gonna turn out, but I think I like it.  Also, I think I might still have issues from school camp to deal with.  There was a dad there who kept trying to make us eat ants.

One of the best demos for VR in general and the Vive in particular is called Aperture Robot Repair.  You could play it and be impressed regardless of your coordinate on the gamer spectrum, but if you’ve played Portal it’s a thousand times more compelling, because you’re going home.

There is a point at the end of the demo, though, that is interesting simply as an idea.  The room around you is rebuilt into a test chamber, which aside from anything else, makes you feel a peculiar combination of nostalgic enthusiasm and authentic dread.  It’s a novel combo.  At the same time, though, there’s no path directly to that kind of experience with the tools provided: there’s no way to play the Portal you know within the framework you have been given to experience it.  There are a lot of “experiences” at this phase of Virtual Reality, as opposed to what you might call “games,” but the conversation doesn’t have that serrated edge it does around things like “walking simulators” because even if you’re walking around the deck of a submerged ship you’re still walking around the deck of a submerged ship.  The stimuli payload is immense.  Oh!  And whales are big, y’all.  I had a feeling they might be and I was right.

It wasn’t until I had played Budget Cuts that I had any sense of how you would solve some fairly basic gaming necessities inside the visor.  Like Job Simulator, it doubles as a game and also as a radical interactive manifesto, which isn’t such a bad thing to be.

The level in the version of Budget Cuts I have access to is one in which you must sneak inside of a company and approve your own Job Application.  Already, I like it.  But it’s a stealth game, in the mode of a Metal Gear, except you are actually there and it turns out that it’s really scary to be pursued by robots, even when the robots are kind of cute.

Basic stuff like picking up items, lots of people do that well.  But how do you move around in large areas, like you need to, to really feel like you’re sneaking around a complex?  In a super smart way, with the use of a teleportation grenade akin to Unreal Tournament’s Translocator, but better.  In a stealth game, typically you have the advantage of a camera decoupled from yourself to give you greater awareness.  The way it works in Budget Cuts is like this: after you’ve fired the grenade, you have a little portal on the hand you fired it from that sees from the perspective of the grenade.  You can move your hand around and look in any direction before you “leap” to its position.  There are many people trying to solve for this mobility problem, most are jarring, and none are as good.

Space is the game’s plaything, and it gives you many opportunities to play with it.  For example, you might fire the teleportation grenade up into the rafters through a crack to walk over the rooms, but you can’t teleport there because the ceiling is too low - the portal I mentioned before becomes a warning that you’ll need to crouch in order to teleport.  Yes.  For real.  Now you’re on your knees crawling around up there, looking down a hole at foes feeling like a Goddamn genius.  The spatial nature is reinforced.  If I open up a low grate, either to look through it for dangerous roboids or to fire my teleportation grenade into, I crouch a little and peek through in what is going down as a Gaming Moment, 2016 even in the first few months of the year.

Even the inventory management is amazing: with the press of a controller button, a little orb appears over your hand in space that you can stuff things in; they fan themselves out for easy picking.  Having two hands and being able to leverage them usefully is done with such elegance here - if I find some throwing knives I stuff them all in there, and when I need to get them out, I open up that orb and essentially grab them from hand to hand.  All these interactions seem simple, but that’s where you lose coherence in VR - when people port IRL dogma, or Gamer dogma, or skip over these low level interactions because they have some other idea they think is cool and they want to get to that.  It all has to be considered, because a bad menu isn’t simply a bad menu in VR, it’s a bad reality, something we humans avoid whenever we have the choice.

(CW)TB out.

Gabe / on Wed, Mar 23 2016 at 8:46 am


I’ll be chaperoning a 5th grade camp for the next couple of days. The kids are not allowed to bring any electronics but I’ll be packing some technology. Cigarettes might not be a currency at camp but I have a feeling access to Youtube might be. I’ll be a king!

Video Games!

Disney Infinity: Marvel Battlegrounds

This game really surprised me with how great it is. It’s sold as a Playset and includes a new Captain America figure. The game itself is essentially Powerstone for all your Marvel characters. It’s a four player arena brawler that lets you play with the figs you have but also has a mechanic to try out characters you haven’t purchased yet. You might be wondering how you put four figures on the base and the answer is you don’t. Placing one of your figures on the pad “unlocks” that character for play. Once it is unlocked anyone can choose it. The pad is used during the match for power discs. You can place up to six of your discs on there and they will drop as power ups during the fight. Also, all the characters have brand new moves and their level doesn’t matter at all. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had in Disney Infinity.

The Division

I wasn’t sold on the Division at first but I kept coming back to it. The gameplay is really good and I LOVE the way the main base of operations works and ties into your character. For me the only thing that keeps me from getting hooked 100% is the setting and the loot. I need more fantastic environments and gear. KIlling a boss and having boot cut jeans drop is not exciting for me. If I want fashionable winter coats I’ll go to Eddie Bauer. I need pauldrons and capes and shit like that. I don’t think I’m done playing it but it hasn’t gotten its hooks in me like other gear chase games have.

-Gabe out

Tycho / on Tue, Mar 22 2016 at 3:43 pm

Register For PAX Aus SOON

Planning the PAX shows takes a lot of mental energy, spent by people much smarter than me, but one of the things I do understand is that it’s much easier to plan it when we can get a good read - as early as possible - on attendance.  There’s a new system for PAX Aus where the sooner you register for a three day badge, the greater and more profound your rewards are in this life.  Custom lanyard and badge, Pinny Arcade pin, that kind of stuff.  You should check out the offer if you’re down there because the cool stuff starts dropping off the closer we get to the show.


Tycho / on Tue, Mar 22 2016 at 3:23 pm

Rad New Spring Store Itemz

I wasn’t kidding!  Right now, we’ve got:

- Our brand spankin’ new Super Effective 2.0 Tee (Unisex)
- Dabe’s rad “
Video Games Crewneck” is ten bucks off!
- Plus, we have the amazing ENFU Hamster Hawk Plush!

Along with, you know, all the rest of the stuff we normally have.


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