Making Up for Lost Time

Happy Halloween! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy holidays! Happy New Year! Happy Et cetera!

Remember when I used to post articles here? Good times. It’s been something like four or five months since I last posted, so I have a lot of lost time to make up for. I don’t have any nice big article for you, but I do have a number of small asides that I’ve thought of over the months, some of which have to to with games. So here’s some thoughts on virtual reality, shocking things, and whatever else I can think of.

Virtual Reality is Dead, and We Killed It

By “we,” I mean Oculus and HTC, but also game developers. When VR was new and tasty in the early Oculus Rift days (not the VirtualBoy days — it was new then, but definitely not tasty), we got a whole bunch of small experimental games, usually with a lot of eye candy, or with a horror bent. This makes sense, and it is all well and good; indie developers were trying to test the waters of what can be done with it, and triple-A was understandably cautious, not wanting to sink money into any doomed projects in case this was a passing fad. At this point VR had a bright future.

HTC got in on the VR train, and between them and Oculus, they decided that a new console war was in order, and started trying to get games exclusive for one system or the other. This, to me, seems like a very ill-advised decision. With only two big names in the PC-VR market, both of their successes depended on the success of VR as a whole. The best way to make VR work would be to get their licenses spread as far and wide as possible. This is what got VHS to win out over the technically superior Betamax. Keeping a “walled garden” approach is effectively like taking the metaphorical role of Betamax in this scenario. Secondly, their target audience already owns the hardware that actually runs the games, that is, a computer. Finally, looking at lists of exclusive games between actual consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo), these lists have gotten smaller over time. Game series that were once exclusive to one of them are branching out. Everything available on new Xbox systems are also available on Windows. From developers’ and publishers’ perspectives, it’s far better to reach a wider audience than get an exclusivity deal. In brief, the decisions by Oculus and HTC to take the walled garden approach rather than being as open as possible was really, really stupid.

But this is not just their fault. Far from it. With those early experimental games, we learned quite a lot about the pitfalls and benefits with VR. Namely, we found that motion sickness and simulation sickness would be a big problem, and that this could be partly overcome by putting some sort of “cage” around the player. Basically, people could experience sickness when their eyes are perceiving movement, but their ears feel stationary. The cage seeks to correct this, since the eyes now have a stationary point of reference. Another issue was that often, a player’s character will be facing one way, while the player’s head will be facing another. Occasionally, the player would have to turn her head one way, while steering the character the other way with the controller to correct this. This could also be solved by having some sort of visual reference for which direction the character is pointing relative to the player’s head. See where I’m going with this? Vehicle based games solve both issues in one fell swoop. The vehicle’s cockpit can act as both the “cage” and a point of reference for which way forward is. Also, actually driving your race car would be rad. So, obviously, developers took heed of this, and began developing more vehicle based games for VR.

Just kidding. I only know of a few: Ace Combat 7, which hasn’t come out yet; Project CARS; and a handful of other racing titles, many of which are independent. After a quick look through the Steam store, there are a couple indie titles, though the vast majority are just 1) VR versions of games like ping pong, bowling, or rock climbing, or anything you might see in one of those early Wii games made to show off motion controls; 2) target practice, where you stand there and shoot arrows/lasers/whatever; or 3) your regular indie adventure game or shooter, with shoehorned VR that exists to let you pick up objects in the world and turn them over and look at them IN 3D! In the triple-A sector, there’s quite a few re-releases of games, such as Fallout 4 VR, or updated games, such as Half-Life 2, to support VR, but note that both of these examples are shooters, and not vehicle based. And wouldn’t you know – peoples’ biggest complaint with Fallout 4 VR is difficult movement and even menu controls, and how difficult it is to aim your weapon. Imagine that. In brief, there’s not much more depth there now than there was in VR games three years ago. Everything was a tech demo then, it’s still all tech demos now.

I think if either the big VR brands handled their licensing better OR games adapted faster, VR would have worked. But, as it is, I think the best we can hope for is that it goes out with a bang.

SHOCKING USES OF THE WORD “SHOCKING” YOU WON’T BELIEVE ARE REAL!

Apparently, the new definition of “shocking” is “mildly amusing.”

The whole title of the video was “21 SHOCKING AND FUNNY FACTS THEY DIDN’T TEACH YOU IN SCHOOL.” So apparently, the fact that this projection of Earth vaguely resembles a cat is SHOCKING, especially because THEY DIDN’T TEACH ME THAT IN SCHOOL. That last part makes it sound like some sort of conspiracy put on by some clandestine organization called “Big Cat,” who aims to make sure that the next generation is completely unaware that this projection of Earth vaguely resembles a cat. What’s more shocking to me is that this video got over a million views (not one of them, mine), so apparently, the ludicrous click-bait worked.

Why I’ve been listening to music about weird stuff lately

This list of ten popular themes in song lyrics contains six popular themes in song lyrics. I guess they wanted ten, but found out there were only six. Of these, I don’t often hear much feminist music, but I don’t really listen to what’s popular at any given time, so I don’t have much to go on. I might extend the “Heartbreak” section to romance in general, and I’ll add “Party Anthems,” the only one of which I like is Weird Al’s “Party in the CIA,” which is really more of a parody of party anthems (and the CIA). Anyway, listening to music with these same kinds of themes a lot gets old for me. So, I usually listen to instrumental music – C418, Wintergatan, Jake Chudnow, and the like.

This is all well and good; in fact, I’m listening to the Roller Coaster Tycoon merry-go-round music right now (and may be the only one). But sometimes, it is nice to hear someone singing, but not about some deep, heavy, human relatable topic, or about partying. Well, one day YouTube suggested a music video from a band I recognized from Homestar Runner. It was about a nightlight. Turns out, this band is all about making music about unconventional topics. Here are some of the SHOCKING themes you won’t BELIEVE they wrote songs about:

The point isn’t because these songs speak to me in some deep way; most of them are just as shallow as they sound (though you may want to take a closer look at the lyrics to Nanobots). It’s not even that they’re ingenious composers. I even think that they’re pretty hit-and-miss, with most albums having more songs I don’t like than ones I do. But, they’re a refreshing palate cleanser for when you just want to get away from the usual stuff for a bit, and listen to a song about going to the insect hospital to set the insects free, literally. This isn’t the only band to write songs like this, though it’s rarely seen in such high concentration.

According to History/Science/Discovery Channel, every new artifact from early civilization was used for human sacrifice

That title is completely false, or as I prefer to call it, Onionesque, but it seems like once the artifact is revealed on camera for the first time, that’s the conclusion that the narrator jumps to immediately, and a few minutes later, an archeologist comes on and says it was just a mundane part of life. I imagine in tens of thousands of years, archeologists will be digging up bath tubs, and sensationalizing media will claim it was for human sacrifice. But anyway, that SMBC comic is probably right.

That is the entire sum of everything that I’ve been thinking in the last eight months.

So, yeah. I won’t make any kind of guarantees as to when the next post will be. Even when the workload is light, being at school has a way of making most of my time evaporate. But, I do plan on posting again eventually, so I’m not quitting, just taking my time.