Eyes on Blood and Truth

Rail shooters haven’t had a great time since arcades falling out of favor.  The Wii picked up a few good ones, which makes a lot of sense, as I’d guess that controller was tailor-made to mimic light gun games if I didn’t know any better.  But post Wii, what did we get?  We get Blood and Truth.  That’s what.  

Not just Blood and Truth, really.  The rise of VR opened up the genre all over again.  I can’t say whether they’re good or bad, ‘cause, you know, I haven’t played them.  But I can say that VR+Motion Controller+Rooty-Tooty Point and Shooty makes for something that’s just viscerally satisfying.  It feels good.  It feels right.  

Blood and Truth is a Playstation VR exclusive made by the same Sony London Studios that made the Playstation VR Worlds collection of quick little tech-demo games, and specifically, this game is pretty much an updated, expanded version of The London Heist from that collection.  The game has you in the shoes of Johnny Shootbangs (note: not his real name), a UK Special Forces soldier who gets a leave of absence and gets called home after his father, the boss of London’s largest crime family, passes away.  From natural causes.  Kind of unexpected given his occupation.  Anyways, you go home to do the family stuff, and one of your dad’s crime captains kills your friends and kidnaps your family-family so he can take over your crime-family.  So you have to go shoot everyone until things are better.  Just like in real life.

I didn’t actually say that.  FBI, please don’t add me to a list.

Anyways!  Big thing with Blood and Truth.  Think of action movies.  Imagine you’re the lead character.  This is that.  I would say this is inspired just as much by movies as it is by video games.  Except that’s almost certainly wrong, and I am never wrong except when I’m doing it deliberately for art, so I don’t say that.  But still, very inspired by movies.

So yeah, it’s a rail shooter.  Remember the arcades.  Like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or Virtua Cop or something.  You’ve got a gun that you can point and shoot.  Or you can do two guns.  If you’ve got the motion controllers, you’ve got two of them, and you’ve probably got two arms, so you can dual-wield like crazy if you want.  I want.  Makes me feel like a badass.  Like I mentioned before, the gunplay in this game feels fantastic.  Even better than those arcades.  Something about the nature of VR and the specific feedback this game gives really makes it work.  Normally, with rail shooters, the game controls the rate of your progression, but here, you do.  To move forward, you have to point at a suitable location and press a button.  So slightly more interactive than your typical rail shooter.  I really have to complement the game on its handling of accuracy.  Real-life aiming is freakin’ hard, but this game has it going to where it feels rather satisfactory.  There’s enough give that you point and shoot, it feels like you get some real action to it.  I’ve had mixed results shooting in meat-space, but here, I’m able to aim well enough to get some real progress, while still feeling like it’ll miss when I truly deserve it.  Even dual-wielding, which is near impossible in real life, is rather achievable here.  This game feels really good in gameplay as a result.  I don’t know that I can overstate it enough.  This game feels absolutely fantastic.  It’s visceral and hits a really great level of game-feel, like you’re getting enough feedback through sound and visuals that that it seems more than just like you’re some incredibly sexy nerd with a doofy headseat and weird controllers in your hands.  

As I mentioned before, this game feels like an action movie.  Which means a couple of things, different from your typical video game.  First is that there’s actually long periods of time in which you’re not shooting things.  Some games, that would be a bad thing.  Not here.  Honestly, they make incredibly good use of your non-combat time.  The dialog in this game is really good.  Sometimes you’re just spending time getting to know your siblings, or arguing with the CIA guy who’s interrogating you, or flipping off people you hate, and it works really, really well.  The characters, although they largely take up pretty typical archetypes on paper, actually feel rather unique and charming in execution.  The story, much like the characters, wouldn’t be much to write home about in summary, but honestly, in execution, it feels pretty solid.  In terms of writing, things really shine in the details of the piece.  I mean, we’re talking about larger-than-life professional criminals and killers whom we barely get any time with, relatively, but things feel surprisingly human in that.  It’s the little pieces, your brother’s sense of humor, your rival’s love for his brother and for art amidst his pettiness in his campaign against you, the mystery amongst your handlers and that weird woman working for the enemy, they take this story from a simple one-paragraph summary to something that you can build a connection with.  Second, the game is big in setpieces.  Every level has at least a couple of big, visual capital-M Moments.  Giant explosions or gunning down some sort of heavy enemy equipment or basejumping (which is an incredible experience when you’re using VR to treat a visual-motion disorder, btw) or making a daring escape by leaping on top of moving things that aren’t meant to be leapt on top of.  This extends even to the non-combat scenes, which some absolutely fantastic look-what-we-can-do-in-VR interactables that are seriously impressive and stand as examples of what other genres should be doing in VR, even when there’s absolutely nothing that you want to point a gun at.  

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Snap Judgements: Quarantine Edition

Hey!  As it turns out, with this whole quarantine thing going on, all those people endlessly hounding me looking for romance actually back off for a bit, which means I’ve actually got some time for my hobbies for the time being.  Now, I’m a man with many irons in the fire, so that doesn’t mean I can devote everything I have to games just yet, but I have been able to get in a bit more time than usual.  And I’ve got some thoughts.  As I do about everything.  And as all my thoughts are, they are absolutely genius.  So I thought I’d share.  My gift to you.  So here’s another installment of Snap Judgements. Many games! Short reviews! Three paragraph max! Let’s go!

Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom

I have to thank Red Metal for this one.  He gave a great review of this game himself, one of his very rare 9/10s, then got it into my hands.  And you know what?  Turns out Red Metal knows what he’s talking about.

So this is an officially licensed and assisted indie-produced sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise.  Fan-made products can be a real mixed proposition.  Enjoying a game, even enjoying a game deeply, doesn’t give you a great insight into how to build one, and the flavor of any creative work requires such a sensitive balance that is not always apparent to its consumer.  So yeah, when you have the fans creating the new media in an established franchise, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ends up incredibly misguided.  And this game, and I say this as someone with barely any history with the Wonder Boy series, is good.  Even outside the Wonder Boy history, this stands alone as an absolutely fantastic game.  At its core, it’s a very tightly designed Metroidvania built around a character transformation mechanic, where you get a number of different forms with a number of different combat and traversing abilities.  It’s a little hard to describe what makes the game work exactly, it’s just really well-designed.  You get to use abilities in a lot of really creative ways, but ways that they have great visual cues to indicate to you.  Presentation is excellent, with beautiful visuals and music, and gameplay is generally tight.  A lot of it works like a more responsive classic Castlevania, you’re up against a bunch of enemies with rather defined movement and attack patterns while your most reliable attack has a very specific range and spread that you need to manage constantly, although you do have resources and tools to extend of change that range. The world is also generally a joy to navigate, and again, it has some really creative puzzles before you.

Which is not to say there’s not some faults in it.  It does have some issues.  Checkpoints aren’t always convenient, and the game has a big problem with not giving enough health recovery out.  The economy gets to be a bit of a problem in the end game, and you don’t get enough money naturally to get everything you might need or want.  And the ability progression is a little lopsided, to the point that once you get your late game forms and equipment, you don’t have a reason to use the unique features of your earlier ones unless the game forces you to.  But really, it is an absolutely marvelous game, even for someone who’s not a Wonder Boy fan by any means.

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Too Many Games

Here’s something of an absolute nonproblem. I’m starting to think I have just too many video games. Sometimes, I look at the size of my library, and the expectation that I’m going to actually play all these things, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to get near to do that.

I’ve been collecting games all my life. So at the point when, years ago, I started this quest I’ve mentioned several times here, to beat every game I own, or come as close to it as I can, the task was already staggering. But still feasible. After I started that, however, I got myself a gaming-capable pc. And that changes things. It is ridiculously easy to build up a massive digital library on PC with little to no investment. It started with the Steam sales, letting me build up a pretty big library for cheap. Then I got into Humble Bundle, which get’s you buying curated collections of games for really cheap, oftentimes getting the one game I wanted on there along with a bunch of others for less than the usual price for that single game. And it pitches in some to charity too, while you’re at it! Can’t complain with that. Oh, and they give away free games every once in a while if you subscribe to their newsletter. All well and good. But then one day, Amazon started giving away five games a month if you link your Twitch account with an Amazon Prime account, plus extras. Daedalic Entertainment and SNK both seem to be dropping big chunks of their back catalog on there basically whenever they feel like, on top of the usual Amazon collection. Then Epic Games came around, offering 1-3 free games every week. And now it’s starting to get overwhelming.

At this moment, I own 410 games on Steam, of which I’ve only bought 108 directly, and the rest came from Humble Bundles, Humble’s free giveaways, or the occasional gift or offer. I have 182 games on Twitch, all given through that Amazon Prime connection. I have 90 on Epic Games, all of which I got through their weekly giveaways. I’ve got a more modest 40 on GOG, many I bought myself, in addition to the freebies they offer, free games on purchase threshhold, copies they make of games in your Steam account, and one gift. On Uplay, I’ve got 24, from one Humble Bundle, some free ones they gave away, and copies of games I got through other clients that require a Uplay log in. On EA Origin, I’ve got 16, all Humble Bundle gains or games they once offered for free. There’s a decent amount of overlap in those numbers, but still, a massive amount of games in my digital PC library. Which isn’t even considering my sizable console games collection. Although, as an odd point, at this point I’m pretty sure I own more games digitally for PC than I do games for my console, in spite of the fact that I’m generally a console player. And between Twitch Prime and Epic Games, I’m adding double digits numbers of games to my library each month without dropping a dime (well, outside of my Amazon Prime subscription, which I’d be maintaining even without the Twitch deals.) I don’t even play through double digits worth of games each month.

I feel like what it means to own a game has shifted. During my developmental years, new games were somewhat of a rarity, while time to play was more ample, so my peers and I absolutely consumed games, beating them over and over again, exhausting their content, overcoming every challenge. As I came older, I was able to afford more games, but had less time to spend on them, and games themselves were designed more as full experiences in isolation rather than things that could sustain the kind of repetitive depth-plunging play of my youth, so I had more breadth of experience in games but less time spent with most individual games. Now, driving by the likes of the backlog producing deep and wide sales, the bundling, the free giveaways, etc., I feel like a lot of the games marketplace, especially Humble Bundle, Twitch Prime, and Epic Games, or itch.io’s recent 1,000 games deal are creating a games culture where you have libraries of games. You’re not intended to, and for many partaking of it, it’s not even possible to, play absolutely everything in there. But digital keys don’t take up any space, they don’t need upkeep, and as long as your machine can run it, they don’t degrade, so you have it in your collection, and who knows, maybe one day it’ll come up in conversation and get you interested or you’ll play something else by the makers and want to come back or you’ll just find a really weird itch that needs something particular to scratch. And there’s something to be said to that, too, having the virtual library where you may not check every book but they’re all there if you need it. I recently had the classic FPS Strife come up in a conversation I was following, describing how groundbreaking it was at the time. I would never buy the game myself. It’s too old, probably blown past by industry standards, etc. But, given that context, I’m kind of curious to check it out. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s right there in my Twitch library.

As I said, sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’ve still got this quest, beat all the games I own. And this is making that quest impossible. I’m also actively avoiding bundles now, even when it has games I want in it. I really don’t want to be making my Steam library run away any more than it already has. I just have too damn many games. But that’s really a problem with me, and my perceptions, and how I’m approaching it. It’s not a problem with all these agencies wanting to throw games at me for free, and all these developers happy to get into my library and take whatever financial benefit they do from the Humble Bundle/Twitch Prime/Epic Games giveaways. It is kind of ridiculous of me to be complaining that I have just too many games that I got for free or alongside games I was wanting to buy anyways that I got to pay an even lower price than usual for.

It does mean I’m going to have to rethink my quest though. Not cancel it, because I’ve been enjoying how it structures things for me. But it needs to adapt to the new realities of the online personal library the industry’s using, at least in part, now. So far, my thoughts are to keep it as normal for all my console games, as those are all things I’ve invested in. Same thing with any PC game I’ve actually paid directly for, or the games that were the reasons I bought a given bundle. Those are all getting beaten. I have my challenge to myself. The hundreds of other PC digital games…. well, at least my Steam list, I’d like to at least give everything a try. Maybe not a full beat, but either play it until I tire of it or at least give it a sample. I’d like to do that with the UPlay list and EA Origin as well, as those are finite. Those aren’t getting added to. I’m already most of the way there on my GOG.com library, outside of the games there that are duplicates of those in my Steam library, so… good show I guess. As for the ever expanding Twitch Prime and Epic Games, I’d really like to do the same thing I’m doing with Steam, at least sampling of giving a run to everything on there, but I don’t know if it’d be possible to keep up, the rate they add games. I’ll probably just do what probably everyone else is, and play if I’m interested, leave it if not, and not sweat the growing size of the lists there, as it’s really a personal library I can check things out from whenever, and not a backlog. And although I have this drive to beat everything I have, likely driven by the way things were in my past, it doesn’t really fit the environment we’re in now. And I need to grow comfortable with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an hour before my next commitment, and I got Cultist Simulator from Twitch Prime a while back, and that game is absolutely baller. I need to get some of that on.

Visual Novel Theatre- Analog: A Hate Story

Ok, here’s the deal.  Working from home has led to me playing a lot more visual novels.  Taking my lunches in my War Room makes that a bit more convenient.  So we may be seeing some more of these posts in the future.  Recently, I played/read through Analog: A Hate Story by Christine Love, and wanted to give myself a blast from the past, given that two of her earlier works were two of my first posts in this blog that has a hell of a lot of tenure in the old blogosphere.  But, time’s at a premium.  So I’m going to challenge myself here.  Set myself a time limit.  Write this, quick and dirty, in the time I have available before my next engagement. So, this is going to be rough.  No editing.  Little polish.  Minimal talking about how sexy I am.  Which is very.  Just so you know.


I’m getting sidetracked.

Analog: A Hate Story is, as the name implies, a successor to Christine Love’s first work, Digital: A Love Story, and you could maybe call a sequel because for all I know they take place in the same continuities.  You’re some sort of future space scavenger.  Which basically just means that you go into space and hack dead people’s email accounts.  Somebody hires you to go do that to the Mugunghwa, an old Korean space ship that’s just shown up on the parts of space that people bother looking at again after like a thousand years.   So you go there and start up the ship and it turns out you’re the first person to do anything with the ship in like 600 years, and everyone’s dead, and even before everyone died things went to hell.  So you talk to the AI and snoop through people’s e-mails, which are strangely full of logs that are actually useful and descriptive and more like diary entries and there’s not a penis enlargement spam thing to be seen.  I don’t know why they keep sending those to me.  My penis is glorious enough already.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Gameplay-wise, the ship itself, you control through a text parser.  When you activate the AI, you’ll get a more flexible interface to be reading all the stuff.  The AIs are very advanced, incredibly human-like, and have their own motivations, actions, and what not.  Unless you know the right codes, you can only see whatever e-mails the AI are willing to show you.  The AI’s ability to directly accept speech has been broken, so your interactions with them are limited to answering binary questions they present to you and showing them whatever emails/log entries you want them to comment on.  And, that’s how you progress through it.  Read the stuff, slowly piece the story together, try and get enough of a dialogue going with the AIs to get to the real good plot-twisty material.  

The plot itself largely centers around sexism.  And before we get the idiots from both sides that seem to make up the loudest voices whenever sexism comes up in games, this is a specific type of sexism, that doesn’t really apply to modern day life.  No matter how much said idiots talking about the game online seem to try to make it do so.  In the ship, it looks like most everyone all died at one specific year.  300 years or so before that, something happened to the ship that set their culture, collective knowledge, and overall intelligences back to a Joseon-era Korea style community.  So this is about sexism in Joseon-era Korea.  With artificial intelligence.  And e-mail.  And spaceships.  It’s a weird sort of anachronism that honestly seems a little forced, although the VN doesn’t say why they got culture-shocked back to the bad times so maybe it makes more sense once the sequel picks it up.  In any case, when that happened, AI memory got wiped and reprogrammed, everyone turned into idiots, and things got bad.  Like, we see it from the women’s point of view most often, and they definitely got the short end of the stick, but backwards societies are no good for anybody, and, realistically, nobody’s really living up to their potential there.  Birthrates have been falling to an incredible degree, men and women’s roles are sharply divided and both are recognized solely for their political positioning rather than their merit, few know how to actually work the technology they depend on to survive and they have even less knowledge of medicine, old age sets in when people are in their 20s to 30s, etc.

C’mon Aether, gotta pick up the pace here.

Snap Judgements: A Random-Ass PC Game Party

If you game on the PC, it’s not hard to get a massive collection built up for very little money if you’re not particular about what makes it in there.  Steam sales will aggressively discount games.  Humble Bundle can get you a curated collection for very cheap, and if you get their Choice option they will shove 60-some DRM free games right in your face.  If you’re on Amazon Prime, they will give you 5 games a month through Twitch.  The Epic Games Store drops at least 2 free games on you a week.  So yeah, my PC backlog has become unmanageable, really.  Hell, this month’s Humble Choice has two games I’ve specifically had my eye on for a long while, and I can get those and 8 others for well less than the MSRP for each, and I’ve been refraining because I don’t want my Steam list to grow anymore until I’ve actually played a bunch more of the games on it.  When I was a cub owning a game was a big deal.  You thoroughly explored that game, you came to know it better than your own reflection, you mastered it as much as a gawky little kid that sucks at everything can master anything.  Nowadays, at least as far as the PC goes, it seems the various game makers and distributors want you to have a library rather than having explored every little thing; I don’t think many expect you to actually play all the games they’re throwing at you.

But that’s not how I roll.  I like to play all my stuff.  And lately, I’ve been motivated to do so.  I’m still keeping up with that focused run-through of playing all my games that I’ve done all my years, although yeah, I’m needing to adjust my expectations to deal with all these random-butt games that I’ve built up over recent years on my PC library.  And apparently, how I deal with that is I just change the rules so that I’m not expecting myself to give a full playthrough to any game I didn’t directly play through and we go from there.

So, in any case, lately, in addition to the games I’d normally be playing, I’ve also been trying out many of the random games I’ve been picking up through other means.  So here’s some quick judgements on some of the games I’ve been playing lately that I don’t think I’m going to end up doing a full post about.  Some of these I’ve given a full playthrough, some have just been a quick try, but either way, I’ve got words to put on them, so here you are.  I’ve been starting at the top of my various collections, so if you’re wondering why so many of them have titles that would pop up near the top alphabetically, well, there you go.

A Normal Lost Phone

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This is a quick little experience, kind of has an interesting idea.  Essentially, you find someone’s unlocked phone, and rather than turning it into anyone, you start snooping to try and figure out whose it is.  Turns out, judging from recent messages on there, the guy unexpectedly disappeared.  So you have to read his texts and emails and break into his apps and dating profiles and other stuff to try and figure out what’s going on.  I like its approach to puzzles, they hit the right spot to me where I was never stuck and constantly able to figure the challenges pretty quickly, but they still took enough mental work that I felt rather accomplished in doing so.  I ended up rather hating the game, though, because it’s rather preachy.  Yes, being trans is a difficult thing fraught with a great deal of challenges and bigotry that I’m sure I do not understand because my knowing personal exposure to trans people has been rather limited, but an unnuanced black and white strawman-filled take on the subject that wants to hammer you on the head with the “feel the plight of trans people” hammer over and over is going to irritate me to no end even as I agree with the central thing it’s trying to push.  And it’s preachy in a way that’s just going to galvanize the base, make the people that already agree with it feel better for agreeing with it, without actually adding more to the subject matter or approach anyone on the fringe.  There were a couple of times I missed out on puzzle clues because I got tired of wading through walls of text on how horrible the strawmen were that I just stopped looking at the things that point in a direction.  Also, I take issue with the ending, the same way I did with Gone Home’s.  Spoiler: dude just ghosted his family because they’re homophobic.  At least he’s got more reason that Gone Home’s couple, but either way, ghosting your family for anything but avoiding actual danger is a sick, horrible thing to do to them.  Yes, I would say that’s worse than the homophobia.  Treating it like a romanticised ideal bothers me a lot.

Abzu

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I’ve heard this described as underwater Journey.  I haven’t played Journey, so I can’t really speak to that, but if you have, hey, maybe that means something to you.

So, you may call this a walking simulator, except there’s very little walking in it.  Usually you’re swimming.  You’re a diver exploring the underwater wildlife of an area, and sometimes exhibiting the strange power to create sea life where once it was missing.  You explore underwater ruins, solve a few ‘find the switch/drone/item’ puzzles to open doors, and go through a bit of a minimalist story that’s surprisingly well-presented for having no dialogue and only one real character.  Overall, it’s really just a relaxing, chill experience, one that does bring you some tension but otherwise has a rather meditative quality to it.

60 Parsecs

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Yeah, it comes first alphabetically, but I don’t have much to say about it and I didn’t want to lead with this so it goes down here.  You manage a small team of space station wreck survivors as they head into an escape pod, trying to keep them alive and have them find or develop new items to increase their odds of survival until sheer random chance inevitably kills everybody and then you wonder what the hell that was all about and uninstall the game.  Not recommended.

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In Review of the Playstation VR… as a Treatment Method

 

ps-vr-zvr2-model-product-shots-screen-01-ps4-eu-17nov17.jpgVirtual reality.  The next frontier.  If you’ve ever been a child, you have desired it.  Virtual Reality was the future.  And now it’s come.  Didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it has come.  And as with most new technology, time has made it more affordable and accessible.  The tech has its problems and flaws, as everything does, but it’s working, and it’s here.  And recently one of the pieces of VR with the highest user base, the Playstation VR, has entered my home.  So we’re going to take a look at it today.  A review.  But not in terms of gaming.  Lost to the Aether has its place in the interbutts, and that place is not giving you the same sort of content you’d find everywhere else.  Instead, we’re going to be looking at a more unique application of VR.  So here’s a review of the Playstation VR… as an optikinetic treatment method.

Video games for your health is apparently a thing.  We brushed on it a couple months back when we covered Duet, at a point where I had been prescribed video games as treatment.  Some time back, the gods grew jealous of my majestic achievements and physical perfection and afflicted me with an inner ear condition that causes another inner ear condition that in turn messes up with a whole bunch of other things.  Let me drop some science on you for a bit, here.  Your brain gets its sense of balance and positioning from three areas; your inner ear, your vision, and muscles, particularly those in your neck and spine.  When your inner ear stops working so well, your body compensates by over-emphasizing the other two.  Which sounds resilient, but it’s problematic.  It gets really weird when looking down as you’re descending stairs makes you feel like you’re Spider-manning up a wall, or walking through a crowd makes you feel like you’re spinning.

One of the ways of treating that visual motion hypersensitivity is to essentially overstimulate the part where the brain thinks you’re moving because of what it’s seeing, while you’re not in fact moving.  Kind of force the body to recalibrate its overreliance on visual info to determine balance and sense of motion.  The traditional at home exercises for that are to watch videos like this, which, if you clicked that link, you might notice is boring as hell.  Hence why I’d been prescribed video games.  Going through the likes of Fotonica, Duet, and Super Hexagon, both has enough visual activity to trigger that sense of movement, while also not feeling like you’re just sitting there wasting time.  But what if you could take that to the next dimension.  My physical therapist has been trying and failing to get a VR headset and proper apps for quite some time to help treat this.  The problem with doing those videos or games on a screen is that only part of your vision will be moving like that, so your brain has plenty of the wrong anchor points to go “hey, this isn’t really moving”.  I mean, that’s what you want your brain to say, but you want your brain to say that because it can tell you’re not actually moving, not because you can see a wall.  VR, though, that’s all encompassing.  So you can have everything in your vision tell you that you’re moving while you’re actually not.  Get you that optikinetics on steroids.  And, thanks to a friend for whom I’m not sure I’ve done enough to deserve this kindness, I’ve got a Playstation VR to be working through this with.

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I have to say, I’m not super experienced in VR overall, so I’m not the most educated as far as how the Playstation VR compares with other headsets.  Hardware-wise, being based on the Playstation 4, rather than the PC and coming it at a lower price point makes it significantly more accessible to me, personally, than other sets.  That should be the most important consideration for any producer, really, “how likely is Aether to get this in his sexy hands?”  It does seem to be missing a few features that come standard with other sets, as well, including a few odd omissions.  It doesn’t really have an automatic feature to measure your eye position in relation to each other, and its automatic ‘take-a-picture-of-your-face’ get’s the measurements between your eyes way wrong.  The picture was noticeably clearer once I figured out how to adjust that manually, which is really non-intuitive and required a user-made guide to get through.  The Playstation VR will play VR videos through Youtube easily enough, once you have the app, but if you’re trying to get VR videos through any other source, it takes a lot of jumping through hoops to get it working, and it won’t reach up to 1080p, so the resolution is lacking.  A lot of the videos I was trying to get working on it required me to extensively re-process them to get the right formats, codecs, and limited resolutions going.  So as far as the traditional VR videos of bike riding that are usually recommended to help with this condition, it was either go to Youtube or spend an inordinate amount of time getting other sources working, which was a little problematic for those times when I was feeling picky.

But the Playstation is a gaming machine, so how about the games that help with this?  Yeah, as you can probably imagine, that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time.  What’s useful about the Playstation VR, at least, is that it’s been easy to find a lot of discussion about the difficulty of various games and apps, so I can be informed as I’m planning out what I want to play to deal with this condition.  At least one list of game recommendations I’ve come across was helpful enough to have them organized into beginner, intermediate, and advanced VR levels, based on how physically difficult it is to get adjusted to the motion in those games.  Glad to know they’re difficult for people with perfectly functioning inner ears as well.

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As I’ve been exploring the system for the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a bit of a spectrum as far as the impact games will have on me goes, that doesn’t completely match up with the rankings most people seem to give them.  At the gentlest end are games where they move you by fading in and out your view, rather than simulating walking, only move your POV when you move your head or otherwise under you control, and that you don’t need a lot of rapid head movement.  Final Fantasy XV: Monsters of the Deep and Moss are pretty solid examples there.  They’ve been useful for when I’m already stirred up by the time I’ve set aside to do my exercises, or otherwise want something light to get myself adjusted.  There’s a bit of disorientation with these games, but otherwise they don’t really hit me hard.  Up a level from there are games where they intermittently have some sort of movement of your viewpoint, but otherwise have long periods where its relatively stationary.  Astro Bot Rescue mission and the Into the Deep experience in Playstation VR Worlds come to mind here, where you’ll be moved as you progress through it, and there’s a lot that moves within your view, but you do spend a significant amount of time with your viewpoint simply being stationary.  This would be where I’d recommend spending the majority of your time first starting out, if there happens to be anyone else out there using VR as a treatment method for visual motion hypersensitivity or, as I’ve heard similar principles apply, concussions.

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A step up from there would be the games with more constant movement, a lot of visual things going on, but you’re in a vehicle or otherwise separated from your playable character, such as in Battlezone or Rez Infinite.  For whatever reason, the visual motion has more of an impact when you’re in a first person perspective walking than when you’re driving.  So logically, the most advanced games would be the ones where you’re walking in a first person perspective.  Skyrim’s where I’ve been spending most of my time at this level.  Playing through an epic length game at the 20 minutes per day I’ve been able to bear it.  This is also where the goal of treatment is to be able to handle, as this will be more where it’s having an effect.  I wasn’t able to dive right into Skyrim, however, had to move myself up through the earlier levels in sequence.

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Special mention goes to Scavenger’s Odyssey of Playstation VR Worlds, as well, which will absolutely kill me by rotating the view over and over again over the course of the game.  So, rotation is killer.  That might be a level above Skyrim I haven’t reached yet.  So to may be Resident Evil VII, which came in the pack my friend got me but I just haven’t been brave enough to get into yet.  Even people with functioning inner ears claim this game is guaranteed nausea for them.  I would guess it’s missing a lot of the VR friendly features Skyrim has, such as dimming the periphereal vision when you’re moving quickly and snapping your turn rather than a smooth motion when you use the controller to turn.  So there’s still more to explore if I find Skyrim ever starts to get too easy for me.

On the plus side, games like Rez, Skyrim, and Battlezone have you aiming with precision by moving your head.  Which exercises the fine motor control of your neck.  Which helps with the muscular issues your body can develop as a typical reaction to this condition.  So it’s not just the motion VR can help with.

Of course, even at the advanced level, there’s things you can do to make it easier on yourself.  Strafing is misery.  Moving faster is harder than moving slower.  Limit the amount of stairs you walk on.  Things like that.  This isn’t like working out, where you can push yourself to your limits and end up better off for it.  Here, if you go too hard, you’re actually undoing progress, getting your systems maladjusted to the visual information.  So it’s important to know your limits, and know either when you need to switch to a less aggressive movement or stop or take a break entirely.

As for how effective it is, that’s going to matter most in the long term, and time will tell for that.  In the short term, though, I have noticed my symptoms impacting me less since I started using the Playstation VR for my at home treatment exercises.  It’s not a complete cure, or anywhere close to it, and this is a condition that has a lot of ups and downs, so it could easily be just coincidentally corresponding with an up time, but I have to say, I’ve seen results from it so far.  And that makes me happy.

Even if I can’t play as much Skyrim as I want.

Shadows of Mass Destruction. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay

Part 1-Intro

Part 3-Presentation

Part 4-Setting

Part 5-Plot and Themes

Persona 1 Retrospective

Persona 2 IS Retrospective

At this point in the Persona series, gameplay has truly become only part of the full experience.  Persona 1 and 2 had plots too, and a lot of characterization, but they were still as much gameplay delivery engines as any other game out there.  Starting in Persona 3, they put a lot more depth and content into their plots and characters, to the point where the gameplay is not the only selling point they have.  And for a lot of people, the gameplay is not even the main reason they get into the game.

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Yet, no matter how good your story, setting, characters, etc. are, if the game side of your, you know, game, isn’t up to snuff, the game as a whole won’t be good.  It’s been tried, and good plot really doesn’t make up for bad gameplay.  So even with the Persona series running head-first into the story-based wall, let’s start by taking a look at where you’re actually going to be spending most of your time when you’re actually playing the game.

By this point, we’ve already had two, but three, but really two, games in the Persona canon.  That’s enough to establish a pattern, right?  Although both of those games are rather distinct from each other, there’s still some common design elements that we can pull out here.

So, what is makes a Persona game, and how do those elements relate to Persona 3?  Well, thus far, to make a Persona, you take the typical for the time Shin Megami Tensei design, strip out a bunch of the more unique to the franchise and complicated features to simplify gameplay a bit and make it more accessible to the typical JRPG fan.  And then you come up with some crazy and experimental features that few if any other games in the genre are doing and make them absolutely central to the whole experience.  And then, of course, there’s the whole plot and themes making heavy use of Jungian Psychology personified, and the main characters with the variable stats and ability loadouts, the butterfly motifs, the vast sum of humanity summoning their own demise, multiple endings but not really, etc. Etc.  There’s lots of stuff in the recipe for a Persona, and it all carries through to this game.

And I suppose this is a good time to mention, for pretty much this entire retrospective, I’m going to be basing it off the FES version of the game.  For those not in the know, there was the original Persona 3, then, less than a year later in the US, Persona 3 FES which was basically Persona 3 with a bunch of DLC before DLC was a thing that you had to pay for, including a separate playable epilogue that we won’t get into here just yet.  Then, years later, there came Persona 3 Portable, which incorporated all the gameplay updates from Persona 4 into Persona 3, gave you a choice in the gender of your protagonist and with that vastly increased the amount of content, at turning a lot of segments from more directly interactive bits into visual novel scenes in order to fit it all on the PSP disc.  There’s a lot of discussion on which is better.  I roll with the FES version because… well, that’s just the one I have.  As much as the games industry obviously hates me for it with the remakes and rereleases and updates and Hyper Fighting Championship Editions Turbos they’re putting out, I make a practice of not buying games that I already own.  So, sorry, P3P fans.  Just going by what I have available to me.

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BABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABYBABY! The Persona 3 Retrospective! Part 1: Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Presentation

Part 4-Setting

Part 5-Plot and Themes

Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

Persona 2:Innocent Sin

Hell yeah!  We’re back with this!  It’s been, what, four years since we did the last entry in our much vaunted Persona Retrospective?  You thought I gave up on it, didn’t you?  And look at how much a fool you are now!  No, you gave up on me!  You think four years matters to one such as I?  I never forgot.  And I never quit.

Well, maybe I did.  Sort of.  You may notice that rather than finally doing the second half of Persona 2, I’m coming right in your face with Persona 3.  That’s true.  And I’m sorry.  I’ve actually tried a couple of times to get the next step in this retrospective going with good old Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and I just can’t.  I was halfway through the game when I made a big cross-state move and life transition, and couldn’t keep up with my usual playtime in the aftermath.  Then, sometime later, I picked up Persona 2: Innocent Sin again with the intention of getting background on that for the eventual Eternal Punishment analysis, but frankly, although the Persona 2 duology does a lot of really unique things and is a very interesting game in all, its design has aged a bit.  Not as poorly as many other games, but I found, with a lot of things I was going through then and continue to go through now, I just didn’t have the patience for it.

So we’ll skip it and come back to it later.  For now, it’s Persona 3 right up in your grill, suckers!

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Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh Aether, you sexy hunk of pure genius, isn’t your time already very full?  And didn’t you just start another project where you’re going to be reviewing all the Godzilla movies?  Are you really going to be able to keep up with another commitment?”  And sure.  That would be what sensible people would think.  But I’m to busy being awesome to be sensible.  I’m not one to let fear of failure or fear of commitment stop me.  I’m going to bite off more than I can chew.  And then I’m going to chew it.

In case you haven’t noticed, I like talking about the thing that I’m going to be talking about for a good while before I really get into talking about them.  But let’s get into that now.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

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Okay, up until this point in the subseries, Persona games have been all about taking the ethos of the greater Shin Megami Tensei series and making it more familiar, more accessible, and more character-driven, while also experimenting the hell out of it.  Shin Megami Tensei has been very WRPG-influenced, and the Persona subseries takes that and fits it into a JRPG shell, creates room for a hell of a lot of character exploration, then adds a whole lot of new, wild, and largely unpolished features onto it.  Persona 3 follows on in that progression.

But it’s also the turning point in it.  See, Persona 4 and 5 don’t carry the same wild experimentation the earlier games did.  Instead, they take the model that Persona 3 built, and polish it further, and further.  And they make beauty out of it.  Persona 3 is a fantastic game.  But it’s like a raw gem.  It’s valuable.  It’s beautiful.  But it needs some rough edges pared off and a lot of polish to really shine.  Persona 3 is a turning point in the Persona subseries.  This is where, I would say, it really hit true greatness for the first time.  And the developers recognized it, and went in the same direction for future entries.

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To really get into Persona 3 and what makes it what it is, we have to talk about another game.  Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.  The first SMT game of the PS2’s era.  And it would represent as much of a shift for the SMT franchise as a whole as Persona 3 is for that SMT subseries.  Shin Megami Tensei games had largely stuck to its classic WRPG influences all through the SNES and PS1 entries, but by the time the 6th console generation had rolled around, frankly, technology had far outpaced that mode.  Even WRPGs themselves were drastically different from the Ultima/Wizardry days.  The technology was capable of so much more than the pure first person grid-based dungeon crawler with minimal world interaction was providing, and the largely 2d and simple visuals those games utilized were growing outright bland in that new world.  So Nocturne brought the series roaring into the new era.  Fully 3d environments, visuals that more accurately represented the urban apocalypse the series brought through, more involved visual storytelling, and a completely redesigned crew of monsters that would be distinctive of the series for years to come, it’s presentation has made SMT what it is every since.  The gameplay updates were no slouch either.  Battles were no longer matters of numbers against numbers, but made much more strategic with the press turn system in which the amount of turns you have were tied to your manipulation of elemental strengths and weaknesses.  Enemy encounters designed so that even basic random battles would test you, requiring so much more than just mashing attack as was standard for most RPGs.  Dungeons built so that the important thing in success is your long-term resource management across hordes of challenges as much as your ability to overcome individual battles.  It created design elements that had ramifications across the entire series.

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And all of that carried through to Persona 3, in some form.  Previously, the SMT series had a more eclectic and varying mix of demons and what roles they held.  Nocturne really codified and brought consistency to the mythological set of demons the series held, and Persona 3 slotted them firmly into the role of your personas.  Your enemies and adversaries were made completely different in both tone and origin, marking the first time the series had such a significant demarcation between persona and enemy.  They use the same visuals for the beasties, too, as do all 3d SMT games from that point further, building and taking advantage from the Shin Megami Tensei trademark design.  The press turn system was imported in a more limited form, with both you and your enemies being able to gain a single extra move for targeting your opponent’s weakness, or lose one if your own are hit.  Tonally, well, SMT has always been about destruction and apocalypse, but Nocturne brought new impact to that in the 3d era, and Persona 3 took that and run with it.  Although it’s not as dire as Nocturne was, it’s still rather oppressive, and it takes that to a more personal level.

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Persona 3 is generally considered the first of the modern Personas, and to many people, apparently Atlus included, the subseries starts here as far as they’re concerned.  This is the first game that has the social link system, where a lot of emphasis is on getting to know and helping NPCs through a sort of visual novel/dating simulator-esque interface, that has become such a series trademark and one of the biggest draws of Persona games.  Although 4 and 5 would make minor updates to it, this is also where they established the game model largely used in everything following.  Whereas previously, every character could use multiple personas, but had some limits on them, and a lot of their capabilities were based on their stats, starting with Persona 3, only your main character could use multiple personas but they had no limits on them and their stats were determine by said persona, making your main character effectively over a hundred characters you could choose from.  These is where you get Lotus Juice and the Jpop soundtrack setting the mood, driving home just how modern this series is in comparison to others of its genre.  The Persona series had been pretty heavy with its theming and storytelling in the Persona 2 duology, but this is the first time the series with so deep in its plot and multi-layered in its themes.  Everything where you have a certain amount of days to do everything you need to do while the plot and conflict progresses on a fixed calendar, where managing your available time as a resource is essential, where basically everything in the combat engine comes from, it all comes from here.  Persona 3 represents not just a paradigm shift in the Persona series itself, it was so utterly different from every other JRPG out there, and yet, for all its experimentation, it still came together in a fantastic form.  Honestly, it’s no wonder this is the model all the rest of the games took after.

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Eyes on Neon Drive

There’s something to be said for those games that will take a simple concept, distill it down to its purest essence, and then build something beautiful out of it.  Something that’s so simple to talk about, yet so complex in its execution.  You get that in your Tetrises, in your Pac-men, and now, in your Neon Drives.

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We’re going to call Neon Drive, made by the how-the-heck-do-you-pronounce-that developer Fraoula, a ‘Rhythm Driver’ here.  Yeah, we’re breaking the boundaries of genres even as we recreate them.  Ok, not really, because Neon Drive is really just a rhythm game at its core, but it takes place in a car, on a street, you know, driving.  So like I said above, really simple in concept.  At its base level, there four lanes you can move between.  Your car automatically moves forwards, and obstacles come along the path forcing you to switch between lanes in time with the music to avoid them.

And that’s that.  Well, mostly.  Again, really simple in concept.  And yet they make it work.  It’s not an epic experience or anything, but I had a good time with it when I first came across the game a few years ago, and I had a good time with it again when I picked it up just recently.

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The music and aesthetics are a big part of it.  Most of what I know about the 80s, I know from games and movies trying to be deliberately retro, so I’m pretty sure the era was all about neon and sci-fi and synth-heavy soundtracks and that weird segmented sun and really, really bad hair and clothing.  Except for the last bit of it, this game seems to pull it all off well.  Especially the music, that really stands out.  I do have to commend this soundtrack, it’s pumping and driving and manages to not get old even as you listen to the same segments over and over again because this game is really hard.  And it sounds so appropriately 80s, and is tailored really well to the challenges you’re facing in the game.  The music and your movements mesh together so naturally, sometimes it feels like you could get through the obstacles with your eyes closed if you just followed along with the music.

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And then you crash and burn because even with all that, the game is hard.  It’s very heavily skill-based.  It requires reflexes, planning, and absolute precision, and it will make you replay the same sections over and over and over again until you get it right.  It’s interesting how it builds those skills up in you, however.  It can take you a long while to get there, but once you get to the point where you can beat a level, you’ll be able to do it again and again like nothing.  I remember, it took me about two hours to beat all seven levels when I first played the game a few years ago, a feat the developers have stated makes me certifiably superhuman.  I hadn’t touched the game at all in the interim, but picking it up again here, I was able to move through that same set of levels with very little trouble.

Then I got to the new 8th level.  That one is absolutely brutal.  I hate that this game keeps track of how many times you’ve tried but failed, because I truly embarassed myself on the last one.  If you can beat that one, you’re a better Neon Driver than I.

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It is pretty short.  There’s only 8 levels, and if you can get through them in a single go, each level only takes you about two minutes.  I feel like it makes full use out of being compact, though.  Each level switches up the gameplay somehow halfway through, whether by switching perspectives, turning the obstacles into oncoming traffic, transforming your vehicle entirely, etc., and each one does it in a different way.  Again, I finished it my first go around in about two hours.  The 8th level can extend that some, if you’re going to put in the time to get through it.

And, you know what?  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.  It probably comes across a lot better in action than it does in spoken word, so check this out to see a bit of what I’ve been going through.  

On Perceptions and Oblivion

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I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a more ambitious early-generation title than The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  By that time, especially following up on the critical and commercial hit Morrowind, the whole Elder Scrolls series was known for two thing; giant, expansive open worlds absolutely full of stuff to do, and not actually having any elder scrolls in the game.  Oblivion carried out all expectations of the former with aplomb, but shockingly, broke drastically with series tradition on the latter.  The gall of these folks.  But, when you’re leading a new generation, sometimes you have to move past your limits.

Perhaps as a result of being perhaps the most ambitious early-generation title in history, I don’t know of a game that’s aged so drastically and instantly as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Although a multi-console release, it was developed around the Xbox 360 architecture from it’s nascent days, releasing a mere four months after the system did.  It’s scenery looked lovely, but its characters, looked……..

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Yeah.  Visually, even the best parts of it, most of the launch titles available at the time well outpaced it.  They were new at incorporating voice acting into a game this size, which led to a lot of awkwardness both as it meant the characters had a lot less to say than they used to, and oddly, everyone sounded so much the same as all characters of the same race and gender were played by the same actor.  DLC was a new thing, and this game was obviously experimenting with the market for that, mixing both the instant-joke expensive but useless horse armor with the could-absolutely-be-it’s-own-game bargain Shivering Isles expansion.  And they had tried to correct some problems of the old games that didn’t really need to be corrected, leading to a lot of clumsily-implemented features, such as the counter-intuitive leveling system that quickly became infamous.

Thing is, the presentation may not be much, but the foundation of the game is very solid.  The Elder Scrolls have always been at their best making you buy into the world, at feeling like it was a living, breathing thing that you were truly a part of.  At its best, the Elder Scrolls would make you forget about this dumb meaty world where all your problems are and get you believing in this place where adventuring rules the day and people will regularly hire warriors to collect the laundry they lost at the end of a monster infested cave.  It really excelled at that.  The engine may have been hopelessly glitchy and the quest streams may be endless, yet they did serve the immersive experience this game really drove.

What’s really strange to me, though, is just how much my perceptions of this game have been driving by the video games environment I played it during.  Usually I’m well able to isolate things, and just enjoy them on their own merit, but not so much this game.  I remember playing it shortly after Morrowind.  Back then, I experienced the game as a definite step forward in terms of engine, a game that was more directly interactive and less reliant on behind-the-scenes dice rolls and bore a lot more quality of life features that really enhanced the experience, even as it did simplify a significant amount of the gameplay.  It was lacking character compared to its predecessor, having followed up a very alien realm by turning what was supposed to be a very Roman-inspired jungle nation into the standard fantasy thing you’ve seen over and over again, and the advent of voice acting significantly cut down on what people had to say, but it was still a really full and solid experience.  Coming back to it after Skyrim, I found the game somewhat obtuse, somewhat inelegant, and again lacking in character and depth of world in comparison, and clearly outshone in different ways by both games on either side of it, but still a very solid experience.

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And now?  Well, I enjoyed it enough to give 70 hours of my life to it, but even so, once again, I’m getting a very different perspective on it.  It’s builds its worth on the whole open world thing, of making you feel a part of this whole experience beyond just your screen, and it has a giant world of its own, so it definitely should be able to stand on its own, but I still find myself constantly and incessantly comparing it to other games.  The Elder Scrolls has become the standard in open-world design, and open world has become so in vogue right now.  Zelda does open world.  Mario does open world.  Monster Hunter does open world.  From the 2D Platformer to the 3D Platformer to the 3rd Person Shooter to the Open World game, that now seems the default for basically everything released.  And so many other games have taken and absorbed everything that once made Oblivion unique, to the point that I now have the same experience I do with so many other historically important games, the developmental milestones in the form that were once unique to this game but have proven so influential that all the ground they broke has been paved into a superhighway.  It’s interesting to see where it comes from, things have gone far beyond it now.

I think every time I’ve played this game, I’ve had a different take on it.  And when I come back some years down the road, when, at the rate things are going, everything is a Battle Royale game, I wonder if I’ll have a different take on the game then.