Saturday, November 5, 2016

When 3d artists decide to write science fiction...

Just cracking myself up imagining a story as told by hardcore art detail fanatics.  No point here, just good fun.  Enjoy:

The enemy’s long white energy bolts seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. Starpilot Gunny Sunway noticed their emissive bloom reflected in the sheen off his domed cockpit glass.

“Shit!” he said into the segmented boom mic built into the side of his helmet with a cable sort of spiraled around the base leading into a pretty typical mic port recess, “behind us, people!”

He knew he was pegged dead to rights in the enemy’s sights.  He could feel their hud elements scaling down in a non-linear motion and locking onto his ship’s silhouette while several emissive leds must surely be lighting up  small insets of their dashboards, foretelling his death.

He grabbed the throttle slider instinctively.  His leather flight glove, with years of wear discoloring the areas around the contrasting stitches creaked, but fit snugly into the shape cut into the thick handle for his palm.  Several small cylinders that jutted outwards from the back of his hand at 45 degree angles, rotated and indicated a good connection with the control surface.   He jammed it hard forward down the recessed slider track while his other hand’s thumb flicked up the semicircular mostly clear safety cover that rotated down like a clamshell over the defensive chaff rocker-switch with the tightly beveled edges on it and a cool little cylindrical bit on both sides that allowed it to rotate in both directions.

He thumbed the countermeasure trigger with a satisfying ‘click’ of feedback.  Several recesses in the rear of his ship spiraled outward, revealing a series of circular cutouts on the panels under them, each with a semi-elliptical lathed warhead extending from them, and a series of recessed arcs forming a dotted line around the rim.  Little hydraulic piston servos arranged in radial symmetry around each tube tilted the launch devices slightly, for an idea 120 degree dispersal arc, centered on the negative of his Y axis, because positive Y was known to be “forward” by all the intelligent races of the universe.

The laser chaff rockets launched as a cluster, each about .05 seconds  after the next, with the first to launch being the centermost, and progressing in a sort of hexagonal spiral pattern from there.  Each launch spawning a cool little bright reflection on the radar dampening ship surface nearby.

After the tubes emptied, it was clear there were tight bundles of heat-wrapped wiring beneath each tube, with wires in mostly the same shiny pewter color, but occasionally one was bright red or orange. There was still some cool charring though, especially around the little collars where each wire fed into the ship’s surface.


The laser chaff rockets, in sort of a drunken missile pattern erupted, fanning out like pinwheel flowers, dispersing thousands of 100% reflective 2.5 centimeter wide hexagon sheets of ultra-mylar, creased down the center for maximum angle of incidence.  The effect was like looking into a sort of kaleidoscopic lens flare.

Under his carbon-fiber patterned helmet with some longitudinal paint stripes with chipped edges and squad number 08 stenciled on both sides, clear spherical beads of perfectly reflective sweat ran down the back of Sunway’s nearly shaved but still stubbly head and under the slightly weathered metal reinforced studded collar of his pressure-suit.

He gritted his super realistic teeth together hard and braced for death’s hot plasma phone call. He prayed that chaff would be enough.  That, or perhaps that enemy lasers would impact on the super shiny portions of his ship's surface panels, rather than the more roughly muted areas that seemed to follow the panel lines in a pattern that looked as if they were masked off of perhaps a sheet of heavily rusted metal.  He'd surely be screwed then...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Combatting harrasment in VR, some mechanics to consider.

My biz partner Tiffany and I are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel on our VR game MoonStrike.  We are pushing multiplayer as a main mode for the game, which has really put my brain into overdrive thinking about the many recent conversations about how to deal with VR players being, well, internet douchebags to each other, and specifically making female players uncomfortable.

Allow me...


As recently as this year I still thought this might not be such a pervasive trend.  I was in the mindset that being in a VR environment and seeing another person there with you was so much like being in their actual presence, that it would make online harassers more uncomfortable with their habits and lead them to acting civil.

I basically thought, "surely people can't be that douchey, right?"  Haha, yeah, I know. My bad.

I still believe that most... again, most... people who make a hobby out of typing horrible shit to women randomly online wouldn't dare to say equivalent things in real life to a woman.  Of course people say awful things to women in the real world all the time, but they're risking well-earned physical and social retaliation when not hiding behind anonymity, and intensity is dialed way back from 140 character vitriol.  A keyboard, nickname, and a Twitter account truly brings the trolls to the yard.

Being in a VR space with someone, seeing their head movements, hands, actually hearing their voice spatially like they're right there with you... it's a LOT like being in the room with that person.  It can be so uncanny as to not easily be able to describe it (which is kind of the calling card of VR in general).

So, yeah, I had hoped for the best when it came to VR social interactions, and of course now I feel pretty silly for that ounce of faith in online humanity.

In fact, I kind of fear the opposite now, something worse may be the result of this.  I fear that people who are willing to spew rape/death threats online, but don't have the nerve to do so in the real world face to face, basically have a method in VR now to practice upping their troll game.  In VR they can see what it's like when they hear the voice of their victim and see that person's physical responses to their unwanted advances and trollish behaviors.  What I naively used to think would be "taking it too far", looks like the actual payoff to many.  Apparently any veil of anonymity is enough.

It's just so sad.  It's worse than sad.  As a massive VR enthusiast and early adopter it's the ultimate in "Holy shit, really? This is why we can't have nice things!"

Hell, at this point I'm pretty sure if we invented actual real world mind-link telepathic communication I know now why the project will immediately be scrapped once proven viable.  If we invent true physical human teleportation, I see now that about the 3rd time it is used will likely be to somehow sexually harass someone.

Nope.  No nice things for you.

But hey, there's a small silver lining.  Maybe we can't easily fix flawed human psychology, but we can still control the world in VR in ways we only dream about in the real world.  If there's one thing I love it's a problem that can at least be helped with in-game mechanics and functionality!

With that long preamble out of the way, I thought I'd share some ideas to consider if you're a VR developer using avatars for multiplayer interaction.  Many are untested theory, many are very simple to implement, and even if you somehow think this isn't a big deal, they're techniques for combatting general VR troll behavior, not just the gender specific kind.



Keep the immediate sightlines clear.  Very simply, there's no good reason one player should be able to blind or obscure another player's view with their virtual head or hands.  Any part of one player's avatar entering the view frustum of another player, out to about half a meter, needs to be hidden quickly.

A player is more than their head and view though.  Even in games where you can't see your body when you look down, you're aware of where your parts should be.  People grabbing and flailing around in your business should be treated as being a view obstruction and be hidden at minimum.

Compound the infraction.  You might accidentally move into another player's space, it's going to happen, no biggie, but it's easier to track if this is intentional and repeated.  The first bump into another player, you hide and unhide quickly.  Each time the collision is detected, hide immediately, but add some time to the amount of delay before becoming visible again.

When I talk about hiding someone I generally mean hiding only between those specific players.  You probably don't want to generate an exploit for your game, allowing people to move around invisibly to everyone else in the game by head-butting each other a few times.

You might be thinking, "but how do you know who collided with whom?"  Well, think about it this way, does it matter?  Becoming invisible isn't seriously punitive, and if both players are hidden to each other it's all the better.  If someone is grinding on you, becoming invisible to that player is just as beneficial either way.

Someone worth hiding is probably someone worth muting while invisible.  Maybe you want to give them the benefit of the doubt the first time they're in your space accidentally, there will be false positives, but maybe there will be a quick mutual apology "Doh! Excuse me, sorry!" interaction that makes it all more friendly and social.  Generally speaking though, the odds that you're about to miss some important communication among the players is pretty small, so muting people after a couple infractions isn't that big of a risk.

Often a player simply doesn't want to hear other any players talking, and that's OK.  I know in many online ecosystems I flag that I only want to hear my friends talking, and often I'm more sane for the choice.

Consider gestures for these actions.  Inevitably we'll have standards evolve, until then we can all try and find simple gestures that feel intuitive.  Personally, I'm a fan of the slap.  If another player is nearby, and you wish them to be gone, simply slap at their head position and voila!  This might work naturally as a result of your hiding/collision systems above, but detecting a hand to their head can easily denote a much more distinct intention to make that person no longer exist to you.  If you can quantify the "talk to the hand" motion, I think you're in for some online developer fame.

If there's a gameplay reason that makes hiding a player a problem, at least implementing slap-muting makes for a very natural interaction.

If in doubt, just ask the player their intent.  I know user interface is a pain in the ass sometimes in VR, but popping up a simple, "Is this player bothering you? Yes/No" option should really be something to consider, especially given the conditions that a player would want to make that choice.  Pop it up after repeated infractions, slap gestures, etc.

If they answer "yes", do everything you can to clear up the interaction, and consider finding a way to remember that particular bad relationship in future sessions.  If the answer is "no, they're not bothering me", maybe relax your restrictions in case the players are friends just messing with each other.

If you implement a confirmation pop-up, consider mentioning the ramifications of the yes/no options, such as specifying, "player will be hidden and muted".  This might be in the first dialogue, or as a secondary confirmation screen if you're concerned that the original screen becomes too cluttered with all that text.  I (somewhat) believe a bad apple who is actively harassing someone is less likely to hit "hide/mute" on their target, otherwise Twitter would be a lot more civil as people just block instead of replying back and forth.

It may not always be easy to quantify, but if you get enough infractions on a user, it's worth considering what that person is doing to your game's ecosystem and considering a longer term or even permanent mute.  This is touchy territory though, and it may be easily trolled if people make it a goal to get female players banned or the like.  Quantifying bad apples is always a rough task.

Consider reduced avatar fidelity as a consequence of repeated misconduct.  I don't mean this as a punitive measure, but rather as a means of limiting their ability to harmfully communicate.  If several people in the environment flag a player as a pest, and gameplay allows for it, we can bend reality here.  Perhaps limit their hand motions so their hands are always idle at their sides, or toggle their hand visibility off altogether.  More drastically you might make them appear to be facing the other way, limit their representation to only simple position instead of rotation, or otherwise change how their avatar is represented.

If you have access to a friends list for the player, you can use that data to know when they're interacting with a trusted pal.  Interacting with players can be a blast when everyone involved is cracking up and balancing things on their friend's head, etc... you can still allow and design for those interactions, just make sure it's easy for a player to clarify when someone has turned the situation into a bad one.

A perfect system could deal with straight up harmful verbal interactions.  Maybe a troll isn't jumping in your face, but rather just saying awful things from far enough away that physical collision isn't being triggered.  Of course your system needs to be very clear about who is speaking in order to correctly isolate who the troll is, although audio spatialization is really effective as a baseline.

Considering the voice capabilities of the VR headsets, it would be incredibly nice to someday be able to use voice commands for these interactions.  An immediate verbal reply of "Hush" or "shut up" immediately after someone speaks near you would be an excellent way to toggle an actual mute on that person.  Pointing at someone and saying "beat it, asshole", then seeing them explode and disappear would be immensely satisfying.


I'm not saying all games need all of these techniques, even a couple simple ones would help immensely and at least indicate you're making an effort.  Taking it to the maximum could be a lot of daunting work, and even something that could be obtrusive to all player's experience if taken too far.  As a developer though, we know systems under the hood can be complex but still intuitive to the player.  Many of these will simply work without the player needing to really be involved, but some would unfortunately need tutorials until real standards emerge.

Your game may also have special considerations for these interactions.  Maybe it's really important for a player to know where all the other player's hands are, or where they're looking.  Hiding a player outright might just not be an option for your game to work.  But consider what you can do, how far you can push it, without breaking the game.  Muting, hiding only their hands, etc... the important thing is realizing this is an actual problem you need to give some thought to.

For MoonStrike we are working on a system where you can see the location of the enemy player's heads, but instead of the player you see an egg-sized enemy commander in a little space ship, roughly approximating their actions.  We want to be aware of what enemy players are paying attention to, and have that be an element of multiplayer itself.  Something like that works for our project and limits many harmful interactions, but clearly isn't a general solution though.

Your specific techniques might be very different, your values will need some changing.  Maybe you like fading other players based on proximity to the camera, or maybe you scale them down sharply or some random interaction, but it would be great to have an open community discussion about what different developers are discovering to be really effective to fight troll interactions.

I'd love to hear more about what you've been prototyping and finding to be effective in this area, if enough of us are proactive about it, we might be able to nip this bud (or at least hamper it from becoming the norm) before too many women try out VR and immediately learn that it's an inhospitable cesspool.  I'd also love to know more about methods of harassment that I haven't considered yet, and your thoughts on how we might counter them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Getting a new smartphone is SO SO SO much fun.

I know this is typically my blog on games and development... but please forgive me a quick personal rant.

Things told directly to me before I bought my Samsung Note 5

1) People trading in an iPhone and swapping over to Samsung get a $200 Best Buy card.

2) Until the end of the year, Samsung will pay your mobile bill.

3) Since you're coming from an iPhone, you will get a $100 Google Play credit to use in their app store.

4) When you register a Samsung Pay account we'll send you a free $50 wireless charging pad.

5) The trade in value on my old phone is $95.

Sounds like a pretty hefty amount of discounts, I really dig the Note 5 stylus setup... yeah!  Lets do this!

Number of those claims that actually came true after the transaction?  None.  Zilch.  Nada.  El zipporooni.

1) $200 gift card?  Oh hey, that's not valid for AT&T customers, even though I was standing there specifically looking at an AT&T phone when told this, and the $200 special is printed ON the phone tag right next to the AT&T logo.

2) Bills paid for 3 months?  Yeah, no.  I signed up for it, and for *precisely* 15 days I checked in with the Samsung site that tells me "your bill pay program is being processed".  This morning, I get an email that says nope... not for AT&T users either.  You know why I got the email today?  Yesterday was the last day I could change my mind about the contract I signed.  This is no coincidence.

3) $100 app credit?  Nuh uh.  Not actually true.  Again, related to being on AT&T apparently.  No $100 credit to use on apps, which involves no physical goods or cost to honor.

4) Free charger base pad thang?  Ha.  Signed up, even though it only takes 4 specific types of cards.  Days later, received notice that my "order" for the charger was indefinitely backordered.

5) $95 trade in value?  Despite one associate looking at my old phone and telling me that was the case, when I returned the next day, after swapping my info over to my new phone, I'm told the trade in value is $23.  Twenty three.  Despite being a completely functional phone and not cracked or anything, there are "some scratches" on the back... changing the value from $95 to $23.  Obviously I didn't go for that.

It gets better!

I threw my old phone on eBay, it sold for around $130.  Yay!  That person tells me it arrived with the package ripped open, and somebody in the mail service literally stole the very well packed phone.  After a whole day of basically being accused of being a scam artist, who clearly must have... like, took a ripped up empty box to the UPS store and they mailed it with no questions asked.  That's the thought here.

I refunded the money they paid, and so now I'm completely out of pocket for everything, didn't actually get a penny from selling my old phone, and have to wait for some postal system bureaucracy to see if they'll even cover the insured cost of the old iPhone.

Oh and hey!  I cracked my screen on the new phone when it slid out of my pocket in a theater and fell less than a foot to the floor.  The phone case I ordered earlier arrived that night.  I ordered the Best Buy protection plan for it... tomorrow I get to find out why that clearly must not be valid either.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sad news, writers and gamers... you might test positive for Storium. I'm so sorry.

Hello, I'm Doctor Perry, how are we feeling today?  Good good... let's have a look at your chart here.

Lets see here, vitals look good.  Uh oh.  Symptoms include a history of interest in pen and paper role playing games... that's not conclusive in and of itself, but we should run a few more tests.  Sit back on the table please.

OK, have you ever had an interest in writing, short stories, blogs?  Unfinished book perhaps?

Yes?  Fiction.  Noted.

What about reading, especially fiction?  More than, say, one book a year at least?

Yes?  Noted.

Ok, breathe in and out normally...

Would you say you're imaginative?  Looking for small creative outlets?

Yes, and yes...

Lastly... how are you for a sense of community?

Generally like that sort of thing... ok.

OK, I've got some good news and bad news.  From these answers it looks like you're a strong candidate to contract Storium.  Don't worry... there are lots of people out there living vital and normal lives while dealing with a Storium condition.  You'd probably not even notice, if it weren't for their propensity to talk to people about how awesome their Storium campaigns are.

But ultimately, all you can do is manage this condition... at present, there's no known cure for Storium or Storium addiction.  You may need to discuss this with your loved ones.

*The above is meant for the purposes of humor only.  For actual advice and to find out if Storium is right for you, seek professional help.  Not valid advice for residents of some states.


SO!  What the hell is Storium?  The best elevator pitch I seem to muster is that Storium is a bit like "Multiplayer story writing, with a dash of pen and paper role playing".

Basically you've got 3-5 people, one acting as Narrator.  The Narrator sets up a scene with a couple challenges in it, and the "players" all have a character who plays an action card from their hand, and then writes the next couple paragraphs of the story, describing what their character is doing exactly.

There are stories being ran for damn near anything you can imagine.  There's traditional D&D type things, sci-fi space opera out the wazoo... but there's also a HUGE array of game that are romance novel settings, humor, Napoleonic era war stories, all female pirate crews, a high school story with completely normal kids, anime, Lost fanfic, even some NSFW intrigue and espionage in a high fashion company like some kind of Ally McBeal meets Fifty Shades PR firm.

You can hit "browse games", then sort by "looking for players" and just flop around among the options available to you.

There are literally games happening in Storium that would be impossible to create in any other known gaming format, and that's tremendously exciting.

I really can't recommend it all enough.

Here's the bottom line... if you enjoy actual pen and paper role playing, the kind that really encourages talking to NPCs and imagining fun interactions beyond casting 'Magic Missile'... and yet you find that you're becoming a real adult with a life and obligations and can't seem to get the old gang together reliably enough to run a role playing game...

Storium is for you.

It's asych, you can take your moves when you want, games have different paces (set by the narrators as to how many scenes are expected to happen over weeks or months even), it's easy enough to be a player in a handful of games so you don't have to pick and choose like you're making huge investments in time.

For me, it's a fantastic little creative outlet and a way to get better at writing and improv, and have a blast doing it.



So, Storium had a great Kickstarter a while back, and they're in a Gamma state right now, and already have a really healthy population of players.  All the options to support it are on the site.

Right now, to view stories you need to sign up for an account and become a member, but I'm told that when the game fully launches you'll be able to read all these great stories people are coming up with even if you're not a member.  So, you can send out links to your works and such.

Right now the game is crazy robust, with internal messaging, forums, feedback, bios, etc... it's ridiculously posh.

The site is:

and here's a fantastic video about how it all works.

Storium is ran by Stephen Hood (@stilhood) and of course there's a Twitter addy at (@Storium)

There's even a swanky little blog called StoriumArc where guests discuss their games, styles, etc...

If you enjoy character work, writing, etc... get in there!!!

Good luck, fellow patients.

P.S. If you happen to join up, check out my user profile at MrLeePerry on the site, and you can see what games I'm playing in and running.  It's always awesome when people are reading your work!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Vive impressions Part 2 : What can we do in VR that we can't elsewhere?

My first post a moment ago was about the experience of setting up the Valve / HTC Vive dev kit, and in short how blown away I was.  This post I'd like to ramble a little about how it has affected some of my VR design instincts and assumptions.

First up, there's a lot of conversation out there about how to adapt various game genres to VR... and I get that.  I've been working on VR prototypes nearly exclusively since a bit after the DK1's became available.  I've tried loads of little "danger rooms" to feel out the concepts of "what if I took genre X and adapted it to VR".  There are some major wins to be found in that logic, as it truly does profoundly affect a game to have this sense of scale and immersion layered into the batter.  That, and generally speaking, it's important to have these comfortable foundations and languages as we try out new things.

But the positionally tracked hand held controllers... man.  I can't emphasize this enough... this changes a lot.  A LOT.

There are experiences here just begging to be made that are hard to even classify as video games, simply because they're so based in physicality and agility.  If I made a VR raquetball - Tron multiplayer head to head game, and you're swinging around a virtual racquet... is that a 'video game', or an actual 'sport'?  Is virtual dodge ball where you're actually moving out of the way of a projectile a 'video game'?

I think the world of VR design is on a pretty exciting crash course with learning a whole new set of skills.  We have expectations of "cyber athletes" based on their responsiveness and tactics with a controller and interfaces full of shortcuts and macros... but if you're physically standing there, and your opponent is flinging fireballs at you, this ain't the same old same old.  It can be the best of both worlds.

From the first moment you're in the Vive setup program, and a dialogue box menu materializes over the controller in your hand, and you wave it around, it's unavoidable.  At least in VR, no longer will you be pressing A,A,B,A to execute some combination of sword slashes.  In VR at least, there's not going to be an artificial gameplay construct like a golf power swing meter.  Say goodbye to 'adding 5 points to your accuracy stats'.

When technology allows you to literally play Table Tennis with another player across the country, that's incredible.  When that same technology allows you to make Table Tennis with multiballs, force fields, poison traps, slow motion, super bounce balls, moving obstacles, an AI backup wingman, or just Yoshi bouncing around on the table while you play... and yet you're still physically swinging around a paddle with the expected simplistic controls and muscle memory... that's something entirely more than incredible.

What can we design with these controls that you truly could not possibly have experienced before?  That's the question we can explore now.


I don't care to fire up some heated "VR will fail because blah blah and blah" debate.  Will enough people want to dedicate an 8 foot x 8 foot (or whatever it ends up as) space to a VR corner?  I don't know.  Will AAA publishers make $80 million dollar titles for VR?  Shrug...  Zero fucks given beyond ecosystem health.  Will they be manufactured cheap enough and run on enough hardware to make Sony and Valve and Oculus billions of dollars... time will tell... and I'm indie anyway so frankly all I want out of it is a thriving ecosystem of players looking for awesome inspired unforeseen games that they're willing to pay more than $1 for.

But I know this.  When I hear people talk about how limiting VR is to design for... when I hear that you "can't make real games in VR"... when I hear that it's only truly for real estate and architects because you can't easily port Call of Duty to it...  when I hear "lack of design possibility" as a specific reason for why VR can't be a real thing... I know I'm hearing the opinion of either the creatively bankrupt, or at least profoundly unadaptable.

After (important word there) you have stood in the center of this virtual space, waved around these unbelievably responsive "hands" that can literally resemble or summon anything you can think to create with modern development tools, after you have felt the possibilities of clever haptic feedback that the controllers offer... and you still honestly have NO ideas for what you'd like to try with this technology.  You need to be selling carpet or something.  If nothing else, send me a few grand and I'll give you some ideas :)

Before you've had that experience, I get it, I do.  It's really hard for some to visualize this, or try to cram their square peg into a round hole.  But *after* exploring what these can do... that's an entirely different story.

My enthusiasm is honestly tempered with sadness right now knowing that my bandwidth as a small developer means that the lists of possible gameplay scenarios I want to prototype right now can't possibly happen in time to beat others to market.  But holy crap is that exciting at the same time!


I'll wrap this up...

This industry *needs* new frontiers like this.  We need more actual design outlets, more platforms, more untested creative canvas on which to sketch, paint, experiment, and play.  Hoping for VR to fail wholesale is counterproductive... it's like hoping a great expedition (that costs you nothing personally) ends up producing nothing, merely because you chose not to support it.

VR was already promising, but these control possibilities bring it to an entirely new level.  It absolutely breeds creativity, possibility, and inspiration... and I'm endlessly grateful for the people pioneering this attempt.  Even if it fails spectacularly in financial terms for the big players, they put their money where their mouth is, as every member of this industry owes them a giant collective handshake for this effort.

One final note:

"Where's the killer app?"  I guarantee you, there will be one.  These tools are landing in the hands of many devs now, and I simply can not imagine a scenario where inspired and unconventional things don't result from this.

Let's not forget that the "killer app" for the Nintendo Wii was 'Bowling'.

Vive VR impressions, part 1 : Setup day!

Forgive me, I'm in a ridiculously heightened state right now after setting up the Valve-HTC Vive kit that arrived earlier.  Allow me a post to talk about that initial experience, then I'll post a 2nd time with some more important broad thoughts on what it means for VR IMO.



I spent most of my day setting up the kit.  Valve has made an insanely slick document detailing the process, and it has an amazingly Portal-esque vibe to it that just makes even the daunting task of setting this up actually a pretty cool and enjoyable process.

The "camera" positioning (not really cameras, I mean the two laser array lighthouses that give the VR parts their location tracking reference points), I found to be incredibly forgiving actually.  I had mine up on shelves I had around, and expected to have to fiddle with them and do some detailed alignment... but no, they just worked.  Valve was meticulous in including all necessary bittles for different mounting options.  When you're in the room-setup and calibration app you can walk around in your room and see the cones that represent the "view areas" the lighthouses provide, and honestly I think it would be pretty hard to screw those big cones up if they're at all semi-logically placed nearby.

I ended up making a quick Home Depot run for an extension cord to reach the top of the shelves, but other than that, it was very well packed with nearly anything you could need in order to set it up.

The lighthouse units themselves are truly just... cool.  The clear front means you see these high end looking electronics with spinning lasers and LEDs and displays... it's utterly sci-fi when you power them up and see them kick in.

Excellent visualization of how the lighthouses work

The actual head mounted display unit ("goggles") are excellent as expected.  I didn't weight anything, but it feels to me like it's maybe VERY slightly heavier than the DK2 maybe, but far from an issue.  I find it more comfortable than the DK2 personally for my face, but I imagine this is just something everyone will find based on their face geometry (and the DK2 isn't a shipping thing anyway, so, don't mean to start some comparative speculation).  I found the Vive seems to block out light really well, especially around the bottom.

The two hand held controllers are ridiculously light; I can't possibly imagine these things will cause you fatigue, at all.  Despite being significantly larger than something like the Wii controller, they actually feel even lighter to me.  They came with two complete sets of rechargeable batteries, and alternate hardware in case you want to run the controllers off USB cables... although I admit that sounds utterly insane to me (I'm sure someone has a compelling development reason).

The various bittles and adapters are all incredibly well laid out in packaging, and overall I have to say I kind of enjoyed the whole process so far.  Yeah, I know... freaky.



The Software so far has been pretty damn cool.  The step by step manual walks you right up to this point, where Steam comes in.

The basic calibration and room setup application is pretty posh.  There are some rough edges, but they took the time to add all kinds of excellent user feedback that immediately made me think "HOLY SHIT, THIS IS BANANAS!"

From the moment I fired up the room calibration program, things were pumping.  I hadn't in any way bothered to meticulously arrange my head unit to be in the view of the lighthouses or anything, and I wasn't really anywhere near what I thought to be my usable "VR area".... but, BAM, the goggles are totally oriented sitting on the desk next to me.

The screen says go to the middle of the VR room area.  I walk over there and put the goggles on.  MAN it's responsive!  Just, no discomfort at all.  In the setup VR space there are floating items that represent the lighthouse objects, and it's really cool lifting the visor and seeing these realspace objects in that same representative location.  Reality and VR space were really blending even in this simple little setup app... and that got even nuttier next.

It said to hit the button on one of the controllers.  I hadn't brought the controllers with me... but they were there floating in the distance on top of my desk, oriented haphazardly as they were really laying there.  Without giving it a second thought, *WITH MY HEADSET STILL ON* I casually walked across my office, reached for the controllers with my invisible hands, and picked them up with no real world vision at all.  It was the most utterly natural thing possible to my brain.

Only a second later did the impact of that even register, that there truly is this blurred line between this 3D model of the controller in my hand, and the corresponding real world controller in my hands.

I hit a button and this dialogue box / window popped up over the controller.  I waved it around and just busted out laughing like a maniac at how fucking cool such a goofy little interaction is when it has this much presence behind it.  There will literally be a hundred damn lightsaber games for this thing a month from now, mark my words.

The real thing that has stuck with me as I started to call it a night though was how excellent the subtle vibrations ("Haptic" feedback) coming through the controller was.  Valve has utterly *nailed* making things in the world feel truly physical.  As you wave the controller's floating pointer over buttons on your menu, there's a subtle bump on the controller, like it's embossed in floating space.

You start in a kind of dotted line box, and click and drag these little handles out to designate the room dimensions you're standing in, and where the floor is.  As I clicked the little handle sphere, and started pushing it down to the floor, the controller is providing this extremely well designed feedback as though I'm pushing this physical thing that has resistance to it.  It was definitely another moment of giggling maniacally.  Pushing the walls out to match my physical room was just... damn this is unbelievably cool... I can't say it more simply than that.

It's nearly pointless to even try and describe, it's operating on such subconscious levels...

But overall a great takeaway was simply how forgiving the whole setup was in terms of spatial requirements.  I had envisioned these distinct shadows and treacherous dead zones where controls blinked out of registration, or meticulously needing to arrange the lighthouses 'just so' to cover the play area.  Nope.  Looking around in the setup app, it's clear that the lighthouse fields of view can cover a very generous area, and my first impression at least is that it's just not that picky.  This bodes well IMO for people concerned about such complex hardware being used by general consumers... it's far more forgiving spatially than something like the Kinect was IMO.



It's not pure rainbows shooting from my rear though, it is still a prototype dev kit after all.  I spent a good deal of time working with an issue I still haven't tracked down.  The controllers would work like magic for about 10 seconds, then abruptly drift off across the room and freeze before coming back to me another random interval later.  I removed some glass covered posters in the room, thinking the reflections might be an issue, but that didn't appear to be the cause.

Online some people mentioned they switched off one of their lighthouses completely and it solved some tracking issues.  I tried that and it worked, although obviously it's suboptimal and affects the fidelity of how things are tracked as they're obscured from the single lighthouse box.  So, I worked with that for quite a while to no avail before deciding to sleep it off and see if I can sort it out with a clear head tomorrow.

I also have a fairly constant stream of "USB connection" messages, like there's a loose USB or power cable somewhere despite checking everything meticulously.  Tomorrow I'll buy a USB 3.0 hub and see if I have some better luck.

UPDATE: If you get to this point with a dev kit, it's entirely likely you simply need to plug the wireless controllers in via USB and update them.

Anyway, they're minor issues that I'm sure will be sorted out tomorrow, grabbing the latest firmware or so forth.  The Valve developers look to be extremely active on the forums as well, which is beyond awesome.  Overally, for a dev kit experience this has been a stunningly impressive ride so far.  While it's working... it's just... it's truly some science fiction moments.  You freaking need this in your life once the rough bumpies are polished off.

I'll talk more in my next post about what this all has done to my head :)

Now, I need to sleep and dream in room-space.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My tactics for NimbleBit's game Capitals

The ridiculously prolific Marsh brothers (better known as NimbleBit, maybe better know as "The Tiny Tower Dudes") have just released their latest game on iOS, Capitals.

If you enjoy word games, indeed if you've ever enjoyed a word game, you should check this bad boy out.  It's a great balance between a word game, and a hex based war game.  I constantly have about 6 games going at once.  I'm addicted to it, no way around it, it's just a fantastic clean little game!


A quick summary!  In a nutshell, you have a hex based board, with two colored land masses for the two players.  Along the "borders" there are tiles with letters on them.  Use the letters on YOUR border, and you expand your kingdom, often pushing into the enemy territory.  The goal is to shove your border all the way into the enemy's capital, which has their little icon in it.  It's really straightforward to understand the basics by the time you've taken a move or two.

Since I've been enjoying the heck out of it, and it's multiplayer, I figured I'd try to help foster a little community love for it by posting a bit about my tactics with the game.  These are just my opinions, and I imagine people will have all kinds of personal playstyles of course.  If you're a new player, these might help that first handful of games go easier... and if you're playing another new player with these tips in mind, you're likely to hand them their buttocks.

1) The biggest word is not the best move

This is what sets the game apart for me.  There are times (lots of times in fact) when you can put together an amazing 12 letter word from the tiles on the board, and immediately after that get smashed in the face by the word "CAT" because none of your 12 letters were actually important real estate.  It's a balance of finding a good word, but also finding the word that will push your borders in a good direction.

Keep your eye on the goal, the enemy's capital.  A good way to facilitate this is to select the handful of your border tiles that would really smash the enemy, and only then look at the top of the screen and try to find words you can make from those tiles.  Letters on the back of your kingdom, or letters that are only in enemy territory, they can be used, but they don't actually accomplish much.  Generally, the main purpose of those ancillary letters is to allow those few important attack tiles to be used.

Remember, select your best letters according to position, THEN try to make a word from that.

2) Go for that extra turn

When you use a tile that is right next to your enemy's capital, you take their capital, yaaaay! You didn't win quite yet, but you did earn an extra move.  Getting that extra move, getting to go twice in a row, that should be your ultimate goal.  Play ridiculously aggressively if it means making that happen.  With two moves in a row you absolutely mangle any enemy stronghold.

After you play your second turn, if there are any remaining enemy owned hexes, that will become the new enemy base.  That second free turn is your chance to mop up the countryside.  You only get one shot at that blitzkrieg, remember rule one here!

3) Never leave your capital vulnerable

The only thing more important that pushing aggressively at the enemy's capital and trying to get that extra move, is never ever EVER leave your capital open.  If there are letters adjacent to your capital that can be chained together by the enemy, you have absolutely got to use those letters and reclaim the immediate "moat" around your home base.

4) Initial contact is massively important

I almost hesitate to post this one because it's so important to how I play.  It's almost downright abusive to understand this when your opponent doesn't.  But, here goes.  Cat leaving the bag...

To me, the most important aspect of the first few moves is who makes first contact.  Put simply, you DON'T want to be the person that connects the two kingdoms first.  Here's an example.

I'm the black spider, in these shots.  At first (frame 1) the gulf is intact, and the enemy plays "FOG" which connects our two kingdoms.  Now (in frame 2) we both now have 7 tiles, and it all seems pretty even steven.  It's not.  For all intents and purposes, THIS is the first meaningful turn of the game.  Make a single aggressive move blasting through the newly shared border (in frame 3 I play the word "WRECKER"), and end up with a huge advantage and the enemy reeling back on their heels.

When both players start playing towards this logic though, you can end up with some hilarious opening dances going on as players decide where best to connect.

Remember, try to avoid being the one to connect your lands.  (Now my win streaks will crawl to a halt, but at least I can sleep soundly)

5) Flank, don't just push push push

When you're in the thick of it, it's easy to keep just shoving back and forth down the middle of the map, repeatedly trading a space or two with the enemy.  Usually though, there's a long chain of letters down the sides of the field, and putting them together can dramatically swing the tide of a game.  Think of these attacks as your big right hooks when the center area gets all "jabby".

6) Don't ignore an "insignificant" enemy hex

Sometimes you might isolate off some little enemy hex in a corner of the field.  It's worth tying up that lose end when you can, because they can sometimes launch aggressive attacks from those.  Just because it's not connected to their capital, doesn't mean it's not potentially lethal.

Conversely, try to keep control of your loose hexes and launch those great attacks from them that can act like a dagger through the center of the enemy field.

7) Buy a custom icon and color

First, it supports the devs, who are truly awesome people!  The game is free, it's not predatory and spammy, it doesn't throw ads at you, it's ridiculously generous to the point you can play a TON without ever spending a dime...  take a moment and show that you appreciate this model.

As an added benefit, customizing your icon and color makes it WAY easier in your games to remember which side you are.  Without a personalized color and icon, I often see (and have done!), moves where one player forgets who they are.  They end up making some theoretically awesome word, but it's all using tiles that were enemy controlled, so it's a completely wasted turn.  That's not good.  Go spend a buck and make yourself look awesome!!!