A look at the games of 2020

Yesterday I presented a webinar for the BCS animation and games specialist group that I chair, but open to all, sharing some thoughts on what games made sense and for what reasons on 2020. I am not sure which BCS channel that will appear on but whilst waiting if you want to have a look and listen its all here.

As I say throughout this is all my own thoughts as a gamer and all personally experienced, bought and paid, no promotional activity by anyone other than me mentioning my books in this.

See what you think πŸ™‚

Back to the future Nintendo, Lego and Atari 2020/2021 style

With all the lockdowns and change of pace of life it is nice to be able to reflect back on simpler times as a kid in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yes we had to worry about nuclear war, power cuts and strikes but, we had some fun things to play with. What follows contains Lego, Nintendo, Atari and a change of pace in the World.

I like many fellow geeks are a bit of a Lego fan. It was a magic moment in my TV career when I got to talk all things Lego Online, as well as all the other ting in 2010/11 like AR, Cloud, Brain sensing computing, haptics (all on now related on this tag). It was also the episode across the 3 series I had to do the most takes as compliance (shudder) meant I could only say Lego once in the 3 minute ad lib piece. Anyway I digress. For this lockdown xmas Predlet 1.0 had seen Andy Piper friend and fellow geek, tweet about the Nintendo Lego set and suggested to elemming that should be my present. It was a fantastic surprise to see this incredible bit of history represented in Lego. This recreates the iconic NES games console and also has an old school CRT TV, but this one has a scrolling canvas that shows supermario as a games you crank to watch Mario bounce around it. As with all this Lego kits there is detail inside that you just can’t see, but as a builder you feel more engaged with the end result as below. The entire build is here if you want to see some of the internals.

Lego Nintendo build
NES Lego

It took a couple of days to build this, and all the time I was being equally retro in having the complete boxed set of Blakes 7 running on Britbox. This added to a degree of time travel going on here.

I noticed that the “TV” supported another Lego/Nintendo collaboration and spent an Amazon voucher from my in-laws on getting that right away. This was the Super Mario figure and collection of lego to make scenery and bad guys from the game. This Mario though is a digitally enabled bit of Lego. I was surprised just how much he actually does. As a bluetooth enabled device he is able to talk to an iPad app that also has some awareness of what the physical Mario is doing. You build a course of obstacles and then walk and jump Mario around just as we all do as kids with toys, a sort of clip clop effect as they are rocked and moved. I know you have done this ! The Lego Mario responds to movement, and noises play accordingly, walking jumping, falling over all register. Small barcodes on some of the Lego pieces indicate actions, such as the start and end of a level. You stand Mario on the start, the app starts the timer and off you go. It is pretty magical! I mean just look at this video (its quite tricky to play and film BTW!)

Mario Lego (Digitally enhanced)

The integration with the Lego TV puts mario on top of the TV (removing a panel to fit him on) A barcode indicates its that piece of kit and then he reponds to coloured blocks on the top of some of the scrolling screen and joins in with sounds and scores. Again, brilliant! Again difficult to film πŸ™‚

Moving into 2021 and the retro mood continues. A very very long while ago I backed the crowdsourced return of the Atari console with its new VCS reboot. Now for me the Atari 2600 was my second console, the first being a basic version of Pong. The Atari had cartridges and a massive upgrade in terms of graphics and colour. It was following behind a revolution in arcade video games and some absolute classics. When customs and UPS had finally got their act together to release these machines that were sent from the US I took delivery of this.

Atari VCS reboot
Atari VCS

The new look box is an online device with local storage. The setup was very quick. It came with two controllers, one similar to an xbox controller and the other the retro reboot of the traditional one from back in the day.

Atari VCS reboot
Retro stick

There are a few subtle and cool upgrades, most notable the stick is also a dial so you have have the usual set of directions but you can twist it for analogue style controls like a paddle.

Whilst there is a store and services to subscribe to for cloud gaming it is the loaded set of games that is impressive. Its has all the original Atari arcade games and all the home Atari 2600 VCS cartridges. I know there is a lot of emulation and ways to run these on all sorts of devices but there is a polished accuracy to these ports. My two favourites I used to play were asteroids and if I could find it the Lunar Lander cabinet. The latter had a massive great level to pull for thrust on the lander a very tactile and dramatic experience, it is also the one that inspired my first ever paid coding and the theme of my last Lego build of the 50 years of landing on the moon. I fired this one up first.

Atari VCS reboot
lunar lander

It was a great surprise to have the twisting paddle of the stick as the analogue thrust vector. It really took me back in more ways than one.

Then it was onto Asteroids, just as I remember it, though playing that on the home version of the stick is odd as the cabinet was a spread out stick and buttons.

Atari VCS reboot
Asteroids

For those of you who were not there during this golden age, we all wanted to have the same experience at home as in the arcade, which was really possible. The Atari 2600 asteroids looked like this as a cartridge

Atari VCS reboot

However it looked like this as a game. It was not the vector graphics of the arcade but more sprite variant of home machine that made life easier to program. Yes it was in colour, but not quite as good as the “real” thing. Still played it to death though at the time though.

Atari VCS reboot
VCS asteriods

I tried to capture a video of all the cabinets and all the VCS games in the machine. It will certainly take a while to even have a quick go on each. I am sure my generation recognises a good few there.

VCS reboot

I always really enjoyed the Combat tanks and planes on the original Atari home machine to it will be interesting if I can get the family to come and have a game. There are also a stack of 2600 games that we probably never had in the UK, so I seem to have completed some sort of collection.

What was also weird was that I was having a quick look at these whilst the US Inauguration was happening on another screen. The feeling to relief that it went ahead without incident and the removal of that awful gangster and his cronies from the past 4 years swirled around with my feelings of being a kid and starting my gaming and techie journey that has led to this point. All in all quite an amazing journey so far πŸ™‚

PS: I mentioned that some months ago my daughter saw Andy Piper tweet about the Nintendo NES/TV Lego, probably related to the excellent Games at Work podcast, which I listen to by my friends Michael Rowe, Michael Martine and Andy talk all things gaming, tech and biz during my garden orbiting lockdown walks. This connection which prompted the Lego NES to be my suprise xmas gift. Well I tweeted the video of the my Lego Mario, that I bought specifically because I now had the TV set. Andy then very kindly sent me an expansion to the Mario set with Yoshi as it turned out he had an extra one. yay for serendipity, great family, great friends and fun tech πŸ™‚

Hello next generation gaming – Xbox Series X

Just over two weeks ago I was sitting waiting for my Xbox Series X to arrive on launch day. It got held up for some reason and for a tense moment or seven I thought I might have fell into the over booking of orders trap. The good news though it arrived the following day and here it is.

Xbox series X
Xbox …. box
Xbox series X
opening up
Xbox series X
Installed

Installation and setup was super simple and I left the One X attached too. However I had already moved lots of the key large games that were due a X/S upgrade onto a removable USB drive to save needing to do quite so much downloading, network transfer was an option too but I thought things would be at least playable more quickly. On logging onto the new box the profile and all its favourites and colours etc re-appear making it completely like the older box. Next gen gaming is now very like phone upgrades with the excitement of taking the thing out of the box, logging on and seeing …. oh its exactly the same. The best way to see and feel the different is to dive into an X/S enhanced game, get some ray tracing going as in my last post.

Microsoft has a smart delivery label on some games indicating they know to patch to the fancier version on the Series X. However, for a Series X version to work it has to be on the internal 1Tb internal drive or the 1Tb extension cart (which I also felt obliged to get). So I set about asking all of the 60-100gb games on the USB drive to make their way over to the fast internal drive. That is not an overly speedy process and for obvious reasons is kind of a one at a time gig. I had booked off the rest of the week to use up 2020 holiday and immerse myself in the new console but some of that the was going to be sat sipping in a progress bar.

Whilst I waited it was great timing the Harmonix (of Rockband fame) had released their DJ music mixing game/experience the day before. I had already played it on the One X but now could spark it up (from the USB as it is not “enhanced”) and just get on with enjoying the console. This game is disc flipping brilliant! An array of tunes, from 60’s country to modern EDM are available to put into your set. 4 platters let you drop parts of those tunes onto the decks, e.g drums from one, vocals from another. As you progress you get to mix and match all sorts of elements, fading in new parts, hitting beat markers for scores, muting, looping and adding custom instrument sections. The whole thing keeps everything in time and tune and synch in a really impressive and entertaining way. Most DJ stuff is usually dance music but as with my little mashup below there are some old 80’s tunes too. It won’t win any prizes but, rather like rockbound it makes you feel a musical god when you are doing it. You can play it as a game to progress, hit marks and styles or just tootle around. I have played with a lot of music games and to be able to just put stuff together and it sound right is such a buzz. We don’t all have the musical ability to do these things but it does make you want to do more. This filled all the time I was waiting for things to transfer and I had a blast, and am still. playing it of course πŸ™‚

Once on of the One X versions of a mega game had moved across I launched them. It was Dirt 5 the new mad Codemasters racing game. Duly it announced with a new message that a better version was available did I want to upgrade. Hell yes ! The original was something like 60Gb so I was expecting some smart delivery of a few GB more of textures, instead I got a 70Gb full download. It seems smart delivery is not a delta, but the full thing re downloaded in a new package. This meant the transferring of over a terabyte of games to the USB drive from the One X and then transferring from that to the Series X SSD, hours worth or transfer, was in fact… pointless as far as I could see. I killed all the other transfers and just went to the network to get it to download new version. In this case I started with the launch of Call of Duty Black ops whatever number it is and carried on playing Fuser! I even entered something into a monthly task competition.

Once it had downloaded I launched into Call of Duty Black Ops in the single player story mode. I was constantly amazed by how fast and slick it was, how many great scenes there were visually. I also enjoyed the story and the temporal jumps. I mean I should as Reconfigure starting chapter is form the middle of the book :). It was also set in my era. A very different time for American presidents, though Reagan was previously a hollywood actor, and wanted to create space based defence systems. Interesting to be working for him though.

Reagan
Reagan
Cod sunrise
Sunrise

I played the entire campaign through that day. To be able to a) finish a game and b) do it in one sitting is not to say it is too short or anything. The ability to block time off, enjoy and dive in made this like a fantastic boxed set on Netflix. There is of course the multiplayer, but I have to be in teh frame of mind to get a constant beating in that by all the kids.

Another really nice touch was this easter egg (which took a bit of figuring out to get to, ut not too much πŸ™‚ ) As well as some 80’s games to play, really old eight bit glories there was this terminal.

Xbox series x
Terminal

Typing on the diplayed keyboard it was clearly a proper version text based operating system from back in the good old days. I listed and changed directories (not sure many modern players will have a clue about that, but they can always look it up on the fancy inter webs). It turns out it has full versions of Zork I, II, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and a few others. I couldn’t;t use the keyboard on the Xbox app, only the slow and annoying onscreen key board, but that was actually part of the fun. I tried one of the games and saved a game, left the console and went back to see if it loaded it, it did! In the middle of the kick ass, next gen first person shooter there was a good old fashioned text based adventure from my youth, utterly brilliant and not the only flashback this month.

There were a stack of other games I have then dived into. In teh house we were already playing Watchdogs:Legion on the previous Xbox, but it was a really nice upgrade to be able to see London in all its next gen (and own futuristic dystopia).

However, The real stand out game has been Assassins Creed : Valhalla. The free-roaming of a beautiful looking saxon Britain it truly eye meltingly lovely. Unlike Call of Duty its an almost never ending set of things to do or complete, constantly attracted way from one task to do another or just to go sight seeing. I particularly liked that over in East Anglia, where I am from, a full version of Burgh Castle exists. The roman walls still stand there today and was a childhood haunt out on the edge of the broads.

Xbox series x
`Sunny England
Xbox series x
Not so sunny england
Xbox series x
More sunny england

Admist all the lovely views there were a few unusual things too. I went to sort out a real work delivery of food and my controller timed out I was met with this amusing error message.

Error page Valhalla
Boring-Squid

Also I unlocked fishing, of course it has fishing. As I tweeted recently.

I also played this for a while too, one I specifically bought after getting the console.

Xbox series x
Yakuza: Like a Dragon

It is as mad and weird as its predecessors, will not be to everyone’s taste but it has made me laugh a lot. The new fighting system is more turn based, but you get used to it.

I have updated a stack of other games, Mortal Kombat:Ultimate was the biggest mess as I tried the moving from the USB drive again as it has lots of standalone pieces, I ended up deleting it all and starting again. Fifa got me confused too as it kept not installing much of an update, only to realise it was not actually available in the new shiny version yet, it just never told me and the X/S icon would relaunch the original One X version every time.

The only other fly in the ointment is that our 3 years old super snazzy high end Samsung TV does not cope with the new 120 hz ability of the Xbox. I also had to double check how to enable full HDR on the HDMI ports as it was not automatically doing that either. All done now though and it all works.

What no PS5? Well, once it all quietens down I will investigate getting one of those, but the Xbox, with its Game Pass Ultimate that covers the PC’s too is just too much ecosystem to ignore as a primary gaming system.

I mentioned I was relieving my childhood, well I also finally signed up to yet another video service – Britbox, as it was bundled for 6 months free on out BT broadband. I had pondered if I wanted old box sets of BBC and other channels shows, the lure of Spitting Image reborn too was tempting. However what finally did it was Blake’s 7, this was such a formative show for me, for career, interests and the sort of Sci-fi that I really like, and also write. Yes its all a bit set wobbly, occasionally long winded and cheesy, but I love it. Avon in the foreground below, played by the late Paul Darrow, as I have written often, is probably one of the reasons I became a techie/programmer. That’s turned out OK it would seem πŸ™‚

Blake’s 7
Blake’s 7

What a bumper month for gaming and more to come

October 2020, whilst being part of the most awful of years has produced some really interesting gaming developments. The in turn are an escape and get for mental health and well being, or as we used to just call them, fun!

The first one to mention is the brilliant AR physical/virtual crossover of Mario Kart Live Home Circuit. Here Nintendo bring us radio controlled Mario and Luigi Karts.

Mario kart AR
MarioKart Line Home Circuit

These are designed to be controlled using the Switch games console and driven around kitchen floors or where ever works as a suitable space for a race. The Kart itself hosts a camera that shows a grown level eye view of the what you would see if you were hovering above the Kart. So it is not the drivers eye view but a view that lets you see the driver and the kart.

Mario kart AR
Mario and camera

This camera view allows the switch to replace some of the physical view with digital content, such as being able to see the animated Mario looking over his shoulder as he reverses the Kart, or wrestles with the steering wheel. The AR also is able to detect large cardboard gates and which number they are in the 1-4 step, allowing it to superimpose a track shape that you initially set up by driving a Kart around to demonstrate.

Mixed
On Kart view

You can also ice other physical Karts on the same track with up to 3 other switch and Kart owners. Physical effects occur when you hit digital objects such as banana skins. Playing also allows the unlocking of faster Kart formulas that seem really quick when sat at near ground level. It is a really wonderful piece of work.

The following week the new Facebook Oculus Quest 2 VR headset was released. This is an incremental improvement on the free moving non tethered Quest and now also replaced the tethered Rift/S with the use of a USB cable for suitably powerful PCs.

Mixed

There was/is some controversy as it is the first time Facebook has mandated a full Facebook login and only that in order to use the device, which means if you get kicked off Facebook or delete the account you lose all your purchases, which is a bit odd. It also led to a mistake from Oculus to suggest that as you only have one login on Quest 2 you might be in breach of TOS if you have more than one headset active at the same time. This was quickly refuted, but as a long term Oculus owner (i.e. since before Facebook) this seems a ridiculous way to treat customers willing to upgrade. Anyway, lets see how that plays out.

In the world of PC’s a second generation of ray tracing graphics cards from Nvidia were announced and then in short supply the 3* series RTX. My older gaming laptop with its GTX 1070 was starting to struggle a bit with things like full VR Star Wars Squadrons so I decided to get a previous model RTX desktop a 2080 Super and WOW! these things fly.

Star Wars Squadrons in VR is one of the best ever VR action titles. Here is IGN’s gameplay coverage. It is difficult to get right but when you do it feels better than the movies πŸ™‚

Seeing Minecraft with its Ray tracing version is stunning on screen too. The photo will not mean much if you don’t use Minecraft, but the bottom layer is live realtime reflection, tracing every ray of light as it bounces around the view at full resolutions and frame rate. There are a stack of ray tracing and graphical features appearing in games, even Fortnite has it too now. Next month brings next gen consoles too with the very same jaw dropping visuals

Minecraft RTX
minecraft RTX

I also decided, because of Star Wars Squadrons and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 that it was worth getting a decent new control stick a Hotas (Hands on throttle and stick). These things make so much difference to flying, especially in space and in VR. Twisting and rolling get really intuitive.

This is the first desktop PC I have had for years, and now I have a glass side to it to show the me glowing and pulsating LED lighting on the gfx card that can be set to all sorts of patters and atmospheres too.

My Microsoft Flight Sim 2020 adventures continue, now with added gfx horsepower and I have take to having a little commute at the end of each working day before leaving my office. Randomly pick somewhere in the World and head out for 10-15 minutes. It is very relaxing.

Such as below, Athens, Northwest Canada, a 747 heading into the sunset and the souther tip of South America in the clouds.

Athens by Night
{
NW Canada
sunset
Southern Time of South America

I also gave a on VR head tacking a bit of a go with open track being driven from an iPhone app to allow the camera movement in Flight Sim to be driving by small head movements. VR is better, but this still gives something to add to the realism.

Tomorrow sees the launch of Watch Dogs Legion the first of the AAA xmas block busters, bring it on, lets play πŸ™‚

Amazing phone scanning and AR animation

In a break from the all day video calls and events I just quickly downloaded Qlone to my Iphone. I also printed out the black and white scanning reference map. This technique of a reference mat and moving the camera has been around for decades to varying degrees of success, so I was not sure how it would fair.

Superplastic

In about 1 minute of waving the phone around to fill the visual indicators on a virtual dome over this character I had a scan of him. A full colour 3D model in the app. I was so impressed with the initial quality I paid for the upgrade to it which did this remarkable thing.

Bear in mind the figure is just a bit of plastic, I did not highlight any joints or add any context to the model, but magically it just was able to walk around and animate itself instantly.

It can export to a multitude of 3D formats so I think I will have to get Unity back up and running again. Very impressed, well done Qlone

Flying virtually to a real virtual place

We don’t get to travel much at the moment so being able to virtual visit places is fun. Of course visiting places that exist, but don’t exist, yet do are even more fun πŸ™‚

Today is a slightly odd day as Predlet 1.0 is heading back to a face to face class at 6th form college for the first time since february and the 2020 lockdown. To avoid cramming into a train I need to drive here the 20 mins to college so I am up bright and early, so a good time to share this post which I put both on facebook and twitter yesterday, but is something more memorable (for me anyway).

Microsoft FlightSimulator2020 came out in mid August and I have always been a fan of flight sims in general, but this one lets you fly anywhere in the World because it uses Microsoft’s Bing photographic maps of the globe and combined that with a bunch of other data sources to create buildings, trees, traffic and even realtime weather for anywhere you choose to head to. The standard thing to do is jump in a plane and fly over your own house, we have all done it. You can pause the flight and jump off in a camera drone to explore the view and it is quite fascinating. You can of course do this with things like google maps and street view, I have played with that in VR too, where I actually found myself walking out of the train station. However the live digital twin of the world and the fun of actually flying different types of plane really give flight sim something else. Hence, I thought I would visit somewhere that is real, but also fictitious or virtual in one of my little planes.

When I wrote the first novel Reconfigure I set Roisin’s adventure in a very british style edge of town/city environment with lots of access to countryside and some rural locations. Whilst the science of the coordinate system was consistent with itself, the entire place was a mix of images in my head of places near me or that I have visited. When it came to the follow up Cont3xt I challenged myself to find a more exotic and remote location. As I wrote back then I found an actual island for sale and used Google Earth to scout the location off the Brazilian coast. I used Street View to head to the local mainland town and wander around to get the feel of the place. Lots of the things in the book, despite it being scifi, are based on real things. It is worth noting Roisin has a real Twitter account (key in the original story), Marmite is almost a second character, she builds systems using Unity and even uses protocols like MQTT sole some things. OK the quantum computing part is a bit more off the chart but its all based on real theories extended a little to tell a good yarn.

Along come Flightsim2020 with the ability to fly anywhere in the world. The navigation map to select where to fly lets you click anywhere but it works best if you have an airfield to start from, it feels more like a real journey. Whilst the main town in Cont3xt has an aiport there is also a grass landing strip on another island about 1 mile east of Roisin’s island. I headed there.

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
Landing strip

I took off, avoiding the trees at the end of the runway and as I banked and levelled on the right course, there it was.

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
heading to the island

I got quick a shiver down my neck and back as it took me back to the buzz of writing the books and the fun of the story and adventure, the anticipation of the fun others might have reading it.

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
Overview with the plane

The island in context has a slightly larger building and a helipad, plus a large “container” but of course they were the artefacts I added in the story.

I also then headed North, a trip that used boats in the book, toward the main town.

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
Heading to town

And there it was the jetty and the market shops that Roisin tries to stay out of trouble in while gathering supplies (including more Marmite)

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
Town

I then flew back, over the island again and landed (yes actually landed not crashed) the plane one the grass strip nearby.

Flying over my books island http://cont3xtbook.co.uk
Heading back

The whole flight was awe-inspiring. I realise that its more of an incredible personal experience for me as a writer but it made me consider the sort of images and film like sequences I saw in my head that I then wrote in the words. It made me smile doing it and writing this πŸ™‚ I hope you get a kick out of this too.

Sansar-Lost Horizon party in VR

Last weekend, Friday 3rd July and Sat 4th July 2020 the virtual world Sansar hosted the Glastonbury Shangrila set of gigs called Lost Horizon. I decided I really should attend as it looked such an epic lineup and attempt to put on 3pm-3am constant music over several stages for 2 days, in VR.

Sansar was originally a Linden Lab( Of Second Life fame) spin off, focussed on using newer tech to get people into the environment. I was in there back in 2017 importing a tilt brush sculpture into my own space. I had been in the early beta but it was all NDA so I didn’t post photos until it went live.

Now #sansar is live I can post my google tiltbrush import #art
Early Sansar

Sansar was recently sold off to Wookie Ventures, but I was pleased to see that my Sansar account even from back then still worked, and I had the “look I have been here since year dot” style level on my profile.

I had a quick look around new Sansar the days before the event, you know to get the avatar in good shape and not look a total n00b moving around etc. It had changed a lot, very much in keeping with the style on VR apps with pop up menus you can place in space or float from you wrist. It also looked and sounded great

OculusScreenshot1593535943
New Sansar Nexus

Incidentally, for some reason all the photos I took from within the Oculus wrist band came out square, it all looked much better in VR and moving.

I visited the popular 2077 cyberpunk world too, again all as prep. All very much in keeping with the whole scene, and great to see Max Headroom (look him up kids) on a screen for my generation of geeks.

OculusScreenshot1593535751
Cyberpunk 2077

The real star though was the set of gigs both of dance music, some urban house or something I don’t even know and some live bands performing all manner of wonderful tunes.

Now this is where my experience may have got a little more freaky. I had my Oculus Rift S ready to go for the visuals, but I also wore my Woojer haptics vest that hits your body with bass lines and clever sensory perception through sound, then that fed to my Nuraphone in ear and over ear headphones, that are tuned to my individual hearing pattern. Its a lot of clobber to be working but it had to be tried. (Note this is all bought and paid for no product placement here!)

Sansar lost horizon
All the kit

As I logged into Sansar and I arrived at the Nexus I immediately got a blast on through all the kit, as I teleported to the first stage I arrived at the landing zone, the stage was a little walk away, but already the dance music bass line was hitting me physically as well as sounding great. I had to turn the haptics down a little to start off with to get used to it as I approached the arena.

Once in, and this applied to all the shows I went to, the DJ, in this case, was green screened into the booth, so whilst we were all avatars, that DJ was theirselves doing their thing.

Sansar lost horizon

Everyone else was an avatar of many different forms, the vanilla basic first avatar to some incredible creations. I couldn’t find my normal predator kit so I went with my second option of green hair and some cyberpunk kit. I also picked up a set of animations and dance moves free form the shop but went on to buy a whole lot more to add to the fun.

The music and the feeling was incredibly intense and I tried all the stages in my first 3 hours at the event. I liked the DJ stuff but live bands were even better.

Sansar lost horizon

I dropped out after 3 hours just to make sure I wasn’t shaking myself to pieces, and to grab some food. I also mentioned it to Predlet 2.0, he installed Sansar and got set up, he didn’t set his VR up but it supports desktop.

He was having a blast with silly avatars too. We were at the Fat Boy Slim gig, as you can see below. Fat Boy Slim is waving in the background. I am rocking a guitar that I went and bought, as I was enjoying the actual bands and Predlet 2.0 was a dancing shark for this one.

Lost horizon festival Sansar 2020
Fatboy slim and us

In Sansar you have a choice about how much you want to interact, I love having lots of dance moves and gesture and string them together in time with the music, it was clear others were just listening, living the avatar to dance, but it’s all good. Predlet 2.0 shark liked doing head spins.

Lost horizon festival Sansar 2020
More shark

You can mix between the first person view, or as in these photos orbit the camera around. If you are dancing its best to see what you are doing with the avatar from the outside.

Occasional crashes or re-sharding sent me back to my own little room but I stayed for another 3 or 4 hours on the first day. Thats a lot of VR and haptic feedback and banging tunes in your head I have to say. I was worn out πŸ™‚

Lost horizon festival Sansar 2020
Waiting to get back in

Some of the venues got us all flying around with low gravity or bouncing pads, so I got to be all rock and roll on a rooftop.

Lost horizon festival Sansar 2020
roof

I got an awful lot of moves and animations, many from names I know well from Second Life. These all strung together in a wonderfully esoteric way and the puppetry of dancing got more and more fun.

It was also clear that there were an awful lot of people with years in Sansar, intricate avatars, lots of youtubers streaming too. Equally there were some people who apparently had never been in any virtual world or games before. These people were sort of amusing in they would arrive and shout to their friend, “can you hear me”, “Is that you?”, “Look what I can do?” which was moderately funny, but then they would start pointing out weirdness in avatars thinking no one could hear them. I had left my channel open so I could. There were also some people, as in any crowd looking for a fight, swearing or being abusive, they were politely reminded by Sansar helpers/bouncers to chill out and that was in fact PG-13. I saw a few of those less capable of enjoying space with others leave, or get booted for being grievers. Its 2006 all over again, as we used to have to do that event at the IBM Wimbledon Second Life event.

I saw a lot of bands, so many I can’t name them all but on day 2 probably about 5 hours in I caught UK metal/punk/street band PENGSHUi and they absolutely rocked. If nothing else it was the mix of styles messing and thrashing my haptic Woojer. It was certainly time to break out the guitar. Yes I even bought the album afterwards, the first music I have bought for years as a memory of the event.

Lost horizon festival Sansar 2020
PENGSHUi

I spent about 10-12 hours in total out of the 24 available. The Woojer and Nuraphones added a great deal to my personal experience. I know a lot of other people were enjoying it and the production was fantastic. It is the best virtual event I have been too, not the longest as 2 weeks running Wimbledon in SL would probably take that record, and that was different. This was pure escapism, rocking music and a bunch of fellow mad virtual world enthusiasts and n00bs alike coming together in this weird locked down pandemic.

If I have note already posted all the photos I managed to take above they are in this album, but go check out the videos and other official content, not least PENGSHUi (Yay I see my avatar)

Or once of the DJ’s like Fatboy Slim (There were multiple shared rooms, looks like I wasn’t in the filmed room this time πŸ™‚ )

Kayaks and Space Stations – a great gaming weekend

Microsofts Game Pass is a great way to get to experience games that you may not have noticed before or to try something completely new. As a subscription you get access to a 100 or so games, in a library that has everything from AAA games to quirky indie’s and also a lot of great retro content.

This weekend I noticed Observation appear on the list by No Code studios and originally released on the PC in May 2019. For me that month is a bit of a blur after the concussion in April so my gaming slowed a bit. Still I was glad to bump into the BAFTA winning experience on Saturday. Now I play a lot of games, I also have written some slightly out there Sci-Fi with Reconfigure and Cont3xt, top that with have watched lots of great mind bending sci-fi movies and shows and read a few books too, and I have to say Observation was up there with some of the best off all those experiences. It had a 2001 Space Odyssey, Moon and Gravity etc feel to it and the story was well slotted into that. As a game the control of a corrupted AI trying to help the remaining crew member but only able to access the ship systems through cctv cameras and an occasional use of a roving sphere was fantastic. The art direction, the tweaks on the camera feeds, the odd outages and secondary systems to access all added to it. So much so that I played it most of Saturday and then Sunday again. It is not a really long game, not a RDR 2 or anything, but its doesn’t need to be as it is certainly longer than any film. The emotional involvement and intrigue as too what was going on was truly engrossing. No spoilers, but it’s suitably trippy. It is certainly one of the best games I have played for story and inventive presentation.

Observation
Observation

My other notable gaming experience was the launch of nDreams Phantom:Covert Ops for my Oculus VR rigs (Quest and Rift S). This introduces a really innovative approach to VR movement and to stealth action games. You play sat on a chair as you are a special ops soldier in a stealthy kayak. You control the boat with your hand controllers by gripping the two ended paddle with each hand and pushing down into the water on alternate sides of the boat. You are trying to sneak into a waterlogged compound and have a variety of ways to get passed guards and their spotlights. Sat on you boat you have various weapons and devices strapped to you and it. The paddle locks onto the left of the boat, a pistol is on your chest, a machine gun on your back, and a sniper rifle on the right. A set of binoculars sits just in front. Using these, some quiet paddling, hiding in reeds and finding tunnels you work your way in. Like all stealth games you don’t want to get into a full on fire fight, but if you do you can survive. Sat in the kayak at the start you can almost feel the water and the damp air. The paddling (despite not having a pole to link both hands) seems to get the shoulders going, especially if you are trying to quickly cross a dark, but open body of water having distracted a guard shooting a light out. The game also is cross play with the same save game and unlocks on quest appearing as the ones I unlocked on the Rift S. The only disadvantage to this is not being able to have more than one save game for other family members to play, a problem across the Oculus range as they are single facebook account machines. Anyway, love it, well done all just up the road in Farnborough, a revolutionary game and really good fun. Check out the official video below.

Phantom Covert Ops

Addicted to bass – Woojer haptics

Sometime last year I backed the second incarnation of a haptic feedback vest the Woojer Edge. Today it arrived and it is quite a piece of kit. No fancy unboxing video from me, not photos, though it was a nice box, but I just ripped it open like I was 5 and it was Christmas. Not please, I backed it, it means I paid for it, so there is no product placement or anything here. I like tech and gadgets and haptics it something I am very interested in anyway.

Woojer edge

What does it do? I hear you ask. It turns sound into more of an impact on the body of the wearer. In particular the more bass notes and sounds, crashes and bangs. You wear it like a regular laptop back with a solid back panel, which can also incorporate a rick for a laptop to be work with it. I didn’t go down that option, yet. It connects to any audio source via a variety of means, bluetooth (which I have not used yet) 3.5mm or usb-c connectors. You attach everything to the small round control panel on the picture above. Then you connect your headphones to it, or you mirror audio, double bluetooth etc. Again I stuck with a 3.5mm connection to get to the experience.

Woojer have a calibration video on youtube which steps you through putting your audio source up to maximum, you don’t have to worry as the Woojer is the volume control for the head phones too and not a straight pass thru of the same max volume. I did this first on my mac and the range of impacts, vibrations and buzz it gave right away made me jump. It is not just a big single bass kicking you. They then direct you to a youtube playlist of tunes with a lot of complex beats that happen to drive the Woojer really well. You have, like any audio system, an up and down control on the impact and effect, cranked right up it can almost be painful, they suggest a lower value that is not a distraction, so you sort of blend to meet your ears and eyes. I had also gone full tilt in using my full over ear and in ear Nuraphone headphones that are balanced to my hearing profile by an app. They are always quite an experience in their own right. They balanced nicely with the bass they deliver around the ear and the body smacking of the Woojer.

Next up, it was over the Oculus Rift S and the PC. After the inevitable update to both oculus and windows I completely encased my head with the over ears and the VR headset and dived into the old favourite beat sabre. Wearing the Woojer felt a little more clunky as 2 of the 9 feedback speakers are in the should strap just above the armpit, but to be honest I forget that detail almost right away. The banging tunes and the frantic sabre action were awesome. Though, for beat sabre I think the beauty is the flow of the sword play almost without any resistance, but this was a borderline thing as it’s really rather visceral.

A couple of those levels and I swapped over to Pistol Whip. I deliberately put it on no fail so I could see what happened in various situations. I dived into the newest map, Religion, not even stopping to swap to the baba yaga guns from John Wick. It was eye blasting, ear blasting and chest lastingly good. The kick from shooting the guns of both the hand controller rumble and the boom the body feels combined with the music and also the definite impact if you get shot was very impressive. I have written a lot about virtual experiences and feeling and remembering them, and I certainly will not forget those first few shots in Pistol Whip. Then the gamer brain takes over, and I was lost in the level. Pistol Whip and Beat Sabre are great flow generators. I got to the end of the level (no other chose as no fail on :). I then had to figure out which bit to unlock and take off first to extricate myself.

I was not sure what the impact on the brain and body was for long term use. Just as some VR experiences can make you feel a little woozy (for many its a no go altogether) bass also makes your stomach rumble and nerves tingle. I remember when the original Battlestar Galactica film was show in sensurround in the cinema in the late 70’s. They used huge bass sub woofers to provide another kick (it was a great film but this was trying to out do the previous years Star Wars). Lots of people couldn’t cope and would leave the theatre feeling ill. I do remember the galactica flying slowly past on the screen as an 11 year old me felt his lunch gurgle, but stay put.

Post Woojer, I feel some tingly buzz, but it’s not horrible, more like one of those shiatzu neck messages have been at work. I will of course experiment on some more things. Looking forward to engines on spaceships in elite and no mans sky. Also there are some great games in my library that really need another look and this is a great excuse. I also will be seeing what its like being on the Oculus Quest and not tethered, probably using lighter in ear headphones. I think it might be cool to watch a few films, like John Wick, Star wars or even…. the original Battlestar Galactica… Ooooh! L8rs…..

Keeping sociable with tech

I was recently invited, as chair of BCS animation and games specialist group to partake in a BCS webinar on cultural enrichment and staying sociable with IT. Between us we discussed Art, volunteering and social engagement and of course games. Take a look, you may find something that interests you, helps you or your friends and family. I definitely need a haircut !