What a bumper time for games it is, and on 9th November the latest of my all time favourite racing games Forza Horizon arrived on the Xbox, The games have always had a large free roaming area to collect, drive, race and photograph some fantastic cars. Each generation gets more jaw dropping as it pushes the limits of what can be done with the graphics, sounds physics. Number 4 in the series was set in the UK, building on a huge map that merged many of key locations and and cities into a manageable terrain. Number 5 has moved to Mexico and even more stunning scenes await there. The game is bundled into Microsoft Xbox Game Pass, but being a fan I bought the full version and all the expansions, knowing full well that I will be playing this on and off for years.
The beauty of Forza Horizon is that “where we are going we don’t need roads”. There are roads and tracks and you can just stick to those but you can also tear across the landscape in even the most unsuitable car possible. This may seem at odds with the precision feel of the driving simulation but it always manages to walk that line between arcade lunacy and pure driving simulator. Why would you go tearing around the scenery, well its for the views like this.
The scenery alters across many different biomes, the time of day and weather also make for great variations and the game itself switches between spring, summer, autumn and winter every week.
Also of note is the radio stations, prerecorded play lists of rock, dance, classical music that have wonderful DJ voice overs that often refer back to things that are happening such as event s just raced or about to come up. It is enjoyable to just pick a car, and casually (or otherwise) drive around the place seeing the sites and smoking up the tunes.
A feature of Forza that I always share and enthuse about is the custom paint and decals for the cars. The game has managed to preserve artwork with each generation of the game so effort in creating these is not wasted. I use the decals as a demonstration of in game advertising and support with both my martial art and my Reconfigure books represented, along with a stylised predator face based on the Wii Mii version. These designs appear with my car in other peoples games and can also be downloaded, though there are some much better painters doing some great work to check out.
There are cars from 3 wheelers to high end supercars, over 500 different models and all hyper detailed in and out. There are drag races, giant leaps and even houses to buy.
There are lots of online multiplayer angles to join in on, but I really enjoy driving against the Drivatars of friends and family. Here, a single player race is populated by names and cars of people you know driving to some degree in the way they would drive if they were there. This degree of personalisation is always great fun.
If you are looking at these shots and saying, oh it all looks too shiny to be real though, I saw this vehicle parked outside a London train station in a recent (and long time since I have been out) trip.
I have already blasted through many of the races and levels, the last game was one of the few I have level capped and “prestiged” on. That really just comes with lots of time more than any particular skill, though doing well in races, performing superb stunts, drifting, speeding and crashing the scenery all ramp up the levels more quickly.
It is also great that I can play this on PC and on Xbox Series X but also now its available as a cloud game. Its juts a pity that our communication infrastructure on the train lines is not up to using that, but its still good if other members of the family are playing something else at home.
The recording of my BCS Animation and games pitch is now live on the site and on youtube. Unfortunately only the live audience will get to see the larger avatar I was using to deliver this pitch, as the zoom presentation feed is only of the shared screen with a tiny top left insert of the avatar and my dulcet and somewhat stuttering tones tones. It took a few minutes to get revved up and to many I might be stating the obvious but it is surprising how many people don’t get the importance of user generated content and/or expression in virtual worlds and games.
Official site is here but added the youtube below to save a click or two.
Hot on the heels of my BCS animation and games webinar on the games of 2020 I was delighted to be invited to pop along to my favourite podcast, Games At Work, as a guest to talk about my personal views of some of the thing going on in the tech and games worlds including AR and VR.
To hear us riff on a range of subjects head over to here to website and the show links or look for Games at work dot biz on your favourite podcast repository.
I have had the honour to be on before, the last time was in June 2020, a mentally trying time that the podcast recording really helped with. Its always a blast to record, they kindly had me on years ago too when I first published my Sci-fi Novels Reconfigure and Cont3xt. Given it is now on episode 311 you can tell this podcast is certainly not a fad or a flash in the pan but a wonderfully produced and entertaining experience, despite my ramblings and book pitching. Enjoy.
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.
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.
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!)
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂 ) As well as some 80’s games to play, really old eight bit glories there was this 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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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 !
Way back in the mists of time I wrote how utterly ridiculous the EA lock down of accounts was that effectively removed any parental control in favour of a lazy and restrictive approach. This post “A mess with Origin, EA and Xbox” has been the most commented and read post of all of mine here on Feeding Edge, it was in 2014, its now 2020 and still it gets comments from annoyed parents wondering what the heck is going on.
Yesterday Predlet 2.0 turned 13. He was both looking forward too, and then greeted by, a coming of age with the EA online system of bureaucracy. On sparking up Need for Speed he was informed he qualified for a magical teen account. After a bit of email address admin my side we managed to accept it.
It means I will no be able to validate easily if EA ever get off this blanket removal of any parental choice, which I should imagine forces many parent to help their kids lie about their age on online accounts. Simply to make life easier for EA.
Predlet 2.0 will remember EA doing this for a long while, whilst he is overjoyed at coming of age in the eyes of a games company, he, and his friends are not as big a fan of EA as a brand as they might have been.
All for controls on what can and can’t be used online by minors, but equally it is ultimately parental controls that should be the key, so that from an early age we can help kids come to terms with the online world through guidance and openness.