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.
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.
I was catching up on some blogs before jumping on a train and heading to London to discuss one of my major threads of work at the moment which could be described of gamification of a particular genre of interaction. Up on the feed reader pop’s Raph’s gamification of everything post. Its always hard to ignore serendipity when its been so vital to me over the years.
I am not going to repeat what Raph said, go and read it, but he makes a very good points that whatever your objections to the gamification of certain services, however industries, governments, leaders are using basic human psychology, paired with the communication the web gives us, this sort of interaction is not going to go away and we need to take a balanced view.
If you have ever got a buzz from receiving a level up in a game, or a promotion level at work, or a prize at a competition or a complement well meant then you already know of the impact of recognition.
Computer mediated experiences allow very quickly for new achievements to be generated for a never ending set of levels and trophies to be created. If you map that to a promotion structure in your average corporate, those events are few and far between and unable to be restructured due to legacy promotions of others. It is fairly easy though for World of Warcraft to introduce another 10 levels on top of the uber level of 70, or for Pet Society to introduce yet more rainbow poo.
Of course, as Raph points out, when these reward structures are applied to things such as parenting, politics, product use who is it who decides the structure and what are their motivations.
“There are plenty of valid concerns to be had here. But it’s not going to go away. Instead, we need to be thinking about what our accommodation is with these technologies and approaches. Almost all of this arises simply out of better knowledge of ourselves and our psychology paired with improvements in communications technology. And that is not a new problem — it’s an old one.”
“the concerns that arise from gameifying the world apply in larger measure to non-games.”
The last part of the BBC Virtual Revolution programme looked at Homo Interneticus. How we are evolving and changin the way we enagage with information and with one another. There are of course concerns to be raised but there is also the potential that we are in fact now interacting in ways that suit how our brains work, in an associative fashion rather than in a way that has been restricted by some of the ways we could interact with information before. (I took the web behaviour test BTW and came up as a Web Octopus)
It was interesting in the programme to hear Susan Greenfield refer to the dangers of online interaction for our brains. Here premise being that there are no consequences to our interactions online, because if you break something in the real world its broken, break it online and it doesn’t exist. That is of course missing quite a lot. There clearly are consequences to your online interactions. True if you play a game with respawning on, you die, you are back again. That though is like playing hide and seek as a child. You are found, you go hide again. However when you interaction is with people and their things online you have the ability to enhance or reduce the quality of the relationship with them just as much as sitting around at dinner. It is true if you understanding of physics comes solely from a simulation of physics you may be surprised at the real world results, but equally you may learn more about physics by being able to play with and experience forces that would be impossible/really hard in real life.
I did really like the video Raph posted from Stargate studios on video compositing and not believing everything we see. It’s come a long way from a bit of film projected behind an actor. Though I do find some of the street scene changes in this as a little odd. Why not just leave it as it was? Which I guess comes back to the point. Who makes the changes and why.
There is some cool content for G.I. Joe the movie appearing on PS3 home. A set of clothing parts in the threads store. This is great as I can now cover my face, in protest at not being able to have green hair for some still inexplicable reason.
It was great to see the G.I. Joe clothes spread through home in various combinations. Here I am a mix of white ninja, black ninja and wearing Star Trek original series trousers. An interesting combination.
Whilst I was on I noticed a new promo space for a game called Fat Princess. It was a cartoon themed environment with lots of statues matching the game. Interestingly it had a little mini treasure hunt Xi style. In the environment (whilst still populated with other users) you are able to hunt cake hidden in little bird cages and answer eight questions on the game. This is not state of the art gaming, but I did feel the need to answer. It is also interesting as your view of the space is actually different to that of others. i.e. you wont see the cake unless you are personally on the quest, on completing the quest the princess changes into the larger version of the princess. This is a reward, but for the individual player. Everyone else will be seeing you as an avatar in world, but the princess will be the regular princess.
This concept can be tricky for people lost in the concept of a unified world. There is no reason to not see a completely different representation of a world to every other user of that world. Of course there is then the question of what it is you are all there at the same time for in the first place.
One other twist was that completing the quest, bothering to engage with the advert in effect, gives you a virtual object. In this case the royal throne to place in your own apartment.
So here I am, in my lightly decorated apartment (without the ability to upload my own pictures and videos as I live in Europe and SCEE cant seem to get round UGC legal issues), wearing my G.I. Joe cool costume (that doubles as a protest for no green hair) sitting in my Fat Princess virtual throne that I won by walking around an immersive advert with lots of other people (mostly all wearing G.I. Joe clothes).
These combinations of technology packaged for consumer use are coming think and fast from E3. (I really must go next year!)
This time using a PSP with a camera and some registration markers to allow the collection and battling of multiple handheld views of individual pokemon style characters.
Now I have Eye of the Beholder an AR card game on the PS3 and the last few blog posts have been about Natal and Eye Pet. However this has a subtle extra point. The representation of a character via the magic window effect off a registration point can be done on anything, what they have done here though is use the connectivity of the PSP to allow more that one point of view or experience to be shared.
I see my view of the Augmented World, you see yours and we interact through it. Sounds like a metaverse to me, once we get from the single user experience (which is very cool but essentially a book or a movie) we then start to get to augmented reality virtual world brokered human communication.
In this example the kids are battling together in the same place, but as everywhere is local and distance does not exist on the web you can extrapolate how this could expand (as with Natal and the other tech) to a mixed mode virtual world or communication channel.
I bumped into this via the Guardian games blog feed on Youtube