Get Spaced!

My latest obsession is Space Engineers from the makers of Miner Wars 2081.


SE brings the survival crafting genre to space and though still in alpha is available on Steam already. I have been eying it for some time and recently picked it up on sale at what turned out to be just the right time. Three updates in the last two weeks have added a great deal of content to the game including a fully developed (if still alpha stage) component and object construction system. I’ve already put forty hours into the game in the past couple of weeks and have gone straight to my PC several times after work to go back to welding plates together. It’s work that at first glance seems tedious, but turns out to be very satisfying and relaxing.

I like this genre (obviously) and besides SE have put a lot of time into Don’t Starve, though have never cared for Minecraft, which I find stylistically unappealing and difficult to manage due to colorblindness. For someone with eyes like mine, textures are very important and simple color palette swaps on otherwise identical material tiles just leave me trying to mine all the wrong things at all the wrong times. So far this has not been too much of a problem in SE, although there are times when I find myself cursing the low level of light produced by both my suit and ships equipped with spotlights while inside or on the dark side of asteroids.

Getting lost can have serious consequences in survival mode, so you need to get a beacon up before you go flying off after another asteroid or ship. This little construct is technically a small ship, which made the material cost of the beacon much lower than if I had attached a station grade beacon to the platform itself.
Getting lost can have serious consequences in survival mode, so you need to get a beacon up before you go flying off after another asteroid or ship. This little construct is technically a small ship, which made the material cost of the beacon much lower than if I had attached a station grade beacon to the platform itself.

Space Engineers has just recently added the threat of indiscriminate meteors but is otherwise devoid of any antagonists save for the environment itself. There are no monsters attacking you, but in survival mode your suit power is limited and consumed by all jet pack and work actions. You’ll need to keep either a med bay or cockpit seat powered and available in order to charge back up every few minutes (cockpits keep you fully juiced up while inside any powered ship). Aside from that, the only survival challenge is not slamming yourself into the side of whatever you are jetpacking or piloting towards, something I discovered the hard way.

Your Engineer

All players are engineers, though you can build weapons and fight with other players if you are into that sort of thing but as pointed out by the developers Space Engineers is not “about troops…it should be about the machinery you build.” When loading maps, pithy quotes from engineers, technologists, and philosophers are displayed demonstrating the esoteric aspect of the seemingly mundane acts of building, maintaining, mining, and processing ore. Food, water, and oxygen are not concerns as your suit provides all the sustaining life support you need so long as it has power.

You can build interior spaces, however they are not pressurized and you are still always in your suit. Nevertheless, it still seemed like one of the first things I should build were some modest astronaut accommodations.
You can build interior spaces, however they are not pressurized and you are still always in your suit. Nevertheless, it still seemed like one of the first things I should build were some modest astronaut accommodations.

The Environment

Maps are launched from a map creation panel much like a multiplayer FPS or RTS in which you choose the size of the environment and the number of mineral rich asteroids it will contain. The games take place in relatively small pockets of space and you can actually get quite far with your jetpack alone, just make sure there is a recharge at your target!

A recent update added random cargo ships that can be toggled on during map creation. Automated transports periodically travel through your sector and if you’re feeling thiefly you can commandeer these for your own use. At present there seems to be no risk in this but the object ownership mechanics are not yet in place, so I would imagine that in the future hijacking these shipments will have consequences.

Your Creations

Lastly and most importantly are your creations. Structures are classed as small ships, large ships, and immobile stations. The size of the structure determines the material cost of components attached to it. The actual construction needs vary depending on the current game mode, Creative or Survival.

My life’s work, a mining ship that tears through iron and nickel ore. The recently implemented conveyor objects allowed me to pipe all of the ore directly into a cargo container which can be emptied into a collection funnel above my refiners. Neato!
My life’s work, a mining ship that tears through iron and nickel ore. The recently implemented conveyor objects allowed me to pipe all of the ore directly into a cargo container which can be emptied into a collection funnel above my refineries. Neato!

Creative Mode is a pure sandbox and until recently was the only available game type. You can choose any component type and simply point and click to paint the component into the spatial grid. With only creative mode available for many months, most players have been building bigger and bigger star ships with nearly no practical application in the game (yet). A browse through the Steam Workshop will turn up a number of great builds from purely original dreadnaughts to builds of the Millennium Falcon.

The recently added Survival Mode introduced actual material requirements to the game finally gives mining a reason to exist. Players must first have basic components like steel plate in their inventory to paint the framework of an item into space and then weld all components to the frame until complete. Components are built in an assembler (an extremely versatile descendant of the 3D printer) into which you place ingots of materials. Ingots are produced by refineries, into which you place raw ore mined from asteroids. Alternatively, you can scrap existing ships and recover components to build into the new items. At present, there is no material loss when breaking down items (I hope it stays this way).

Your welding torch and grinder allow you to wax on and wax off, respectively.
Your welding torch and grinder allow you to wax on and wax off, respectively.

I’ve spent most of my time in the last couple of weeks in a survival scenario that begins with a massive ship crashed into an asteroid and nothing else. The ship is powered and mobile, but I have been cannibalizing it to build a platform and smaller, more useful ships.

So much steel recovered and yet so much left on this hulk. The amount of materials that go into ships of this size is not really clear until you get into survival mode and start trying to manage your logistics
So much steel recovered and yet so much left on this hulk. The amount of materials that go into ships of this size is not really clear until you get into survival mode and start trying to manage your logistics

After creative mode, survival mode seems a bit tedious at first since one cannot simply point and click an enormous ship into existence. The flip side however is that the things your build are immensely more satisfying. I’ve slowly built myself a very functional mining ship over the last week investing probably ten hours or so into something that could have been built in half an hour in creative mode. As any player of a survival crafting game can tell you, this is the real payoff such games, simply seeing your creation come into reality as you build it bit by bit and knowing every nut and bolt of it intimately. After having spent so much time on this one ship, it matters to me more than something I would have thrown together in the sandbox. With material and time limits being more realistic in survival mode, I am sure the flood of enormous ships the workshop will begin trending to smaller, cleverly built ships that are more functional and interesting. I’m looking forward to more time with this title.

Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions

Screenshot_20140301_003649I spent the last two days on my second Elder Scrolls Online beta test. I wanted to post about it after the first beta I participated in but the NDA was still in effect. With the NDA lifted, I can now publicly pass nerd judgment.

I’m coming at ESO primarily as a longtime fan of the Elder Scrolls series more so than an avid MMO player. In general I do not like MMOs, though every couple years I try a new one to see if I still dislike the form as much as I remember. I spent several months playing Dark Ages of Camelot back when it launched, a year on WoW after it launched, and only about two months on Star Wars: Old Republic, also at launch.

I had little choice but to try out ESO because despite my usual dislike of MMOs, and the rumor was that you could play it almost entirely like a single player game. I managed to make level 14 in the course of these two play weekends and only grouped once for a fight I simply could not win, although I am sure after some more time in game that had I just come back in two levels I could have taken the mob on my own. Other than that it was solo time for most of my weekends with the zone chat disabled because I just didn’t need to hear the same three neck beard arguments ad inifitum.

There is no shortage of write ups on the web about the first few levels and the content offered in them so I will not rehash any of that here.


One of the greatest complaints on the gaming blogs after the last beta weekend was that the game was too linear and did not allow for exploration. Most of the reviewers seemed to base this entirely on the first six levels or so which is a bit silly considering that these levels have to provide enough structured content to keep complete newbies from getting lost and putting down the game immediately. It’s true that the first areas (I played through early levels in both Ebonheart Pact and Daggerfall Covenant) leave little else for you to do but bang through the first six quests, but you can finish the entire newbie garden in about an hour once you’ve got your feet and know how all the mechanics work. The first five levels of any characters existence are of little note anyway.

By the time you reach the second tier area, it becomes apparent (if you’ve even tried to go off the main road) that there are treasure chests hidden all over the world. I really enjoyed sniffing these out because the spawn frequently enough in out of the way places that you can find several of them and I found quite a bit of good loot in them. There are also “soul shards” hidden about the world that you can collect in threes for a not insignificant amount of bonus skill points.

That being said, this is not like other Elder Scrolls titles in that there simply doesn’t seem to be many out of the way hidden dungeons that are not part of a particular quest. I did find a few side quests this way but with some NPC standing in front of the cave it just doesn’t have that same feeling as other ES titles that you’ve found something unique that no one else has set foot into for years or would never dare go.


kajiithelmThe crafting in ESO is one of its best features. Foodstuff consumables are craftable with reagents that are practically jumping into your pockets out of crates and barrels along with new recipes to turn them into food and drink. Both offer lasting buffs to health, magicka, or stamina in the form of a max bonus or regen bonus, nothing groundbreaking there. Compared to the cooking offered in Skyrim, it is a hundred fold more useful and is essential for a solo style player to buff their stats.

My main crafting focus was on blacksmithing, which is simple to manage yet allows you to make significant and useful items early on and to enhance them in many ways. Items are constructed of two elements, a base element ( e.g. iron or steel) that determines the item base tier and a secondary element that determines what style motif to which the armor will conform. Each of the races of Tamriel has its own style motif which can be learned from picking up books on each. Even the Kajiit and Argonian have their own style motifs (finally, wtf Bethesda) and I really liked the look of the Kajiit helm I added to my otherwise Nord setup. Only the secondary elements can be purchased from vendors (they also drop).

Additionally, gems can be expended to add traits to craft items, but only after those traits have been learned by researching an item already bearing that trait. Research occurs on a static clock so you can fire it up before logging off and/or let it run while doing other things. This mechanic seems to be popular and I know other MMOs have implemented it since it first showed up (to my knowledge in Eve Online).

Existing items can also be improved with additional reagent types such as honing stones and Dwarven oil. This is where I have a gripe, as improvement can be applied with anywhere from one to five of the improvement reagents with each one you add adding another 20% to your chance of success. If you fail the item is destroyed, a man rings your doorbell, and he punches you in the face as you open the door. Okay so the punching does not actually happen, but you’ll sure feel like it did when you build a new item and decide that 80% odds are pretty good but lose the item anyway. I hate this mechanic and would have rather they just made the reagents five times less plentiful and only require one. This gambling mechanic is no fun and just teaches you to wait until you have five anyway, so why even tempt us?


Combat is an interesting mix of real time hit per click and auto targeted cool down abilities. Melee is hit per click like single player ES games, but magic attacks will remember the target that was in your crosshair when you started casting and will find its way to the target (if still in range) even if you move to the left or right, at least in PVE. I can’t say for sure with PVP (about which I will have more to say in a moment). The cooldown on all abilities seems to be very quick with stamina and magicka being the real limit to what you can do when. One of the big letdowns with Star Wars: Old Republic was its use of the old click to acquire a target and cue up the same four abilities dynamic that had already grown so stale in WoW. At early levels you still end up executing the same few moves in a row (there is no queue) until your targets become more varied and required different tactics.

There is no enormous menu of items and abilities as per the other MMOs I have played. There are only five hot keys allowed for each weapon load out you have and you can’t even use the second load out until level 15 so I never got to try that bit out. Surely some of this is because of the limits imposed by future support of ESO on PS4 and Xbox One and the controllers that will be used on those platforms. However I find this preferable to six rows containing every ability ever because when given that many options I still can’t find what I need when I really want it. The limited set requires you to have a plan of attack and execute it and if your next target is different, then you must rearrange your small set of keys. Having forty shortcuts never worked for me because when things got crazy there was only a 10% chance I could remember the location or hotkey for Divine Intervention in time to use it.


I got to PVP late on the last day but in short, I hated it. I’ve never been good at PVP in MMOs for the most part so I’m a hard sell on this feature, it’s one that just doesn’t appeal to me. For my part PVP games are Quake, or I’m not playing them.

All of Cyrodil is the battleground and each of the three factions has forts that can be taken, lost, and retaken, each supported by smaller nearby locations like farms and lumbermills which also must be defended or taken. You and 100 of your closest friends use siege weapons to breach the keeps and claim Elder Scrolls tucked away within. What it breaks down to for me is way too many people playing a game of capture the flag. If you are a melee character you get nuked before you can swing your blade. If there is no forward camp up when you die you have to run fifteen miles back to the fight (unless you have bought a mount for a small fortune of 17,400 gold) only to die again in an equally ridiculous way. Absolutely nothing about it was fun because unless you belong to a guild that only does this one thing with their lives you will never be on the winning side of the battle, period. I’m disappointed that this was the route Zenimax took for PVP, but again, I don’t generally like PVP, so this part of the game just doesn’t cater to me. There are other quest type options for the PVP areas that are scouting based missions but without a mount they just seemed like they would be work. I actually had much more fun back in Old Republic with its smaller 10 vs 10 maps on quick rotation.


There is a great deal of polish on the content in the Ebonheart Pact areas, but the time I spent beta before last in the Daggerfall Covenant area was less than impressive. NPCs spawned in silly places at the wrong time, reagents for crafting where far too scarce, and the voice acting and writing for Daggerfall is just not as good as Ebonheart Pact. In some instances it was downright abysmal. The graphics are breathtaking all over but I have not mentioned them until now because as much as I appreciate them they don’t make the game in any case. For my money I will not likely buy this title at launch but only because I have been burned so many times in the past buying MMOs at launch. They get cheap too fast, or go “free to play” so that you end up feeling like you got mugged and that is just not an experience I want to associate with Elder Scrolls or Zenimax. Once the launch dust clears, however, I will very likely be back to give this another go. The crafting and solo PVE still scratch the Elder Scrolls itch even if they are more MMO than ES. I am also interested to see what Zenimax does the subscription model and what kind of tweaks and updates they will make to the game. Even when not playing, I will still have a very close eye on ESO.

On the Beach

I should warn you that there are spoilers ahead, however this book is over fifty years old at this point so maybe that doesn’t matter. It’s also a bit of a morbid post but that’s the nature of the subject.

I’ve recently caught up with a science fiction classic that I have neglected – Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. This 1957 novel chronicles the lives of a group of people in post nuclear world war Australia. Apocalypse as a fictional premise has been a hot commodity for the last several years, mostly brought on this time around by the success of Fallout 3 and the The Road. Both are modern classics in their own right, of course, and that so many works are derivative of them is to be expected, though it is growing tiresome. Fear of the apocalypse in one form or another has been with us since long before of course and has  gone in and out of fashion as a thing to worry about. The greatest difference between On the Beach and the other recent texts and media that work against that bleak canvas is that these people are living the last days and it is only a matter of time before they are all killed by the radioactive fallout that is settling ever further south. This isn’t a novel about survivors. This is a novel about the last people to die.

Shute’s prose is dated in the same way that all mid-century English fiction usually is – the stilted, golly gee whilikers way that everyone talks to each other is often difficult to read on this side of the 1960s. I found it difficult to stay with the text because of this but did anyway, precisely because I could see there was going to be no rescue for these people. I wanted to read their story most of all because it would not go on once the novel was over. Few (if any) other popular end of the world scenario are so dire. There are always survivors, and if it’s a video game you are of course one of them. If it is a novel or a film we are invited to identify with the protagonists and therefore are one of the survivors. They do this because this what we all want to believe – that if the world as we know it ever does come to an end in our lifetime, some people will likely survive and our mind immediately wants to believe, does believe, that we would naturally be one of them. I’ve made the assertion before that most Westerners, certainly most North Americans, believe themselves to, on some level, be the protagonist in the novel that is their life. That’s complete discussion for another time, of course, however I think you will get the general idea here. If we are to identify with the cast or characters of a story, we don’t want it to be the ones that are dead and forgotten by the end of the story.

Shute did not write this novel to entertain. It is a difficult read because of the subject matter (the writing is clear and by no means difficult, high school reading level at the highest). Shute was himself aviation engineer that operated his own aviation company that supplied Great Britain with not a few weapons. This book is clearly a cautionary tale written by someone in the know.

It should be made clear that the nuclear war in this book is total and lasts about a month. Assuming only a few bombs fell, it would probably be the case that humanity would survive. However On the Beach presents us with a not unlikely scenario in which the leaders of the major powers are quickly killed off and the war is pressed on by subordinates, ever decreasing in rank as each is killed off in turn and another picks up the fight with no one left to negotiate peace – only follow the orders of dead men.

Why this novel has stuck around is that it challenges the reader to consider the worst case scenario, the real worst case scenario that we have in our power to end ourselves and that if that happens you will not be spared because you are not special. Even if there is a less intense nuclear exchange, millions will die and the chances are better that you will be one of them than one of the survivors – especially if you live in a major metro. It wouldn’t be exciting like Mad Max,  it wouldn’t be a hard fought victory like The Road,  and it wouldn’t be fun like Fallout.

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Note with a bang but a whimper.

The Hollow Men

Here Comes the New Thief, Same as the old Thief

I’m excited about Thief, are you? The new iteration is due out February 25th and you can preorder now.

Copyright Square Enix

Playing the original Thief was a formative experience for me in those early days before every last thing in the world was cataloged, reviewed, criticized, and turned into pornography on the web. A friend in my college dorm brought it up one day and then gave me the disk saying he was never going to play it again. This wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement but nevertheless it turned out to be one of the greatest PC games I had ever played. The best first person perspective games leave indelible marks on the memory in the same way real places do. There are vistas in Dark Ages of Camelot that I remember as if I were really there and Quake I maps that still feel like going back to an old neighborhood when I spawn in. Thief, however, stands out among these.

The seventh or eighth mission in Thief: The Dark Project (depending on your build of the game) is the Haunted Cathedral. You must infiltrate a sealed off section of The City that that was walled off after some calamity the details of which are long since forgotten expect from some rumors of zombies and raging fire.  Up to this point all of the missions had been inside The City proper in houses and castles. Now, suddenly it’s this abandoned ruin that seems to be perpetually even darker than the rest of The City.

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised, it’s right there in the damn name, The Haunted Cathedral. And usually I, being of strong analytical mind when it comes to fiction, ain’t afraid of no ghost. But it was after two a.m., I was alone in my room with the lights off, and I was quite focused on sneaking about in this ruin. Up until this point in the game all NPCs had been city watch or citizens, most of which telegraphed their presence by talking to themselves or whistling in the night.

So after about fifteen minutes of tip toeing around this ruin I have run into no one, but there is a terrible muttering floating about that I can’t make out and have decided is part of the ambient sound effects. Finding a hard locked door I set about trying to pick it with the three different types of picks (a mechanic I was happy to see disappear in later games, btw) when the muttering got slightly louder. I left the lock alone and looked around, nothing. I went back to the lock again and the sound became louder yet. This time I quit the lock and as my (Garret’s) view returned to the regular POV my screen was filled with the source of that sound, an Apparition, which was now standing right in front of me looking quite pissed about me dicking around with the lock on what was perhaps his front door a hundred years before.

I screamed. I screamed like my desk and melted and reformed into a dragon.

I ran (in game) as you usually have to do when caught in Thief and hid in what would have been well enough of a hiding place from a member of the City Watch but not for this asshole, no. As I sat in the dark waiting with bow drawn (not yet knowing this would be futile) and trained on the door this bastard walks through the wall to my left and starts Care Bear Staring flying skulls at my face. Finally getting a bit more clever I started pelting him with holy water arrows and took him down.

The true face of fear.
The true face of fear.

My heart was racing and I was pumped full of adrenaline in a way that had never happened in a single player game before. If were not already in love with The City, the mechanics, and the storyline of Thief the trauma and thrill of defeating this thing was enough to solidify it as the bar against which future games would be measured.

So yeah. About that preorder…

Flight of the Extruder 2: Into the Thingiverse

Shortly after my last post I toured the Thingiverse and found a few game accessories in the vein of augmenting table games with items other than new minis. Thingiverse is just what it sounds like, a universe of things – things that were designed by other folks and the plans for which can be downloaded for printing. Some seem to require more work than others. Here’s a few examples.

Dice Tray – Simple But Effective

Printed Dice Tray

I’m a notorious dice flinger. Despite my best intentions I end up throwing dice at the floor at least once a night. Keep your own resident ham fisted die roller in check with this simple tray. There is a good chance the dice in the example shot are printed by a Makerbot as well.

Card Trays – Keep that Stack in Track

Card Trays

I spend a considerable amount of time in any game of Dominion trying to keep the damned card stacks in order. Now if only we could eliminate all the card shuffling (there’s always Quarriors of course).

Snap On, Snap Off

Carcasonne Grid

I have yet to play Carcassonne, but I have played other games like Alhambra where late game you suddenly need all of your tiles to be about six inches further away from the edge of the table. There’s also that same pesky anal retentiveness that makes me order cards that wants so badly for all those tiles to stay in place.

Paper or Plastic?

Carcasonne Tiles

Also for Carcassonne is a completely new set of three dimensional tiles complete with interlocking sides that are designed only to attach to other pieces that allowed by the rules of play. Components like these make what already looks to be a good game even more fun to play.

Flight of the Extruder – Modding vs Offical Add Ons

I read a lot of Wired and anyone else that does as well knows that that outfit is extremely excited about 3D Printing along with Ars Technica. It is an exciting technology for sure, especially considering how the hardware continues to fall in price – the Printbot Simple and Makibox A6 LT sell for $300 and $200 respectively assuming you can find an outlet nearby that sells either. I’m (sadly) not any kind of industry insider and don’t have any new insight into the future of the hardware itself. However in my last post I pointed out how the Rift headset was not going to sound the death knell of 2D gaming any more than video gaming hurt tabletop gaming. Indeed, with Gencon attendance at four times its attendance of four years ago it would seem that tabletop games are as strong as ever. This year at Gencon as I watched a friend work on painting mini gaming figures it occurred to me that the painting of these minis was in and of itself and entire hobby, not just something that you do as a further investment in playing games with the minis. Surely most people do both, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way and the investment may not be entirely equal.

When any kind of end user technology this powerful comes along, inevitably there is the question of whether it will disrupt industry control – think cassette tapes in the early 80s and MP3s/file sharing fifteen years ago. Alex Castle already has a decent look at how 3D printing could impact table top gaming over at Tested. That blog post is certainly worth your time but in short, Castle’s conclusion is that 3D printing is not going to turn miniature gaming on its head – at least not in a destructive way despite what Games Workshop might fear. I have to agree, but I do think it could do something great for gaming in general. One way it could is to engender a modding community for table top games akin to what has been around for ages in PC gaming and has in the last few years become extremely user friendly thanks to Steam and it’s mod subscription service.

I’m a lifelong video gamer but have only in recent years become really active in tabletop games, so keep in mind as I write this I am no kind of expert in the analogue side of the gaming world. So far, however, the real lifeblood of any gaming company seems to be expansions. Nearly any game you pick up has an expansion pack or some such other add on. This is of course akin to digital expansions which as we all know are now more prevalent than ever as DLC. Expansions are a great feature and I don’t see any reason for them to go away or be replaced by home job printing. What I do think would be a great addition to the hobby would be not just community and player created miniatures for wargaming but just the tweaks and personalization one can achieve by generating stylized chits, tokens, and theme appropriate accessories for games that already exist. The full bodied, well executed, and final polish of proper expansions can coexist with modding as successful franchises like Elder Scrolls and Neverwinter Nights have shown.

It isn’t just the gameplay of tabletop games that draw the hobbyist but the bits and pieces – a well-made game set is just as satisfying to play with as a cheaply made one is unsatisfying. Even the best made games often come with one set of pieces that you might wish were just a little higher quality or shaped differently. Being colorblind myself I’ve already had to begin modifying games pieces to make them more usable. These are the kinds of tweaks and adjustments that a community can contribute to one another without taking the steam out of a traditional publisher. As we’ve seen with previous technological innovations it’s the companies that embrace the new environment that thrive.

The Rift & The Future of Visual Entertainment

Those close to me have likely heard me spout exited nonsense about the Oculus Rift at least once in the last year or so. For the uninitiated, the Rift is a consumer grade virtual reality headset that combines accelerometers and magnetometers to not just display visual data but read the movement and speed of the wearer’s head. This means as you move your head in reality, your view in the simulation moves accordingly. This is not the first device to attempt to do this, however older units suffered from imperfect translation of real to virtual head movement resulting in drift where the view moves while the wearer is still. One way ticket to puke town.  All that aside, anything you strapped onto your head would be extremely expensive and likely custom built. This is what makes the Rift consumer grade – it can be mass produced with existing off the shelf technology and sold at a fairly inexpensive price point, around $350. Even if the price inches up closer to $500, it will still be a fairly attainable price for a premium peripheral assuming it has even a mediocre warranty. These are exiting times for video gaming, my friends, and not just because the experience is being refined, I really think the momentum behind this technology is going to push into widespread adoption and following that will be a sea change in game development that will go so far as to become a new genre of entertainment that is no longer gaming as we know it – and this is a very good thing.

Now, not all genre benefit from the Rift. Real time strategy, turn based strategy, and platformers just to name a few will remain two-dimensional affairs best played on a monitor for the most part – and that’s fine. The advent of videogames did not destroy table top gaming and printed (or ebook) media continue to be produced for the types of content that are best communicated and experienced in and through those media. Most of the existing games that are already being actively modded for the Rift are first person shooters as the POV and gameplay are conducive to use with a device like the Rift. However, this is not to say that one will only be ever able to run and gun with a Rift, quite the contrary. Take the two highest profile titles to be retroactively modded by their publishers for Rift compatibility – Half Life 2 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. These are games with rich narratives and worlds that invite non combative solutions to problems (Skyrim obviously more so than Half Life). These are titles that were developed for screen interfaces, not a VR headset. Were the Rift in play at the inception of these projects, I wager they would have been very different experiences. With a fully immersed view, the user needs less over stimulation to remain interested and engaged. We frequently engage ourselves in activities like hiking simply for the sake of being in the environment in which we do that activity. We don’t necessarily need to be playing paintball to enjoy the hike.

Cross apply this to trips through the countryside in Skyrim. Players that have invested time in hunting in Skyrim likely already know what I am getting at. Just being in the environment itself is rewarding and relaxing, especially after a rather intense dungeon exploration. With widespread of adoption of the Rift and refinement of interfaces for interacting with the world I think future titles will be developed with less combative experiences than what we see now, even the action and adventure stories. Last night my wife and I were watching The Bourne Identity, which is one of her favorite movies. She doesn’t play video games much at all because the pace of everything is just too fast. As we were watching, however, it occurred to me that this is how the character of Marie spends much of the film, inundated with stimuli and not sure what to do, buffeted along by the action and Jason Bourne. I turned to her about halfway through the film and said “You know this is what our retirement will be, right? Us Bonnie and Clydeing our way across Paris.” And I believe that – I think we are finally moving toward experiential entertainment the path to which will be through a merging of feature film production and video gaming. Consider the feature film homages that RockStar Games develops. I spend a considerable amount of time in Mafia II just walking around the city and taking in the scenery. The gunplay is only fun because it’s all in the context of classic mafia films.

Not all players agree, considering the middling reviews of Mafia II. Its detractors seemed most bored with all the driving around that was required. This was my favorite part! Driving classic cars around dressing like a fly assed gangster? What game did they think they were buying? But maybe that is the point, the best aspects of that title are not game mechanics at all, they are recreational simulations. Experiential entertainment, with varying degrees of control dependent on the audience, is the change that I am seeing in this industry. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, being a writer interested in developing content for these worlds. Maybe it’s just a personal wish that I am attempting to rationalize into existence.  Then again, look at the level of spectacle required to keep any summer movie audience engaged these days. Man of Steel had a full 45 minutes of continues fisticuffs that was clearly calculated. No studio spends any more money than they need to on films and they spent an awful lot on all that CGI. Personally I found it tedious but not because I dislike action – I can easily spend twelve straight hours playing Quake, and in the same three maps no less. What is required for this new genre is a merging of those two levels of engagement. The increased stimuli from full visual immersion will facilitate a method of storytelling somewhere between movies and games that fails for the most part when either of those genres attempts coopt the other. Games that are too much like movies feel like they are “on rails” and don’t even get me started on the DOOM film. That movie was so bad that I did all I could to forget it, so much so that when Karl Urban appeared in Star Trek I thought I had never seen or heard of him.

Some users will want an experience “on rails” while others will want to be able to run far and wide and do whatever they please. I think there will be ample market for both, with the maintstream users preferring something more like the railed experience that will deliver the fun of a blockbuster but allowing them to experience first person, granting the feeling of agency that movies can’t yet provide.