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April 12, 2018

VR, one year later

I bought my Playstation VR later in the year than I recalled, but I got to try it and started thinking about it earlier. Thus, I feel I can start saying I have been playing VR games for a year pretty much any time I want between now and July.

The vast majority of my time in VR has been on said Playstation VR, but I have also had chances to try the Vive and can play as much as I like with Daydream and Gear VR on a Samsung galaxy S8+.

The Playstation VR is by far my favorite of the platforms. Not just because I have spent the most time with it (although that surely is a big factor too), but because it is so well built for what it is. It may have miles of cables, but it works well and provides a really good experience. When I use the Gear VR or Daydream, they feel in about equal parts like unrealized potential and limited by hardware. The Playstation VR threw in extra cables and demands a decently placed camera, but those things provide value. The Playstation VR is by no means made for walking around like the Vive, but the camera tracking along with the other sensors mean you can lean in to look closer, tilt your head and move to the sides to change perspectives subtly. I think those little things play a huge part in that magical feeling of looking at a miniature landscape which feels physical around you. With the mobile-based platforms, I always feel firmly stuck at one point. Sure, I can look freely in all directions, but the viewpoint remains jarringly stuck whenever I try to lean in. Sure, the feeling of depth is better than when watching a "flat" 360 video on Youtube (it fascinates me how much less immersive they feel), but the Playtation VR is another big step above and beyond.

Controls

When I play games, I like to be comfortable and efficient. I prefer tried and true controls with precision which let me sit in any way I like to fun gimmicks. Sure, give me wiimotes, shakes and tilts, but only when they really provide something extra. Thus, another thing I really like about the Playstation VR is the fact games have access to a proper controller and are using it in sensible ways to play really well. I was wondering right from the beginning how to best control first-person VR games, and Doom VFR has proven classic FPS controls work brilliantly and feel great. No need for awkward point-to-point teleportation or other strange limits, free movement works just as well as I always hoped it would.

Isolation mode

Yes, it feels a bit antisocial to shut myself in and play VR when other people are around, but the feeling someone is going to sneak up on you and scare you to death by placing a hand on your shoulder is never there. No more so than when listening to good music in headphones anyway. I almost always play wearing over-ear headphones as well, so I feel I have pushed that limit about as far as it will go.

Retro factors

The other day I found myself sitting on the carpet in front of the TV. Cross-legged, playing an amazingly cozy platformer. In VR. A sort of retro-present wonder-combination. Moss is really a great game, with slightly clunky controls, and totally worth adjusting your setup to play well. So yes, there is another exception to the rule of wanting to be comfortable. Again, sometimes it is worth it.

Polybius was the first game to push the retro-present amazement off the scale for me. It feels so classic, yet at once so totally perfect for VR. And despite being such a simple game at its core, it is undeniably greater and purer in VR than in any other mode.

But it is not alone. Moss is another example, Tiny trax another. Perhaps fear of motion sickness and complex controls brought these things along, perhaps it was something else. In any case, it is surprising how much VR adds even to experiences which are viewing a world from a static position, things which one might expect to play very much the same on a 2D screen. The combination of your head being tracked in 3D along with a proper sense of depth and scale is working its magic.

The mobile options

I probably have not given Daydream and Gear VR enough of a chance. They do have the huge advantage of not tethering me. It is pretty amazing to be able to stand, sit and turn freely. They also both have little remotes which I like surprisingly much.

Unfortunately, that is where the strong points end. I have found fewer things I enjoy, the experiences are clunkier (especially getting the phones in and out of headsets while trying not to hit any buttons), power is more limited, you get temperature warnings and feel the heat on your face … Oh, and no head tracking as I mentioned above.

Land's end was a great experience, very well suited to the medium. You should definitely buy it and play it. But I still would have enjoyed it more on a stationary platform with head tracking.

Is there enough?

I let some friends try VR the other weekend. One comment was "Well, I never want to play games in 2D again." I wholeheartedly agree to that. Given the option, I always pick VR, and I use VR availability as a quick, harsh filter for which games to consider. There are of course exceptions, but it works well for me. Happily there are definitely enough VR games to keep me occupied, especially during my all too frequent gaming lulls. That said, I do want many more. All games should have a VR mode, plain and simple.

Keep in mind that I write this as someone playing on a first-generation Playstation VR connected to a non-pro Playstation 4. With more power and resolution 2D will fall further behind, but even now there is no doubt which I prefer.

(Wipeout gained VR support while I was somehow looking in the wrong direction! And it works! Truly, there is no excuse for any genre not to go VR.)

March 17, 2018

Books I have read

Books and other literature I have read, in, somewhat uncertain, reverse chronological order. The list starts from the summer of 2008, and my main purpose with it is to be able to see what I have actually been reading. I do feel that I read many quite good books, but I never seem to be able to recall what I have recently read when asked for recommendations.

March 10, 2018

Pok3r

I think I may have a keyboard problem.

Pok3r Pok3r

This is the Pok3r. It is a wonderful-feeling keyboard featuring blue Cherry MX switches. It clicks and clacks, giving that feeling of typing important things. The size is also pretty awesome. Pok3r is a so called 60% keyboard, meaning it not only lacks the numerical island to the right, but also function keys, arrow keys and even the duplicate Windows/command keys. I love the size in itself, but the thing definitely has a learning curve. To arrow around, and perform a whole lot of other keypresses such as home, end, page up and down, and so on, you need to use the fn key. Pok3r places the arrows on I, J, K, and L, which I realized is right where Vim users want their movement. Additionally, the fn key is placed on the lower right, meaning using arrows requires folding the right thumb below the hand or some other contortion.

This was the major stumbling point for me starting out, and I initially thought this was proof my keyboard size was full or tenkeyless but no smaller.

But as so often, sticking wiht things just a bit, some reading and some talking to people with more experience quickly made little dents into my hesitation.

First, I started reading up, checking out some reviews and looking into just what people used all the programmability of the Pok3r for. Pok3r lets you have three programmable layers in addition to the default keyboard (where the keys do what they say), and it also has a set of little switches underneath to alter the layout. Most of them are about layout: you can go change between the standard Qwerty, Dvorak and a third one I keep forgetting. There is also a switch to allow free remapping of almost all keys (by default some can not me changed). Finally, and most importantly to me, the last switch changes caps lock to also work as the fn key.

That one change made all the difference to me. No more twisting my right hand to arrow, I now have the fn key right below my left pinky, right on the home row. It still requires more key presisng than on a standard keyboard, but perhaps having all the keys needed right on the home row makes up for that in the long run? I can not deny that it feels neat to do, even though I am still much slower moving the cursor this way.

Pok3r next to 12-inch Macbook keyboard Pok3r next to 12-inch Macbook keyboard

Also required was Macos builtin ability to switch the position of the command and alt keys. While par for the course when using any non-Mac-adapted keyboard, it had an added bonus on the Pok3r. The kebyoard is so tight they chose to only put one command key on it, on the left side, but they kept alt on both sides. I rarely use the right-side alt since I am on a Mac where there is no alt-gr, so now I got two command keys again instead. Big win.

I loved the look and feel of the Pok3r right away, but in the beginning I seriously doubted I would give it much use. One week later, I am surprised at how well I have adapted, and I still enjoy typing on it just as much. This might just be the beginning of a long, happy story.

(Unless sensitive ears around me forbid its use.)

March 04, 2018

High definition

I love good screens. Give me larger and brighter. But also give me more pixels per inch, higher resolutions, and retina-style goodness. Plus, of course, better color reproduction, HDR and the widest color spaces we can find. I probably miss a lot of subtle details, but I do seem to care - and notice - more things like this than most people I socialize with. I notice if my screens are retina or not, I notice scaling and blurs, and so on.

This Friday, I got new glasses for the first time in many years, and I still feel as if I went from standard definition to high definition and retina. There are so many fine lines! So much texture and detail! And they are all so sharp!

Changes to eyesight is a devious, sneaky process. So slow you are almost guaranteed not to notice until you get an examination and see what new lenses can do for you. An almost silly twist is that these new glasses are adjusted to be used for working in front of screens all day. The adjustment is that they are made somewhat weaker than regular glasses would be. I can not imagine things looking any sharper and clearer at the moment, but I know I need to replace my regular glasses soon because this improvement is just too great. Especially when you consider it is from a situation where I could do everything I want perfectly fine and did not suffer any head or neck aches or other ailments. I would never have guessed there was this much improvement to be wrung out of the part of the scale between "perfectly fine" and "insanely great". Or rather, I did not imagine the scale stretched this far beyond what I alredy had.

Side note

I never noticed before how awesomely Blade runner-cool the machines used for checking eyesight and finding better lenses really are. All the lense-type action going on in Blade runner 2049 must be lifted straight from those machines. They feel solid, business-like. They whirr and views briefly distort as lenses are rotated through. And of course, you also get those moments of amazing clarity as things come into focuse, kind of like the zoom and enchance effects we already knew no computer could do.

February 26, 2018

Home screening, part 2

There, that is more like it:

Iphone home screen, February 2018 edition Iphone home screen, February 2018 edition

So, Rands made a follow-up post with some neat home screens readers had sent him. I clicked through to the originating Twitter thread and found both some seemingly impossible icon layouts as well as their explanation: Makeovr. The service processes an uploaded image of your home screen, then allows you to place web shortcuts on your home screen with the appropriate section of your background image as their icon. Deeply clever and also clearly limited, it is the perfect kind of sleight of hand to be worth doing. To never break the illusion, you are recommended to turn off the background perspective effect and also enable reduced motion. I decided the first was enough for me, so I can notice the icons when exiting apps and similar. I also realized turning a plus-sized phone into landscape mode naturally and severely breaks the illusion, making the breakage on zoom effects feel less severe.

Fun times! And I have to say it makes a rather noticeable usability difference to have those icons in the bottom row. Perhaps Apple will one day change the icon layout to start from the bottom and build up?

Oh, and could new apps come dropping in from above, Tetris-style?