July 18, 2018
It all got better after I got to hell.
First-person shooters where high on my wishlist for VR gaming since before I even tried a headset. I wanted nothing too strange: just tried and true controls with the added immersion of a VR headset. It seemed like such an obvious move. But I was confused whenever I read about VR shooters, even if they did place you in first person they seemed intent to try and offer anything but classic FPS controls. Sure, aiming guns with your hands is natural and pretty darn cool, but being unable to move, dodge or explore easily? That seemed rather lame.
I was excited to read about Doom coming to VR, but a bit hesitant because all the talk was about Move controllers and teleporting about. Doom to me feels a lot about frantic strafing and rushing backward while firing rockets at the minions of hell. I did find mentions of the possibility to steer using a Dual shock controller, but nobody seemed too excited about it. Neither were the developers, apparently, as they placed focus squarely on teleportation movement. You teleport from place to place, aim and fire as usual and have some quick dodges and turns available with button presses. Very much in line with the other control options (the weaponlike Aim controller and the Move controllers), but it felt meaninglessly restrictive to me. I know how I want my FPS to control.
And they were there. Buried (compared to the other options) deep (again, by comparison) down among the control options was a switch for free movement.
The chains broke, clattering to the floor of the cave. The demon rose slowly, shaking itself, the flames rising within its eyes.
Bring it on
Reviewers have a point: it is a little strange to have the guns attached to your viewport, but it never bothered me when actually playing. This was Doom the way it was meant to control, and when all hell breaks loose it is fantastic. Enemies never felt this towering, this solid, and blasting them to pieces never felt so satisfying.
The one downside is that hell took too long to really break loose. Many early levels combined long-ish (for a relatively short game) periods of exploration and very light puzzling with short bursts of super-satisfying action. Everything looked, felt and played just right, I just wanted more of the action.
Fortunately the last third (or quarter? Just guessing) of the game made that right. Once I stepped through the portal to hell the rest of the game was one long joyride of sliced and diced demons. Enormous ones, legions of small ones, in corridors and open spaces, climbing, jumping, running and flying at me. I shot them, I punched them, I blew them up and I telefragged them. All was right with the world.
And suddenly it was over.
I am still trying to decide if the game ended much too early or exactly at the right time. I would definitely like an even longer experience, but not if it was the same thing diluted with a lot of filler (more corridors, say).
Went to hell. Destination was worth it.
July 03, 2018
Pod listening, July 2018
Podcasts I subscribe to and which update frequently:
Roughly one third Swedish, not too bad. Roughly half update every week, which is slightly much for my current amount of listening time. I do reach podcast zero regularly though.
- Hardcore history - I do subscribe, and I do listen as soon as I possibly can, but Hardcore history is in no way frequently updated. Episodes are regularly three hours or more, but they are so good I always wish for a bit more. So good that I have finished some of them almost in one sitting. Dan Carlin, you are a master. Also, such a great storyteller voice. I would probably enjoy listening to Dan reading the phone book.
Often caught up regardless
I took both of these (along with Upgrade) off of my subscription list when I realized that A: I listen to a lot of podcasts discussing the same Apple news and B: whenever something truly interesting happens in Apple-land, it filters through to me anyway. So off they went, but I still truly enjoy them and tend to end up listening to all episodes anyway.
Checking regularly, listening to any interesting episodes
- The incomparable
- Internet history podcast - Excellent interviews with people from the beginning of the internet and forward. Every single early episode is pure gold, after those I slowed down and now pick and choose whenever I have spare time and an interesting name pops up.
June 11, 2018
The day of my tentacle
A few weeks ago, I received a fantastic little package in the mail. Inside was a thing which immediately occupied a very, very high spot on my "things which spark jou" list.
What was it? Why, this:
This is a 3d-printed figurine of Purple tentacle from 1993 Lucasfilm adventure game Day of the tentacle. This explanation producing no more than a raised eyebrow when given to my girlfriend, I realized there was a somewhat longer story to tell.
Day of the tentacle came out when PC games were starting to look and sound good. Today, the pixels look huge, but it still has a great style. Thanks to CD-ROMs picking up pace, they were also picking up that most data-intensive feature of spoken dialogue. Of course, the back-of-a-truck version I played at a friend´s place was the floppy version and only included speech in the intro, but I knew it was out there. The game looked and felt like a cartoon, and games before had not.
It was also the era where Lucasarts seemed to do nothing but great things. Their adventure games were the focus for me, and they seemingly came quickly, almost effortlessly, great to play regardless of topic or story.
On top of all this, my English skills were at least approaching the requirements for the games. I had loved adventure games since at least The secret of Monkey island, but in 1990 I understood very little of the clues, context, and least of all the humour.
Taken together, Day of the tentacle was the best looking, sounding and playing point-and-click adventure game so far, and it came out just as I was starting to be able to enjoy them more … efficiently. As I recall, we were eventually able to finish the game without using that much help, and a lot of the puzzles were solved by actually getting the hints and understanding the logic of the game world.
("Present day" goes the speaker voice.) A Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, Joacim and I were recording Björeman // Melin as usual. We were also broadcasting live in our Discord channel, a highly enjoyable feature of which is that we get realtime interaction with some of our much too kind listeners. For some reason, people started posting photos of their desks or monitors as they were listeing. Just below one monitor, a purple tentacle was standing, blaster raised, most likely shouting out orders. I naturally abandoned all other thoughts immediately to focus on asking where I could get a tentacle of my own. The tentacle turned out to be 3d-printed and hand-painted, and Zimmel (the much too kind listener in this particular question) offered to fix one for me too. I said something like wow, that would be great, and soon forgot about it. Perhaps it did seem a little too good to be true.
A week or so passed. Then, one day, a colleague came by with a strangely lumpy envelope which was clearly addressed to me at work. I had no idea what it might be until I stood there, looking at the tentacle, flood of newly sparked joy washing over me.
As another perfect circumstance, one desk neighbor had no idea about purple tentacles, while the other one did and was just as giddy about it as I was.
Shared happiness along with some confusion in others is tripled happiness, right?
May 24, 2018
Wipeout omega collection
It is rare that a game really wows me. Whether it is with sheer intensity, emotions of some kind, or offering something which feels truly new and fresh, the wow moments are pretty far between but of course totally worth looking and waiting for.
Wipeout omega collection has given me multiple wows.
I have wanted a Wipeout game ever since first hearing about them. Technically, I did play a demo of Wipeout 2097 a bit on a woefully underpowered Pentium 133, but for many years that was it. I knew what the games were like, and played several games inspired by them, but I never had a Playstation so the real thing was always sort of out of reach. Naturally, I immediately started anticipating Wipeout omega collection as soon as I found out about it.
When it was finally released (I am not sure how far ahead of release I heard about it, but it felt like ages) I was not disappointed. Actually, it was just what I expected and wanted to a surprising degree. Which brings us to that first wow: the sheer sense of speed on twisty futuristic tracks with house music pumping along with the explosions and engine sounds. There were several early races where I almost felt my head thrown back as I accelerated from the starting line.
Time passed. The wow faded away, replaced by pleasant familiarity. Months went by.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I checked my updates and found Sony had dropped the second, even more massive wow: Wipeout had gained full VR support.
Forget anything I said about the game feeling fast and pure on a 2D screen. VR is the way to play this game. There ought to be a bundle of the headset and the game. Sony ought to be promoting this everywhere.
I am reminded, for some reason, of learning to play first-person shooters using a mouse and WASD: a little bit of work getting used to, but just so much better than any other option it is not even funny. Wipeout feels like it was made for VR from the beginning, from the loading screens, which feel like floating in the white construct in the Matrix, to the menu to, of course, the races. When racing, you are in the cockpit. The HUD has been reworked and you have a lot of detail visible on your craft as well. The sense of scale is just right too. I have played some vechicle games where something about the scale was off and made me feel more like I was wearing a vechicle-shaped helmet. But here I really do feel like I am in the cockpit of a powerful antigravity racer, and like I have some room inside the cockpit too.
Being able to look around also gives a better sense of the tracks. I always knew there was a good deal of verticality to the tracks, but it was sometimes hard to really notice it in the heat of a race. It is that much easier to grasp with the added depth of VR. And whenever there is a climb, being able to look up to see more of what lies ahead is a great advantage.
(It probably does not hurt immersion that the headset feels a bit like wearing strange racing goggles or a helmet.)
So, yes. All games should be VR. Fast racers need not cause motion sickness. More, please.
May 20, 2018
Suddenly it was that time of year again: a long and cold spring had given way to a surprising explosion of early summer and the town was once again being flooded by runners. The week of Göteborgsvarvet was upon us, and since last year was all good I found myself on two starting lines again.
Trailvarvet turned three years old, and once again the organizers had made it more of a trail. The race took place on a hot summer evening, but my main worry - well above exhaustion or heat stroke - was falling and hurting myself. I rarely run on trails these days, and when I do I tend to stumble once or twice at some moment where I am getting tired and imagine that I have things under control. Thus, my mantra during the whole race was "Do not relax! Do not relax!" I still fell once, but it was pretty gentle for a fall and left no marks.
The organizers had indeed managed to make the trail tougher. Despite looking about the same on the map and being the same distance they had managed to sneak in a surprising amount of additional hills. They had also marked the trail even better and clearer than the last time, I never had to wonder where I was going (something which happened a few times last year), and when I got to answer a few quick questions right after finishing I had not even realized that there was a point where I could have gone the wrong way.
So the trail was tougher, but it was still fun. I did waste some energy running up hills where I should probably have walked, but otherwise I am completely happy with how and what I did. Especially for a one-off trail which I made no effort to prepare specifically for. I imagine just a little bit of preparations could make a big difference, just doing some trail running every now and then and seeking out the odd hill to run up and down would make all the rocks and roots feel a lot more familiar.
Trailvarvet has always been just for fun. With Göteborgsvarvet I ended up competing with myself a bit too much and lost the enjoyment for a couple of years. But the fun came back the last few years, and the sunny Saturday found me standing in the shadow as much as possible, determined to have fun and to make as enjoyable a run as possible. And I did. I think my ultra running experience came out in that I concentrated on feeling good and balancing my energy. As the day was so sunny and decently hot, this came out as a focus on managing heat and getting enough to drink. It was a great success in that I never felt seriously close to overheating. If anything, I could perhaps have stopped a little bit less and ran a little bit faster. But then, I would certainly not have felt as good afterward. As it was, I think I got something to drink and - just as important - pour over myself on all but the very last few stations. The water was wonderfully cool, and it probably was my wettest run so far. Another great sign of things going well was that - possibly for the first time ever - some of the kilometers felt very short. There usually is a point around 16 kilometers at the very latest where someone starts to sneak in extra kilometers between the signs. This year, it seems like they managed to lock that person up. The kilometer signs kept flowing by at a steady pace all the way to the end, and I finished feeling tired but not exhausted.
One clear difference to most other years was that I got passed a lot. Starting in group three was perhaps a bit too early for my level, people kept flowing past me throughout the whole race. I am used to being in a group where I keep to the left and keep passing people most of the time, so being passed takes some adjustment and makes me wonder if I am going super-slow or something. Having a watch measuring speed and other factors is a great help combating this. It also felt good that I had energy left toward the end and got to catch up with a few more people - a nice bit of validation of my focus on staying cool and feeling as good as possible.
I think I have run fewer long distances preparing for this year's Göteborgsvarvet than previously, but I guess I got enough in because writing this on the day after the race I feel nicely worn, free of blisters and generally quite in balance. With some more long runs, and perhaps a few more intervals, I might have been able to finish even faster, but I think I nailed the wellbeing-to-result-ratio for my amount of exercise.
Best Göteborgsvarvet ever in that way?
(Yes, thoughts of working harder to be even faster next year are circling around. I will do my best to fight them down and have a good time next year too. (Not running next year? Strange concept …))