Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Physics Questions During Mission Writing (part 1)

One detail that I'd like to share about the upcoming mission, Broken Citadel, is concerning a new item your characters might want to acquire. It is called the Magnetic Tether Gun, or MT Gun for short, and this contraption fires out a long cord with a powerful magnet attached to the end. The magnet can attach to the side of a metal object in space and the user can pull himself to the object. This is a vital safety tool for anyone that might find themselves drifting in space away from a starship or space station. Designing this tool and making it viable in Solar Echoes was not without its challenges. I did some research and discussed the implications of this device with several people that hold degrees in physics. One of the problems was the drifting speed of the user: any force vector greater than 50 lbs would detach the magnet. The user would remain attached to the tether until there is a force greater than 50 lbs perpendicular to the attach point, but if the force comes from an angle off the perpendicular, the vertical (perpendicular) force would be less. In short, it would take a greater off-angle force to break away. Though Solar Echoes is a “space opera,” I do try to keep with more “hard sci-fi” elements of realism if I can. However, I don't want players to end up arguing over minutia and scribbling out trigonometry equations instead of playing the game. I ended up explaining the physics quandaries by describing the gun as able to “sustain a pull of up to 50 lbs of weight in zero-g and if moving at a low relative speed.” Of course, the GM can always make a ruling based on circumstances without the need for complex calculations.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mission Update!

I've been busy writing the mission called Operation: Broken Citadel, and finished the first major part of the mission this weekend. I'm hoping to finish the rest of it before the Chessiecon this upcoming weekend, but it is crunch time, and with holiday and family obligations, it's hard to say if I'll achieve all my goals in time to release the mission publicly for sale. However, I am happy to say that the first part of the mission can be a stand-alone event, where players have to navigate the dangers of a failing space station and survive the many serious challenges of the scenario. I don't want to give anything away, because the scenario is the second part of a larger story, but I can tell you that there will be several types of danger to face: squad combat, players vs. the environment, and possible starship combat. The second half of the mission that I'm working on right now will have to remain a secret because of the plot content involved, but I will be trying it out with gamers at the upcoming Chessiecon Thanksgiving weekend. I'll be printing out a lot of full colored maps and icons this week to use, and I'll share photos of the event next week!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Skyrim VR so far...

I've been playing a little Skyrim VR today after I picked up my copy from Gamestop, and it is really engaging and fun! It's amazing to look around you and see this huge open world, go anywhere you want, and interact with NPC's and enemies in person! I actually found myself reading my dialogue choices out loud when talking with the NPC's, because they felt like they were right there with me. I sat at a table and had a discussion with someone, and the talking felt totally natural, like I was right there. A little kid was telling me she was going to forge her own sword someday on daddy's forge, and I found myself saying, "Yeah, I bet you will!" The enemies are really cool up close, and some of them a bit unnerving, like the giant spiders. Seeing a dragon fly overhead is something indescribable--you have to experience it to truly understand the awe. Fighting with different weapons is a lot of fun, and I even found myself advancing on archers that were shooting at me, holding my shield up when they'd shoot, then rushing at them as far as I could while they loaded up another arrow. After I bashed them with my mace, I was able to pull the arrows out of my shield and put them into my own inventory! Using magic is really, realy empowering--I love hosing my enemies with fire or electricity!

So far, my only complaints are: 1) the direct movement speed can't be adjusted, so it's always rather fast for VR--though after 1+ hours I still don't have nausea. Stealth slows things down a lot, though. 2) the graphics are dated and of course, this is VR on the PS4 so they're not as high detail as you might hope to see on a PC version. 3) I knew this would be the case, but I can't see my character in any way--no mirrors, no 3rd person view...honestly, I don't know what the point of character design was because I'll probably never see my character again? Other than those complaints, though, this game is incredibly immersive, and I can't wait to get back to it, right now. Bye! :)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Open Letters to VR Developers (part 4)

VR options need to be made available to players, because not all of us get nauseous when moving. It really ruins the game for me (ie, destroys my suspension of disbelief) if I have to teleport around everywhere, and one big concern I had with the upcoming Skyrim VR is the tunnel-vision system they appeared to be using during free movement. I am thankful that the developers provided the option for both free movement and teleport so players can decide for themselves, and I recently learned that there is also the option to turn off the tunnel-vision system during free movement. Developers have read studies that nausea during VR free movement can be reduced by eliminating peripheral vision, so a shutter-like circle closes in on your vision during movement, reducing the visual area to a circle that expands and contracts as you move, blackening the peripheral areas of the screen like you're looking through the sight of a sniper rifle. I've played other VR games that have this, and not only is it irritating and constantly breaks immersion, it has the opposite of its intended effect—it makes me nauseous! I've acquired my “VR legs” by playing free movement games such as Arizona Sunshine, and they don't use the tunnel-vision system, but Bethesda Game Studios is doing the right thing by making all of these options so you can fine-tune what works to reduce nausea. I guess I'll find out what works best for me tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Open Letters to VR Developers (part 3)

VR games that are built from the ground up are usually much better than adaptations of existing games. Skyrim VR--which hits retail on Friday--looks like an exciting and immersive game, and I am looking forward to picking up my pre-ordered copy. I'm glad that Skyrim VR will be one of the first full-length VR games available, because so many of the existing games on the market are short experiences. However, I'm also not expecting Skyrim VR to fully showcase the potential of VR games—already, I've seen previews that show the old menu system is still in place and there are disembodied floating hands instead of a full-body avatar. There are a lot of missed opportunities here, especially for an RPG, which is the genre of game that I think can really make VR shine. Wouldn't it be cool to stand there during character creation and see yourself as a reptilian Argonian, looking into a mirror as you adjusted the features on your own face, turning your head to the right and left as you moved the slide bars to change your appearance? Imagine adjusting your height and seeing yourself lift away from the floor as you “grew” taller? Maybe it's just me, but character creation is my favorite part of any RPG, and doing it in a VR environment would be incredible!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Open Letters to VR Developers (part 2)

Maybe it's because I love role-playing games, but I think it's incredibly fun to pretend I'm someone else in VR. Having a full-body avatar in a virtual environment helps me get much more “into character” than a pair of floating, disembodied hands. Let me play someone really tall, or short, or super-strong, or someone who can jump incredibly high or fly like a super hero (Megaton Rainfall, thank you!) One of Sony's “Playroom VR” games lets me be a cartoonish Godzilla-dinosaur, and it has a built in voice-changer that makes my laughs and growls sound like I just inhaled all the helium in a party balloon. What if RPG developers allowed me to not only make my own VR avatar, but change my voice to fit? I could be a gruff, muscular viking warrior with a low, rumbling voice, or a tall, thin, dextrous elf with a light-hearted and devious childish laugh. I'd like to see my avatar's appearance change with the equipment and clothing I acquire, so I can actually look down and see that new pair of boots or my shiny suit of chainmail armor. And what if I'm not even human, but an alien monster with tentacles and wings? I want to see it, and if you're not going to put virtual mirrors into your game, at least let me press a button and check out my cool alien character in 3rd person!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Open Letters to VR Developers (part 1)

VR has been available for a couple years now, yet few game developers seem to be taking advantage of the potential of VR. The majority of VR games available seem to fall into one of two categories: games we've played before but now get a more VR-ish camera angle, or some variation of a first-person shooter (FPS.) Don't get me wrong, these games can be fun, but I often encounter elements of a VR game across different games that I wish would all be brought together to really take advantage of the potential. VR is a chance to be someone different and do things yourself, which usually requires a lot more skill and practice than button-mashing. There's something so satisfying about reaching over and virtually picking up, manipulating, and using an object in a game. Interactive and destructive environments that I can literally demolish or alter if I choose are something missing from most VR games so far. Developers, please make me feel like I'm able to interact with your game world instead of making me feel like your VR game just has an altered visual perspective and is only an on-rails version of something I've played countless iterations of before.