Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Oculus Go - The Best Casual VR Set You Can Get Right Now

Prior to acquiring the Oculus Go about two months ago I would have described the VR landscape like this:

Oculus Rift and Vive - cool tech for early adapters that appears to be too much bother and too costly for average people (primarily in finding a PC and GPU equipped to handle them).

Playstation VR - The most accessible VR headset for most households, it's an impressive chance to experience what something close to a real VR gaming experience is like, with the caveat that the experience must still be dumbed down a bit for the PS4's somewhat leaner processing power; has lots of oddities and issues when you play it enough, most notably related to the free space you may (or may not) have and need for many of the games.

Daydream - the cheap phone option I found most convenient and enjoyable for VR gaming, but plagued by a variety of issues which included compatibility problems, phone overheating, limited processing power and or visuals depending entirely on your choice of phone, and lots and lots of fiddling around to get it all to work right.

All the other Phone VR Options - like Daydream but even less coherent and organized.

Then along came the Oculus Go.

Now I have the Oculus Go, which I decided to purchase after much deliberation and hesitation. It's essentially a game changer, especially for those who are unwilling to spring for the expensive PC option, but who want to see what a genuinely enjoyable, consistent VR experience is all about.

Here's the seven reasons that Oculus Go is absolutely worth your time and interest if you are keen on discovering what the VR experience is like (as of 2018):

1. It's self-contained. No phone or external PC needed. This is the first stand-alone VR headset of its kind, I believe. Next year the Oculus Quest is planned, which will be much like the Go except with more dynamic controllers and motion/spatial sensitivity. For now, however, Oculus Go lets you enjoy all the elements of VR from the comfort of a swivel chair, and provides you with its own controller, which is all you need.

2. It's light weight,and works with glasses. The controller has adjustable straps, but it's not much weight on your head (hardly noticeable after a while), and is a comfortable viewing experience. It includes a spacer for glasses. I have tried the unit with and without glasses (I wear contacts normally) and was surprised to learn that the glasses were actually easier to focus with, and the resolution snapped in much better for me....it turns out my difficulties with focusing in VR were driven largely by my contact lenses not quite force-correcting the extremely sharp near-sightedness in my left eye relative to my right eye; the glasses are not trying to force-correct my vision, however, so the experience suddenly felt normal and easy to focus on.

3. The resolution is great. I have no doubt you can get better resolution on Rift or Vive with a super computer and smoking GPU, but I can only afford the Go, so in terms of the experience of higher definition resolution I am very impressed. Downloading hi-res virtual films really hammers home just how relevant the experience is with crisp resolution. Oculus Go isn't 100% there (yet) but I will be shocked if in about five years we don't see a headset that can operate at close to 4K resolution. My son's desire for a Ready Player One future seems that much closer now, if they can eventually manage a self-contained headset that handles extremely high res graphics and imagery.

4. Dedicated OS Environment. Oculus Go's marketplace ties in to GearVR and I am told if you have stuff for GearVR it translates your purchases over to this store as well. The entire experience is exclusively aimed at the VR market and experience, so you're shopping for stuff you know will work on the Go. No guessing if this game or that game will work, and in almost all cases I've found that you can easily identify good games and apps from the reviews and ratings (many reviews are from customers buying the product for other phone-based VR options though and don't help so much).

5. Good Game Selection. It's not as amazing as I imagine the Vive or Rift have it, but Oculus Go has some games that work very well with the machine's hardware, and take advantage of the resolution capabilities quite nicely. If you've played some of these on other phones you will notice they look a little better here. If you've ever experienced any glitchiness on other phones, odds are you may see less of that here (I've only had one or two odd glitches so far). Most of the games are top notch; there are a few duds, and a few my son and I can't agree on at all, where dad loves X and he loves Y, but we hate the inverse....I'll talk more about the games in a future blog. There are a few duds, though, mostly amongst the free games I've tried, at least one of which was the worst VR experience I've had to date, just disgustingly unplayable. That has been contrasted by another ten titles we can't get enough of, thankfully.

6. The Apps and Movies. The Oculus Go shines with its range of apps and movie viewers. From Within to Wander, there's a range of apps that let you view 360 degree films, explore Google Streetview from its native 360 degree resolution (I Had no idea Google Streetview was intended to be viewed in VR, but it totally is) and browse the internet or watch movies and Netflix on virtual screens. The latter is amusing but I will continue to ask "why bother?" so long as the resolution is not as good as what I can get on my native 4K television, but the experience of watching actual 360 degree recordings or VR-viewable films is intense and unique; Oculus Go's graphics are just strong enough to pull this off and make the experience memorable. I can safely say I've now spent more time navigating with the Wander app to explore Google Streetview in exotic locales such as Teotihuacan or northern Alaska just to experience these places than I have (almost) anything else on the Go.

7. The Sound is Great. The onboard speakers are positioned to funnel to your eardrums without having to put on a headset, and the result feels very close to actually wearing headphones without needing to. People around you will hear the sound, especially if you crank it up to max volume, but it isn't nearly as bothersome. Put it at half volume and it's almost unnoticeable to everyone else. That said, there's still a conventional old headphone jack if you want to go that route, and you could easily wear a headset with the straps for this thing without any discomfort.

One other thing worth noting is the onboard Samsung browser is great for browsing the web, and it's easy enough to find VR content online as well that just plain old works (most of the time). It also includes a code-locked private mode if you're keen on discovering the dystopian, Kafkaesque out-of-body nightmare that is VR porn.

It's not 100% sunshine. Here are my negative observations so far:

Battery power could be better. I think three-four hours is the most you can get out of the device, depending on what you are doing with it, and two hours may be normal for some graphics-intense games and experiences.

Lingering Compatibility Issues. The storefront seems to share space with the GearVR, and you will find yourself wondering on occasion if the app or game in question will work right with the Go. I've run into a few apps that are built to assume no controller, and a couple free games that did not behave correctly at all. It does look like the games identified for the Go that cost money all seem to have been okayed for sale in the storefront, though.

Only One Controller. Oculus Go plays best when you are sitting in a swivel chair with the intended controller. I don't think there are other controllers available for use with the Go at this time, although the one it comes with is absolutely perfect for what most games demand.

No Spatial Recognition. Oculus Go is assuming you are in a swivel chair or standing, and all games/apps require you to use the controller to move or teleport around. In reading up on it, it looks like a major goal of the next iteration of the console...Oculus Quest....is to add spatial recognition and movement to the experience. Yes, I will totally snap that one up when it releases next year.

If you decide this is for you, I suggest the $249 64GB version. It's double the memory (I still haven't used all of it up) but given it has no expansion slot, you might as well spend the extra $50 and go for it. The set comes with a glasses-spacer and a hand controller, as well as a USB charger. For my money, this is the next best gadget purchase I have made this year, right next to the Nintendo Switch, and is currently getting more play time than conventional consoles.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Doctor Futurity and the League Universe (Cypher System)

The League Universe is the official unofficial setting that I have run all comic book-styled super hero campaigns in for the last 33 years. These adventures include events from the 1985-1987 era of Crossover Earth (a play-by-story post I ran in the eighties), numerous DC Heroes Mayfair System (MEGS) adventures from the late 80's and early 90's, the lengthy DC Heroes 3E campaign I ran in 1992-1993ish, a medley of Mutants & Masterminds 1st edition campaigns, and more recently my Cypher System Superhero adaptation. Here's the basic timeline (so far), and the key NPC protagonist/patron, Doctor Futurity (thanks to Philip K. Dick for his novel of the same name and my friend from way back when, Quentin Long, for using it as one of the names of the fragmenting Liberty League that became the basis for all that was to come....)

The League Universe

This world had a few major events in recent decades:
·         In 1986 The Liberty League fell apart when a gang of villains conspired to kill Captain Liberty; his sidekick became Arbalest, an assassin who hunted down many of the League's old villain roster and killed them before being captured.
·         In 1988 The League reformed to face a major threat, as dozens of heroes fought off an invasion of other-dimensional Cthonians, mythos-like monsters from beyond the stars who invaded New York. After this the world's most powerful occult hero Dr. Futurity went AWOL for many years, to appear only occasionally.
·         In 1992 The new Liberty League fought an invasion of other-dimensional "bug men" and won.
·         In 1995 heroes of Earth were kidnapped by galactic pirates and sold into slavery as gladiators, eventually winning their way free and impressing the Empress Theda of the Thiir Star Empire. They contacted the Star League, a coalition of worlds working against Thiir and other oppressors. Some of these heroes became secret envoys to the star League; word of this reveal was kept hidden, top secret.
·         In 1996 Dr. Richard Desorius discovers the secret to transgenic modification and accidentally splices his genes with a reptile, becoming Saurian. He is later recruited by the ancient secret society called Eschaton.
·         In 1998 the League disbanded, not to be restored until after 9/11
·         In 2001 the new League was formed by a UN council and became the World League, led by American Agent (the first true super soldier success), fighting terrorist organizations such as Project Titan, PYTHON and others. It lasted until 2009 when American Agent was killed in Afghanistan and the League quietly disbanded. An independent organization, Agents of Steel (led by a hundred year old hero named Talbot Steel who may have become immortal after drinking from the Holy Grail) picks up the slack.
·         In 2002 The Metahuman Intelligence Agency is quietly formed to track methuman appearances and activities, and to either recruit from or seek to apprehend meta criminals.
·         Between 2001 and the present many scientists notice a steady decline in the number of new metahumans appearing. 
·         In 2007 The Metahuman Intelligence Agency (MIA) uncovers an incursion from the Bleed beneath Hell House in New York. The occult team code-named Eclipse is formed to defeat the god Typhon from exploiting the rift.
·         In 2014 evidence of a stellar war in neighboring Alpha Centauri was observed. In 2016 Project Titan becomes funded through backdoor channels my MJ-12 to observe and capture metahuman specimens for an army they are recruiting. 
·         In 2017 word arrives that a flotilla of refugee ships from Centauri are on the way, fleeing a threat from a conquering force called the Marauders. Word of this is kept hidden from the general public, but it is getting harder to conceal the information about dangerous advanced stellar civilizations. Project Space Force is publically announced as an ingenious cover to the actual Space Force which will take engineered tech from the Star League to prepare for the arrival of a fleet of aliens, and possible interstellar war. Behind the scenes, MJ-12 is tied in and using Project Titan to recruit, though no one knows this.
·         In 2018, Doctor Futurity reappears in New York for the first time in nearly twenty years....

Doctor Futurity (known alias Devon Maxwell)
Superhuman (Arcane Origin) – Level 8 (24)
Motive: protect the world and the timeline, no matter the cost
Environment: Wherever trouble arises
Health: 80
Damage Inflicted: 8 points or 11 with ranged Onslaught attack
Armor: 1 or 4 (arcane armor)
Movement: short; flying long
Modifications: Arcane Powers at Level 10, Intellect Defense Rolls at level 10, +3 damage with Onslaught Attacks (ranged, 11 damage)
Powers: Doctor Futurity can call upon arcane sorcery to project illusions, manipulate time, create devastating force blasts, hover and fly, and teleport around the world. His power set includes:
Illusions – intellect defense roll level 10 to penetrate the illusion
Time Shift – Can project himself forward or backward in time; can project forward or backward in time up to 10 targets. This is a lengthy shift (not minutes, hours at minimum).
Teleport – Can instantly transport himself and up to 9 others to any location in the world.
Sorcery Immense: Futurity can call upon and use any identified power in the core rules that an Adept would be able to deploy, including tier 6 powers.
Ally: Alan Morn, MIA Operative (Secret Agent template for stats)                                

Doctor Futurity is one of the premiere investigators and occult sorcerers in the world. He has worked with numerous organizations, though most famously the League in its various forms, and is said to have first appeared in the mid nineteenth century as an occult investigator, though his chronomantic time magic allows him to appear during any epoch of history.

Futurity is noted for his tendency toward a red/white/blue motif in his costuming, and his suits never appear the same twice. He is prone to changing his fashion over time to reflect the era in which he appears, but he always wears some form of mask and is otherwise unidentifiable; he has a persona when incognito that is a man of middle years with greying temples named Devon Maxwell, but this is also assumed to be a false image.

Futurity’s main purpose is the protection of the timeline from extra-dimensional occult threats, but his greatest challenge was the Cthonic invasion of New York in 1988, when he aided the League in stopping the mythos invasion. However, he paid a price; the cthonians left Earth alone, but he was forced to agree to a pact of limited interference going forward. Some think much of his power is focused on insuring the barriers in the Interstitial Dimension are kept strong to insure the cthonians do not return.

Today, Futurity conspires with MIA (Metahuman Intelligence Agency) operative Alan Morn to keep track on the activities in the mortal realm, and has provided him with one of Futurity's unique disk-like artifacts that lets him contact the sorcerer telepathically in the timestream and interstitial realms. Agent Morn is a tall, middle aged operative who was recruited into the MIA after an enounter with the legendary Hell House of Maddison County, NY, leading to the revelation that it was in fact a paranormal rift into the bleed from which the nebulous dimension of Purgatory had gained purchase. In 2007, during one of Futurity's rare visits to his home plane of existence at Morn's request the two managed to stop the ancient Titan Typhon from entering the mortal realm through the rift beneath Hell House, with the assistance of the Unknown Soldier, Adam the Created Man and the Fire Below (in her last incarnation). For a few months they were known as "Eclipse," a code name MIA assigned to the occult adventurers who worked to stop Typhon's incursion. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Quiet, but things slowly going on...

I've been relaxing a bit from the old standard I once held of 3 posts a week. I'd like to get back to that --discipline is good!-- but I actually have too many demands and too much discipline in my life right now so letting the blog slip a bit from the routine has been okay in my book.

That said, my ongoing games, which include two homebrew Cypher System settings, intermittent Starfinder and a new D&D 5E campaign have been generating content....just nothing I want to post (yet) until it's played its purpose in the ongoing campaigns.

One thing I admit I've done a lot less of this year is buy new game systems (and then spend time reading those systems and distracting myself). Despite this, I did get the new Alternity and have been reading up on it....also Modern AGE (which is an interesting system that looks anemic compared to it's Fantasy AGE predecessor or....say...Cypher System), and some other odds and ends like Numenera's 2nd edition, the Unity RPG and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition (which I am told is shipping now, at long last).

So yeah, maybe I'm doing better from a certain point of view, but still buying too many systems given how little time I have these days to absorb or run them!

Anyway, I've been running a lot of Cypher Supers and plan on posting more heroes and villains from that campaign soon. Also, a talk about the interesting potential in the new Alternity....

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Game Systems: It's all about the toys they offer

I have thought a bit recently about how I might reconcile my general love of Cypher System, which rests firmly in a more streamlined, narrative-friendly camp of the rules spectrum, and my ongoing fascination for Starfinder (and by proxy Pathfinder 1E) with their elaborate systems and deep-diving level of detail and minutiae. How could I enjoy one so much (Cypher) for its ease with which all actions and conflicts are resolved while encouraging a deep layer of narrative fun and yet also enjoy Starfinder and Pathfinder for their rigor and minutiae, with mechanical depth of design that sometimes allows for emergent storytelling, but in a much more structured fashion....?

Then I realized what it is about these (and other) games that I like so much: the toys. The pieces and parts that they both provide to let you construct your game and make it run with minimal effort. Here's what I mean:

With Cypher you get a minimalist, narrative-driven system, sure. But you also get thousands of building blocks, including a robust bestiary, cyphers, artifacts, and plenty of character choices. It's a cornucopia of goodness, and it's cross-compatible with all the other Cypher System books (The Strange and Numenera) so when you combine it with those resources you have a metric ton of read-to-use tools which require little to no effort to deploy in the game session. In other words: it makes actually constructing the game (and running it) easy.

With Starfinder and Pathfinder, you essentially have the same scenario. You have massive bestiaries, magic items, tech items, gear and equipment, spells, all the stuff you need to seed scenarios. Yes, I have griped (and will continue to do so) about the time consumption in designing custom content such as new monsters and NPCs, but Starfinder fixed a lot of that, and Pathfinder technically "fixes" it by simply offering you so many books full of ready-to-use content (e.g. Monster Codex, Villain Codex, NPC Codex etc.) that you really don't need to do that sort of work at all if your game isn't demanding it. And these days, when I do run Pathfinder, my games are definitely not demanding that I keep up with a mess of hyper-focused min max players at my table, thankfully.

This also explains why Savage Worlds is so nice as a system, and Call of Cthulhu too. And it explains why some other games, despite liking them so much, remain second fiddle to these more robust "toybox" offering type game systems....GURPS for example being better described as a set of tools you make your own toys with, for example, or Genesys Core wanting to be a toybox but not offering enough toys for each genre (yet). We all probably can think of game systems that show up with a rule system and a smattering of content attached, with cool concepts in principle but a dearth of actual content to work with. Hero System is my personal favorite example of a system with a metric ton of rules and design features but no core box of toys to play with.*

Moreover, Cypher System is particularly cool because it gives you enough in one book to work with. Starfinder does require purchasing a couple books to get there, but once you have the core, Alien Archive and Armory you've essentially got years' worth of content with minimal effort at your fingertips.

Not everyone needs (or wants) a game with a toybox approach. I use "toybox" here because I feel "sandbox" if a different kind of style.....it's the kind of game where you get lots of content, but you still need to build it all up (make the sand castle, if you will); GURPS is better described as a sandbox game, for example. Some people prefer that.....they don't want these toys, they want their own. But for me? toybox is definitely what I need these days to get that gaming in.

*With the caveat that by Hero 6th there are some very thick resource books you can expand the game with for certain genres if you want, so even Hero can provide a robust toybox if you're willing to pay for it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition Kickstarter

It's in the wild, and as expected it's already funded! Savage Worlds will have its first new edition in 15 years...take a look:

I'm in at the $150 level for sure. Savage Worlds remains one of the "go to" games in my arsenal.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Catching up: Clocks in Walls, Venom, Android, Chronicles of Future Earth, Cypher and Other Stuff

It's been a busy month for me, as all Octobers are....work accelerates at an exponential rate for me around September and doesn't let up until mid December. In years past I have preloaded blog posts to simulate a presence, but over the last couple of years I just haven't got time for that sort of stuff anymore...

Anyway, here's a sort of truncated scoop of the last couple weeks:

Shadow of the Beanstalk

In case you hadn't heard, Fantasy Flight's first SF setting book based on the Android universe is being released soon. The link above takes you to the preview page, and it looks like a great setting, and an excellent choice for the system's first foray into non-Star Wars themed science fiction. I'm definitely looking forward to this.

Although I've had my reservations about the system after a campaign earlier this year, overall I enjoyed it a lot, and I am thinking carefully about the idea of running another campaign again soon. I may stick with fantasy for now, and then explore SF once the new sourcebook comes out. We'll see.....I've been debating that, or possible (finally) exploring Fantasy AGE in more depth.

The House With A Clock In It's Walls

We saw this movie at my son's behest two weeks ago and it was quite fun, more fun than I would have expected it to be. For a "kid's movie" it did not pull many punches, but still managed to be a creepy fun dark fantasy film with surprisingly tight pacing. I am still perplexed that I never knew of this series of books growing up, as it would have been right up my alley in the seventies.


Then we saw this one (also by request of my son, who is a big Spider Man and Venom fan) and guess what, it didn't suck like all the critics said it would. I went in expecting a trainwreck and came out genuinely enjoying the movie. It had some odd moments, but the actual pacing and style of the movie worked well for me, and the banter between Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock and Venom was a high point of the movie, well worth seeing. We'll be adding this movie to our permanent collection once it's out on blu-ray.

This is another example of a movie where you can see that the interests of critics do not always align well with the interest of the general audiences. Critics (especially on Youtube) have a habit of denigrating the general audience when they seem to like things that they "shouldn't," but maybe in this case the critics should take a moment to try and figure out why this film works so well for the non-critic crowd; it's sitting at 89% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes, for example, vs. a 31% critic score. Many of the complaints I have read about this film now seem trite and petty having watched it....and I have no bones at all in this fight; I went in to Venom expecting to hate it!

Cypher System Combat with Low Levels vs. High Tiers

I was running my Cypher game Saturday when I realized I had put my party up against a foe which they essentially roflstomped, and I realized that as they are hitting tier 3 I need to pay more attention to how I design encounters to be challenging. It did demonstrate for me a slight problem....that lower level foes, against higher tier characters, can be viciously wiped out and the only cost of the combat to the PCs is time and maybe a few points out of the pool.

I need to read a bit more in the sundry Cypher books about encounter design, see if it offers some advice. One comment on a random post I read suggested that grouping lower level foes into higher level mobs (so take 20 level 3 orcs and make them one level 7 mob, for example) might be a good solution. It would definitely feel a bit epic.....but also provide a better challenge.

This is why I like Cypher....the game system is very flexible, but demands you think outside the box.

Chronicles of Future Earth Kickstarter

If you recall the Chronicles of Future Earth for Basic Roleplaying, this is the successor. I'd be tempted to back it for the reading value alone, but the new edition will be powered by FATE....a system which I ultimately learned to play a while back and even found intriguing, but realized that in the end it is not a good fit for my GM style (unlike Cypher, which very much does fit my GM style). Still, if you are liked me and loved that BRP book this is worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Clay That Woke Sale

I recently joined a G+ forum called Goblin Emporium where tons of buying and trading of RPGs goes on...you should check it out, lots of deals. Among recent offerings was one from Paul Czege for his Kickstarted RPG called The Clay That Woke, which from the description is effectively a unique fantasy RPG about minotaurs with an unusual token mechanic.

I don't have my copy yet, just ordered it, but if you're interested in a copy Paul is selling them inexpensively right now and I really have to say that the idea of an RPG about minotaurs (read about it from the Kickstarter page here) as presented sounds incredibly interesting. I'll do a review when the book arrives.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Titans Trailer

Okay, I'm officially getting really psyched for this. It doesn't help that I am at last catching up on the rest of the DC Universe TV offerings (plowing through Arrow and the Flash right now). But yeah, I can get behind this version of the Titans: