ad

Saturday, September 12, 2020

FORM

I was browsing list of games on Steam again and came across FORM which had a teaser that caught my eye: "Enter a surreal adventure where puzzles are built from dreams and memories. Solve the mystery behind an ancient artifact. Advance through a world that transforms around you. Transcend this existence."

A few minutes later I was standing in the middle of the night, trees around me, feeling chilly and staring at the game's menu. I created a new game and appeared in front of Dr. Eli's workspace. Dr. Eli is examining an ancient artifact and is on the bring of a discovery. You as Dr. Eli manage to somehow synchronize with the artifact and you wake up in your own mind where ideas can be read. Here you solve puzzles and eventually meet another sentient being.

The game is beautiful. The visuals are simply mesmerizing. The objects you manipulate are very well crafted and feel very solid even though you can't really touch them. As a player you can't walk around, you just appear in front of your puzzle and what you need you can reach (or bring it to yourself). After each step of a puzzle is complete the environment changes a bit and new part of the object/puzzle is shown to you. All the animations showing new stuff are pretty neat. They are visually pleasing and the sound that accompanies it is great. The soundtrack made me feel a bit strange though.

As for the story, I wouldn't even call it a story. It doesn't really have an ending or any kind of resolution. We don't learn anything about Dr. Eli, nor his wife. While the voice acting and intro are good the rest simply doesn't exist. I wish I would have found out more about Dr. Eli, his past or his personality. We don't even know what the artifact is, where it came from and who the unknown beings are. This way all I can say is that I was very disappointed because I expected at least some kind of a basic story.

Game play seemed to me similarly lacking. The puzzles are mostly of one kind and that is match two objects together. The puzzles become rather repetitive. They are not hard but it still takes time to manipulate everything. Sometimes you have to look through a blue ball to see more information but that's about it. In the second room you have to play certain melodies. Be it either by sound or color which was even less entertaining even though it sounded cool. If this game was supposed to be a puzzle game I'd expect a certain variety of puzzles and something that actually requires you to think a little (sometimes).

The game is short. I finished it in 77 minutes which included me staring at the different environments and doing some nonsense with objects producing light. While I enjoyed doing that it was the only thing I could do, since you can't walk around. To sum it up, the game is visually breathtaking. It's a bit dark and blurry but atmosphere is great. The soundtrack and sound effects are great and make you feel more otherworldly. Animations are great to look at and while the game gives you all the time in the universe to solve a puzzle there is some kind of a fast paced flow to how everything moves shifts around. I liked that. Story is nowhere to be found. Game play is simple, tedious and repetitive. Nothing to actually enjoy.

I would recommend this game to someone who wants to see what is possible in VR when it comes to abstract things but only if they just want to try to manipulate some objects and enjoy what they do under their hands (meaning have no expectations of game content). Otherwise I'd say this game is not worth its full price and I wouldn't recommend it.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Room VR: A Dark Matter, review and play through

I was browsing Steam's store page and was shown The Room VR: A Dark Matter because I played Half-Life: Alyx. I wasn't really sure what these two games had in common but nonetheless the game caught my attention. The graphics looked good and it was a puzzle game. I liked the idea but wasn't really sure if paying 30 EUR was something I wanted to do. In the end I bought the game and I'm really glad I did.

I was immediately hooked. I loved the visuals, sounds and puzzles. I enjoyed the mystery and the story even it seems there were pieces missing that I was already supposed to know them (it makes sense since this game is a part of a series and this is the fourth or fifth game bearing the name 'The Room'). I was trying to put my awe from the game into words but so far I just failed at it and I decided that it might be better to show the actual game. Unfortunately that also has a downside, if you watch it you may not enjoy playing it that much later on (I replayed the game twice and I still enjoyed it that much though!). So, if you have a VR headset I recommend buying it and if you don't and are interested in seeing how it looks like, you can watch the video under this review.

The Room is a series of puzzle games that were originally developed for Apple's iPad but later ported to iPhones and Android devices. The element making the games more interesting and intriguing is the 'Null' which as I understand it is an element from which things can be created. In order to see the Null the player needs to equip a special lens. Thanks to it you can see the otherworldly creations and solve puzzles from the Null and from our reality.

The Room VR is set in 1908, Britain. You are a police detective investigating strange disappearances. You are led through the game by notes left by the Craftsman (who as I understand it is the originator of all the Null things you will encounter and who slowly became insane). In order to advance you need to solve different kind of puzzles and figure out what happened to the disappeared people.

Since I appeared on the balcony of the police station I was totally immersed in the game. The atmosphere was great throughout the whole game - mysterious and sometimes spooky. I could even feel the scorching sun and sand beneath my feet (not really, but my imagination set me in a real Egyptian desert). The puzzles were fun, usually different and relatively clever. I have to say that I enjoyed them even though some could be lengthy even though not hard. This is exactly what I expected from a puzzle game. It required attention to your environment, little bit of logic and some manual dexterity (since VR is not perfect).

The environment was very well researched and well done. I felt like standing in the British museum when I was at the British Institute of Archaeology. The otherworldly places felt great, I felt like I was in a different dimension and I actually wanted to come back to the 'real world'. What I also found cool is that at some points you can enter objects and you need to solve the puzzle both inside and outside of it. I call it 'Detective in the Wonderland' mechanic. Sometimes through the lens you can see these red crystals which means you can enter the object and in this case play with the light projected through colored glass.

At the time I didn't appreciate all the sounds and physics because I took them for granted but after playing several other VR games I have to say that these are way above average. They kept me immersed and I never felt distracted by them (with few exception of sounds that are used by other games as well). I even played the organ or rather tried with two fingers.

The game is awesome for sure but there were several things that bugged me. I wasn't fan of the game somehow centering around me whenever I teleported. The game uses teleportation system which allows you just to go to places relevant to the game. This limited movement is actually a good thing since you don't need to run around in frustration trying to figure out with which objects you can actually interact and with which you can't. The centering around myself rather than the center of the play area also made me scratch my head few times because I had to reach for an object which was out of reach suddenly (see in the middle of a real life wall). Walking blindly around and trying to stand somewhere so it centers in a way I could reach it wasn't easy.

Next thing I'd probably do is assign a button for the use of the lens. It is great that you can change it from the inventory by using your hand but when you are doing a puzzle in both real world and null and you need to switch often this gets a bit annoying.

I also had problems with reading all the notes and other text. That may be due to my eye defect which is quite rare or Oculus Rift not being the best for reading text. Watching my stream after I finished actually showed a crispy sharp grahics though.

The next thing is something I'm not sure if it is a bad thing or not. The game is quite short. I finished it in 3 hours which included all the head scratching since I got stuck. (Often it was because I couldn't interact with an object that was obviously meant for interaction). When the game was over I was hungry for more. When I put the headset down though I realized how terribly exhausted I am. In the end I was glad the game could be finished quickly. It is still longer than other escape room games.

The last thing is that I really longed for walking around and taking a better look at things. Unfortunately I was stopped by 'Attention! Please return to the play area' message. I was sad I couldn't watch animations happen from other place than the one I teleported to. I wish that if there will be next The Room VR game that we will be able to freely walk at least around our real life play area while still being able to teleport to important places.

As for the price tag. I found it expensive at first but after I finished the game I felt like they deserved all of the money. There may be a big difference between the Room non-VR games prices and this one but still I'd pay 30 again for a game like this. True, compared to a high price of Half-Life: Alyx and its 13 hours of game play it is indeed expensive. I don't regret paying this much for the game and I'd even tell you to just buy it for the full price (on sale it's a snap buy). For me it was totally worth it.

If you like good puzzles and you also enjoy a very well done environment I can highly recommend this game.

Thanks for reading
S'Tsung (stsungjp on Twitter)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

TimeLock VR

I was just browsing games on Steam and came across TimeLock VR. After reading the description it seemed that it could be a promising game. After reading the reviews below I learned that the game may not be good at all but I was still willing to give it a try. It couldn't be that bad, right?

I launched the game and stared at gray/black grid for a while until I realized that I have to actually select some settings on the monitor. I set it to Beautiful graphics settings because that's the FIRST time ever I saw that as any kind of setting.

After that I showed up in darkness staring at several bright flags that didn't really light the scene. I looked at the English flag and tried to point at it. Nothing really happened so I stepped forward and tried to reach it. And yes, being small is even less cool than in real world. After standing on my toes and reaching with the controller as far as I could I choose English even though I was rather to play the game in German.

English was set and I wondered what would happen next. I heard a rather unpleasant sound which was probably trying to tell me that I should look down at my controllers and press a certain button. I pressed it and a screen showed up. It was all red which I wasn't a fan of. It's rather aggressive color and maybe good for getting someone's attention but certainly not good for reading any kind of text. White letters on a bright red background, still in total darkness showed: 'Time travel succeeded. Check laser module'.

I looked around and the only thing standing out was this cube screaming 'Unity'.

I pointed at it and pressed trigger and something happened. Well, anyway I went through the time tutorial already knowing that I wouldn't need it in the game and then I wondered how does one actually move. I accidentally switched from controllers to bow and an arrow and I had no idea how to get rid of it.

When I ran out of ideas I just tried to walk around but my play area is 1.6 m times 1.8 m and that was not enough for the room. So I decided to use google and see how the game can be actually played.

I learned that pressing and holding one button I can actually move around the Unity teleportation grid. I didn't know how limited the teleportation was but well it did its job. My hand was soon in pain from teleporting too much around. Compared to Half-Life or The Room VR this was really bad but at least I got to move around. There also does not seem to be the possibility to turn around with a controller so I had to turn in real life and that resulted in me bumping into everything around me. After hitting my shin because I kicked a chair's leg and a loud metal noise I made while my controller collided with a heater I moved on and went to a desk.

I moved around the computer and suddenly this screen showed up. I noticed that the texturing was not great on the objects around me, the red console was meh but this took it to another level. This is a message from the future on a present time laptop? I heard another annoying beep and I was told that I'm looking for this vase.

I started looking for a purple key then since there was similarly colored key icon. Since no puzzle was in sight I switched to 'ransack everything' mode. I made a pretty mess out of the room and eventually found the key. I opened the drawer to find an indenture I couldn't read but there was another beep and I learned about the importantant parts. I was supposed to time travel to steal a priceless artwork.

I traveled into the past. I was still in the same room and I saw icons of items I needed which were white key and red key (I'm not sure). There was also a box on the table with a 4 digit inputs. So it was time to find the code. Well, again I ransacked everything and eventually got the code, entered it and got the white key. And this pretty much describes the whole game.

You are an agent sent to the past to retrieve an object and you have the ability to time travel or rewind time. The time travel is actually a nice feature that allows you to find a solution to a problem you can't deal with in the time you currently are. If you need something to get open, you can find a way in the past and then return back to the present. You can also bring objects from the past to the present and vice-versa. Rewinding time is not needed anywhere in the game and I'm not sure if it would have actually added anything to the game in its current form. I tried to use that ability when I left an item in the past but had a prompt to teleport with it into the past and I couldn't (and had to start all over again).

The next feature is what actually gave the game its name - time lock. When you time travel at a specific time you will end up in a time lock. In order to get out of there you need to do something. In the first time lock you are told to bring some kind of a device which is nowhere in sight. I was running around like crazy until I realized that teleporting is not limited to where one can possibly physically get in a human form. In general physics doesn't work the way a human being would expect it to work. After that I managed to find the device and bring it back. While I was running around there I was attacked by some creatures looking like they just ran away from Minecraft (and Minecraft-y critters would probably look better). I was supposed to have a weapon ready so I was running around with a bow and the arrow. You can just wonder why, you are a super secret agent from the future have access only to a bow... Shooting felt natural though compared to the rest of controls.

You return to the house from the time lock and can continue in your mission. Eventually after finding more items and using them on the colored icons you'll be able to open a safe which holds the vase. The game ends with this message and that's about it.

The game allows the player to explore the house and play with the time. Unfortunately the controls are really bad (I practically was running around with two controllers in my left hand because my right hand just didn't have enough accuracy) and the graphics is not great either. This is something I'd expect to be better even in a game I'd rate badly. Creating something coherently looking even with not much detail is something I'd expect from game creators. Games are often works of art. The ever present Unity grid is not something that helps the matter. The sounds weren't helping with the feeling of being immersed. They felt artificial and incorrect for most part. Game play doesn't offer much. We have to complete basic tasks of finding one item and using it. Jumping through time is a nice touch and has actually a nice potential for puzzle games but in this game all you have to do is go to the past or present and find the item there and go back with it. Since time travel usually leads to bad things happening you will also end up in a time lock where in order to complete the time travel you need to do something - that something is yet again find this item and put it somewhere. Enemies attack in a time lock and you have to (not sure if you actually have to) take them down with bow and arrows. It doesn't make sense to me but I don't have anything against it either. It just feels totally out of place. And then after you retrieve the vase the game just ends and you don't even have the option to quit.

I'd give this game 2 out of 5. There's no way this game can be above average but it is playable. Maybe I should note that this game is totally not worth the money it sells for. So unless this costs less than 1 USD, stay away from it (my opinion).

Thanks for reading
S'Tsung (stsungjp on Twitter)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Beat Saber guide - creating custom avatar with full body tracking

I wrote a guide on creating custom avatar with full body tracking for Beat Saber. You can either view it on this blog https://stsu.blogspot.com/p/creating-avatar-for-beat-saber-full.html or on my site http://stefanekren.com/deckgen/vrmtoavatar.html

I also made a video tutorial how to create a custom avatar with FBT.