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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Moss Book 1

Moss VR is originally a Playstation title developed by Polyarc and the game was released in 2018. Moss is a VR puzzle adventure platformer but unlike most of VR games it is played from a third person perspective - which turns out to be your own perspective.

The game starts with you reading a book introducing you a fairy tale like story, eventually taking you into the story itself. Moss is a fully narrated story that makes you part of it. You play as Quill, a cute little mouse, full of enthusiasm. She finds a shard that calls a human sized ghost-like masked creature, a guardian angel of sort. This being is also you. You watch over Quill as she goes on her journey to save her uncle and the kingdom from an evil fire-breathing serpent.

Moss is a simple game that requires a bit of platforming. You control Quill and walk her through beautifully crafted environments that are joy to look at. The environments are single scenes and you have to walk from the place you appeared to the other end of the environment. Sometimes you can just freely walk through but mostly you have to solve an environmental puzzle to get to the other side. These get more and more complex as you progress and they require the intervention of you as the guardian. In the later stages of the game they can also span several 'scenes' and not just one.

You control Quill with joystick and buttons to jump and attack like in a traditional game. The guardian though has 'hands' - blue orbs. Those are where your motion controllers are so you can reach with them and physically move objects around, stall enemies, drag them around. You can also pet the mouse on the head, high-five her when she presents a hand or heal her when she takes damage by holding her for a while. You can even spook her if you wish to. It truly feels like you are a magical being doing magic.

There is some combat but it is fairly simple. At first you just hack at the enemies but later on you will find you that you can stall enemies, move them around (so they explode elsewhere), you can even shoot with the enemies you currently hold in your blue-orb hand. In some areas of the game there will be big fights requiring you to multitask a bit with both of your hands while still moving Quill around (stalling an enemy while controlling Quill and attacking the held enemy for example). This most probably is not necessary but adds more depth to the game and to me it felt natural.

Moss is a game that is about immersion and they did an excellent job at that. The game proves that in order to be immersed in a game you don't need a first person view. The environments are rich and beautiful and I spent a lot of time just looking around and waiting for things to happen. I was so curious that I also spend some time walking around and peeking around every corner. This way I also found out that there are hidden items you can collect (scrolls) that are often somewhere where they are either hard to reach or they are hidden if you are just sitting in the middle of the scene.

The sound is also excellent. There is everything you'd expect and the sound is also 3d. The sound effects are well chosen and they seem to be real be it a turning of a heavy page from the story book at the beginning, Quill's squeaks or her steps. You will hear background noises perfectly matching the environments (or not because it will feel so natural). Stop and listen to the sounds. You will discover how well the sound was done.

Verdict: Moss is a game that provides a unique experience that only VR can deliver. Moss is one of the most immersive games I played even when the game is played from a third perspective. The gameplay is on the simple side but it also means that the Moss is a great game to introduce people to VR and gaming in general. The only downside is that the game is rather short. You can finish the game in 3 hours and be little bit disappointed in how suddenly it ends. If you enjoyed this game and crave for more there is a sequel already out for Playstation VR and soon to be released for Quest.

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Audica

Harmonix is a studio you probably heard of already, which can't be said about most VR games studios. Harmonix is known for games like Amplitude, Rock Band, and Dance Central. All these games are rhythm games that became popular, and we even got a VR version of Rock Band and Dance Central. When Beat Saber, the first VR rhythm game, was still the hype, Harmonix released their new VR game named Audica (2019), but it may have been shadowed by the lightning saber slashing game.

Audica is a rhythm game that will make you shoot color-coded notes in time with the music. This may sound simple, but in practice, it is more complex. You will be standing in the middle of a beautiful environment in outer space. In front of you (or around), a colored vortex will appear quickly, turning into one of several types of notes represented by a white symbol. Also, depending on the type of note, a shape will appear around that note. It will quickly shrink, eventually becoming one with the note itself - that is the time you have to shoot the note to get a perfect score. Apart from normal notes, there are sustain notes that you have to hold the trigger, chain notes that you have to keep and follow the chain and slot notes that require you to hold your weapon horizontally or vertically. There are also melee notes that you have to hit with the blades attached to your in-game weapons.

The game's learning curve is steeper than any other VR rhythm game I played. Even though in VR, many things are simplified to make it easier and more fun for the player, Audica requires different skills to even play this game, which is why it may be challenging to get into Audica at first. If you haven't acquired these skills in other games, you might struggle at first since you will have to learn one, two, or all skills required. Shooting games often have some kind of aim assist that makes it easier to hit (they provide more giant hitboxes, even if you miss what you actually see, the hitbox may still be hit and counted, thus confirming the note). As for the other aspect, timing, the games usually provide a wider window for you to confirm the note or use a different way of judging. The most challenging skill you will need to learn is reading, which can take some time.

Audica offers 4 different difficulties and campaigns that will take you through the songs, from the easiest to the most difficult ones. The campaign will require you to get a certain amount of stars in each section before you can advance. Some of the songs have modifiers, making them harder to pass or more fun, but you may skip a song if you do very well on the other songs.

Audica judges your precision in two aspects - aim and timing - and you will be able to see more information about that on the result screen. A scoring system awards you a base score + another score depending on how accurate you were up to 2000 for a single note. Each song has thus a different maximum score. If you keep a streak after every ten notes, your score for a note gets multiplied by 2x, later by 3x, and if you still keep the combo going by 4x. Whenever you miss a note, the multiplier goes down by 1, which is unique to rhythm games as they usually reset.

The game features leaderboards, a single one per song (and also total one). The highest score gets shown there no matter the difficulty. You may not do that well on Expert, which can give you a maximum score, but if you get a nice full combo on Advanced, this score can be higher than the Expert one and will be shown on the leaderboard. This is another feature that makes the game more friendly to the players.

The music in Audica is relatively varied, offering 33 songs plus an additional 4 songs - album versions. You can buy several DLCs, but even if you don't, you can play way more songs in the form of custom songs. You can play this game for hundreds of hours! The game has a lovely community of people that create assets for the game and maps. The maps are enjoyable to play but will require a higher level of play than what is necessary for the vanilla game (not counting Highway to Oblivion on Expert, which happens to be a fierce song and closest to Expert custom song levels). After beating the campaign on Expert, you may find out that your skill still needs to improve to play customs.

The mapping in the vanilla game is good from my point of view as a beginner, but after playing some custom songs, I can see the potential of custom maps - there are great ideas people incorporate into their maps, and they will make you stare at the notes in awe.

An Osu! to Audica converter also exists, which is not actually bad, but you have to pick certain specific maps to convert to get the best experience. Players can find the best maps from around five star songs, but those will become more significant difficult than what can be seen in the vanilla game. Some of these maps provide a good shooting exercise as the songs have higher note density than Audica maps.

This is the only game that made me go 'wow.' The open space, particles, animation, and effects are great. The UI feels bland compared to it, but it works.

Verdict: Audica is a unique rhythm shooter game in VR. It is a fully finished and polished game designed to be fun for casual and competitive players. It can remind you of Osu! in VR, and the ability to play Osu! will actually help you get better way faster. While the game's learning curve is steep for those not invested in rhythm games, the developers made sure to make the game as friendly as possible. Aspects such as user-friendly timing windows, aim assist, maps getting progressively more complex, well-done campaign, leaderboards, settings to help you read well, etc. It has a friendly and active modding community that keeps the game alive, so there is a lot of content worth the money Audica costs. I can highly recommend this game to anyone who is not afraid of learning or hitting a wall in a game.

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

AGAINST VR

AGAINST is a VR combat rhythm game from a Russian studio Joy Way that you might have already heard about because of their earlier VR parkour game Stride. If Stride is a VR version of Mirror Edge then AGAINST would be a combination of Pistol Whip and Beat Saber (even though there seems to be another game with similar concept named Cybrid).

The game currently offers a tutorial and a campaign consisting of 7 levels and credits. It tells a story of Detective John Black trying to track down and defeat an evil scientist Doctor Vice. The story is told in several comic strips between levels which are nice but don't tell a coherent story.

You as Detective Black will will be encountering enemies that will attack you with different weapons - a crowbar, revolver, tommy gun, brass knuckles. Four weapons will also be available to you too - a sword, a revolver, tommy guns and brass knuckles. You will have to touch the weapon in order to equip it and then you can use it to slash, shoot, punch you enemies or deflect bullets.

Sometimes you will also have to avoid attacks. Throughout the levels there will be obstacles you'll have to avoid, either stationary or moving (airplane shooting at you). You might encounter arrows that if you swipe you will move to the side or jump high etc. If you miss these you might be overrun by a car, hit a wall or simply take an alternative route.

Visually the game is beautiful but very different from what I expected. The beta version had a film-noir look which I really enjoyed. The developers decided that this may have not be the best idea so they changed the look considerably. The game is not as dark, is more graphically detailed, smoother, and red. This makes the game not look as violent as it is.

Each level is designed differently, following the story which is nice, and features a final battle or a boss. The levels are 3-5 minutes long and have 3 difficulties - Easy, Normal and Hard.

The game is described as a rhythm game and there is a rhythm game aspect in it. The enemies have to be hit or bullets deflected on time with the music's beat. Unfortunately the levels are not perfectly on sync. In fact it seems that the individual 'notes' are off in each level even which may be due to the fact that each enemy has an animation during which there is the perfect hit window that does not last long. This may be the biggest problem of the game currently and maybe even in the future. This makes creating custom maps way more difficult for mappers that can keep the game alive. There is no possibility to change audio settings currently which is pretty bad for a game of this kind.

Replayability of the game is something to be seen. So far you can finish the game in 35 minutes if you are a player used to playing rhythm games or active VR games. After that you might want to replay to see if you can get better scores and place higher on the leaderboards. Unfortunately the sync is off so this may rather make you want to stop playing the game immediately.

There are custom maps that you can download from https://againstmaps.com/ and beat map editor which you can use to create your maps. The mapping currently is bad since people are trying to figure out what can work. Playing some of the faster songs I realized that this game has some limits. While games like Beat Saber can just throw notes at high density, this game can't due to the rather long animations and size of the enemies. Players will have to find how to be creative to create distinct fun levels and also will have to figure out how to time each 'note' because the animations make it impossible to time them well without finding a correct offset for each of the enemies.

Will this be another forgotten and abandoned game with great concept by this studio or will they keep it alive? Will the community keep the game alive?

Verdict: AGAINST is a game that combines several concepts together and for me that worked pretty well but for many this can also be a reason why not to play the game. Visually it is pleasing, the story is short and nothing awesome but not bad either. The game will make you move with one arm and squat quite a lot which is always nice. The combat part of the game is solid if you welcome variety. Unfortunately as a rhythm game this fails due to the songs not being on sync. Games like this aren't often played by players as they cannot stand that. So far the same is true for custom songs but this may change in the future. If you are someone who can't stand offsync games with no possibility to change offset I don't recommend this game.

Otherwise it is a great experience, even though a playthrough takes 35 minutes.

More work needs to be done on the game. Visibility, sound effects and indicators should be improved apart from what I mentioned. Also a mirror modifier would come handy for those left-handed players like me. Also I played the game with knuckles controllers and the settings for the controller are wrong so it's quite a pain to play the game with these controllers.

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

パラパラ Spiderman

Not so long time ago I started recording Para Para videos again. This time around though I dance in VR. Today I was having some fun recording Spiderman. Enjoy!

There are more videos on my new Youtube Channel and there is even a Para Para playlist.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Beat Saber

If I say 'light saber' many people will imagine a sword with energy beam blade from Star Wars. Many of us at least once wished to wield this weapon and just slash around with it in the dark. Well, now thanks to Beat Games you can.

Beat Saber is a VR rhythm game. You'll be standing in a rather dark place, color blocks will fly towards you and you will be cutting them in half with your virtual light sabers in time with music and spectacular lighting effects. Notes, the flying blocks, are blue or red and come from one position of a 12 square grid. Depending on the color you have to either use your left (red) or right saber (blue) to cut them. The notes also have directional arrows (8 possible directions) on them and that's how you have to slash through them.

While you are supposed to hit the notes on beat it's not actually what the game is about if you want to get a good score. The thing that makes Beat Saber more fun and more challenging is the fact that your slashes are not evaluated on the timing but rather how well you cut the block. Your swing has to be quite big before reaching the block and after you cut it in half. How close to the center you hit is also evaluated. You get a certain score for that and if you don't miss any notes you will start getting a score multiplier that goes up to 8. When you miss it resets. Each miss or a bad cut (when blue saber hits a red note or cuts the correct note in a wrong direction) will cost you life or some kind of energy that you can see in front of you under the flying notes area. When this bar reaches 0 you fail the song.

There are also modifiers in game that you can use to tweak the game play. The ones that will make the game harder will get you a higher score multiplier. For example playing with Faster Song and Disappearing arrows would give you a 0.15 additional multiplier (1.15x thus). Modifiers that make the game easier will give you less points per cut but can make it more enjoyable to play - for example you can turn off obstacles, or turn fail off.

Apart from notes there are obstacles in the game. Those are walls that sometimes you need to avoid as they will come right at you. You just step aside (move your head) or crouch. There are also bombs, spiky mines that you need to avoid with your sabers. Hitting either of these obstacles will break the combo so it is better to avoid them (actually it probably takes some of your life as well). These are mostly decorative thought and not many maps use these in a way that would make you move well with the exception of FitBeat in the original game. As for custom songs there is a mapper named Alice who makes good wall maps (see Oyasumi video below).

Hitting flying blocks in general is very easy. We all can do it. Concentrating on hitting them correctly and in the correct direction is not that easy and needs to be learned. Beat Saber has a nice learning curve. The learning curve in this game even on the official songs is good though so in the long run this game is more beginner friendly than other rhythm games (that are though often way better for initial experience).

The music is often important for those that play rhythm games and here we have a variety of music if we count all the DLCs. The base game contains mostly songs by Jaroslav Beck. There are some extras which may be songs you know already like Crab Rave, Pop/Stars or Angel Voices. For free you also get a whole Camellia song pack which I personally find great but it's also clearly the odd pack out of all the base songs. He's mostly known for hardcore and speedcore songs which may not be to everyone's taste.

Currently there are these DLCs released in this order Monstercat, Imagine Dragons, Panic! At the Disco, Monstercat X Rocket League, Green Day, Timbaland, Linkin Park, BTS, Interscope Mixtape, Skrillex, Billie Eilish and Lady Gaga. It looks like Beat Games and Facebook is providing the mass player base their favorite artists. I'm not into this kind of music even though Panic! At the Disco was a new discovery for me which I enjoy and Interscope Mixtape contains good oldies.

As for mapping, it was mainly done by one mapper who breathed life into Beat Saber and we can thank him for that. It is not an easy task to come up with a way how to make good, different and fun maps using 12 possible positions of blocks. Rhythm games were around for years though and many of those playing them figured out what they like in their maps. Nothing of that could be found in Beat Saber in the early days but that slowly changed as the community took over and figured out what works in Beat Saber. Anyway back to the official content. The oldest content is very bad. The first two DLCs while still really bad have shown some kind of a good progress. The following three DLCs got slightly better and I found some maps there that I enjoyed. Timbaland is a DLC I would not recommend to anyone. Linkin Park is where it got better. BTS has some really good maps. Interscope Mixtape is a wild, wild west but has a lot of good stuff going on. It looks like mappers tried to see what people can withstand in terms of patterns. Skrillex is more coherent and compact. The last two DLCs look good. I believe the DLCs will only get better in terms of mapping since more good mappers joined the team.

Compared to other rhythm games this game doesn't offer much of a good free content. There are several very good songs (OST4 and Spooky Beat) but otherwise the content is pretty bad. DLCs are currently mostly bad but with each new DLC there will be good content.

Beat Saber offers different modes of play. The most common one is Solo - a single player standard mode where you use two sabers. Some maps have one saber maps or 90 or 360 degrees maps. 360 degree maps are great but unfortunately no one focused on them long enough and we lack good maps. There is also a campaign mode which is more of a tutorial and information on how to play the game rather than something meant to be challenging. From 1.12 there is a multiplayer which you can either play in a private lobby with friends or join a public lobby. For some this may be the best way to enjoy the game.

The game has a big modding community and mappers who create lot of mods and custom songs which makes Beat Saber a really great game since the base game is rather lacking in some aspects. There exists Scoresaber, the biggest leaderboard for custom songs. There are ranked custom songs that will earn you certain amount of performance points based on some criteria and this way you can also try to reach the top of your country's leaderboard or the world one. The mods can do many things from searching and downloading songs, getting it ready for streaming, being able to play modded maps, showing all kinds of stats, using custom avatars or sabers, new game modes etc. People are very creative and I'm sure you will discover a good combination of mods to make the game very enjoyable for you.

Verdict: There is something Beat Saber excels at - it has very good mechanics and score system. The base game content (even with DLCs) though is rather subpar. If you are looking for a game to be played as is without you modding it, where you will pay once and get good content than this is not the game to buy. If you plan on modding the game and playing custom songs, a whole new world will open up for you, a world where you will surely find something you will like. There's many bad maps but also ones that are very good and also look spectacular. Scoresaber makes it a good game even for competitive players because the ranked songs will certainly challenge you at some point. Ranked songs also get better and better in terms of mapping. After all Beat Saber has the biggest community that makes the game great. I would recommend Beat Saber to players who want to get more invested in the game and are willing to mod it. Those that are looking for a good casual experience from time to time or a game they can show to new players I'd advise to buy a different game.

Thanks for reading

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)