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Saturday, September 18, 2021

DEEMO -Reborn-

DEEMO is a mobile rhythm game from 2013 that features beautiful piano music and became popular through the years. In 2019 a game titled DEEMO -Reborn- came out. This game is indeed a Deemo game but is not only a rhythm game but also a point and click adventure game. You can play it in a traditional way on Playstation, Switch or PC, or you can enjoy it in VR on PSVR or PCVR.

The game starts with an elegant black almost stick figure creature, named Deemo, playing the piano. Then we can see a bright light and a window opening above the piano. Little girl falls down from it and is caught by Deemo. From there on the little girl - Alice - tries to find a way home. Alice discovers that a tree grows when music is played on the piano. Meanwhile Alice walks around what seems to be a magical castle. There she finds sheet music Deemo can play to make the tree grow taller. In order to get sheet music, it often requires Alice to solve puzzles. She also discovers different clues about its inhabitants and everything seems strangely familiar. You get the feeling that something is really wrong about the whole place.

To advance in the game you will have to play different songs which is the rhythm game part of the game. Once you click on the piano to play, you will be taken to a new environment. Notes will scroll down to you and when they arrive to a target line you will have to use your hands (if in VR) to press an imaginary piano key below where the note lands on the target line. In TV mode you will play the game either on keyboard using S, D, F, J, K, L keys or Left, Up, Right, Square, Triangle, Circle on a controller. The keys cannot be rebound which may annoy some people who are already used to play 6-key mode using different keys (it's one key off from DJMAX default setting which turned out to be a problem for my hand). The D/K or Up/Triangle notes are black and the rest shows white. The songs in VR have 2 difficulties while there are 3 in TV mode (Easy, Normal, Hard).

While VR is not particularly great for this kind of play, the difficulty of songs seems to be balanced for VR play - there are VR charts and they are not difficult. The controls are a bit finnicky though because it is rather difficult to know when a hit registers (it also registers when the keys are hit from the bottom) and it is very easy to 'miss' by accidentally hitting the piano keys. Slide notes are ok to play in VR as you can just swipe with your hand in the correct direction. On the other hand the TV controls may be problematic for those that do not have prior rhythm game experience. While I find 6 keys to be enjoyable it may be confusing to new players. Slide notes are being confirmed by pressing and holding spacebar which does not feel particularly fun.

The adventure part of the game is very beautiful. The game is played from third person perspective. In VR this is rather odd (there are fixed camera angles) but it is still a very nice and rather unique experience. The environments are gorgeous especially in VR. The story is something each player should experience on their own so I won't tell you more. Note that the story is rather deep. The game is pretty much point and click puzzle game even though this is primarily how it is in VR since otherwise it was meant to be played on a (dualshock) controller (which I find rather difficult). Some puzzles are logical and some may require some trial and error or memory, and lastly one room has musical 'puzzles'. While these are no hardcore puzzles they are still enjoyable.

Verdict:
DEEMO -Reborn- is stunningly beautiful game with mysterious and sad atmosphere. Visuals are gorgeous and the music is beautiful and soothing. Alice's voice is a voice of a child lost and it adds a lot to the atmosphere and I'm glad it stayed in Japanese and wasn't dubbed. The story is rather deep and made me feel really uneasy. The puzzles were nice in design even though they weren't difficult, easy enough to be enjoyed without frustration. As for the rhythm game part. At first I struggled to hit the notes and I didn't understand why some notes are white and some are black. When I set the speed to 8x I finally managed to hit the notes correctly and could fully enjoy the music while happily stepping around and waving my hands to hit the notes. The song list is rather limited compared to the mobile version but there is still way more songs than I expected (over 60?).

I bought DEEMO -Reborn- for the rhythm game aspect but the good short story game mesmerized me. The rhythm game aspect is not that great but what can you do when you are trying to port a game from a mobile touch screen? I love the music though. I can recommend the game to everyone who enjoys a good story and puzzles and won't suffer on trying to play a casual rhythm game. I find it well done and beginner friendly (but I'm also a hardcore rhythm game player so my perspective may not be accurate).

Ren (you can follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Festering Desire 3d model

Was thinking about creating another 'saber' for Beat Saber and couldn't come up with an idea so I tried creating a model of Festering Desire which I might port later to see how it looks in VR.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Paper Dolls 2

Review of Paper Dolls: Original (includes a walkthrough).

Paper Dolls 2 is a sequel to Paper Dolls: Original. It is a horror game from a Chinese studio named Litchi Game. Paper Dolls 2 is very similar to Paper Dolls: Original and I would suggest to play that game before playing this one.

The game starts where the first game ended, on a second floor of an old abandoned Yin mansion. Yang Mingyuan mysteriously appeared in the mansion after a car crash where he tried to find his daughter and his search continues in this game too.

You will explore the mansion at crawling speed while collecting clues, journal entries, and dialogues from the past. You will also need to solve puzzles to advance, unlock locked or sealed door and interact with spirits. The game introduced combat system. At the beginning you will have to hide or run away from the spirits but when you acquire weapons you will be able to defend and attack. Each spirit has several lives and thus needs to be shoot several times. The spirits have weak points when they attack, so if you shoot them at that time you will just need to shoot them twice. Otherwise you'll need to shoot 4 times. There are jars of wine scattered around which you can use to your advantage as they will explode and take down a spirit/paper doll nearby. There are boss battles in which you will have to take down one spirit several times before you will be able to seal it away. These can become frustrating depending on your skill at defending or attacking at a precise moment. The good thing is that you now have one additional life, so you can take one hit. There is a way to cure yourself, which may be needed during boss battles.

The game also has autosave feature but it's not that great. It will autosave before a major event but only once during the playthrough. The game won't save after that event so if you die right afterwards you have to start all over again.

The puzzles were a disappointment for me in this game. It may be because I got used to the style from the previous game and did not find most of the puzzles intriguing or fun. There was just one puzzle that I enjoyed (mirror room one). I solved half of the puzzles by trial and error and half by just following instructions. Most of the puzzle clues seemed irrelevant to me (if the talisman is confusing to you, all you need to do is set it to characters that are written on the seal).

The game is longer because the play area is larger (two floors). I was afraid it would have negative impact on the game but I found it well balanced. You won't need to be running around like crazy searching for something since what you need is most of the time close to the location where you need it. Later on, it won't be that way, but you will also know where to go with the item you received. It won't take you that long to reach the place. I'd still recommend saving the game close to the location you are going to visit next and memorizing the plan of the floors.

As for graphics and sound. I found both good. They are better than in the Paper Dolls: Original. The environments are more detailed and even more atmospheric. The sound is better, primarily due to the fact that you won't be going through door that often and because the voice acting is done in Chinese. I wouldn't say it's great but it keeps you immersed in the game. Music is great once again.

Verdict: The game has nice feel, graphics and sound. I'd enjoy just walking around the mansion in VR. The larger map may be upside or a downside, but I found it well done. Combat is something that frustrated me through majority of the game. I spent 3 hours running around the mansion and 9 hours in combat. Spirits have different behaviors but once you get them you shouldn't have much problems with them. The puzzles were disappointment as I did not need to use my brain (mostly used it for fights in which I terrible died because I'm incapable of controlling the protagonist). I wouldn't recommend the game to anyone, but if you enjoyed the first game you will most probably enjoy this one too (I didn't but still finished it for the story - the Yin family story concludes in Paper Dolls 2).

Note: There are cutscenes in the game and they can be skipped by pressing Escape and E.

Thank you for reading
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Monday, July 5, 2021

Subject 264

Since the game is quite difficult and there doesn't seem to be a guide, I decided to write a quick one - Puzzle Solutions

Subject 264 is a VR horror puzzle game developed by Virtual Guys. I never heard of either but the game was a very nice surprise and I'm thankful I came across it.

You wake up in a room with no memories of your past and all you can hear are creepy sounds. The surroundings are also very creepy. You look around and you don't see a way out. It is up to you now to figure out how to get out of the very first room with 'Subject 264' written in blood on the wall. You will explore your surroundings and interact with different kind of items and you will have to solve your first puzzle. When you do, you will be able to go outside this room and reach another room where you'll have to figure out what to do next. While trying to escape you'll be uncovering your own past and start wondering if what is going on is real or some kind of an experiment or something just in your head.

The game is very atmospheric and I fully immersed in it which also made me tip toe around the rooms and corridors and my immersion was broken only after I ran headfirst into a real life cabinet or table. The feeling of something being totally wrong will stay with you throughout the game making occasional jump scares even more scary.

The puzzles are not particularly easy. While there is logic in them it may not seem like it at first. I went through the first part by trial and error. If you get stuck on a puzzle and you are in the correct room you will hear (your) voice giving you a hint. They are mostly helpful (there was one hint I totally didn't get).

Graphically the game is nicely done, offers different environments to enjoy. There are relatively well preserved rooms like the one you start the game in, ones that are less preserved (the following one) and then ones that are very creepy and scary. Some areas are very dark but you don't need to venture there unless there is a flashlight nearby. In that case there might be some key items in the dark.

Sound is good, there is some tense music and background noise and voices. The voice acting is not bad and it is easy to understand. The sound effects do not break immersion and actually make it better.

The not so good about the game is the fact it was designed for Vive and therefore the controls for Rift are not ideal. It does not seem to like Knuckles either. The game requires 360 degrees tracking and tracking at the floor level since you will be forced to pick up items from the floor and you need to actually grab the objects (can't grab them from distance). There are two types of locomotion - normal joystick one and teleportation - but both are rather slow.

Verdict:
Subject 264 is very atmospheric psychological horror puzzle game that will immerse you in the story and dark past of subject 264. The puzzles are unique, well designed, and not very easy to figure out which makes the game relatively long (5 hours). Graphics and sound are also very well done. There is lot of detail and variety in environments and many objects one can play with which makes the game great for exploration. I'd highly recommend the game to anyone who likes more complex puzzle or escape rooms. Since the game is rather serious, dark and very grave I wouldn't recommend it to people who are struggling with deep depression or unhandled traumas.

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Me in Beat Saber

It's been a while since I painted anything and since I lack any kind of imagination I decided to go for me playing Beat Saber even though it's more of a 'me posing for the camera in Beat Saber'.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Ren's Home World

Some time ago I decided that I want a home world, my own place where I could just relax. I didn't finish the project but I might in the future.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Assassin's Creed: Escape the Lost Pyramid

I wanted to go to an escape room for a long time. I always want to. Unfortunately, I'm also not the best person to find others who'd like to join me. My flatmate is one of those that would gladly go, but we never managed to find the time. We finally went to one which required covid testing and venturing outside. While I wanted to try traditional escape games I was also intrigued by VR ones. After playing the The Room VR I wanted to experience more. Unfortunately the other games I played on Steam were of questionable quality most of the time. So I wondered what a game meant for escape room experience for anyone would look like, how it would play and how it would be controlled. There are four 'expeditions' we could go on, 2 from the world of Assassin's Creed, one from Prince of Persia and the last one from Alice in Wonderland. I wanted to experience AC: Escape the Lost Pyramid first. It is the first project of this kind from Ubisoft and I have to say they've done a great job at it. I believe the following Ubisoft ones will be even better and maybe a bit harder.

We arrived few hours early and asked if we could play because there wasn't any reservation for that time. Someone else had a similar idea though and came earlier as well. We were still allowed to play early but we had to wait before the other two people would start their expedition and a computer was prepared for us. The two were being given instructions while we had a nice chat with the lady behind the counter. Some time later we were told that we can also hop in.

They took some neat photos of us. Then we were told that the game requires cooperation and that we need to communicate. Since I was recognized as one of the Beat Saber tournament players from earlier that week we didn't get much of a tutorial before hand and were allowed to proceed with the game. The headsets put on our heads were Rift S which might not be ideal if you are playing a game requiring fast movements like Beat Saber but good for first VR experience. Then I was given a left controller to my right hand, so I put it in my left and grabbed the other. We heard Animus speaking to us.

Welcome to the Animus. February 1928. An expedition led by Sir Beldon Frye disappears somewhere in the Sinai Peninsula. A team of four and a dozen local porters were looking for the Lost Pyramid of Nebka... Or more precisely, "something" that should have been there. They were never seen again. Using the simulation reconstructed from their DNA memory, your team will put themselves in the shoes of the explorers. Find out what happened to the expedition. And more importantly, locate what they were looking for.

Before we began our adventure we went through a short tutorial how to move (it uses teleportation as locomotion) and how to get some hints (raise hands). Then we could choose an avatar and customize it a bit (stare at a mirror) and then the game could start.

Animus sent us to the lost pyramid Nebka to search for a piece of Eden. I materialized in what seemed to be a chamber even though it wasn't as it turned out later. It was mostly dark so all I could see was a lit torch nearby. I grabbed the torch and saw hieroglyphs on the walls. I noticed a fireplace so I lit the wood and put the torch back. Then I looked at the first puzzle with a puzzled look. I was just enjoying the little enclosed space around me and when my friend advanced into another room I decided to join. So I used my hand to move things around and appeared in the same place which was a nice experience. There we stood for a little while not really communicating but solving next puzzle. Just looking at it, it was clear it would require a cooperation so we did that and then got stuck for a bit because physics in a VR game is not the same as in the real world.

After finally realizing that I can't walk with an object in each hand and that objects don't fly the way my brain is used too I finally fully immersed myself in the game. We were on a platform somewhere at the bottom of the pyramid and it was clear that in order to escape we would need to go higher and higher. This is something that's impossible to experience in real life, since it can't be easily built and would be dangerous. The grandeur of the place put me in awe and I just looked around to absorb everything it. At one point I moved close to the edge of the in-game platform while I also reached the edge of the platform I stood in real life, I almost fell and this was a way too realistic feeling and got me scared for a second (I disabled the guardian before playing, I do not recommend doing this). For a bit I wondered if I would just jump down but decided not too since I didn't know how respawn was handled in this game (I don't like falling nor heights).

We continued on and we had to cooperate more, each of us doing something else so we could advance. The game features nicely done archery and climbing. Everything felt quite natural even though it probably was meant for people who are on average taller than me.

After finishing the game we were shown our clear time. The time was 42:00 which we found pretty neat. After that several photos were taken in-game for us to keep as a memory.

Verdict:
Escape the Lost Pyramid is a well crafted escape room from the Assassin's Creed: Origins settings, that can be completed easily within one hour while you still have time to enjoy the environment. The atmosphere and immersion is great. The game presents the players with easy puzzles that are interesting and have a purpose - showing the power of virtual reality - and feel rewarding enough. Archery, a very common in introductory VR games, felt natural and was used well. Climbing is also one of the things you can experience in various games and the difficulty is something that can vary a lot. In Escape the Lost Pyramid it wasn't straining or difficult, just enough for us to get a feel for this kind of activity in VR.

There are two points that I could possibly see as a negative. Teleporting is something that can break the immersion. I do not know how much space is normal to have available at VR facilities, this was my first time venturing into one, but I think the game could easily be played with just free movement. Instead of forced teleportation that could be used for standing play. The second thing I got stuck the longest time was when I entered a 3d model I couldn't get out. It showed me the direction in which to move but there was a real life wall and it took me a while to figure out the game still worked the same. Not being able to see any (broken) graphics and just standing in the void didn't suggest I was still able to teleport (that didn't show up either when I tried to move).

Apart from these minor two things this escape room felt like an ideal introduction to VR. I highly recommend this to anyone who'd like to see what virtual reality can offer or experience a nice escape room in VR.

S'Tsung (stsungjp on Twitter)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls is a story-rich game from Quantic Dreams studio starring one of my favorite actors Elliot Page and Willem Dafoe whom I'm fond of too. It tells a story of Jodie (Page), a girl that was born with a 'gift' - an invisible entity named Aiden. Being special with such an entity around her, it's no surprise that she was experimented on and it was the government that wanted to use her and find the connection to the world from where the entity belongs to while she just hoped for a normal life. It seems obvious to me that the story was created to make us ponder about what lies beyond death but it seemed to miss the mark (for me at least).

The game is scripted which is no surprise since it is more of an interactive movie that was directed by David Cage. Cage has wonderful ideas but turning then into a masterpiece probably needs a bit more than one single great mind. You, the player, can play as both Jodie and Aiden. The game asks you in which way you want to experience the game, either chronologically or the way it was originally intended - that is what I chose. Here Jodie tells us that she doesn't know how to start and she may as well begin here. We then get to see a scene where we see her at a police station where a sheriff is trying to find out what happened to her. SWAT team storms the station. We don't see what happens, but we get to see how they all end up - dead with the exception of the sheriff who was kind and tried to help.

After the prologue and this chapter we start to see more from Jodie's life. Each chapter shows a life event from anywhere from her life between the age 8 and 23. The chapters of her life are very different and of a different kind of gravity. While this is something I'd expect, it is also something that made the game very incoherent story wise. I was once at a birthday party being a total clueless outcast and then on a CIA mission. Part of the game seems like a slice of life game, then turns into a drama, horror and then sci-fi.

As for gameplay. Well, there isn't much of it. Most of the time you'll probably watch cinematic scenes. When not, you will be asked to do simple tasks like stand up, grab something, walk or shoot a man. There are no puzzles or things that would stimulate the brain, all you have to do is follow a white dot somewhere on the screen. The other part are quick-time events that are happening during the cutscenes. There is also some combat. The game will slow down during a combat and tell you what button to press or where to move your mouse. It's very hard to say what you are supposed to do, so choosing the right direction is quite a guesswork. No matter how beat up you end up, the game just progresses on. Can you even die since Aiden can heal people?

The controls is something I wouldn't normally comment on, but this game is ported from Playstation and as a PC user you are to use a keyboard and mouse. Moving Jodie was rather difficult since the camera seems to have life of its own and often decides to turn in the opposite direction resulting in you turning twice and watch the camera move just to end up in the same spot you started walking from. When the game goes into slow motion you often need to move your mouse in time to a certain direction as I described before. That alone is quite a mess and if it made actual impact on the story (as in Detroit: Become Human) I'd probably be more negative about this. You move Jodie with A, S, D, W keys but are often asked to press and tap one of the 1,2,3,4 keys which to me felt rather awkward. Moving Aiden is much easier since he can just fly through everything and it switches to first person view. On the other hand using his ability requires you to either align two points at another one, place the two points somewhere specific or just 'charge' the action. When in fight you can get confused about what you are supposed to do. For the first 5 hours I was more or less fine with this, but with each hour that passed it was getting more and more annoying. Especially in sequences that seemed to be timed and you were running for your life.

Aiden apart from flying and going through walls, he can move objects, kill people, control people, heal and protect. Thanks to Aiden Jodie can go through places a normal human being wouldn't be able to which also means that Aiden is the game's Deux Ex machina. Aiden's abilities would be great if they would be the same throughout the whole game since you could count with that and use your logic to solve problems. Unfortunately, that's not true. Sometimes you can roam free and explore a large area, the next time you just can't even go through the first door that is a step away. The fact that you are still always led to a certain action doesn't help it either - there's not much freedom in using Aiden.

Dialogues have choices which is nothing new and is expected in a story-driven game. Your choices can affect the outcome of the story but not much as in Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human. There doesn't seem to be much variety in terms of paths throughout the game - the game will simply gravitate towards one similar ending that is not even satisfying since it brings even more questions than it answers. The revelation that you can just simply let go off the controls and just let the game flow made me wonder why this was even produced as a game. It would made a great short TV series. Or a 3 hour movie (8 hours if not edited and released just as it is in the game).

The story is what makes the game and honestly I'm not entirely sure what to think about it. The story is one huge mess that just drags Jodie through her life in which she wants to become normal but is not allowed to. There doesn't seem to be much of character development and many of the situations and dialogues seemed to be forced. The game was probably supposed to provoke deep emotions in us and make us think but unfortunately I couldn't fully immerse myself in the game. Jodie simply wasn't a believable character to me, no matter how great job Elliot did. I couldn't attach to her in any way because everything just screamed - a lie. The controls didn't help it either, the QTEs that felt futile or the frustration with the actual 'game' parts was something that was breaking the story apart too. It broke the tension and flow of it. I could just passively watch while being detached from everything going on in the game. Maybe it was also partly because I wouldn't choose any of the options in the game if it were me in Jodie's position.

As for visuals, the game is stunning. The motion capture they use is one of the best and the graphics is awesome. We get to see different environments, in some we can even roam free for a bit, and that is something great. Unfortunately all we can do is just look at the scenery and walk from given point A to a given point B without any detours. Exploring or interacting is simply not there. The animations and lighting effects are great. The game is one long interactive movie and many of the scenes are done in a way we'd expect from a movie. This makes for a really great scenes that makes us feel emotions we probably wouldn't from a more traditional approach game. The acting is excellent and Elliot Page did a really great job at breathing life into Jodie. Willem Dafoe played well too and even went out of his comfort zone at the end of the game. Unfortunately, the relationship between Jodie and Nathan somehow lost all kind of chemistry, it felt like the actors weren't even present at the same scene when it was shoot. It left me wondering if either of them cared about one another at some point?

Verdict:
This game was one big disappointment. As a movie-like game I expected a very strong and coherent story where every decision mattered, instead I got a very linear and clichéd messy story where I could not even make the decisions that seemed logical and the ones I could choose didn't change the narrative. There was one decision I was allowed to make that I liked - leave everything at the base and leave the past behind. Unfortunately, there was a hop into the future where the items were present again! I also coldly turned Ryan down at every occasion and would actually slap him in the face and to never see him again. Instead the game throws a decision at me stating 'Kiss' at the end (the possibility of taking his life would actually make sense but that option was not there).

From the game play view, this game could be described as follow the white dot or find a blue dot and do something with it. I did not pay 20 bucks for a game in which even walking is a tiresome task. I learned from other games that QTEs can be rewarding or satisfying but in this case they do the opposite most of the time because while they are easy to execute, they are difficult to read. 95% of the times you can just let the game go on without doing a single action (note I mean during the time when you are supposed to play the game), in those 5% that it matters, the decision itself won't matter much.

The story itself is actually good if it would be told in a different way than the two possible ones and would make for a great series or a movie. There is nothing that ties all the memories together and your decisions in the past do not change the outcome of the game (with maybe one exception, Ryan). The controls are so bad that will make you feel frustrated and distract from anything that actually caught your interest or engaged you in the story.

The camera is also something that could use some work, it moves when it shouldn't and there are moments during which it just simply shakes to add some dramatic effect. Unfortunately it made me sick and also made it more difficult to move.

The presentation of the game, graphics, visuals, animation, sound and soundtrack are truly stunning. Same goes to Elliot Page's acting. Without Elliot the game would be most probably lifeless. While I enjoyed the acting of other characters in the game, the characters weren't written in a way that would make them believably human from my point of view.

Obvious plot holes, and the fact I couldn't make decisions or feel like anything I did mattered just made me passively watch the game, not giving me any motivation to attach to the characters, story or even just play the game.

While I managed to find reasons to recommend games I didn't like to other people I just can't find something worth recommending here. It failed me in terms of story and emotions and even in terms of the little game play there is.

Thank you for reading,
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

VRChat

Writing a review for VRChat is difficult because, VRChat will be anything you want it to be.

VRChat is a social platform where everything is possible. That's where my review could pretty much end. On the other hand I could also write many pages of what VRChat is. So let's try to keep it within the 8000 characters limit on Steam.

In the past when I wanted to socialize with people online I joined a channel on IRC. People there already shared an interest or a hobby which made it easier to start a conversation. Sometimes when I felt 'lucky' I entered the wild world of Yahoo chat rooms where you either ran into horny men or ordinary people trying to find other people to talk about something. If you started a conversation with someone you needed to talk to them not knowing much about them which meant the conversation was reflecting a real life conversation more often than not. From these days I have many friends around the world that I later met IRL and we hanged out together.

Nowdays there are many ways how to socialize online and it's not limited to text form. VRChat is a place where you don on an avatar and venture into 3d worlds. You can run VRChat either in desktop mode, playing it in a traditional way, or you can launch it in VR. When in VRChat you can visit different worlds created by the community. These can be anything from a small recreation of someone's room, an art museum, a recreation of a game be it a VR title like Beat Saber or a traditional game like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a dance club, a pub, or a totally original world or game. While many of the content will be reflecting the real world, there are different limits to what is possible in virtual worlds. For example you can FLY!

The name VRChat implies that you should chat with people but there's way more to that and you don't necessarily need to engage with others if you don't want to. When you log in you can start exploring worlds or find a place you'd like to hang out. You might want to go to a pub to meet people and chat, but expect people to get drunk! Or you could go to a karaoke bar to sing or listen to others singing (quite an experience - due to internet delays), there are various clubs where you can dance, there's even a big rave scene in VRChat. You can also go to an art museum, or find a place where you can paint yourself. If you feel like just watching a movie, you can find a theatre to your liking, be it on the moon or in medieval world. You may want to exercise, be it squat challenges with other players, yoga or dance exercise.

Then there are worlds that are more interactive. You can go play some games. Capture the flag is an option for example, but there are also climbing worlds, escape rooms, dungeons you have to clear or worlds that are more like a full fledged game (see The Devouring).

There are also events in VRChat, they can be small - a class for learning Japanese, slightly larger - a dance party or huge - virtual convention. There are meets, cons, shows, panels, and concerts in VRChat. Anything is possible.

VRChat is also a platform that will allow you to explore your own self and it might start with a custom avatar you'd like to represent yourself. After a certain time of playing VRChat you will be given the possibility to upload a custom avatar. People can create whatever they want but you will most often run into anime girl avatars (with animal ears and tails) that are in fact men in real life. This is a VRChat reality and might take a while for you to get used to. Apart from anime girls you can meet any kind of avatar be it a furry, avali, Alien or a (talking) tank.

There is one more thing you might want to be prepared for - mirrors. We all know what a mirror is and use it to check if our hair is not a mess or our clothes fit well. In VRChat you will be encountering many people staring into a mirror all the time. They might be chatting, dancing but mostly just staring. Don't ask me why.

None of what I wrote will probably prepare you for your first VRChat experience because there are no limits to what VRChat can be and since people are different and play the game for different reasons, literally anything can happen. This also means there is a dark side to VRChat. In public worlds, you can encounter toxic people or those that will want to crash you (especially if you are streaming). Sexual harassment is an actual thing, if you are a woman you might want to be prepared for that. One of my first experiences is entering a public world in a female lolita avatar. A group of other avatars encircled me and started touching my avatars boobs. When I greeted these people (I seriously had no idea what to do) they dispersed with 'oh another dude' and it was over.

Verdict:
If you have a VR headset I would highly recommend visiting different VRChat worlds, because those are works of art. There are places that are truly amazing. There are many activities you can do, even in VR, with others and enjoy them even more. You can meet many great people and find friends. Together you can visit worlds together, play the games there, as they are mostly multiplayer ones. You should also be prepared for a culture that may be known to those who ever set foot at an anime convention. You will meet many horny men, in anime girl avatars with big bouncing boobs and bouncing butt cheeks, often playing with these body parts or doing some erotic role play with another man in a similar avatar. If not this you may listen to conversation that requires a knowledge of memes old and current, making you wonder if you actually live on the same planet. If you are loooking for extraordinary experiences and you are ready for anything that can happen, go try VRChat since it is free.

Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Little Nightmares

Little Nightmares is a very cute horror game full of mystery created by a Swedish development studio named Tarsier Studios. I haven't played many games released later than 2006 (I'm starting to catch up) but I remember this studio getting known for LittleBigPlanet which is a very cute puzzle platformer.

Little Nightmares is also a cute puzzle platformer. The environment though is rather the opposite - very dark and creepy.

The game starts with a dream where we can see a strange figure. Then we see a little girl, dressed in a bright yellow rain coat, wake up in a suitcase, in a rather dark place. The girl is named Six which is something I found out after getting a certain achievement. You control Six and lead her through a very dark environment. You learn that she has a lighter she can use to light her way. All you know is that you are in a hostile environment and you want to run away. There is no story in the game, or rather there is no text telling it. Instead all you get are clues shown to you while you push forward. It will be your own imagination creating the story. There are twists and revelations that can shatter even the worst thoughts you managed to come up with.

Since the beginning of the game you can see that the camera moves. There is a constant rocking movement (it made me sick). I wondered why it was there until I found out the game takes place on a ship named The Maw. Six will go through different places that we know from our every day lives from bathrooms, kitchen, bedroom to a restaurant. These places though are warped and you certainly wouldn't want to linger there for long. If this place is real, who lives here? You will eventually find that out - humanoid creatures live here. If Six runs into one of these creatures she should hide or run away because she'll be followed, hunted and eventually eaten if caught. Apart these humanoid monsters and other children held captive, there are little creatures, Nomes, that show you the way if you pay attention.

Little Nightmares might look like a 2d platformer but it's more of a 2.5d platformed. You can move in 3d even though the camera will be most of the time be just side scrolling. This is a nice feature and gives more options of what you can do and how you can interact with items. Unfortunately it is also one of the things that can frustrate you because guessing the exact position of Six is difficult and this can result in unnecessary deaths. Controls are a bit awkward which is not something you want when you are playing a platformer where every step and timing counts.

The art style, graphics and animations are perfect. The yellow raincoat creates a nice contrast. Everything is detailed and created in a way that is very disturbing, creating an atmosphere of a nightmare. Sound is stellar. The music makes the atmosphere even more dense and the sound effects are perfect, they will create even more tension.

Verdict:
Little Nightmares is a short game with awesome graphics and sound creating a very creepy ambience and tension. The game is part a puzzle platformer and part hide-and-seek horror game. While there is no story told in the form of text, you will be discovering more information about the environment and creatures living in it during the game and it will keep you hungry for more. The most horrific part of the game is not the graphics, stylization or creatures but rather what all this implies. Experience-wise this game is perfect, unfortunately this experience can be ruined by bad controls, bad orientation in 3d world, and some trial-and-error parts resulting in unnecessary deaths that might break the immersion. While all the death animations are nice, they take a long time and are followed by similarly slow loading time.

I'd recommend this game to anyone who wants to play a unique game that provokes thought and emotions.

Thank you for reading
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Paper Dolls: Original and Paper Dolls VR

Paper Dolls: Original/纸人

A very dear friend of mine recommended me to play Paper Dolls: Original after I streamed Little Nightmares 1 and 2. I remembered Scarlett's stream of it and wondered if I would want to buy the game. 15 USD was a price I did not need to think twice about even though I wondered if I should buy both Paper Dolls 1 and 2 or just the first game. I went with the first option because I did not expect to like the game much. Now I regret it since I'll be definitely buying Paper Dolls 2.

Paper Dolls/纸人 is supposedly a first person (survival) horror game from Chinese studio Litchi Game. Why supposedly? Games are often labeled with tags or a type but it does not necessarily need to reflect what the game is about. In the past year I played more horror games than in my whole life but I would not actually call any of those games a horror game. There are two games I'd call horror games - Silent Hill and Resident Evil (a bit less). None of the games I played lately gave me the same vibes (I was seriously out of my mind when playing some of the Silent Hill or Resident Evil games) or experiences. In this case I'd call Paper Dolls just a puzzle game, not a horror nor an action-adventure game. On the other hand, what makes a game a horror game?

Yang Mingyuan is driving his daughter Molly to her mother. He didn't take his medicine before leaving because he thought the meds were the reason for strange dreams he was getting. While driving he hears different voices in his head while you can hear Molly's voice asking him if he took his medicine that day. Then we can see a light flash and the car crashes right after it. Then there's just darkness and silence. Yang wakes up and opens his eyes to see a silhouette of a child. Yang stands up and finds himself in an old mansion, next to him there is a paper doll of a man who was beheaded. And you wonder if that was a living person or it is some very creepy art.

When the cutscene ends you can start playing the game. The first thing you will find out is that Yang moves really slowly. It is normal that in games you can walk at relatively slow speed and then run at a reasonable pace. In this game though you literally crawl at snail's speed. While this may be in theory an advantage in VR, it's not in a traditional PC/console game. There is a run button but it means that Yang will do 2, 3 or maybe even 4 steps and then needs to catch his breath to run again.

After you familiarize with the controls (which puzzled me more than majority of the game's puzzles) you will find out that Yang keeps a diary. After reading the entries you'll find out that Yang seems to suffer from some kind of a mental illness. I'd say that he's not actually insane but rather experiences the call of the mansion or something along these lines - being the one to uncover the horrible mysteries that happened in the Qing Dynasty mansion. Either being Yin descendant or something like that...

In the first room, just close to where Yang wakes up you will find your first clue. There are clues and notes scattered around the house that will help you solve puzzles and progress in the game. The first one is very easy to understand - just find a vinyl disc, fix it and get a reward. The reward is a key to a door. This pretty much sums most of what you'll be doing in the game - finding things, solving puzzles and getting keys to unlock door.

When you start walking around the mansion you'll soon meet the very first ghost - Chen - that will attack you. You might think these are just some kind of hallucinations that Yang has, but they are very real and will kill you after one hit. Soon after encountering Chen you'll walk past a door from which you'll hear Molly's voice. This door will become sealed and you won't be able to enter - it's the last door you will unlock.

In order to finish the game you'll have to solve all puzzles, unlock all the door and seal all ghosts. On your journey you will learn more about the Yin family and what happened in the mansion. Many question will stay just unanswered even after completing the game.

The graphics is not awesome but it's not bad either. It's good enough to create a very good atmosphere - or rather very creepy one. When you light up candles you can see the scene being lit by a nice warm yellow light and it looks great. When a ghost is nearby the light turns green which made me feel bad every single time it happened. There are some items that are very well done which also includes the moving paper doll ghosts.

The sound on the other hand is bad. Yang's and Molly's voice painfully reminded me that I'm playing a Chinese game. The voices of the ghosts are better. The sound effects in general are pretty bad which is something I didn't mind that much in Original version. In VR though, it just jarred on my ears. The worst is the sound of door being opened. Since you'll be walking through them very often you'll hear this jarring sound very often as well which breaks the immersion. As for the music (there's not much of it) I actually liked it. There's more silence to add to the atmosphere and when there is music it does exactly the opposite though

Verdict:
After my first hour of playing I didn't like the game because the controls were giving me a hard time, I moved very slowly, I had no idea how to save, the sound effects were terrible and I had no idea what was going on. With time though the game grew on me. I concentrated more on the items in the mansion and looked forward to another puzzle. I recognized game items easily as they stood out but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with them. What you have to do is follow the clues exactly and at specific order otherwise you can get stuck. If the game doesn't allow you to proceed, you missed something.

In the middle of the game more or less it becomes a survival horror game - hide and seek game - because you need to avoid the ghosts. It frustrated me a bit but since it's easy to run away (correction, walk away in slow motion) you will get used to being there with the ghosts and it adds to the eerie atmosphere. The puzzles are something I enjoyed with maybe one exception which is just illogical as there are other ways you could have done this and the game doesn't allow you to do it. Also note that there are two puzzles that will throw Chinese text at you. I read some reviews before buying the game and it seemed to puzzle many players so I was afraid of them. I solved both without much issues but I can read Chinese characters and write them. I did not even look at the clue for one (I finished the game without finding/using 3 clues for the puzzles) and the other one was not much of a puzzle.

In overall the game creates a good atmosphere, has few jump scares, has a mystery that you slowly uncover and has decent well thought out puzzles for you to solve. It has bad controls that you can't change, bad sound breaking immersion, and some decent graphics. If your expectations of games are not high, you don't mind playing a game that was not meant for western audience, you can probably enjoy the game. The game is short which may or may not be an advantage.

Paper Dolls VR

Since I own a PCVR I wanted to try the VR version too. I played this one before Paper Dolls Original which might have been a mistake. On the other hand since this is a stand-alone game you buy it should be also done in a way that makes it possible to play it without knowing the Original version. I expected the game to be a direct port of the game but then the game would either launch in desktop more or VR, not being a stand-alone version.

The first thing you see is the logo of the developer studio followed by a menu that looks pretty ugly. Just recently I learned that the intro screen including the menu is something game designers should pay a lot of attention to because it has to grasp the players attention. Well, this one grasped my attention with how badly it looked. After trial and error of trying to start a new game and checking settings if I can switch to left hand I clenched my teeth and prepared myself for what was to come. It set my expectations very low.

You start the game as Yang in the room with the beheaded guest paper doll too. In the first room there were few things I imagined to be important game items but they turned out not to be. It made me a bit confused why some items are obviously emphasized and some are not while neither does anything in the game. I learned later that they are important items in the Original version and that there is content missing in the VR version . When you will try to walk you'll probably be a bit perplexed, at least I was. It seemed to suggest that I'm supposed to press triggers alternately in order to move. I remembered Westworld Awakening with similar locomotion and hoped this was something I could change in the menu. After you figure out how to move you will notice that you move way slower than you are used to. I have a high end computer but still suspected the game to run badly at this point. It ran just fine though. You just move very slowly and can't go any faster.

When I crawled to Chen's encounter my confusion was even bigger. I crawled under the table but Yang was stuck and I suspected the game just bugged out. I didn't die in the encounter though so I just continued on.

Later on I found out that key items cannot be dropped and that is why I struggled a bit with the first puzzle. I also wondered if I can use two hands or not but didn't figure out how to put the light away (this one is in the help though). While trying to figure out some clues I opened the diary and looked at all the Chinese text. The diary looked great though and this is how the menu should have looked like. The look should have been matching it.

Around this time I also learned that there is an inventory. It's up very close to your face which was rather unpleasant.

Graphics is decent and I enjoyed roaming the mansion and looking at things. Breaking some stuff and playing with swords was nice so I'm glad they added this kind of interaction. The paper dolls and ghosts are great too. They are scary. The sound was really bad and reminded me of one game - TimeLock VR. Actually it reminded me the game with more aspects because it's also meant for Vive, the controls are terrible, there's not much information about how to play the game, UI is atrocious, locomotion is just like 'what the hell?'. For few minutes I walked around trying to get rid of the painful memories from playing TimeLock VR and really hoped that Paper Dolls would be a way better game.

Hours passed and I started to like the game. It was nice to encounter the ghosts from time to time staring at me, hiding in cabinets, enjoying the warm light from the candles when not being green. There were few scares here and there, could be more. The biggest scary element was Ding that chased me almost everywhere.

When I finished the game though I felt that it was a nice experience and was worth playing. I streamed it which meant that it was more fun for me. The game lacks many things and it is sad because even with just little bit of work this could have been a decently good game. But this way I can't really say how good it is. Since there isn't many good VR games I can actually say that this is one of the better games out there and is worth playing. Playing the game blind like I did though is something I can expect people to think the game is really bad as it won't tell you how it is played nor will give you any more clues about the puzzles or how to progress in general. And if you'll be like me, not knowing that you can see English translation if you bring the journal closer to your eyes, you may just decided to give up way too early.

Verdict:
The game has very bad controls, no hints or reasonable tutorial or help, not great graphics, not great sound. All this feels worse than it is when played in VR which is a huge problem. The puzzles and tasks, even simplified, are actually better than in many other games but since there are no hints apart from the game's clues they can be difficult to solve. The content itself is good but may become frustrating for those that can't read Chinese characters. The story or rather the mystery is a nice addition and it was sufficient for me and made me hungry for more, but I can imagine that some people can miss some parts, distract the ghosts or simply not be satisfied with it. The game doesn't really have an ending because it just ends with '...to be continued'.

I would recommend this game only to those that have patience to survive the horror of figuring out how to play this game and those that can follow the game's clues. Each clue has crucial information about what you have to do but this can be disregarded by the player easily as it does not necessarily need to make sense the moment you find it. If you played the Original game and wish to experience some of it in VR I'd recommend playing it too but be prepared for the controls figuring part.

If you'd like to skip the whole Paper Dolls game but still want to get the vibes from similar game I can recommend you a VRChat world that is inspired by Paper Dolls and done right. It's up to 4 player 1-3 hour horror game called Obsession-執念- and was created FlowersRite (don't worry it has English subtitles). Or you can watch my playthrough^_~.

Thank you for reading
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Goth Ren

I never actually got some nice shots of my avatar so here's one.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

RevolVR 3

If you've been to arcades like Dave & Busters you might have noticed a game named RevolVR already. For those that play games at home this title might be new and the number 3 in the title might be a bit confusing.

RevolVR 3 is a casual single and multiplayer shooter that takes place in a robotic Wild West. A player will appear in a steampunk/industrial wild west saloon where they can socialize with other players, play Russian roulette, hunt a drone, or try to shoot bottles in the shortest time possible. When ready the may proceed to an arena where 3 rounds of deathmatches begin. Each player has two revolvers with which they have to shoot as many other players as possible. The players have certain amount of life so one shot won't do the job. When a player dies they respawn somewhere else in the arena and can continue shooting others. The players can move on a limited area where they can hide behind cover. After a set amount of time a player will appear in the void where they can see stats for the round. Following rounds will take the player into other arenas where once again you have to try shooting as many players as possible and avoid death.

The deathmatch can be played either with strangers online, with bots or with your friends. There's not many players around currenlty.

The game itself has nice simple but very polished graphics and the saloon is a really great place. The music there is good too and fits the environment. When I went through the tutorial I was amazed how well that was done. The lobby where you can meet other players is nice but the amount of interaction is limited. I also learned that to some players I was simply a ghost even though I could see them and their scores. The mini games didn't appeal to me even though shooting at the bottles was something I tried since I wanted to see how the shooting works. It seemed off but but I didn't find out what caused it. I somewhat compensated that the guns didn't shoot where I pointed and then it was fine when it came to shooting the bottles. Once you figure out where to place your hand you will be able to shoot the bottles fast - there is no recoil or anything that would make your hand/pistol move. You can also use both of your hands if you wish so which will allow you to be faster. Unfortunately that's where all the fun ends. This would have been a great place to be if you could use voice chat, play spin the bottle, a card game with the emoji cards for example etc. In VRChat this place could become very lively, in this game though it is rather dead.

As for the main game, there are currently three arenas - a graveyard, an oil platform and '3d arena'. I can't complain about how the arenas look even though the graveyard seemed a bit bland to me (way too cartoonish even for the overall slight cartoonish style). The graveyard is a good starting point because the arena is rather flat. The platform is layered so some players will be slightly above or below your level. The third arena defies the laws of physics (like you can't really say where up is) and is quite special because you can shoot in all directions (rather the players can be in all directions). Looking around this place was fun on its own (until you got killed).

What I didn't appreciate much was that the spots where you can spawn are not really equal in terms of cover or even space. So depending on where you spawn you can immediately get shot in the back. You won't be able to shoot some players because they will be either too far, offscreen, or completely hidden if they choose to stay hidden. This means that sometimes you'll just want to immediately die to respawn somewhere else.

Another thing I didn't particularly enjoy was the performance. I played on Ryzen 3800x, Titan X and I was told by the devs that this is close to minimal specs for the game even though it is supposedly near the 'recommended' ones on Steam. The game did not run well for me unlike for example Half-Life: Alyx with the best graphics settings set. Since the performance was poor I cannot tell you if the shooting would behave the same way on a system where it would run smoothly (I tried changing graphics settings in SteamVR to something lower but it didn't seem to help). I had problems with the gun shooting from a different position than the one I saw. Also aiming wasn't really centered compared to other games I'm used to play games where I shoot (without aiming) and hit where I want. I learned later that aiming is not actually necessary because the game is more about just unloading your magazine into your enemy as fast as you can shoot (slowly). You can reload before you ran out of ammo but even that kind of a reloading takes a lot of time, so you can just shoot and let the game reload for you.

Verdict:
RevolVR 3 is a port from an arcade game. What you will be doing is playing 3 several minute long rounds in different arenas with different people or bots and that's all there is. The game features a place for socializing but the place is mostly empty and there's not much to do. As an arcade game, this works because that short experience is worth few credits. For a home version though I find it rather lacking since the replay value is not that big. The game is nicely done but the setup it requires is quite specific and demanding. If you want to be able to move freely around the play area, you need quite a lot of space (2 meters) and you also need 360 degrees tracking (including tracking on the ground level - I usually spent most of the time either crouched or on my knee, leaning to shoot or ducking even more to avoid being shoot.). The game can be played seated/standing but I find that this takes out the fun element out of the game so unless you are disabled and want to still play the game I'd keep it at room scale setting.

Moving around the lobby is only done by teleporting which breaks the great immersion feeling you get the first time you appear there. Gunplay itself - since it's a shooter - feels rather lacking, or rather there's none. I'd expect a more refined gunplay experience. The shooting itself should feel rewarding and it isn't.

I can imagine this game being good for parties but since you need friends to enjoy this game to play multiplayer it may not work that well either when your friends are over and you have just one headset available (not everyone owns several headsets/computers).

Rating 2.5/5.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Audio Trip

Audio Trip is a VR rhythm game that focuses on dancing or cardio.

Audio Trip is similar to other rhythm games in terms of you needing to hit different types of notes as they come near you. There are regular notes that you can just touch. Those look like a 2d triangle. Then there are directional notes that you have to swipe in shown direction. The last type of note is a drum that you simply have to hit hard. Apart from these notes you need to hit there are also long notes that you need to follow. Obstacles are also part of the game and you need to avoid them with both your headset and your controllers which is something players from other rhythm games may not be used to.

Unlike other rhythm games this game doesn't show you any feedback while in-game. So you just hit a note and you either know you hit it or missed it. I personally do not have problem with it as I actually know if it was a good hit or not while playing but was certainly something I didn't expect. This though can make the player more immersed in the game.

The game is combo based when it comes to score but how do you actually get rated is a bit of a mystery to me. At the end of a song you can get 1 to 5 stars and you get percentage of how many notes you hit and how your accuracy was (you can also see where your controllers were hitting the notes). There is also a quote that is probably meant to encourage you but most of the time will do the exact opposite (or I am a really bad Audio Trip player).

The songlist, being rather short currently, features songs I'd put into 'pop' and EDM genre and it seems that it brings known and licensed songs (I never heard any of the songs but it seems people know the songs, unlike songs from other rhythm games). Each song has a short version and a long version and has 4 difficulties. Three are regular 'dance choreographies' (Beginner, Regular, Expert) while the last one named cardio is meant for cardio exercise. The songs are well charted and the way the notes are placed will make you dance if you follow them well. The cardio charts are done so you change movements and make you reach even further than the regular charts. They are designed in a way that you move in a given rhythm and you don't need to do anything too complex which would break the rhythm. While the cardio charts are less complex they still require a certain skill level to be played - not recommended for beginners.

As for a learning curve, this game may be the worst from the games I tried to play. I haven't played beginner levels so I cannot say how difficult these are to play for a beginner. There is a big difference between Regular and Expert though. All the songs on Regular have a similar level of difficulty and same goes to Expert which means there is not much that can help a player transition from one to another difficulty. I can imagine that players without much experience playing rhythm games may be stuck at one difficulty level for quite a long time.

The graphics is good and polished. Each song has a different environment that is animated. The notes look nice, there is an effect that leads your way from note to note and there are other visual effects that happen based on how well you do in the game. The animated environment is not distracting but is really nice to look at if you have the time while playing. The menu area could be more 'vibrant' but it's not bad.

What I have problems with is the UI. Apart from it not looking great and being rather confusing, it is pretty bad to operate it even for the low amount of content there is in the game currently. It is touch based UI which I don't think is the best option in VR. Since it is though in VR I'd welcome if it would allow us to be used the way we use our touch screens on tablets or smart phones. It was not meant for left-handed players.

The game allows for custom choreographies and custom songs but it feels like it's not easily accessible for players that don't like to try hard making something work. The community around this game is small even though very dedicated.

Verdict:
Audio Trip is a nicely done game visually and game mechanics wise with a focus on something that is rare - actual dance moves, movement that flow in general. It lacks in scoring, UI, quality of life features and mainly content - both official and community one. This is the main disadvantage of the game which makes its replayability lower and also makes pretty difficult to even stumble upon this game.

If you are someone who wants to play for accuracy you will probably find out quite soon that the game is quite forgiving and achieving high accuracy percentage is easy. This may turn you away from the game very soon.

If you are looking for a game that will make you move Audio Trip is the game to try out. It is the only game I played that actually made my core sore after playing the game. I'd also put it on a list of games that require you to use your legs. You will squat and you can move your legs to the beat. It forces you to move more than Synth Riders (Rhythm mode) or Beat Saber for example in terms of range of movement. The way songs are charted you can start dancing even if you have no dancing experience. The game features cardio difficulty which makes you work out even more (you don't need as much brain processing power for this mode and can focus on exercise).

I personally like this game very much and would recommend it to anyone who wants to move in VR in a way that makes them dance and enjoy the experience. The game though feels like a unfinished product - it is still in early access - and currently its replayability value is not as high if you are used to playing different songs. What we get to play though shows a lot of care and dedication and I hope this game can become one of the more known and played rhythm games.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Beat Saber Challenge no.2

A second Beat Saber Challenge started on January 1. I decided to participate and if possible finish the challenge. We were given a list of songs for each day. The difficulty and mods were up to us. This challenge contained song pack songs but there was an alternative for those that do not own them.

Since I played the first challenge when I just started playing Beat Saber it was an actual challenge to pass some of those songs on the difficulties I decided to play them on. I wrote a blog post about the first challenge and it includes playlist of the videos as well so you can see how I struggled with Beat Saber at the beginning. Struggling with my own body and Beat Saber was not the only thing though. I also struggled with many technical difficulties that I did not even solve during the 30 day challenge.

In between the challenges
When I started playing the game I used the Oculus version. When I wanted to stream though I had to use Steam version and I also needed SteamVR running so I could use LIV. As long as I played the original content I was happy and didn't think I'd need to change anything.

Streaming official content is something no one is interested in and people want to send requests. This is where JapanSB comes in. He provided me with mods for the game and requests for songs I could play. Mostly the songs I was asked to play were streamy songs that I'm really bad at. But one of the songs is one I decided to beat one day - Freedom Dive - and it took forever.

When I started playing custom songs things changed. When I got stuck at 7* songs I realized I can't progress not because of my ability but because of something wrong with my setup. The computer I use is good though. I asked for help and someone was so kind to tell me that I can run Steam games with -vrmode oculus. This wasn't the only thing needed to make Beat Saber running the way it should. I also had to change Nvidia settings even on the powerful graphics card I was using. Not using SteamVR meant I had to stop using LIV which turned out to be for the best because there are other software that are better when it comes to performance and also better when it comes to moving an avatar around. I lost the ability to stream in mixed reality but I didn't feel like showing my overweight self anyway. I switched to Virtual Motion Capture and Camera+ and found out that Beat Saber suddenly doesn't lag so much and that my swings that are on time hit the blocks I expected to hit. I suddenly gained like 1000pp without any kind of effort. When I finally reached the moment when my progress would actually require some effort I realized that I'd need to see myself play and decided to buy a webcam. The prices skyrocketed though due to the pandemic and it took a while before I got my hands on the camera.

When I got stuck at one point I was told that changing grip might help. Thanks to Reii I changed my grip and it helped me tremendously - it also means I probably became way worse at playing with the default grip. I also had to set an offset to the controllers so my swings would cut the blocks straight.

When I reached 7000pp I finally tried to understand how one should actually cut a block and I learned that I had no idea. I already knew that my accuracy is lower than of players around my rank and even those beneath it. I also knew that my left hand accuracy was better but I didn't know exactly why because I felt like swinging way less (turns out my left hand is more effecient). The fact is my swings pre- and post- swing are good. They usually reach over 69 and 29 values but it's the 'cut the middle' accuracy that's bad. I usually get 5 points for that and that's not much. Since then I tried to focus on getting better accuracy but it's not easy and I wondered if that's primarily because I just never cared about how to play Beat Saber properly. Nevertheless I managed to get it to 7-8 accuracy which showed up on my scores that went up by 2%.

That's pretty much where I am now. From someone who started on easy Expert and moved very slowly to someone who plays on Expert++ and sometimes moves way too fast for the tracking to work. I had no idea that one can develop such speed. I'm still having fun and wish to play more almost every day. And this is the one thing that changed over the time. I don't actually want to play everyday. While there is a lot of custom songs, many of them are not difficult enough for me to be interesting and I can't play the same songs over and over again.

New Year Challenge
After reading all this text you'll probably wonder why I'd want to participate in a challenge playing official songs. One of the reasons is that I wanted to see how much my play and my point of view changed on some of the songs (their maps). I also wanted to know what rank I could achieve by playing them. In order to be able to place high on the leaderboards I had to turn on Faster Song and Disappearing Arrows (since I can't read Ghost notes) and that is how I wanted to finish the challenge. Soon though I made my first exception. It was on Day 8 which featured the song Overkill. Not so long time ago I passed Ghost (when 1.12 was released) when it was chosen in the new multiplayer. When I tweeted about clearing all songs in Beat Saber on Expert+ I realized it was not entirely true because there are other modes that have songs on Expert+. I went back to the game and passed all 90 and 360 degrees songs on Expert+. Overkill is the song I thought I'd get stuck but in the end it wasn't the song that was the most difficult (it was Rattlesnake). While playing the song I realized that this map is way better than the regular Expert+, because it requires more movement, is more segmented and makes more sense. That's why I decided to feature it on Day 8 in this mode. I spent quite a while figuring out how to record it because I wasn't really sure how to record 360 maps. While thinking about it I also remembered that I have all the effects turned off and that maybe I could turn them back on - at least some - and see if OBS and these effects wouldn't kill my computer.

I turned all the effects on and I hoped that this would make it more interesting to watch the videos since they wouldn't all look the same. Since I turned these off at the very early stages of playing Beat Saber it was for the very first time I saw all the different platforms, note colors and dynamic lights. It also reminded me why I turned them off in the first place - they made me sick. Playing a Linkin Park song was the worst even though I admit I like the platform, colors and lights.

My ability to score went down a lot with these effects on and some colors of the blocks made me even fail songs - the BTS colors are very hard to read for me. I knew that the scores I'd be getting in future videos wouldn't be my best but I kept on writing down my rank for consistency.

Day 8 wasn't the only exception. I made few more and for different reasons. One being FitBeat Expert in 360 degrees mode because that song really deserves some love. It's well done and it's especially good in the 360 degrees mode. I wish there were more songs like that. The worst day of the whole challenge was day 26. I just couldn't force myself to finish (and pass) Bad Liar on Expert+, FS, DA. I tried but the song was so slow I was just missing notes for not being able to slow down or just wait for the notes to reach me. I rather upset and it was hard to stay focused and WAIT for the notes. After like 30 unsuccessful attempts I tried to figure out how else I could record the song. I tried playing sitting on the floor, lying on the floor, playing with my back to the notes (that didn't quite work out but I managed to hit some notes!), standing on one leg or standing on a ladder I had nearby to setup my camera. No matter what I did though changed the fact that the notes were scrolling at snail's speed and I eventually gave up. I recorded the alternative song which was fine even though I wasn't fan of the yellow and pink colored notes. When I uploaded the song to YouTube I realized that I could have just sped Bad Liar up in practice more. This way I could possibly bring it to a speed that would be comfortable. So I went back to Beat Saber and sped it up to 150% and recorded that. It was way better that way but I learned that it wasn't just the speed that annoyed me that much - it was also the map and rather odd angles at times. The following day I was supposed to play a Linkin Park song at like 120 BPM and I was like 'screw it' after two first misses because my sabers were just too early. It was too slow for me. Thankfully the alternative song was Cycle Hit which is a Camellia song (meaning a fast song). While I have played the custom version quite a lot I played this one just several times so I didn't really remember how the map looked like. I tried on Faster Song but there is one part at the beginning where I fail even though the rest of the song is just fine. When I realized that I was playing with Close on it actually surprised me. The last time I played this song I had a hard time keeping up. It's been a while since I played the song but still didn't expect this to happen - the song suddenly felt slow! I tried playing Ghost afterwards and not only I found it to be at comfortable speed, I also had zero problems with the beginning (my right hand is super bad at doing something like that). I was like 'What happened? Will I get to a level at which I'd consider Ghost easy?'.

Did I learn anything?
You could say that I couldn't learn anything by playing official maps and that might be true when it comes to my ability to cut blocks. But there were may other things that happened during that month. I had a Beat Saber crisis kind of. First things first though. What I observed first is that looking at the maps from a new perspective didn't change much. The songs I liked like Play or Warriors are still my favorite songs. The songs I didn't like I still dislike (looking at you Radioactive and Bad Liar). I also understand more why many good players complain about the Expert+ difficulties of the songs. Many of the charts simply do not flow and many contain patterns that are often pretty strange (Victorious), have odd angles (Epic) that are difficult to get good accuracy on or are simply boring (Radioactive). My level of acceptance of 'oddity' is higher than most, mostly also given by the fact that I like tech maps and I'm good at tech. Still there are maps I'd rather avoid even if I like the song (Angel Voices).

Participating in the challenge was good and might have something to do with the actual timing. I had a Beat Saber crisis during it. I'll be honest by day 11 I wanted to give up. Each day I'd launch Beat Saber and OBS and record that one song. In the beginning it took several attempts because I screwed something up either camera+, text, in-game settings or something went wrong (game froze, OBS crashed, base station fell from the windowsill, flatmate turning the lights off). Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was infuriating. If a video features something wrong (like no sound or camera being off) it's because my patience to replay the song ran out. Thankfully mid-way it usually took one recording. I wondered why I was even recording the videos if no one would watch them? The answers was simple though - to record the progress and have a footage I could come back later to. The question led to a different one though which was more important. Why do I play Beat Saber? I thought I could use this game to lose some weight since I expected to get obsessed with it (didn't happen). I played a lot, had fun and was just slashing notes without much thinking. I needed something easy to do but something I'd also enjoy and something that would make me active and exercise. If you followed me during the first challenge you probably know that Beat Saber managed something else entirely - it gave me a purpose in life for a while. It gave me motivation to do something, to create. I was depressed and I couldn't even get up from bed or get something to eat but the game changed that. With the pandemic not ending though I started to feel a bit depressed again. Once again I wanted something easy to do that did not require any kind of concentration or effort. I looked elsewhere. I bought Synth Riders, Powerbeats VR, played some Pistol Whip, Sound Voltex, Jubeat and even tried Osu! Each game has its pros and cons and also different target audience. I played these games because I was looking for that kind of play that doesn't require much effort from me. On the other hand the games were intended for different target audiences. I could easily see that Synth Riders is in one camp while Sound Voltex is in another. I enjoyed Synth Riders when fooling around and streaming but it is clearly not a game for me. I enjoyed Sound Voltex because I love the complexity of the game while it is easy to time but I'd normally just prefer playing Beatmania IIDX. This is when I realized that Beat Saber became something more to me. The game grew on me. When I first started playing the game I didn't think it could give me something I was looking for in rhythm games. I simply didn't feel like it was there. The official content doesn't provide it but the core of the game is something that makes it possible. Thanks to the community around Beat Saber I was able to mod the game in a way that I like, I was able to play songs and maps I like, and I also found some real competition there. Thanks to Scoresaber I could join the international ranking and see how far I could get. I discovered the Czech community (or rather they approached me) and I found a rival taking me to the 19th place I am at currently. I wouldn't have liked the competitive aspect if the game didn't allow for it. The mechanics and scoring system of Beat Saber is solid, something that makes the game awesome. It makes it a very good casual game but one that can also be approached competitively. The game is very easy to play for beginners, the entry level is low but is hard to master at the ranked custom songs level.

The core mechanics are great and there is a lot of depth. Playing this challenge allowed me to see how good Beat Saber is in that regard and those are the main things that I look for when playing a game. Visuals and quality of life features are often secondary even though lately I have to admit I'd welcome Beat Saber having features that mods I use add.

In the near future I won't be able to continue playing this game and I don't know if I'll be able to pick it up later. I still have little time to get better and if possible participate in the first and (most probably the last) Beat Saber tournament. I hope I can enjoy it as best as I can.

Beat Saber now officially made it to the list of my favorite games. It was hard to admit this but here it goes. Beat Saber is one of my favorite games along with other rhythm games - Beatmania IIDX and Pump it Up.

I'd like to thank Beat Games for creating this awesome game, all the modders and mappers from the community, my rivals, werk for introducing me to the game and infinite.cz for providing me with hardware so I could play.

And finally here are the videos. If you are interested in watching them here they are. I created a playlist on Youtube and I'm sharing that one link, to see a specific day find it in the playlist. The description contains the current rank I have on the song on Steam leaderboards.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Synth Riders

Synth Riders is a VR game. You'll be standing on a moving platform and colored orbs will be coming closer to you. You have colored orbs in your hands and a notes will come from further away to closer to you. When they reach you, you have to hit them with the corresponding colored orb. You have blue notes that you need to hit with a blue orb and magenta notes that you hit with the magenta orb. Then there are sections that you have to play with either of your hand (you start with one hand and have to finish with that hand, these parts are green by default) or you have to use both hands kept close to each other (gold parts). Apart from the single orb notes you have to hit there are 'rails'. Those are long notes and your hand has to follow them from start to finish.

The game has two modes - rhythm and force. Rhythm is accuracy based and judges you based on how close to the center of an orb you managed to hit it. Force mode judges you based on how much 'force' you used to hit an orb. The force has an indicator bar that fills up depending on how much force you used.

Synth Riders features different kinds of mods so you can use them to make the game more challenging or easier (for example smaller notes, higher note jump speed).

The game is combo based and you get a lot of points for rails and special sections.

Synth Riders is easy to learn but already requires more skill than Beat Saber at first. On the other hand Synth Riders doesn't get too complex later on (compared to Beat Saber) even though it requires more movement from the player.

As for graphics, the game is set into a retro-futuristic setting which creates a good ambience but is not necessarily something you can visually enjoy or consider stunning. Synth Riders may not have the best graphics out there but it works, is flashy enough to catch your eye and is primarily functional.

The songs are mostly synth wave or how to call it (electronic music). Something you'd expect from a sci-fi movie from 80s and it will certainly remind you of (original) Tron. Some of the song packs are really great and I enjoyed the Electro Swing one a lot.

Maps are good (compared to Beat Saber officials). They are well done so there is a certain learning curve and that you have a lot of room to dance to the tunes. I haven't played on Easy or Normal but there is a difference between Hard, Expert and Master. The lower the difficulty to more straightforward the charts are and make you alternate your hands more while keeping your hands at their respective sides. On Expert the notes can be out of line so you might need to be crossing your arms and there are more patterns that you have to do with one hand. On Master you are required to do different kind of motion with each hand at times. You will also notice that the speed and density gets higher with each difficulty level.

There are quality of life options that can make the game playable (if you suffer from visual effects like me) and streamable. It has everything you need for streaming in game! For example it has in-game support of VRM avatars and camera views. Everything is set so the community can customize the game and add other custom content - songs, platforms, mods etc.

Verdict: Synth Riders is a rhythm game that in its default settings doesn't bring anything new and is rather lacking both in game mechanics and score system. The game though will bring you as much fun as you manage to get out of it - be it by actually dancing, using various mods to spice up the game or modes to enlarge the play area or be able to play in (up to) 360 degrees.

This means that if you don't want move to move you don't need to and this way you can find the game very boring. This is the kind of the game you need to be in flow with otherwise it won't give you anything. If you wish to get good at the game and excel you might also hit a ceiling quite fast because there simply isn't enough depth to the game and all it will come down is accuracy/force which is a very vague thing in this game. The game lacks clarity and feedback of other games which makes it difficult to try to get good. You won't feel rewarded for clearing a song or even feel much satisfaction hitting an orb.

The game features good music (even though it depends on your taste) and very well done maps. There are leaderboards for the songs. The game has a nice community and gets a lot of love from it. The community brings new content and there are always people around for multiplayer.

I see this game as a hit or miss because it's more about you than the game itself. I enjoyed the game a lot because I like to move to the rhythm of songs and I was looking for something that would allow me to freely move and exercise. If I can hit some notes while at it I'm happy. It's a good workout if are someone who likes to move around a lot.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)