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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)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Machizzle

I always loved puzzle games and nowadays it's quite rare to see a puzzle game that would require one to think hard about solving something. Finding a puzzle game that is good and is also fun is really hard. Machizzle is a 3d puzzle game which means that you will have to think in order to beat the levels. The goal is simple. There is a ball that is placed somewhere above the board and you need to create a path for it to reach a goal while collecting all keys scattered on the board. To do that you have a range of different objects that you can use. You can use different kinds of blocks or platforms that can help you create a path. Other objects can be used to change direction of the ball or make it move faster (or both at once) which can help you get the ball on higher levels. There are also bombs and portals and even some gravity changing arrows. All these add to the complexity of the game and are fun to fiddle with. First you will need to learn what the objects do and how they can be used.

The game starts with a tutorial followed by very easy levels. Then with each level the complexity gets higher. There are 80 levels in the campaign. Some levels are more about the fun and exploring what a new object does. Being able to move objects in the air to move the ball is something that adds to the complexity and can make the game more challenging since more thinking in 3d is needed. The game introduces physics elements one by one and one can play with them in the respective levels. Trying to break physics in this game is lost of fun. Many levels have several solutions and it is not needed to use all the objects that you have at your disposal. Some solutions will only work from time to time depending on the physics which is also fun to see (it usually means there is another solution that works 100 percent of the time). Seeing the little ball follow the path you created and reach the end is rewarding. If you get stuck you don't need to worry because there is a hint system.

The atmosphere of the game is good. You will find yourself trapped in a dungeon but the light and warm colors won't make you feel uneasy. The surroundings are nicely done and there are items you can pick up and look at them more closely. There is also a dog that will be walking around and you can even play fetch with it if you manage to grab a stick (not everyone can grab something on the floor). There is a little story too.

The game also features a custom level editor so you can go crazy, create some levels and submit them for revision.

Verdict:
Puzzle games in VR exist but so far those I encountered are more about the the environment and immersion while they do not provide a challenge. Machizzle puts the emphasis on the puzzles you need to solve. They are physics bending and often fun and feel rewarding when you solve them. The game is perfect for those who like puzzle games where thinking is required and for those that like to experiment.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Room One

Since I played The Room VR and read that many people liked the original mobile games I decided to give them a try. I thought I might actually like them since I liked the VR version. The truth is, I got very upset starting the beginning of chapter 2 and that feeling lasted till the end of the game.

The Room is supposedly a puzzle game but it is more of a click and drag adventure game minus the story of an adventure game. You are in a room with a strange object in front of you and you have to do something with it in order to get another clue which will lead you to (surprise) another object. Often you have to find something you can either press or move and well the easiest way to do this is to simply click around. Then you solve a spatial puzzle usually meaning matching some symbols or finding the right angle to form a symbol out of scattered lines in the air. As reward for solving it you will obtain an object. You need to find where it fits and the whole thing repeats. What I want to say is that you don't need to spend a second trying to actually think how to solve anything. Logic is something you don't need in this game.

Many people in their The Room VR reviews were noting that the mobile games were more intricate. I can't say I agree with that but there is one thing the Room VR doesn't have. In the mobile games you have to work with objects in your inventory be it keys or items you can open somehow. You have to observe which objects you can interact with. If you find where the key is supposed to fit you will be shown how the key is supposed to look so there no need to scratch your head trying to figure it out on your own. You also need to alternate between objects more often than in the VR game.

Controls for this game are not ideal. That's not all unfortunately, the input is also very slow. You need to zoom in on the puzzle device you want to solve and then zoom in on what you want to interact with. Since you will need to alternate between two areas it means zooming out and zooming in quite often and it takes forever. The transition between everything just takes a long time. I'm willing to accept looking at nice slow animations of something happening but not at the zoom in/out transitions. Since many of the puzzles are about finding the right view of something it adds to the frustration you might have. I knew exactly what kind of symbol I'd see and under what angle I should see it but managing to get that view on my screen was very frustrating (don't get me started on some orbs that you needed to put in a correct position). Unscrewing a screw or rotating a key was tedious. Since the input itself feels really slow I often did something and thought that it didn't register so I restarted. This led to many items going back to my inventory or a text popping up because I clicked on something and it gave me a really 'clever' hint.

The music is nice but repetitive. The sound of a text popping up is tearing my ears and I often don't even manage to read the text because I already clicked on something else. So I either accidentally click again to hear/see the pop up or it disappears. The constant hints that are trying to get your attention were very distracting and I'm not sure if you can turn them off. I sometimes clicked on them just to get rid of them and I have to say that they are just stating something obvious (on the other hand it's probably difficult to give a hint about something like this).

The atmosphere and graphics are nice. While I can enjoy nice atmospheric games I still play games primarily for their content and game play. This game failed in every aspect but this one.

The game was also crashing for me and tried to run at some strange resolution.

Verdict:
The Room is not a puzzle game, it is a test of patience. The game is about clicking around and finding what's clickable which gets repetitive very soon. There is no need to actually think. The game is easy and very short (thankfully), has no conclusion and in general has nothing to offer but nice visuals. The Room is probably good if you want to kill some time and turn your brain off while clicking around and enjoying the view. Otherwise I do not recommend this game to anyone.

S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)