I got an Oculus Rift on a whim this week when they dropped the price of the bundle down to $400. This is my first experience with VR in a few years and 10+ since I last used a high quality rig. I’m impressed, the sense of being present in virtual space is incredibly compelling. But as everyone says the problem is there’s no great VR-specific content yet.

The hardware is good. Lag-free head and hand tracking. Sensor calibration is a hassle. Windows setup was remarkably painless. The touch controllers are essential. It allows you to have virtual hands. Definitely want “full room VR”: several tracking sensors and a 5x7’ clear space to walk around in. Sitting still and having the view pan is instant nausea but walking around a stationary virtual room is better. Even with the calmest software I get tired and headachy after about 30 minutes. Eyestrain maybe? VR sickness makes for a viscerally negative experience.

As for software, I’ve only played around for a few hours, so no deep opinions. Oculus’ own tutorials / demos are very good, the intro Dreamdeck demo had me shouting for joy. The best game I’ve played so far is Superhot VR; I’ve not played the normal version but the VR variant is really compelling. Subnautica made me sick in about five minutes, although it is very pretty. Thumper is pretty in 3d but I’d rather have a flat screen and excellent speakers. Google Earth VR was surprisingly disappointing; the imagery isn’t quite good enough. I haven’t tried Job Simulator 2050 yet, it’s quite popular. I’m also curious to try The Climb.

I took a quick look at the porn industry; all they’re offering is 3d videos and some minimal “fondle boobs with your glowing virtual hands” interaction, so they haven’t figured out VR apps either. The fact that "Waifu Sex Simulator" is one of the most popular apps gives you an idea of the target market.

So it’s a fun toy, but given the fatigue and lack of compelling content I’m not sure how long I’ll be using my Oculus Rift. We’ll see. What I really want is some easy way to build data visualizations in 3D, maybe using WebGL or something. I haven’t looked hard but my impression is that’s not fully baked yet.

culturegames
  2017-07-15 22:32 Z

Watch Dogs 2 is a very good video game. I think it’s nearly as good as GTA V or Sleeping Dogs and better than many other open world roamers. It fixes nearly all the problems in the original Watch Dogs and finds the fun in the game design.

My favorite thing about the game is the setting, the tech industry in the Bay Area. I live in San Francisco, I’ve worked in two of the offices featured in the game, I’m constantly running in to things in the game that remind me of where I live. They’ve done a remarkably good job on the re-creation of the Bay Area. Like not only do the buses in San Francisco look like SF Muni buses, but the buses in Oakland look different because of course they should, they’re AC Transit buses. The world quality extends to the game writing, both incidental stuff like random NPC dialog and significant things like the main story writing.

The main story is pretty good. It’s not great, I’d say it’s weaker than GTA V, but it’s still pretty good. Some of the characters are great and some of the set pieces are excellent. The biggest criticism I have is something a lot of reviews pointed out, which is there’s a conflict in tone between “we’re a fun hacker gang pulling pranks” and “we’re a group of murder hoboes launching grenades at FBI agents”. There’s an event that happens in the game that could explain the shift but the writing doesn’t quite pull it together. It’s not a huge problem.

Most importantly, the gameplay is fun. The magic spells hacking abilities you use are fun and powerful and innovative. The cover shooter and driving mechanics are fine (better than GTA.) Remote controlling rolling and flying drones is seriously fun. A lot of the missions have multiple solutions: puzzle solving, stealth, or straight-up guns a’blazin. I switched between those modes frequently in a natural way. Also there’s a lot to do outside the main game, including a light multiplayer mode that injects a bit of novelty. I’m still chipping away at the side missions, mostly as an excuse to continue sightseeing.

It’s a really good game! I have some screenshots and video clips on Twitter.

culturegames
  2017-01-29 16:53 Z

Just finished another game visualization project, graphs of stats for the top 5000 BF4 players. It makes scatterplots for the player population of statistics like skill score vs time played, win/loss ratio vs. skill, and kill/death vs. win/loss. Lots of details in this Reddit post.

Another fun D3 project; scrape a bunch of data, cook it into a 2 megabyte CSV file, then do custom visualizations. I like the way the scatterplot came out and may re-mix it as a generic data exploration tool, a sort of GGobi lite in your web browser. Drop a CSV file into your browser window and get a simple tool for exploring it for correlations.

It’s frustrating trying to get attention for projects like this. All I know to do is post it to the relevant subreddit and hope for the up-votes, but that’s pretty random. My Reddit attempt for the LoL lag tool failed, and a site I worked about 50 hours on has had a total of a few hundred visitors after a week. Discouraging.

culturegames
  2014-06-16 18:12 Z

I just released Logs of Lag, a small project I’ve been working on. It’s a netlog analyzer for the game League of Legends. You drop a log file from the game on it and the tool gives you a nice report. Not a huge thing, but it’s been useful to me already.

The webapp is another of my line of client-heavy programs. It all runs in static files, no server needed at all, the parsing and rendering is all done in the browser. I really like this style of programming, it’s fun and interactive and easy to scale. I did end up making a simple CGI server for storing log files so that people could share reports with friends. I may yet rewrite that to just use S3 as a filestore and bypass my server entirely.

The code is on GitHub.

culturegames
  2014-06-09 17:23 Z

The indie game industry has been shifting in the past few years to a pre-funding model. Gamers pay for games before release, either via Kickstarter campaigns or by buying games in alpha release or Steam Early Access or the like. A lot of neat games have been funded this way (see: Minecraft) but I worry it’s bad for game consumers.

We’re no longer being asked to buy a game, we’re buying something completely ephemeral, the idea of a game. We hope that maybe someday the game will be released and we can play it. And we get no guarantee of a quality finished project. (See Clang, which cynically claimed their unplayable alpha tech demo counted as a game release). Games are no longer really released, they are put out as an “alpha”, then a “beta”, then laughably a “gamma”. Really, why bother even finishing a game if people will pay you for your game anyway? Avoid the whole review cycle!

The most predatory of these “buy the game that does not exist” things I’ve seen yet is Star Citizen. They have collected $44 million for a game where you fly around spaceships in a giant procedurally generated universe. Except that universe doesn’t exist and last I heard the only code you could actually run lets you look at a rendered spaceship sitting motionless in a hanger. Nevertheless, people are paying hundreds of dollars for special rare spaceships in the hopes one day they can fly them. The Star Citizen project is not a game, it’s a marketing campaign for a game. I sure hope it turns into a real game some day or a bunch of people are going to be disappointed. It’s many, many months behind schedule, to the extent there even is a schedule. Why bother shipping when you can just keep collecting money?

adapted from a Metafilter comment
culturegames
  2014-06-03 18:12 Z

Sports fans had a choice yesterday: watch the Super Bowl or watch League of Legends via Twitch. I figured the Super Bowl would easily win out and no one would watch the eSport, but boy was I wrong.

Above is a graph of League of Legends viewers of the 4 LCS tournament games on Super Bowl Sunday. (I made the graph from Twitch’s published data; there are viewers on other services, but Twitch is the majority.) About 230,000 people were watching on Twitch, a typical day for LCS. The surprise is viewership peaked at 286,000 for the last game at 4pm, half an hour after the Super Bowl started. No noticeable viewer falloff at the 3:30pm kickoff either; just the usual slump after the previous match ended.

Why didn’t the Super Bowl cut into the League of Legends audience? It helped that the final game was an anticipated matchup between two of the best teams with a strong fan base. The stereotypical gamer nerd is not a sport fan, so maybe there was no conflict. On Reddit people noted that a lot of LoL fans are Europeans not interested in the Super Bowl. (There’s an enormous Asian audience too.) Some folks said they’d just watch both at the same time.

I’ve come to really enjoy watching League of Legends tournaments. It’s an enormously popular game, 27 million people play daily and 32 million (8.5M peak) watched last season’s championship. Riot Games has invested heavily in making the game into a sports event. The broadcasts are a lot of fun to watch with smart announcers, good storytelling, and exciting gameplay. I’ve generally been a skeptic that eSports would become a phenomenon but League of Legends is winning me over.

If you’ve never watched LoL before, yesterday’s TSM v C9 game was pretty good. The whole 44 minute broadcast is worth watching but here’s a 5 minute highlight reel. The game is a bit complicated but basically it’s two teams of five players fighting to control the map. Here’s an overview of the game with a lot more detail. Lots more recorded games on /r/LoLeventVoDs.

culturegames
  2014-02-03 20:11 Z

A bit of nostalgia today for Netrek, one of the best online games ever. It’s from the early 1990s and is an important game design precursor to team based online games. Also its netcode was a huge breakthrough in real time Internet gaming.

The game design is brilliant. It’s an 8v8 team game. You mostly play in the upper left window, a Spacewars-like game where you fly your spaceship around and zap other players with your phasers and torpedoes. But the real game is in the upper right, the galactic overview map. The goal is to fly to planets and take them over by beaming down armies while fighting off the enemy players. That combination of high level strategy and local tactics is a hallmark of RTS games like Starcraft, MOBA games like League of Legends, and squad FPS games like Battlefield. I’m not saying Netrek invented that whole idea (Netrek itself was based on PLATO Empire), but it took 5–10 years before mainstream games became as interesting as Netrek. There were even classes in the game, different types of spaceships for different roles.

The network code was also hugely innovative, particularly the UDP code from 1992. Back then the Internet was overloaded and slow, 56 kbit/s links were common. Andy McFadden rewrote the original TCP netcode to use UDP and suddenly the game became way more playable on congested links. The key insight is UDP lets the game client decide what to do about packet loss rather than relying on TCP retransmits. Netrek could afford to lose the occasional packet; you might not see a torpedo coming your way but then again you didn’t have to wait 3 seconds for that packet before seeing the 25 other torpedoes launched afterwards. Weirdly most contemporary games use TCP (despite drawbacks), although League of Legends at least is UDP.

Netrek partly benefitted from the great community of the academic Internet of the early 90s. I’ve run into a few old Netrek buddies in our later careers as working software people: Andy McFadden and Jeff Nelson at Google and Stephen von Worley of DataPointed. I wonder if any of the Netrek folks went on to work in the gaming industry?

Thanks to Brian Dear for info on PLATO
culturegames
  2013-11-16 19:01 Z

Riot Games has found that in the League of Legends community, bad behavior comes mostly from people who are generally good. The problem with the LoL community isn’t that there’s a few jerks who spoil things for everyone; it’s that a lot of people act like jerks occasionally.

This factoid comes from a talk by Riot showing statistics from their player community. “Toxic” means raging during an online game, insulting and threatening other players. They use the word “toxic” because they’ve found bad behavior is contagious. One person acting badly can make other people angry, who then act badly in subsequent games. Dangerous problem.

The graph above shows Riot’s view of toxicity in the community. The graph on the left shows 1% of players are toxic, frequently acting badly; 78% of players are generally good. The graph on the right shows toxic behavior. And only 5% of toxic behavior comes from toxic people; 77% of it comes from people who are usually good.

That finding has all sorts of implications for how to stop toxic behavior in an online community. It’s not enough to just ban the jerks; good people have bad days too. Instead you have to teach the whole community what the community standards are. And quickly identify people who are having a bad day, intervene before their toxicity infects too many other people. I think it's a hopeful finding; if you can just remind people of their better nature, you can prevent a lot of bad behavior.

culturegames
  2013-07-31 15:40 Z

Two really unfortunate stories of Internet bullying over the weekend. Indie game genius Phil Fish says he’s canceling Fez II after a bunch of focussed harassment. And the Call of Duty studio director has gotten a bunch of truly disgusting invective for a game balance change. All part of the Internet’s war on creatives.

Get lost you waste of talent. Shitbag telling others to kill themselves, you dont deserve your fame, money or attention. • Hahaha get fucked you pathetic fucking blowhard Fez was shit by the way • You may have made a decent game but you are still a terrible human being.
hey can you un nerf THE FUCKING SNIPER U FUCKING CUNT WTF WHY DID U DO THIS IM GOING 2 KILL YOU! DICK HEAD FUCKING DIE!!!!! • I will kill you for nerfing snipers you fag • omfg you fucking fat cunt i hope you die in a fatal car crash you fucking twat also your nan has cancer

The gaming “community” are mostly a bunch of monsters. I agree with Anil Dash that the community itself is responsible for fixing the problem.

I’ve been playing a lot of League of Legends lately, a team PvP game notorious for its toxic community. The developer Riot Games took a strong step towards solving the problem, The Tribunal, a way for the community to judge whether players violate the game’s code of good behavior. In my experience it works pretty well as a deterrent. Riot has stats showing that warnings and punishment are discouraging bad behavior.

It’s basically a community moderation system. After every game anyone can flag a player for bad behavior. Enough flags and a tribunal case (example) is created. Players randomly review cases (chat logs mostly) and vote on whether to punish. Mild penalties are automatic, severe ones are reviewed first by Riot employees.

There’s a lot more to say about the Tribunal, I hope to have some follow up blog posts. One particularly interesting aspect is that the review cases are public. Most moderation systems are private to avoid disputes but I think the open discussion makes the system more effective.

culturegames
  2013-07-29 17:43 Z

I’ve been having a grand time playing the Minecraft Feed the Beast Ultimate Pack. It’s a ginormous mod pack for Minecraft throwing together some 45–70 mods to extend Minecraft in various ways. It’s terribly complex, occasionally inconsistent, but surprisingly stable, balanced, and fun. I definitely recommend it if you like Minecraft and want to add more stuff to tinker with. I think it’d be particularly good for kids.

There’s a huge number of mods with varying degrees of documentation; part of the fun of FTB is figuring out how stuff works. The unofficial FTB wiki is a good place to start. Some of the big mods I like… BuildCraft and IndustrialCraft add machines, engines, pipes, pumps, all sorts of automation. Thaumcraft adds a beautifully designed magic system. ComputerCraft embeds a Lua scripting engine, letting you write programs for robots that mine and build structures and stuff. And Forestry adds a bunch of agricultural stuff including a crazy apiculture system of bee genetics.

If you want to play it, get the FTB Launcher and use it to install the Ultimate pack. It’s good about installing stuff in its own directory. Unfortunately Java on the Mac is a total mess; you have to set JAVA_HOME to run Java 6 and also configure the launcher to add the XX:PermSize flag when launching the game.

culturegames
  2013-04-04 20:50 Z