Monthly Archives: March 2014

Carmack’s Wrong. How can Carmack be wrong?

It’s a weird position to be disagreeing with John Carmack.

The man’s a well-known authority on everything to do with tech, and especially on VR. He’s the guy who made DOOM and Quake. His legendary Quakeworld address ignited public interest in VR. His decision to move to Oculus was hailed as one of the best signs for VR.

Doesn’t matter. I can’t buy this:

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Facebook (or this soon). I have zero personal background with them, and I could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies. However, I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen. You don’t make a commitment like they just did on a whim.

John, everything I read says that these decisions were made on a whim. The decision was made in literal days: 3 days by some accounts, 5 days by others. Oculus had just discovered that they have serious competition, including Sony’s own Morpheus headset. They were in trouble and needed a big wallet to stay ahead.

Meanwhile, Facebook was and is terrified over their inability to make a serious splash on mobile platforms,to the point of paying an unbelievable $20b for WhatsApp. Suddenly they’re given an opportunity to get in on the Next Big Thing, VR, by taking advantage of Oculus’ fragility and buying their way in. They had to do it immediately, though, before Google or Microsoft come calling.  Considering that Palmer Luckey is, what, 21 years old, it was never going to be that difficult. So they proceed to roll over Oculus like a semi carrying a load of gold bricks, and three-to-five days later it’s all over.

What about any of this doesn’t say “whim”? I suppose the sequence of events might imply that it’s motivated less by whim and more by desperation, but it’s still the opposite of a carefully considered decision on anybody’s part. This could blow up spectacularly, on the level of AOL/Time Warner, and nothing I’ve seen yet suggests it won’t.

Sure, VR in games will still be fine. VR in general will still be fine. Still confident about that. But everything I read about this makes me less confident in Oculus. And, sadly, that now includes Oculus’ CTO.

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Facebook Buys Oculus.

Yes. This is a thing that happened, and everybody’s up in arms about it, yelling about how Kickstarter betrayed them or some such thing.

Not a fan of the deal, certainly, but theoretically this is what Kickstarter is supposed to be for. It’s an early round of investment so that creators can get something together that they can sell to the big money men: a kind of crowdsourced angel investing.

The problem is that, well, sometimes the product isn’t what you thought it was going to be. Oculus is like a lot of companies in that it isn’t being bought for their product, it’s being bought for the expertise and talent that comes with it. The actual “Oculus Rift” may well never exist as a product; Facebook will probably take their version of VR in an entirely different direction.

(Yes, yes, FB are saying they won’t change anything. Everybody promises that. Anybody with a cursory knowledge of the gaming industry knows better.)

I don’t think it’s a good deal, simply because it was rushed into by all parties: Facebook are panicking because a mobile ecosystem is out of their reach and are trying to get in on the ground floor with VR. Oculus rushed into the arms of a company that isn’t a great fit simply because they solve the short-term financing problems and have a less notorious corporate culture than Google and Microsoft. There’s no real fit there, though: of all the applications that would be enhanced by VR, Facebook is just about the last thing you’d think of, and they haven’t demonstrated any ability to move into new sectors whatsoever. The debacle of social gaming proved that. 

Even so, this is still how this sort of thing works. Maybe it will be important for Kickstarter campaigns to assure backers that they won’t get bought out and have the product buried. Not sure how they can do that, but it might be a thing. Or, maybe, Kickstarter might well need to provide some sort of equity after all.  Either way, backers will need to recognize that other people might get rich off of something they backed. If they aren’t comfortable with that, there’s lots of honest-to-goodness charities for them to support.

As for the Rift’s gaming applications? I’m not actually worried about that. Sure, Oculus opened the door. Sony (and others) proved, though, that VR in gaming is something that’s coming no matter what. Oculus was a leader, but there’s lots of room for others. 

Don’t worry. You’ll still be able to play Minecraft in VR. It’ll just have a different logo on the side. 

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Why isn’t playing Bioshock: Infinite fun?

So after about a year of waiting, I finally, finally got to try Bioshock Infinite! Joyous day! How I’d waited! How I’d anticipated! I’d even avoided (most) spoilers!

With no small amount of glee, the game got started, and things began in earnest. Great start, too: ominous lighthouse, neat ascension, and those early moments with the baptism and the fair were straight-up magical.  

Then the shooting started.  I started strafing and aiming and firing and whatnot. I hucked a few fireballs at people, and hid from automatic turret robotish things. I swapped out guns and bought ammo. And as I did all of that, the magic just sort of…leaked out. 

Don’t get me wrong. Not being any sort of Internet hermit, I’d heard this opinion before. It was a whole big thing in the reactions to Infinite from people whose opinions I trusted. What shocked me is that all of those people were people who were clearly sick of FPSes and that sort of gameplay. I’m not. I still like FPSes quite a bit. So what happened here? Wasn’t sure.

Sure, I was playing on a console, and I’ve never been a gigantic fan of console shooters, especially shooters that have aim-down-sight (ADS) mapped to R3. (WHY?) Once I remapped the controls so that ADS was sensibly mapped, though, I was able to play it like any other console FPS. It wasn’t really a problem. It even fixed Bioshock’s dodgy console aim correction. 

I kept playing, and kept shooting. I got to the section where you met Elizabeth, and started on my way with her. And, guess what? Elizabeth’s great! Irrational (RIP) did a good job of making her an asset instead of a burden. She’s one of the most visually expressive characters I’ve seen in gaming, rivalling Link in Wind Waker. She’s got personality to spare, and the scenes where she’s introduced and where you see her dancing on the pier were brilliant enough that they almost brought that early magic back. 

But, dammit, I’m still not having any fun.

I’ve just passed the section where you’re (avoiding spoilers here) “interacting with the soldiers and their general”, and it honestly reminded me of the amazing sequence in Bioshock where you’re dealing with that mad artist. And, yet, again, that was engaging, while this isn’t. I’ve just met the Vox Populi and their leader, and I can’t find myself caring. I’m neck-deep in a sequence mocking the hell out of company towns and “captains of industry”, and all I can think of is how much more I enjoyed it in Bioshock.

Maybe it’s the level design? Bioshock Infinite was sold as having expansive levels, and these ain’t that. It’s actually a step back from Bioshock’s intricate levels; these are basically corridors with a few mildly-large combat arenas scattered between them. The game doesn’t even bother providing a map; THAT’S how dull the level design is.

(Let’s not even try to compare it to System Shock 2. That’d just be depressing.)

Maybe it’s the “magic”? The Vigors also seem to be a step back from Bioshock’s plasmids. Bioshock’s very first Plasmid attack, the lightning blast, was not only easy to understand and to use but allowed for fun weapon/magic combos and devastating environmental attacks. It was your first ranged weapon, too, which tremendously encouraged its use. Infinite’s first Vigor is an overly-expensive (and temporary!) turret hack. The second one is a dressed-up grenade.  The third is a dressed-up stun. Woo. 

Maybe it’s the guns? They’re…guns. Aggressively generic guns. Pistol, machine gun, rifle, RPG, grenade launcher, etcetera. Even the upgrades are boring. “25% bonus damage”? “10% larger clip”?  Who cares? And you can only carry two at a time! In a SHOCK game!  Why is Bioshock making you upgrade weapons that you won’t even know you’ll have access to?

But I feel like all of those things are quibbles. I’ve played games that were objectively more annoying, and didn’t give a rat’s ass. Those things aren’t anywhere near enough to explain it. I’m not burned out on FPSes, I like the setting, and I like Elizabeth. I even like Booker, sorta. And this isn’t one of those games where you aren’t supposed to be having fun. I LOVE those. I have this whole huge writeup about Spec Ops: The Line that I still want to post up here. The thing’s clearly supposed to be fun.

So the question remains: Why isn’t playing Bioshock: Infinite fun?

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