I have one stick and set of buttons fully wired. Well almost fully wired. The coin drop button isn't 100% yet, but I think I have that traced back to a poor solder. It shouldn't be too much trouble to fix. The second stick is sitting on the workbench ready to be hooked up, so that should be ready soon too. The sticks are Ultimarc Ultrasticks. They are analog sticks with a software setting for 4 and 8 way modes. I was a little concerned, since they were analog, that they might not be accurate enough for fighting games. Minutes after hooking up all the buttons and making sure they were all mapped properly, I was able to blast through half the roster in Super Street Fighter 2. When I reached an opponent I wasn't able to beat, it was due to my own rusty Street Fighter skills and not the controller. The tension on the spring is a little looser than I would like by default, so I might go pick up a stiffer spring, but other than that it performs extremely well. I have it hooked up to the laptop for testing, but eventually a the cabinet will be home to a small pc and modest sized HDTV will act as the display. Is it an arcade accurate gaming experience? No, not really. You also don't need to get tokens from a greasy haired thug and wonder what that sticky stuff is on the light punch button. Captain Joystick is part of a more civilized home arcade experience.
I attended a meeting? Meetup? What's the hip term to use? Get together? Hangout? Whatever. We had one of those a couple days ago. Some local game developers gathered together to share projects we are working on, or have worked on. Games that needed feedback to move forward. Games that needed feedback to reinforce that they are moving forward and not backward, or sideways. Games that needed feedback to take the next step.
Game development, especially indie game development, can be terminally solitary. People spend a long time working on projects with very little outside help. I wonder how many promising games died for lack of constructive feedback. Of course, teams of any more than 4 or 5 can usually avoid the slow, painful death of their projects by simply talking with each other. One or two person teams are probably in trouble if they don’t get out and talk to other people.
I've heard about writers working in groups to provide each other with constant feedback for their individual projects. In one short meeting I was able to remember the brilliance of this method of working. I came away from the meeting thinking that I was probably on the right track, and I got a whole room full of different ways to move forward.
Anyway, to make a meandering story short, if you are working on something, you should go out and get the opinions of some other people who also work on that something. You will learn a lot and it will make your work better.
So Facebook bought Oculus and a wave of disenfranchised nerd anguish washed over the Internet. Oculus had sold out to the man, and the taint of Facebook was on everything and everyone associated. Idealists everywhere cried foul, as if strapping what looks like half a brick to your face made you one of the goddamn sex pistols.
Of course, given a little distance, a lot of people seem to think that the Oculus acquisition might not be such a bad thing after all. Myself included.
I played Dactyl Nightmare in the early 90s. You had to stand in a inside a waist high restraining ring that kept you from tumbling off of the raised platform. Seems that putting an enormous plastic and glass mushroom cap on your noggin blocking out two of your primary senses tends to make grown person wobble like a toddler. The game looked awful. It played like a slow motion version of lazer tag where all the laser guns are replaced with ice cream cones, and the ice cream cones are prone to jamming. It was about as fun as it sounds. I also tried a version of Duke Nukem 3D that used a pretty terrible headset and a strange fps controller that I haven’t seen since. The game experience was awful. It was also amazing and I wanted to play it again, immediately, and forever.
We nerds have been fully on board with virtual reality since, I don’t know, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Tron, The Lawnmower Man, The Matrix, or countless other fictional examples before or since. Depending on how old you are, you can probably choose a cultural touchstone that introduced you to VR. You have probably been excited, and/or concerned about the prospect ever since. Regardless of what you think the effect of VR will be, fantastic, terrible, entertaining, addictive, or a passing fad, you know exactly what it looks like and how it works.
There have been a lot of head mounted displays through the years. They were often marketed as VR, but none of them passed the test. We all knew how VR had to feel if it was ever going to take off. Funny enough, it’s in the name. It has to feel real. Not ‘real’, as in a recreation of the actual world. ‘Real’ as in a convincing place that seems like it exists. If virtual reality as an experience wants to get anything above a D- grade, it needs to at the very least look and sound like you are in a place that you are not.
I tested out the Oculus Rift dev kit version 1 for about 10 minutes, and came away quite impressed. While this was not the matrix, or the holodeck, or whatever hyperbole marketing will drum up, it did give me a very convincing feeling of being in another place.
The screen was of obviously low quality, and the motion tracking was slightly unresponsive at times. These are the sort of issues that people prone to motion sickness will have a lot of trouble with. Most people reporting on the latest version of the development kit say that these issues are largely resolved. That seems in keeping with what Oculus has been saying about the development of the headset, so that is a very good sign. The Rift might actually be the first head mounted display to crack VR. When the product actually comes out, it may provide the very real feeling of being in a different place. The good news is that it probably won’t have to.
There are a few other head mounted display technologies popping up out of the R&D trenches. One from Sony. You can say what you want about Sony, but they have more experience with bringing head mounted displays to market than probably anyone else on earth. They held on to that particular niche product line much longer than was sensible. There is also the InfinitEye, which seems like the IMAX version of the Oculus Rift, bigger but not necessarily better. With a slightly different take on head mounted displays Avegant has the Glyph. The Glyph uses DLP chips to project the image directly into your eyeballs. Apparently this looks much more like a rectangular screen floating out in front of your eyes rather than offering an immersive experience. The display portion of this headset doubles as an ridiculously large headphone band. This will allow people on the plane to flip down their Glyph visor to watch Game of Thrones without exposing the people behind them to seven minutes of boobs per episode. For that reason alone, I suggest everyone refer to the “flip down the Glyph visor” move as the Dirty Geordi. You know he spent most of his time looking through the entire bridge crew’s uniforms with that thing.
So Facebook still bought Oculus. The plucky little guy sold out to the heartless behemoth right. What people sometimes forget is that money lends legitimacy. Right or wrong, that’s just how it goes. That's not just legitimacy for Oculus, it's legitimacy for the concept of VR. Even if Facebook bought Oculus just to shutter it in six months, they spent a lot of money for the little guy. It means that other big guys will be more willing to buy up the other little guys, or at the very least, toss some money into R&D. For all of us that have been waiting for VR goggles to become a real product since the 90s, 80s, or even 70s, we can now be sure that it will happen. Your long wait to jack in, sync up, punch deck, go cyber, or whatever will soon be over.
There are a few things that any headset developer will have to add if they want to go mass market with one these units, like some sort of passthrough camera that can let the wearer see and hear the world around them, and rock solid motion detection contained in the unit. Of course, there is one way VR displays won’t become a mainstream success. The games could still suck.
Have you ever watched a wrestling promo? It’s the part during a wrestling show where one of the towering, oiled up dudes wraps a meaty fist around a microphone and shouts angrily at his opponents. He will go on a tirade about how he is going to inflict all sorts of terrible harm. Any nation with laws would charge this man with harassment or assault. Of course, in the contrived, aggression turned up to 11, world of sports entertainment, this is all business as usual. It’s all part of the show.
In fact, cutting a good promo is better than part of the show. It is the show. Without a promo, the wrestling matches have no context. Watching a wrestler sell a punch seemingly intended for an air mass a foot and a half away from their chin would stretch anyones credulity. Watching that same wrestler stumble around dazed from the phantom punch, and then, a split second later, engage in some cirque du soleil style pairs tumbling, would snap it. A strong promo is the performers attempt to suspend your disbelief, before presenting a stage show that is wholly unbelievable. Most wrestlers now seem content to entertain during a promo, believability being a depleted commodity.
So what does this have to do with games? You might wonder if I am so drained of ideas that I have decided to make a hard left and start writing about wrestling full time. Maybe, and no. I haven’t watched wrestling with any regularity for at least 15 years, so I am far from an authority on the topic. I do have a point, but there is a bit of set up to get through. Now back to the wrestling.
The wrestling promo has another purpose. As professional wrestling, or, to use the less disingenuous term, Sports Entertainment grew, so did the rosters of performers. The WWE is currently running live and pre-taped shows several times a week. Sure wrestling is “fake”, but it is also very physically demanding and there is always the possibility of injuries that take performers out of the show. These wrestling events have a lot of less experienced talent ready to play the fall guy in a match or two giving the headliners a chance to recuperate. Almost to a one, they are terrible wrestlers. This is why the promo is important.
So any of the newer performers will be either awful or dull. It’s a simple lack of ring time. If they were competitive athletes, only the ones that developed some actual wrestling skill would rise up the ranks. Of course they are not athletes, they are performers. Developing an entertaining persona through a combination of memorable matches and quotable promos is how a wrestler “gets over”. Getting over is winning. The outcome of the match, who pinned who, is part of the show, but ultimately unimportant. If a performer can get the crowd to cheer or boo, or increasingly, laugh, they win. It doesn’t matter who holds the title belt, it matters who gets the biggest crowd reaction.
So, again, what does this have to do with games? Okay, imagine this. There is a new wrestler that just came up through the ranks. He has polished his craft in relative obscurity for a few years, performing in small circuits and independent events. He’s in pretty good shape, 6’2”, 220lbs, no prominent tattoos, close cropped hair. As wrestlers go, generic as hell. Add that to the fact that he’s pretty new and as we’ve established, awful in the ring. And there are 3 other guys who look and wrestle just like him. How is this guy going to get over? If they were actually in a physical competition, maybe he could play that angle. But they aren’t in a physical competition. They are performers. He has to cut a promo and attempt to be the coolest, vilest, funniest, most frightening, most outlandish bad ass that ever walked the earth. For those three and half minutes, he has to believe it.
There are a scant few examples of a developer who is able to properly promote their work, let alone themselves. We have the deluded view of the industry that game developers are mild mannered computer science majors, and quiet artsy types. It simply isn’t true. No one actively seeks out a creative medium to hide with their head down. Worse yet, if a developer exhibits some sense of performance in their public facing persona, like Peter Molyneux or Cliff Bleszinski, they get called to the carpet for not measuring up to some preconceived stereotype. Games are entertainment products, not corporate finance software. Ritualistic business etiquette is not how games get over. It’s not how game developers get over.
I’ve always been a reluctant salesman. I don’t feel I have it in me to convince another person of something I don’t believe. But I did act. It’s been a long time since I did any acting, or any sort of public performance, but I still remember how it feels to draw an audience in. I remember what it feels like to believe the reality of a scene with enough conviction to sell it.
It’s sort of funny that, until recently I didn’t really equate sales to performing. I’m not sure why, since they are so obviously one in the same. Wrestlers don’t have that disconnect. Cutting a promo is salesmanship. It’s marketing. It is all those words that have become associated with swindlers and dishonest men. Maybe that’s the problem. The words we use. Perhaps I should stick with the word performance. Cutting a promo is performance. If you want to get over with a performance, you have to fully believe it. At least for three and a half minutes.
Strange how a group of people with fake names, fake vendettas, competing in fake combat only really succeeded by being extremely honest. I think, from now on, I’ll take my marketing advice from wrestlers.