GW2 The 500 pound A-Bomb In The Room: It’s Mobile Stupid!

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My favorite PC game for the past 16 years has been Guild Wars (2004) and its sequel Guild Wars 2 (2012).  For those of you doing the math in your head and thinking Guild Wars has only been out for 15 years, well I am one of the lucky few to get into the closed beta that came out in October 2003.  So yes I have been playing for nearly 16 years.

This past week ArenaNet the makers of Guild Wars announced a 25% cut in staffing, from 400 to around 260 employees.  Included in those layoffs were some veterans in the company, who have been developing as long as I have been playing.  It is really sad to see them go.

Word is that many of those 100 layoffs came not from Guild Wars 2, but from unannounced games that have been worked on in secret for the last 3 or 4 years.  It only makes sense that a company that has only released two titles in its 19 years of existence would be working on other games, but it sounds like these projects are not in any state to make them releasable so they were cut.

Zoom Out Part 1: It’s not just ArenaNet

Guild Wars 2 has always played second fiddle to World of Warcraft, the biggest MMORPG ever.  World of Warcraft is made by Blizzard, a division of Activision, and also suffered from hundreds of layoffs in the past couple of months.  Last year a number of PC gaming studios closed their doors:  Telltale games, Visceral Games, Gazillion, Carbine Studios, etc.  Over 1000 job losses in one year alone.

Last time I checked, the gaming industry was doing fine, what’s with the mass layoffs?

One dominant theory is that the gaming industry is not growing like it used to, and layoffs is a way to artificially inflate profit in the short run.  This doesn’t make that much sense.  Why would a gaming company cut staffing in a growing industry?

Zoom Out Part 2: The issue is actually mobile games

The second biggest MMORPG of all time is Lineage, the vast majority of the players are in South Korea, which why you may not have heard of it.  It is the main source of income of NCSoft, the parent company of ArenaNet.

Last year, a mobile version of Lineage was released in Korea. That mobile version reportedly made $233 Million in its first month, more than Guild Wars 2 ever made in any of the last 6 years.

 

So much that NCSoft is working on mobile versions of its other titles: Lineage2M, Aion2, Blade & Soul 2, Blade & Soul M, and Blade & Soul SNotably missing is Guild Wars 2.  I would not be surprised if that was one of the unspecified unfinished projects they were working on.  If so, it is possible that a major factor in these ArenaNet layoffs had to do with their inability to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game.

Update:  One theory making the rounds is that the huge negative backlash of a Diablo Immortal mobile game may have freaked out the people making the Guild Wars 2 mobile game, which in turn led to the scrapping of the project.

Heavy speculation on my part:  I notice that Lineage2M was developed by an outside 3rd party and is paying royalties to NCSoft for the privilege. Could NCSoft now be shopping around the Guild Wars 2 property to 3rd party developers to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game?  If ArenaNet was making a mobile game, then scrapped it after the Diablo fiasco, it is possible that the work so far may be sold by NCSoft as well.

A third party developer releasing a GW2 mobile game would not face the negative backlash that would happen if ArenaNet did it.  Follow up speculation: How bad will this game be?

The upshot of this theory is that NCSoft will need Guild Wars 2 to continue to succeed.  Otherwise the IP will become worthless.

Zoom Out Part 3: Mobile games are REALLY bad for gaming in general

Companies have fallen in love with mobile gaming.  Nearly everyone has a phone they can play games on.  I see this with my games.  I primarily make games for PCs, but there seems to be big demand for mobile versions, because not everyone has a PC.

The thing with mobile games is that the freemium business model has taken over the industry, despite the really ugly dark side of this business model’s source of revenue.

Basically it is about getting “Whales”, people willing to pay hundreds of dollars in micro transactions to get really good at the game.  So many games use this business model, that it is very tough to find mobile games that don’t use it.

I prefer to buy mobile games outright.  I’d rather spend $5, $10, $20 or more for a mobile game that will give me hours of fun without trying to sell me crap.  You literally can’t find games like this anymore.

So profitable have these micro transactions have become, that PC game companies are adding it to PC games that you pay full price for.  EA has even bragged that every game it releases has some online element and micro transaction store.

Guild Wars 2 does this, too.  The core game is free and you can spend $30 to $60 for the two expansions, which is all you really need to play everything the game offers.  But they are constantly releasing cosmetic skins for weapons and armor, novelties, and other stuff that you can either farm gold to get, or just pay a few bucks for gems that can be turned into gold.  I admit I spend a fair amount on Guild Wars 2‘s gem store, but not more than I can afford, and I never bought something and thought “This isn’t worth it.”

What Guild Wars 2 does not do is do anything “Pay to win”.  You cannot buy armor or weapons that are better than the craftable armor and weapons you make by playing the game.  But “pay to win” PC games are a thing these days, and gamers should not support them at any price.

So why exactly is this bad for PC gaming?  Because the biggest driving force of the PC game is Single Player Games, which have a built in flaw: you really can’t do micro transactions in single player games.  Therefore, they do not make as much money as multiplayer games.  And yet there is still great demand for single player games.

Bottom line is that mobile gaming and PC\Console gaming are two different beasts, with two different player bases, but gaming companies decisions are not about pleasing the players, it’s about pleasing the bottom line.

Zoom Out Part 4: Players need to play smarter, and beat these developers at their own game.

It’s all about putting your money where your heart is. Support the games you actually enjoy. Be picky about what games you are willing to buy for $60 on opening day instead of $30 if you wait 3 months, or $10 if you wait a year.

Never support “Play to win” games or random loot boxes that result in duplicates.  Ask yourself, “How much do I enjoy playing this game?”, and only spend what you think it is worth to you.

Do you have to spend money to make the game fun?  That’s a good sign you shouldn’t spend the money.  Don’t buy “shovelware” or bad licensed games.

Best of all, support games that DON’T have micro transactions.  If you are looking for a good mobile time killer, this is likely to be tough.

Virtual Reality with Oculus Go

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I mentioned in January’s blog post that there has been a number of attempts to make VR more mainstream and there are a number of obstacles to overcome to get people there.  The biggest one being cost.  Then buried in the numerous stories regarding Facebook is the release of the cheapest ever entry point into VR: Oculus Go.

For as cheap as $200, you can get a completely stand alone VR setup. No PC required, no expensive video card, and best of all no cables attached to your neck that prevent turning.  The only outside requirements are a smart phone or tablet to download the Oculus App so you can buy stuff, and a wifi connection so you can download stuff.

I know what you are thinking: “For that price there are probably limitations” and yes it is true.  Oculus Go is basically the equivalent of a Samsung Galaxy with Gear VR.  The library available for the Go is nearly the same as for Gear VR, but it has a stand alone wifi tablet built in instead of needing to attach your Samsung phone.

More expensive VR setups are also more sophisticated.  HTC Vive tracks its position with multiple cameras so you use your entire body to move around. Go only tracks your head and one hand with the controller in it.  I’m actually OK with this. Sophisticated VR setups require you to stand and move around to be useful with the added danger of running into stuff. With GO, I can experience most everything in a comfy office chair that swivels around.

Another limitation is “cell phone graphics”.  The big graphics intensive VR games and platforms are probably not going to run on Go, and that is going to be a problem for the VR industry as a whole if Go becomes a thing.

Lastly there is a problem with battery life. Expect only 2 to 3 hours per charge, or do what I do and get an extra long usb to micro usb cable and keep it connected. It will still drain battery, but slower. Lowering the brightness will help, too.

The VR Experience

On the positive side, the VR you experience on this cheap device is very good. HD-VR pictures and videos look great, and most of the content available is in this category. Video games tend to be simplistic with low-res textures to keep the frame rates high — a requirement for real immersive VR. I’ve tried a few games, and they all avoid realistic graphics for this reason.

Despite the low res look, playing a game that covers your entire field of view in 3D with a high frame rate is quite an amazing experience.

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The problem with new hardware: The software problem!

There is another limitation, but it is an artificial one that will eventually be overcome… maybe: Right now, your only source of software is the Oculus store, and right now the selection is a bit on the slim side.  The future of VR rests on sales of Oculus Go.  If it is finally the breakout VR hit the industry has been waiting for, all of those VR content creators who have been spending billions with little return to show for it, will need to get onto the Go.

If on the other hand Go sales are as lame as Gear VR and Playstation VR sales were, the Oculus store will continue to struggle for content.

And that’s the real question here. Awash in investor money, VR software development was big four years ago. Every one wanted to create the software for the next big thing, and that was supposed to be VR.

Development money is drying up. Much of the content is one to two years old, and many of the VR videos come from companies like CNN that are no longer investing resources in VR videos.

Thus we have a vicious circle. For VR to go mainstream, Oculus Go needs to sell well, but for it to really sell well, there needs to be software or content that people want to play and use, but for that content to develop, Oculus Go needs to sell well.

A Look at the current content

So here are some mini reviews of the content I found available now:

Epic Roller Coasters – Probably the best way to demo VR is with a virtual roller coaster. Everyone knows this, which is why roller coaster videos and demos are pretty much everywhere. Epic Roller Coasters is the best of these, not only with the most interesting environments, but there is a physics game you can play where you must use a brake and accelerator to finish as quick as possible without crashing. Demo is free, $10 to unlock all of the coasters.

Bait – Once you get tired of making yourself dizzy with roller coasters, you can go to the other extreme with a fishing simulator.  It’s actually kind of relaxing, but I got bored of the repetitive play in the demo and didn’t bother with the full version.

Rush – This is a glider suit racing challenge.  This is a game that is perfect for VR, but suffers from the lack of realistic graphics. Gets repetitive after a while.

They Suspect Nothing – This is a series of mini arcade games packaged in a funny robot oriented theme that is very entertaining. As with many “mini arcade games” some are more fun than others, but there is less chance of boredom with more things to do.  I also tried Wonderglade which is another mini arcade game, it has a “magic school” theme clearly designed for kids.

Amaze VR – A collection of about 200 videos, and because they are sorted by popularity the ones featuring beautiful models dancing, exotic dancing, and trying on bikinis in front of the camera are all near the top.  There is even the first chapter of a dating simulator, but unfortunately no second chapter.  Often the models in these videos are close enough to the camera that they feel like they are too close.  This is all PG stuff but it ironically demos the potential for VR porn.

Republique VR – Finally a real story driven video game. It’s a stealth game where you try and lead a prisoner to safety. Often involves puzzles and what not.  Apparently this game started originally as a mobile game and was upgraded to VR. I only got started but so far it feels cool.

Oculus Gallery, Netflix VR, Hulu VR – Ironically, one of the best uses for VR is the ability to watch good old 2D movies and TV in a virtual simulation of a theater or home living room. The lighting in the room even changes depending on the light from the screen.  Or you can just play it in a “void” and watch TV through the goggles while laying down comfortably so you don’t have to face the TV to watch.

Oculus Rooms – If any app would be a “killer app” (an app that would encourage others to get the product), it might be Oculus Rooms.  Oculus being a Facebook product, the focus is on meeting others virtually.  Oculus Rooms allows multiple people to meet together virtually and engage in multiple mutual activities like watch TV and movies together, play a board game, or just hang out and chat.

But is it a “killer app”? I have been doing these kinds of activities with others online for 15 years in Second Life and There.com, both of which are declining in use. This is also not the first VR type product like this AltspaceVR (which is also available on GO) has been around a while and also struggling for users, almost shutting down last year.

The bottom line is that the current offerings on Go mostly feel like “gimmicks”. It is going to take a larger user base to start developing the platform into something people not only want but will use regularly.

Virtual Reality vs. Virtual Currency

The tech battle no one is discussing, because in the end, neither will win.

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In 2015, Oculus Rift was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t. In 2016, Samsung Gear VR was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t. In 2017, Playstation VR was supposed to be the beginning of the VR revolution, it wasn’t.

With hundreds of VR games available, VR ready social and building platforms like Sansar and High Fidelity ready for open beta use, and billions of dollars invested in what everyone calls the next big thing, it is rather disappointing that it is not happening. Thanks to a likely big blockbuster in Ready Player One coming to theaters in March, maybe 2018 will finally be the year.

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Or not! There are plenty of reasons why VR has not become mainstream. The biggest is the bulky helmets you have to wear, and that most people experience dizzyness or nausea after only about 20 minutes of use. There is a great fix for this last issue that hasn’t been implemented enough: Virtual noses.

But, the biggest challenge to VR mainstream continues to be cost. You can spend $900 for a Samsung Galaxy 8 and Samsung VR headset, or you can spend about the same amount for a Playstation 4 and a Playstation VR bundle. If you want to do VR on your PC, you need around $1400.  That’s $400 for recently reduced price the Oculus Rift, and a $1000 required video card.

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When did it cost $1000 for a video card?

Why are video cards so expensive? One word: “Bitcoin”.  Virtual currencies like Bitcoin have skyrocketed in price over the last year, so much that it is worth building your own computer to “mine” number combinations that fit the fairly simple formula required to create a new Bitcoin (and if you find a combo, you get to keep it). Regular PC processors are not powerful enough to efficiently “mine”, but graphics cards are.

According to sources, one graphics card can “mine” around $5 to $10 worth of virtual currency a day, though the best strategy is concentrate on the small lesser known currencies, as too many other resources are being used to mine the expensive ones. This means your $1000 graphics card will pay for itself in about 4 months, assuming prices stay high enough. But before you invest, consider that you will need a 500W power supply that has to run 24 hours a day, so expect to lose on your electricity bills, too.

The recent trend is that virtual currencies are declining in value, losing half their value in the last two months. If it continues to decline, you won’t make enough to pay for the electricity. Maybe then video cards will come down in price.

My prediction: Both will fail

Despite being friends with both VR pioneers and crypto currency advocates, I have to take the rational position that they are both doomed to fail.  VR is the next Kinect, WiiU, 3D TV, or many other trendy “cool” techs that ultimately failed.  Crypto-currencies are riding a bubble like “Tulip Mania”.

Advocates of both will insist that they have heard these criticisms before, and my answer is “because they are valid”.

I might invest in VR gear if the price comes down to a decent level. In the mean time, I’m using my graphics card for gaming and 3D rendering.

 

Culture in Decline

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I try to write something once a month and haven’t gotten around to it this month, so here are some random thoughts.

I have been really tempted to write about the steep decline happening in politics, not just in America, but everywhere these days, but there is way too much material to go through, and most of it is from Russian hackers. So no politics.

Instead, since we are nearing the end of 2017, I thought about writing a year in review piece, and since I’m leaving politics out, I have to limit myself to arts and media so far in 2017.

Bottom line: It Sucks!

Part 1: Music Sucks! Especially American Music.

How much does American Music suck these days? The #1 song for most of the year was in Spanish, by a Puerto Rican, and got 4 and a half billion views. Yes, this one. OK, yes it is a pretty good song. It’s just that songs in Spanish rarely hit the top of the charts, let alone stay on top of the charts for 16 weeks.

OK, there is more music than this one song, and most of it came from all the pop divas who topped the charts the rest of the weeks: Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Ariane Grande, Katy Perry, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Rhianna, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, P!nk, and of course Taylor Swift all had new singles or new albums out in the past year.  The overwhelming trend of songs coming from this group of females is an “angry” edge.  It’s not a very good trend, in fact in my opinion nobody is doing their best work.

Let’s start with Taylor Swift who released a huge selling album “Reputation” as a follow up to 2014’s “1989”.  I listened to both albums, and if I were to pick the best songs over all, I’d mostly pick songs from “1989”.  The overall feel of Reputation is dark: angry songs, depressing songs, sad songs. The most lighthearted track is probably “New Years Day” which is more melancholy.

Certainly it is OK for music to be dark, some of the best music ever is dark, but pop is supposed to be fun and exciting. Maybe that is why “Despacito” was so popular. Ironically, the most “fun” song in English this year was a new track by Paramore (welcome back guys), with the not so fun title “Hard Times”.

Anyways, it is not just my opinion that music is getting worse and worse. There are actually legitimate provable reason why pop music is getting worse, and here they are:

These trends are primarily focused on American music. If you want more upbeat pop like we used to have, look elsewhere.  Like Japan, who have produced two of my favorite music videos of the year, namely this one and this one.

Part 2: The Golden Age of TV is Over!

For the last 20 years or so, we have been living in a golden age of TV.  For those who don’t remember TV before Buffy The Vampire Slayer, well it wasn’t very good.  There was the occasional classic like Twin Peaks, X-Files, Babylon 5, and the first 8 seasons of The Simpsons, but most of the TV before 1997 is crap by today’s standards.

The desire for networks to have shows that people would talk about drove them to dump a lot of money into creative peoples laps and create some great TV. The best of which came from Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Ronald Moore, and Bryan Fuller, but others were doing some great work, too. The network golden age died in 2007 with a devastating writers strike, which killed a lot of the better shows, but it continued on with cable and streaming thanks to the TV-MA rating which allowed swearing and nudity and a bit more violence and gore.

2017 seems to be killing that trend as well. Yes, there is still some great TV like Handmaids Tale and Stranger Things 2 being released but it is getting rarer, and the older shows like Game of Thrones, aren’t as good as they used to be.

Part 3: If you are not a “franchise” film, no one will watch you

Part of the problem with the golden age of TV is that we were mostly satisfied with binging series instead of going to movies.  In fact, the only films that are really doing well are “franchise” films. As I write this, 9 of the Top 10 films of the year are franchises or remakes, and I’m pretty sure Dunkirk will be taken off the list by either Justice League or Star Wars 8 by the end of the year.

I don’t see any end to this trend. There are at least 6 more “comic book” films scheduled for 2018.

Part 4: Star Wars Battlefront 2 has done serious damage to the gaming industry

There are two things that game players despise: random number generators, and the “pay to win” model of gaming.  We are kind of OK when this shit shows up in so called “freemium” mobile games, because we just play for free for a while until it becomes obvious that we need to break out the credit card to continue, and then we uninstall.

But when this junk shows up in premium video games that we already paid at least $60 for, it is definitely not OK. That is what EA attempted to pull off with Star Wars Battlefront 2, and the gaming community went ballistic. It resulted in: 1) way lower sales than expected, 2) a call from Disney execs to EA execs to get rid of microtransactions as it is giving the Star Wars name a bad reputation, 3) politicians announcing that the RNG “loot box” model amounts to gambling, and as these games are supposed to be for kids, there may need to be restrictions.

I have to believe that this kind of backlash has every single game developer suddenly rethinking strategy in all of their current and future games.  Just this same month, my favorite game Guild Wars 2 had its own backlash against RNG type products in their store, and this was just for pure cosmetic stuff, not “play to win”.

The gaming community is getting sick of this crap, and I suspect that they will be voting with their wallet on future purchases. While “gaming” continues to be a growing market, pretty much all the growth is in mobile games. PC and console gaming is actually stagnating, while costs for producing these big “triple A” games go up.

In Summary,

Is the decline in politics somehow causing the decline in the arts? Or is the decline in arts (which has been happening for a while now) causing the decline in politics? Maybe they are just reinforcing each other.

Either way, I wonder if we are witnessing the decline of civilization as a whole.

The Innovative “No Man’s Sky”

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Just when I thought I was done talking about original and innovative games, No Man’s Sky comes out, which is very different than any game out there.

I got the PC version, whose launch was problematic. I got a pretty good gaming rig, and ended up with frame rate problems that plagued many players at launch. After updating drivers, disabling the steam overlay, and setting frame rate to “max” it got a lot better, but it still randomly freezes.  No doubt there will be patches to fix this stuff eventually.

But graphics problems were not the only complaint I heard. It seems a lot of people had a false idea about what this game was. For some reason, a lot of people thought the game was multiplayerHello Games never said this, and no it cannot be.

Here is what the game is: Using “procedural generation”, they built a universe of over 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets.  For comparison, the universe is comprised of 10 billion galaxies, which on average contain 10 billion stars, for approximately 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. No Man’s Sky is about a 10th of the the size of the known universe, so adding code to make it multiplayer would be a complete waste of time, as the planets you visit are unlikely to be visited by anyone else.

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A procedurally generated landscape using Terragen.

What is “Procedural Generation”?

Procedural generation is the use of random numbers to make all the decisions, then using a known infinite random number, say the digits of pi, to create the same world every time.

This technique has been around a long time. Back in my Commodore 64 days, there was a space trading game called Elite that used procedural generation to generate the galaxies, the planet names, and the prices of commodities between planets.

Many other games use it to expand their game. The Sims 4 uses procedural generation to create new non player characters in the game. Star Trek Online uses procedural generation to create random missions in “unexplored” areas of the game.

And its uses are not just for gaming, Terragen is a program designed to create natural 3D environments. Many game developers will use programs like Terragen to create new maps, then edit them to the needs of the game. This is how “natural” environments in games these days feel more natural: they let the computer generate the placement of trees and bushes and boulders and grass.

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NMS: A “Procedurally Generated” Universe

In No Man’s Sky, every system, planet, resource, rock, creature, ship, etc are all randomly generated.

I have been to 6 planets so far. My first might have been my best as it was awash with caves filled with resources. The problem was I had to repair a ship that required a material that was “15 minutes” out of my way to obtain. The terrain was rough though, so it took a lot longer than 15 minutes. I think I spent 3 hours on that planet before my ship was repaired. At least it wasn’t boring or toxic.

Some of the other planets I have visited were boring or toxic. I found one awash with materials I could mine to get rich, but it was devoid of life. Another one had vast oceans, but some of the resources I needed were at the bottom of those oceans.

Procedural generation means you never know what you are going to get next.

The downside it this: After a while it all feels the same. Every planet has the same resources, the same bases, the same types of creatures. Even after exploring 6 planets, I already know what to expect on every other planet: mostly just slight variations of stuff I have already seen.

It kind of reminds me of exploring Second Life. In the early days, I could venture out and see new unexpected things people built, but after a while every lot had the same popular props and lots became generic.

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A very different RPG experience

Leaving the game up to procedural generation simultaneously enhances the gaming experience while also limiting it.

On the one hand, you have the biggest “sandbox” game ever made.  On the other, there are no NPCs to hand out side quests.  There are a set of “atlas core missions” which you will be invited to on your 4th or 5th hyper jump. A guy who got his hands on the game early said he finished these missions in about 10 hours.

Before and after that, this is a game where you make up your own missions.  Make money? Upgrade your ship? Upgrade your tools? Learn alien languages? Collect creatures for the exploration bonus? Find another way out of the cave you fell into? Battle a swarm of sentinel robots you have somehow managed to piss off? Become a “space pirate”?

As someone who likes to add stuff to my character definitions and not always stick to the prescribed path, I find this somewhat liberating. Many traditional “gamers” find it frustrating and are already giving the game bad reviews.  This game is definitely not for everyone.

Even for someone like me who can appreciate the game for what it is, I doubt my obsession with the game will last more than a week or so and it will drop to “fun diversion” like The Sims and Guild Wars have become: something fun to play for a couple of hours.

Ultimately, my impression is mixed. As a game that shows me something new and different and original, it deserves an A+, but as a game with long term playability potential, it is about a B-. It’s better than most games where once you complete the main game there is no reason to continue, but not as good as MMORPGs where you can roll a new character and experience content in a completely different way.

Edit to add: I watched a video of someone finally making it to the center of the galaxy only to find all it does is teleport you to a new slightly harder galaxy.  In other words, there really isn’t an end game to this game.

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I enjoy exploring. I found a planet I really like, and have been spending all my time on this one planet. I’m working on getting my ship and exosuit up to 48 slots, though for some reason I have yet to find ways to get better multi-tools.  I’ve unlocked over 100 Gek words.

Knowing there really isn’t much to do in this game outside of exploring puts a damper on my interest in venturing further.  It’s lack of an endgame means I probably have to give an overall grade of around “C”.  The game is not for everybody, and if it does not sound like a game you’d enjoy, I highly recommend waiting until the eventual price drop.

An Augmented Reality Dating Sim?

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With the huge popularity of Pokemon Go, it is inevitable that other “augmented reality” games might happen in the future.

I’m a fan of innovative games. Over the years I have seen innovations in games come and go.  Some have stuck around a long time, like first person shooters.

Others, like games for Kinect, kind of disappeared. Even the Wii controller with its motion control detection never got used to its full effect except by Wii Sports and a couple of other Nintendo titles.

The jury is still out on “Virtual Reality”.  Everyone thinks it could be the next big thing, but VR headset sales have not set any records.  Until a “killer app” arrives, adoption is likely to be lackluster. “Virtual Reality” could be the next big thing, or it could prove to be just an expensive novelty like Kinect. Billions of dollars are riding on this one, but that is another story.

I’m convinced that if it weren’t for the fact that everyone has a touch screen on their phone, touch screen based games would have disappeared by now. Tablet sales for Android and iOS are down across the board, so the only successful touch screen games are the ones that can be played for a few minutes at a time on a tiny phone screen.

And that is where “augmented reality” comes in. It takes advantage of the ubiquitous smart phones, almost all of which have cameras and GPS, and makes the real world part of the game.

Niantic, Inc. created the first fairly successful augmented reality called Ingress then after getting a license deal from Nintendo, they created the international hit Pokemon Go which in one month is the most successful mobile app ever.

The big question is: Is this just a momentary blip, or are “augmented reality” games here to stay?

Part of the answer lies in answering if other gaming genres could benefit by augmented reality. Pokemon Go was a natural fit, with people suggesting it during the early days of Ingress development. But can you imagine other genres of gaming benefiting from “augmented reality”?   If not, this whole thing could fizzle out in a year.

Could a Dating Sim work in Augmented Reality?

The only genre of gaming I am a certified expert in is Dating Sims, and after thinking about it an augmented reality dating sim could be very successful… Or not

On the “yes” side, may I put into evidence Love Plus, the wildly successful  Japanese dating sim for the Nintendo DS which included a couple of very simplistic augmented reality enhancements like the use of the built in microphone so you could say “I love you” to your virtual girlfriend, and use of the built in clock and calendar so you could schedule dates with your virtual girlfriend in real time.

Now imagine if the dating sim were enhanced the way Pokemon Go is. What if you had to go to an actual park, or bar or restaurant or gym or library to meet potential virtual dates? Google maps already has data like that labeled. What if your scheduled virtual dates involved actually going out to places like restaurants, parks, and theaters?

What if the game had 50 to 100 potential dateable characters (both male and female) with different personalities and looks, and you could potentially juggle multiple characters?

On the “no” side, fans of dating sims might not want to leave the house to play.

Still it’s a good idea that will probably happen eventually.

Augmented Reality is not a gimmick

That’s just one idea, there are plenty of others. There is already interest in a possible “Harry Potter GO” game.

I think a lot of people just like the idea of gaming in the real world as opposed to at home in front of a monitor.

That is not to say augmented reality will replace traditional gaming. I am 100% certain that will never happen. We fans of gaming like variety.

But my experiences with Pokemon Go has proven that games like this are fun experiences. The novelty has worn off so it is more of a casual game for me now, but it almost feels like that is exactly what it was designed to be.

Looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Rachel and Ariane GO to the Park

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I’ve caught so many Rattata and Zubats in my house, I’m thinking of calling the exterminators.

Pokémon Go

For those that don’t know, Pokémon Go is a phone based game that requires walking around the neighborhood. Landmarks (public works of art or unique signage) are marked as Pokéstops, where you can get free stuff, and also use lures there to attract Pokémon that anyone can catch.

There are also Pokémon Gyms located at major points of interest, churches, and libraries. These are where battles take place, and can be controlled by three teams: Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue), and Valor (red). If a gym is controlled by a different team, you can attack it and try to take over for your team, if it is already controlled by your team, you can (if it has the space) leave your Pokémon to defend it, and get stuff if it stays defended for 20 hours.

In my mind, Ariane is on Team Valor (the red one), and probably owned the gym before Rachel successfully took it. So that’s the punchline.

General Strategy and what to buy and what not to buy

I have been playing two accounts, one on an iPad, and one on an iPhone. One I have not spent a single penny on, and one I’ve spent about $20 so far. Here are my findings. Note many of the numbers are arbitrary as neither character is very high in level.

Here ultimately is the thing you need to know in this game: There really isn’t an “end game”.  No goal to shoot for except maybe “catching them all”.

Yes, there is a second goal of capturing gyms for the glory of your team, but that is ultimately a Sisyphean task as the gyms are never unbeatable and so the reward for capture is ultimately defeat, requiring a bunch of potions to heal so you can take it back again (as demonstrated in the comic above).

Many commentators suggest that if you are going to spend money in the game, buy lucky eggs which double XP earned. Especially do this early as the biggest rewards are for new Pokémon, and when you are just starting out, they are all new.

While I have purchased Lucky Eggs for this reason, ultimately Lucky Eggs are not worth it. No “end game” means no reason to earn XP fast. Leveling up fast just means you will have fewer Pokémon when you reach level 20, than someone who leveled naturally, and the more Pokémon you get the more resources you have.

Another thing you probably don’t want to invest in is egg incubators. Players talk that hatched eggs result in rarer monsters, but from what I have seen that is not true. Put whatever eggs you get into whatever incubators you get, but don’t put a lot of effort into hatching them.

It seems to me that the best general strategy is just one of collection for the first 15 to 20 levels. For the same price as lucky eggs, you can buy incense to draw more Pokémon to yourself. If you are playing with friends, buy lures and go to a Pokéstop and everyone will be rewarded.

Evolving and “powering up” your Pokémon is a waste of resources before level 20* or so as you will be capturing high CP stuff later and that is what you want to evolve and power up with the same resources. I’m guessing that when you start running out of space for new Pokemon (there’s a cap at 250 which I am not close to hitting) that it is time to start turning in low stuff for candy to upgrade the high stuff.

Avoid gyms before level 20* unless they are friendly and have space to park one of your Pokémon.You get additional rewards if the gym remains in control of your team for 20 hours, but since I started playing I have never seen that happen. When you do get high enough to attack an enemy gym, team with others to assure victory.

My gaming oriented brain says this is the best way to play: capture all the Pokémon you can until level 2o and never power level, save all your resources until you run out of space.

However, like all solo games, there is no “one” way to play, so do what you like.

Odd design flaw in the game

Throwing Pokéballs at monsters is way easier on my 9 inch iPad than on my 4 inch iPhone. What takes often 3 or 4 balls to capture on my phone usually can be done in 1 or 2 on my tablet.  Size matters.

*Level 20 is a bit arbitrary and that figure is probably lower right now (15?) as few people have hit level 20 yet, but as the number of level 20s increases so will that arbitrary level you need to hit for higher content.

tl;dr version:

Don’t worry about XP or your level, or the stats of the Pokémon you capture, just capture as many as you can and enjoy the outdoors and social opportunities the game provides you with.