Virtual Reality vs. Virtual Currency

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

rdacouchtalk4

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.

ready player1

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.

tumblr_p2xmqjw78h1qapm0ao1_1280

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

librarytest

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”

nms-3

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.

terragen
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.

nms-2

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.

nms-1

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.

nms3

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?

nyscene

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

parkpokemon1

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.

The Next Level in Erotic 3D Dating Sims

apart36

This is the third (or 4th?) look at other games similar to Date Ariane. In fact the creators of all 3 games mentioned Date Ariane as their original inspiration.

Of course once you make one game, you try and make something better than your last. My concept of improving was making better pictures and packaging it as a real downloadable game.

The following three authors are still going with the online model but are taking it to the next level in 3 different ways.

Jennifer

Written by Chaotic
Art by Chaotic
Format HTML using Tlaero’s Adventure Creator
Link to play and download

Chaotic and dsp3000 have been making dating sims like mine for a few years and they can be found at www.vdategames.com. You have to sign up for a membership to get the latest and greatest, but there are plenty of free to play games as well.

Jennifer is the most recent to drop to the free portion of the site, so I tried it out. If you played Date Ariane, you will find Jennifer to be very similar. The same plotless “dating experience” where decisions you make along the way open up different activities.

Here’s the next level: the game is voiced by an actress, and many scenes are animated in video rather than animated gif. A different experience worth checking out. If you need a walkthrough, you will find one here.

n1-bar16

Brad’s Erotic Week

Written by Wolfschadowe
Art by Wolfschadowe
Format HTML using Tlaero’s Adventure Creator with additional programming by kexter
Latest download Project Forum

This was suggested by at least two people in my last list of new games. From what I gather this is an ongoing project with new chapters released every few months. Currently we are up to chapter 5. If all goes according to plan the final version will be done around 2029, so you might just want to play what’s available.

The game is a little on the hard side in the first play through. My first play resulted in getting rejected by two women just when I thought I was getting somewhere. And that is even following a walkthrough. Of course the whole point of these games is to play them over and over until you get it right.

The next level is the ambitiousness of the project: a multi episode dating sim with new episodes released every so often is going to be fun to follow.

bar9

Redemption for Jessika

Written by Tlaero
Art by Mortze
Format HTML using Tlaero’s Adventure Creator
Latest download Online Play 1 Online Play 2

This is the latest from Tlaero and Mortze after their successful first collaboration of Dreaming With Elsa.

While Brad may be having a good week above, Jessika’s week has not gone so good: a break up, a riot at a concert, and a bench warrant in front of a judge. You play the court reporter at the hearing, and find yourself involved in Jessika’s recovery from rock bottom.

The next level here is the story. This may be one of the most complex stories ever found in one of these games. The story itself is pretty linear with very few branches. Still if you want a walkthrough, there is one here.

But, it doesn’t stop there. There is a larger plot at work starting with Dreaming With Elsa and continuing with the next title Finding Miranda.  Elsa and Miranda make cameos in RfJ and a strange woman meets with Jessika in an epilogue hinting at how the stories tie together.

I’m definitely interested to see where this one goes.

More Erotic 3D Dating Sims Part 2

store3p30

It seems the most popular post on my blog is “A Few More Erotic 3D Dating Sims” so maybe I should do more posts like that. Here is a few I found in the last year and a half since that post.

Dreaming With Elsa

Written by Tlaero
Art by Mortze
Format HTML using Tlaero’s Adventure Creator
Link to Play  Link to Download

This may be one of the best games in this genre I have ever played. The art is perfection and the story intriguing.  I had this idea for a Rachel game that moves between fantasy and reality, but I abandoned it. This one is better anyways. Elsa is an introverted bookworm like me. I would definitely like hanging out with her. More info here. If you get stuck there is a walkthrough here.

30_chpt5_10_smaller_by_fleetp-d7qf0v4

Brad’s Summer

Written by Fleet
Art by Fleet
Format Javascript/HTML built with Novelty Visual Novel Engine
Link to download

A third person perspective game where you play as Brad, an underachiever who needs money to keep him in school.

Fleet is one of the few people who, like me, write and do all the graphics. This is his latest. My only complaint is that it lacks an easy way to turn off the sometimes annoying music. If you get stuck there is a walkthrough here.

the-vdate

The-VDates Trilogy: The Gym, The Physio, The Sniper

Format Javascript/Html
Website

The creator of these games seems to be anonymous, but the games themselves are getting good buzz and reviews. The writer has a good sense of humor, and the plots have their share of twists.

The graphics on The Gym are less than ideal, for a good while every girl looks exactly the same and exactly like Victoria 4.  There is a marked improvement in graphics in The Physio. The third volume of the trilogy has yet to be released, but is expected to explain the odd ending of The Physio. If you get stuck, the hosting website includes walkthroughs.

2015-05-21_00008

DigitalEro: The Game Episode 1

Written by GiantKrill
Art by GiantKrill
Format Renpy Engine
Download PC and Mac

When I finished the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to look for other games like Date Ariane that were also built on Renpy and discovered this one. It is comparatively short, you should see all  endings in a half an hours time.

The graphics are done on a video game engine Garry’s Mod rather than the Poser/Daz Studio graphics of the rest. This makes them less realistic, but often more interesting.
More info