What to make of Stellaris? Another Space 4x game, another Paradox sandbox game. Every gamer has longed to conquer space since Galactic Civilizations. To seek out new civilizations and beat them up. My last space game was Endless Space, technologically engaging but dry. Before that there was Galactic Civ and Alpha Centauri. How does Stellaris measure up to these and to previous Paradox games like Crusader Kings 2? Read on.
A short demo with more credits than content. There isn't even a sandbox where you can idle. The demo is just, showpiece, a sample button pressing puzzle and then some deflecting shots with a lightsaber. You can tell those credits had to rattle this out in record time before jumping back onto a real project. It's a mere taster of what can be done in VR. But that lightsaber...
Let me tell you about that lightsaber. It doesn't feel like much, because you're just holding a plastic controller in reality. It doesn't look like much, because it's just a shaft of light tied to the controllers movements. It sounds like everything. From the low hum when its still to the loud vmmm when its swung. And the VR makes it real. You move your hand and the lightsaber moves. You swing it overhead and it purrs above you. You twirl the controller awkwardly, because the controller has a big round top that isn't built for twirling, and the lightsaber forms a web of protection before your eyes, blaster bolts reversing direction as they bounce off.
Don't be afraid to admit it. The screenshots look terrible. All those jagged edges and the tiny resolution. But again this isn't what the player sees, this is just the output to the flat screen.
I'm not afraid to say ILM have done a fantastic job with the visuals. There's all sorts of particle effects and photorealistic deserts you won't see in any other VR product. It really is a visual stunner. The gameplay is the weakest portion of this game. It's a cinematic event rather than a gameplay bonanza. It is one of the demos though, the kind you want to show to friends so they can experience VR. It's earned a recommendation from me on those merits.
Vanishing Realms has an interesting enough premise. Basic, but evocative. You're something like Gordon Freeman, a voiceless troubleshooter summoned by unknown powers to deal with a situation. What follows from there is a simple dungeon crawl. It's a launch title, showing the power of the technology more than anything. It also showcases why trying to take screenshots is annoying. These are the result of screenshotting while in-game. It's capturing the output to the flat screen rather than the two monitors that compose the headset. Not that a screenshot of those would be any better. They'd simply be two flat images instead of one. You'll just have to imagine the 3 Ds.
There's two aspects to Vanishing Realms. First is the "Whoah, they added that". Like how they have mining and archery. Well why shouldn't they? Other games have those features. So let's dispense with that. Yes Vanishing Realms has an inventory system so what. How do all these reinvented wheels work? Competently enough. Sometimes the inventory jumps around and it can be awkward trying to change weapons. Mining is just swinging a pick at things and collecting what drops out.
So what's good about it? The fact that it's VR. Combat is the most viscereal but just walking(teleporting) around is the wow factor. You start out underground with fleeting glimpses of the sky, so when you finally emerge into a quiet night it's breathtaking. The monsters are cartoonish but vicious. The fights are rough, though I probably wasn't in any real danger I spent most of my time cowering behind a shield and swinging wildly. There's also enough variation in the monsters to keep you busy and when multiple types show up together it becomes an exercise in tactics. Traps are not quite as great. There's some swinging blades in certain areas but it can be a bit hit or miss on whether you're in their arc. Other stuff like rockfalls are just decorative.
There isn't all that much to Vanishing Realms. I clocked in about two hours on both the first complete realm and the second, arena fighting one. Like most VR programs its really just a demo. A preview of what is to come. There's a lot of figuring out to do, will we be able to implement walking without motion sickness? Is there a fluid way to handle inventory? Will it be possible to do more environmental hazards? Well, Vanishing Realms is a good start.
Not my first but probably my most successful D&D campaign, Planescapin began back in 2013 and ran until July 2016. It finished successfully, albeit slightly rushed due to growing player fatigue. For a Planescape campaign it was surprisingly Prime focused, through my fault rather than intention. The group never really got involved in faction politics or the great conflicts of the setting, with the planes becoming exotic locales for them to visit in between wrestling with plot. What follows is my own retrospective of what happened, what worked and what didn't.
Following the tutorial I whipped up the basic star collection game and made one or two changes, like adding a double jump. You can find it here.
Now to see if I can do anything worthwhile with it.
One of the best parts of Tiltbrush is how it saves the strokes of each Tilt and on load plays them to reconstruct it. Watching this loading is an experience as well as showing how much work went into it.
After 5 years of work I've finally modded Skyrim to the degree I want it. I can step back and say there is nothing left to take away from this masterpiece (Well, maybe some better billboards). Come away with me.
The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. --André Breton
Space was important. there’d never been space in Vienna. Space provided room for ideas to grow.
Charlie unlocked the door, slipping the key back into his pocket. It was the ornate one Sable had given him the morning they’d met.
”You look like someone who needs space.”
He’d followed her, the little tramp and his darling. He’d sketched her across the street, up the stairs into the empty room above the pottery store. They’d talked about the war, about Manchuria, about her cafe. They’d gotten closer and closer. And then she’d left.
“Don’t worry, just drop the key back when you’re done.”
Yes we're on a sound bender. I had a problem in Skyrim and maybe you have too. As you walk past an NPC they begin talking, but then as you pass them the audio would cut out for a brief second, then return. This wasn't a game engine problem as the NPCs weren't pausing their speech. It was something to do with the positional audio. Experimentation showed it to happen mostly when they were at your 5 or 7 o'clock.
There's a number of posts which let me know I'm not the only one who suffered this. It's something to do with the interplay of Realtek Audio Drivers with Skyrim. Skyrim acts as if you have a full set of front, rear and subwoofer and Realtek outputs the audio to speakers that don't exist.
There's a number of possible fixes available.
1. Switch on Virtual Surround in audio options
2. Switch to 5.1 Speakers and turn off the extra speakers
3. Uninstall Realtek Audio Drivers and use default/other manufacturer
In my case no. 3 worked with no loss in the Audio quality. That annoying bug is gone for good!
If you're adding prerecorded wavs to the Creation Kit you may notice them stuttering, distorting or playing too fast. This is a fairly simple problem to fix but might take you a while to realise. Sound files being added to Skyrim must have the following attributes as its internal player has rigid expectations.
In my case the wav files were recorded at a lower sample rate, 22050. I was able to open them with Audacity then export them at the higher sample rate with no loss in quality. Sample rate is at the lower left of the screen in Audacity by the way.