Sunday, June 25, 2017

An updated perspective on VR (after getting a PSVR)

If you have been reading this blog you might know how much I have ranted about my disappointment about VR, and why I fear it might turn out to be a complete commercial flop and a niche technology (with the same ultimate fate as the Kinect and the PS Vita). That's not to say I didn't want a VR headset. Of course I have always wanted one. I have been wanting one for about 4 years now, and that desire has never diminished. The major reason why I haven't purchased one has been the exorbitant price (and the abysmal library of triple-A games.)

Recently I finally got myself a PSVR, because there was a decent deal in an online store here. I commented about it in my previous post.

I have now played several games with it, including Farpoint, Robinson: The Journey, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Tumble VR (besides, of course, a dozen or so free demos and apps.)

In my past posts I have made several claims about VR, without actually having experienced it myself. Now I have. So, has this confirmed these claims? Was I mistaken? Was it as bad as I predicted?

"Room-scale VR"


Especially the HTC Vive has been always marketed pretty much solely for "room-scale VR". In other words, you play games standing up. I always predicted that this is a completely untenable form of gameplay. Nobody plays games standing up; not for long periods of time. 15 minutes maybe, but not much longer.

It is perfectly possible to play games standing up with the PSVR, and it works ok with many games (and a few even expect it, such as Job Simulator). The range within which you can walk around is not as large as with the HTC Vive, and turning your back to the camera will cause tracking problems for the controller(s) (because the system needs to see the controller(s) for proper tracking, else it's only a best-guess based on its accelerometers). But with those caveats there's nothing stopping you from playing standing up, and many games are completely playable that way. You can look completely around you, and even move a bit (within the area visible to the camera, which at a normal distance means something like 1-2 meters of movement range).

When I started playing the game Farpoint (which uses the Aim Controller), I decided to try it standing up, for fuller immersion. It works pretty well like that.

But it turns out I was completely right: After something like a half hour of gameplay my feet and my lower back were hurting. I couldn't play for much longer.

I'm in a relatively good physical shape, mind you. For instance, every time I go to work, I jog the stairs up to our office, on the 6th floor, without much problems. I still couldn't play the game for more than about 30 minutes standing up. It was a sit-down game for me from that point forward (and it's completely playable like that).

Room-scale VR? Thanks, but no thanks. It just doesn't work. It might make for fancy tech demos to awe people for 10 minutes, but that's it. It's not a feasible way to actually play games on the long run, especially not for the average gamer (who, let's face it, is not exactly an athlete).

Move/Aim controllers


Some/most PSVR games can be played with the standard DualShock 4 controller (which supports tracking thanks to its light bar and accelerometers). However, the tracking tends to be relatively poor, and very often the tracking will veer off (by making the in-game stand-in for the controller slowly turn to one side over time) and require readjusting every couple of minutes or so. With games that require a tracked controller, and support the DualShock 4, it's ok but far from perfect.

The Move and Aim controllers are better in this regard. While they, too, can suffer from similar tracking issues, it's not even nearly as bad. In my experience you can often play for even 30 minutes or longer without the tracking veering off too much. (It also seems to be somewhat self-adjusting, meaning that just rotating the controller around a bit will readjust automatically the tracking system, and orient it properly in-game. However, sometimes it starts veering off in position rather than orientation, especially veering closer to the camera than it should.)

I predicted, however, that playing with them (as well as the equivalents in the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift) would be tiresome for your arms. As pictured on the right, how long do you think you would be able to hold those controllers, with your arms extended like that?

In this case I was kind of half-right. When playing Farpoint with the Aim Controller, I indeed experienced my arms getting tired after a while, especially in sections of the game with long battles, requiring constantly holding the controller up, aiming at enemies, for extensive periods of time. The longer I played like that, the more tired my arms became, until it was almost impossible to play.

The "half-right" part comes from the fact that in most games you don't actually need to be holding your arms extended constantly. (Or, at least, in the three games so far that I have played that have required tracked controllers.) During the periods between having to use the controllers, you can rest your arms on your lap (well, at least if you are playing sitting down!)

While the Move and Aim controllers increase immersion, overall I still found Robinson: The Journey to be the most enjoyable playing experience because it does not used a tracked controller at all. It's played with the normal DualShock 4 controller, without tracking, which means that you just play it as you would play any other game. Ultimately I found this the most comfortable and likeable way to play a VR game. Tracked controllers may increase immersion, but in the long run they feel gimmicky and needlessly strenuous to your arms. (But I will fully grant that a tracked controller is better for aiming and shooting in VR.)

Nausea


Nausea, or motion sickness, has always been a stated issue with VR and how games should deal with it. It has always been stated (and I fully believed it) that if the in-game camera movements do not match your physical head movement, it would very quickly cause strong nausea. Even if what's simulated is eg. you sitting in a car, it would cause nausea because you can't feel the car turning, accelerating and decelerating as normal. This has been one of the major arguments against sit-down VR and for "room-scale" VR, and it has been one of the major arguments against the idea of traditional FPS games supporting VR.

I expected that nausea would be a problem for me, but that I would get used to it. Short sessions, taking a pause when feeling nausea, getting myself accustomed to it... no matter how long it would take, I would eventually get used to it. Other people report getting used to it, so I was sure I would too.

Three of the games I have played so far have great theoretical potential to cause nausea (in the order in which I played them):

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is essentially a rollercoaster ride, and at points it really seems to want to cause the player vertigo by having huge downslopes that are ridden at great speeds. It almost feels like the game creators wanted the player to throw up.

Farpoint resembles somewhat a traditional first-person shooter, in that you move around with the thumbstick (in the Aim Controller). The movement is not exceptionally fast, but it's normal forward/backward/strafe movement with the thumbstick, as in any FPS game. (The other thumbstick does not rotate the camera. You just look around with your head, and aim and shoot with the Aim Controller. The game has been designed so that you don't need to look nor shoot behind you.) Since in-game movement does not match your physical movement, this has great potential to cause nausea.

Robinson: The Journey resembles even more a first-person shooter in that it's played with the DualShock 4 controller, and not only do you move as normal with the left thumbstick, you also rotate the view with the right thumbstick. The rotation has been limited to only horizontal rotation (after all, you can just look up and down with your head), and the rotation happens in discrete steps rather than being smooth (although the camera very quickly rotates between these steps, rather than just jumping outright.) Certainly these limitations exist to diminish nausea, but it still has very great potential to cause it. And if you search the internet, you will find lots of people reporting feeling nauseous.

So, how much nausea did these games cause me? How horrible was it?

Nothing. No nausea. None at all. Even those vertigo-inducing rollercoaster rides had absolutely no effect. The first couple of times I played Farpoint, there might have been a bit of discomfort, but after that there was none, no matter how long sessions I played. With Robinson I never felt any sort of nausea at any point in the slightest, even though my longest contiguous playing session was several hours long (I think it was something like 3 or 4 hours of contiguous gameplay without pauses.)

I was actually very positively surprised how little nausea I have experienced with the PSVR, even in games where theoretically I should have.

I suppose that this makes me extra right: Not only was I right in that I would get used to the nausea... but in fact it turns out that I don't have the problem at all.

That's not to say that if I got to play a traditional FPS game (like Portal 2) with no nausea-reducing limitations at all, that I wouldn't get nauseous. I might well do. But this experience has convinced me that I would most probably get used to it quite quickly, assuming I would have any nausea problem in the first place.

Resolution


This is something that I actually did not predict. Low resolution has always been stated as one of the problems with current VR, but I didn't expect it to be as bad. I was more expecting it to be more of a problem with the so-called "screendoor effect" in the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, which is caused by the visible gaps between pixels, and which is almost nonexistent in the PSVR (because, as far as I know, the PSVR uses some other type of display panel than those other two, and which has almost no screendoor effect at all.)

After all, the PSVR has a full-HD 1920x1080 pixel display. How bad can that be? Sure, you probably can see the individual pixels, but surely it can't be that bad?

I was quite negatively surprised about how bad it really looks. It quite literally looks like you are looking at an old 640x480 pixel CRT monitor. It's that bad. Especially if there is no antialiasing, or very little antialiasing, images are really and very obviously pixelated, to the point of being outright bothering. This image (from a previous blog post) demonstrates how it looks like on the monitor, and how it approximately looks like with the PSVR (click the image for a larger clearer version):


Even when the image has extremely high antialiasing, it still looks like looking at an old CRT TV. The pixelation is much less obvious this way, but it still doesn't look sharp, like with normal displays.

That being said, heavy antialiasing does remove the bothersome nature of the pixelation. Robinson: The Journey succeeds in this quite marvelously. It indeed looks a bit like looking at an old CRT TV, but on the other hand the pixelation is almost unnoticeble, so it looks quite good.

Most PSVR games so far, however, do not use antialiasing that strong, which often makes them look quite bad.


Gameplay limitations


One of my biggest issues with VR has been how much the format limits gameplay and game mechanics (or, to be more precise, how much game developers limit themselves when creating VR games). Will VR be eternally relegated to vehicle simulators and Myst-like games (and other such games where you essentially stand or sit still, and just "teleport" around)?

In some aspects I was right, in others wrong. In the previous section I already described some aspects of this.

I was actually positively surprised that two of the games I have played so far had free movement using a thumbstick, rather than using some idiotic teleporting mechanic. I'm also surprised how little nausea or discomfort this caused (that is: None at all.)

Those games prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that you don't need a stupid teleporting mechanic for these games. I'm actually a bit surprised that the game developers dared to defy the (quite false) wisdom, and went for full-on regular old thumbstick movement. It also proves wrong all the masses of VR fanboys who kept pounding on how the teleporting mechanic is necessary, and how if the game were to move in the traditional way it would cause projectile vomiting in seconds. I very strongly suspected this to be the case (ie. them being wrong), and I was proven completely right.

That being said, both games still have their limitations, both because of VR and to reduce potential nausea.

Farpoint has been designed to be played as a sit-down experience, which is great (because, as said, playing standing up for long periods of time is just not feasible.) However, severe compromises have been made in the game because of that. All levels have been designed so that advancing in them can be made within 180 degrees. You never need to move back. Enemies never attack you from the back (which would feel quite unfair, if you are sitting down). Even if an enemy is behind you, it will move in front of you (which sometimes looks a bit ridiculous because the enemy will just run right past you, to your line of fire, rather than shooting you in the back, which would make most sense.)

Robinson: The Journey has also been designed to be playable while sitting down, but it gets rid of that limitation by allowing the view to be rotated horizontally, as with any regular FPS game. As mentioned, however, the rotation is not smooth, but done in discrete steps. While the jumps between steps are not immediate, and instead the camera rotates very rapidly between them, it's still there. (Of course given that you can look around freely with your head, this is not really of a limitation in terms of where you can look at.) This discrete camera rotation has certainly be added to reduce nausea. In my case, at least, it works like a charm for that purpose.

Neither game (or any of the other games I have played) has jumping or crouching as a game mechanic. (Of course if you are standing, you could jump and crouch if you really wanted, but there's little to gain from it. It also would probably be inadvisable, especially jumping.)

The latter game has climbing as a game mechanic, though, and it works surprisingly well. Kudos. (It can be slow at molasses, though. Of course it's more of a puzzle game than a hectic Doom-style first-person shooter, so it doesn't really matter.)

The one thing I'm most glad of is that the game developers discarded the stupid idea of teleporting. It makes the games infinitely more enjoyable and playable.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"People of color" is a racist term

It has always been a joke that the politically correct term for black people is ever-changing. The old term becomes "racist" (somehow), and the new one is now the "politically correct" one.

Well, it appears that the current "politically correct" term for non-white people is "people of color".

For example, Anita Sarkeesian, in one of her most recent videos, calls all non-white people "people of color". That's including Chinese and Japanese. (She specifically shows examples of Chinese and Japanese, and refers to them as "people of color".)

Well, I have a question for Anita: What, exactly, is the "color" of Chinese and Japanese people?

Uh-oh... We have a problem here, don't we?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Aspect ratio sensitivity

For some reason I cannot really even begin to comprehend, it appears that most people are completely unable to see if the aspect ratio of a live video (such as a TV show or movie) is incorrect. And I mean even if it's way, way, way incorrect. Like when a 4:3 video is stretched horizontally to fill a 16:9 screen (which means that the video is compressed vertically to 75% of what it ought to be). I don't know if they indeed have a brain malfunction that makes them completely incapable of seeing the problem, or if they just refuse to admit they see it due to some strange psychological phenomenon. In either case they will claim to their graves that the glaringly obvious stretching of the image doesn't bother them at all (again, for a reason that I cannot even begin to comprehend).

I myself am what could perhaps be called hypersensitive to a wrong aspect ratio. If some video footage has even slightly the wrong aspect ratio, I very quickly notice it, and it bothers me.

For example I was recently watching a video and I very quickly noticed that it seemed to have a slightly wrong aspect ratio. I kept watching, and I became more and more convinced of that fact.

It turns out that the video was supposed to have a 16:9 aspect ratio, and while it had 1280 pixels horizontally, rather than being 720 pixels vertically, for some reason it had been squeezed to 668 pixels. That's less than an 8% difference. I still noticed it almost immediately. When I scaled the video vertically to 720 pixels, it immediately started looking correct.

I have yet to meet another person with this kind of "hypersensitivity". Or at least one that admits to seeing it. Much less one who is bothered by it. I don't really get it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Canada's tough stance against wife-beaters

Recently a man in Canada beat his wife for half an hour with a hockey stick. He pulled her hair, hit her in the face, and threatened to kill her. She had to be hospitalized.

The man pleaded guilty in court. Can you guess how long his jail sentence was for this brutal crime?

Perhaps eight years? That could sound about right. But no.

Perhaps eight months? Sounds perhaps a bit on the low side, but might still be barely acceptable. And no.

Perhaps eight weeks? Would sound way too short for such a heinous crime.

No. Eight days.

That's right. Eight days of jail.

That's quite a strange amount of leniency in a country whose government prides itself for being feminist, and whose prime minister not only proudly declares this, but just can't shut up about feminism.

But perhaps the man's name reveals the reason for the incredibly lenient punishment: Mohamad Rafia.

Way to go, "feminist" Canada. You are the true defender of women against spousal abuse.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Prejudice against 3DS grip attachment

I have owned a (New) 3DS for a couple of years now, and a regular DS for a couple of years before that. I have always found it really unergonomic and uncomfortable to use. The positioning of the left stick and the d-pad is not very ergonomic, and requires some uncomfortable thumb contortion. (Perhaps the worst case scenario is having to use the left shoulder button and the d-pad at the same time. It might not sound like that much of a deal, but it really is quite uncomfortable.)

Some months ago I realized that there exist grip attachments for the 3DS, and they are actually really cheap. I purchased one that looks pretty much like this:


The grip attachment makes it a hundred times more comfortable to use, and I'm not exaggerating a bit. It might not be absolutely perfect, like it were a modern controller, but it's still a hundred times better. I wouldn't go back in a million years.

So far three acquaintances who own a 3DS have seen me playing with it. What kind of comments did they make (completely unprompted)? Did they perhaps consider it cool? Maybe they wanted to try it to see how comfortable it is? Or perhaps they mocked it lightly for looking so funny, but were otherwise cool with it, understanding how much more comfortable it makes using the device?

No. All three of them immediately assured me how they don't need such a thing, and how useless it is.

And mind you, these were three completely separate events; it wasn't like all four of us were gathered at the same place at the same time, and they all commented it agreeing with each other. No, each encounter was separate, and they didn't know of each others' opinions. All three independently commented how they don't need such a thing.

And no, none of the three had ever tried one. They still didn't "need" one, though, as they assured me. For some reason. Without me asking anything.

One person saying that, ok. Two people saying pretty much the same thing? A bit strange, but alright. Three people independently saying pretty much the same thing? Now that's a symptom of some kind of strange common psychological phenomenon.

I don't really understand where this strange psychological phenomenon comes from. Why did all three feel the need to assure me, without prompting, without me asking, that they don't need such a thing? And why were they all so negative about it? They didn't even joke about the thing (which I would have understood; it might look a bit funny at first). They just stated in all seriousness that they don't "need" it.

Strange.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Cultural appropriation" of white culture

Like everything that the modern social justice cult is promoting, "cultural appropriation" is one of those things that not only is envisioned by the social justice totalitarian regime, but is becoming more and more prevalent as legislation (due to the social justice religion being incomprehensibly virulent, and infecting government after government, and law-maker after law-maker).

"Cultural appropriation" means that white people are not allowed to do or use anything from non-white cultures. Of course such rules only apply to white people, as always, because social justice is deeply, deeply racist, and only blames white people for everything, and wants to relegate white people to subhuman second-class citizenship with less rights than everybody else.

The same rule doesn't apply between non-white people. And, very specially, it of course and naturally doesn't apply to other people "appropriating" white culture.

When these social justice warriors are confronted with that issue, they have a stock response that you will always hear: "What white culture?" Ask the question, and that's the response you'll get 99% of the time. (The other 1% will be some kind of variant that denies white people having any sort of culture.)

They have concocted, and they seriously believe, this notion that white people have no culture and no history of their own, and that they have never invented anything. That the only thing they have done during their entire existence is "steal" from other people. They seriously consider white people, somehow, a species of its own that is incapable of doing the same things as non-white people can, and is able only to steal and copy others.

But of course white people have a long and rich culture in all aspects of life, such as art, culinary arts, architecture, clothing, music and literature.

As an example, so-called "high fantasy" is pretty much solely a product of white people. It's heavily based on old Norse culture and mythology. Most concepts used in high fantasy come from that, such as wizards, elves, goblins, dragons, orcs, and so on and so forth. (In other cultures there may be similar fictional concepts, but Norse mythology is not based on them, and formed on its own. Just because there is some superficial similarity between two things doesn't mean that one was based on the other.)

Tolkien, one of the "fathers" of modern high fantasy, based much of his fiction in Norse mythology. Even his fictional languages were largely based on European languages, especially Nordic ones.

Another big influence in modern fantasy, and many other forms of fiction, is the Greco-Roman mythology. Tons of things are influenced pretty much directly from it. Whenever there are nymphs, fairies, winged horses, bull-headed humans, multi-headed hydras and so on and so forth, they come directly from Greco-Roman mythology.

In fact, much of modern European-American civilization, how society works, and how governments run, is rooted in the ancient Roman society and government. Much of modern art and architecture started from ancient Rome, and it has great influence to this day.

Almost all of historical art existing today in the west, such as paintings and sculptures, were made in Europe, using techniques developed in Europe. Classical music, and music theory, is deeply rooted in Europe.

That white culture.

But, of course, social justice warriors will deny those things being "white culture", because they cannot accept white people having anything of their own. If everything else fails, they will find even the tiniest detail in those things that was influenced by some other culture, no matter how minor and inconsequential, and declare the entire thing part of that other culture and "stolen" from it. And if even that fails, they will find a similarity to something in another culture, and declare that because there is similarity, that's not "white culture". (And of course it never works in the other direction, because reasons.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

A very strange form of racism in Japan

I once saw a YouTube video (which I can't find anymore) of the rather strange experience of a guy teaching English in a school (I think it was a high school) in Japan.

The guy was born in the United States, and one of his parents was American and the other Japanese. Naturally he was always interested in visiting and perhaps working in Japan. Since he was a university graduate on the subject, and had all the necessary qualifications, he decided to seek for a job there as an English teacher.

In the video he goes to lengths explaining the experience, but I'm going to summarize the interesting bit here: In the school where he first got the job, the principal (a native Japanese) was strangely antagonistic against him. She would keep demanding lesson plans far beyond what was reasonable, she would assign him unreasonably many teaching hours, she would often go to his class, in the middle of the lesson, to berate him for something, in front of the students, and so on and so forth. It was quite clear that the principal was trying to make his life as miserable and hard as possible, without outright doing anything explicitly illegal. She quite clearly wanted him to leave the job.

And it worked, too (although according to him, probably for the better). He sought a job on another school, and finally got it.

But why was the principal at the first school so antagonistic?

It turns out that it's a rather strange form of racism in Japan. Not all places, but many. It turns out that it was because he looked too Asian, too Japanese. (While half-Japanese, half-American, he certainly looks more Japanese than American.)

You see, in many places in Japan there's this quite strange prevalent prejudice that people want English teachers to look foreign, rather than Asian. They don't trust a non-foreign-looking person to be a good English teacher. If the teacher looks too Japanese, they don't trust him to be competent at the job. The prejudice is so strong that it doesn't even matter if the teacher has lived his entire life in the United States and has plenty of academic qualifications. It was not only the principal of the school who was prejudiced like this, but also many of the students' parents.

Japan has quite an obsession with the English language, for certain, but this is one of the strangest forms of it that I have ever heard.