Dreams

The meaning of back-to-school nightmares, and PSVR

Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! One of my resolutions for the new year is to blog more, as blogging seems to help me think in words, which helps me think in general… I think. And I haven’t blogged much over the past year, so I got a little bit dumber.

I had a very good and peaceful Christmas. Pre-Christmas busy-ness was worse than usual though, so I didn’t have time to bake a bunch of cookies like I usually do, but I managed to eat too much on the holiday anyway. It’s nice to have a few days off. My big gift this year was a PSVR, which I’ve been wanting since it was released. I’ll blather about that in a bit, but first some thoughts on some nightmares I’ve had…

The meaning of nightmares in which I’m forced to go back to school

I got out of college in 2008.

Notice the phrasing of that sentence. I “got out.” Not “graduated.” I hate formal schooling so much that I think of it as something to “get out” of.

So it’s been over a decade since I got out of school, but throughout that decade I’ve been plagued by annoying nightmares about having to go back. Either I find myself back in college having to earn a few more credits, or I have go back to high school for some stupid reason even though I already graduated from college.

Last night I had an interesting and somewhat cathartic variation on this dream. I was forced to go back to high school and retake some classes, including AP European History, which I dreaded, not so much because the material was difficult, but because there was so much of it. Lots of notes to take and lots of essays to write and lots of names and dates to memorize. But I packed my bookbag and off I went.

When I got to school, however, the teachers had an announcement. “Would the following names please report to the office: Sean, [and three other names I don’t remember]. You four don’t have to be here. There’s nothing more we can do for you. We wish you the best in life and we’re sure you’ll do great!”

In the dream I was relieved. Freedom! The nightmare actually released me from its clutches. Although, what did they mean, “There’s nothing more we can do for you”? Was that because I was too dumb? Not good enough? Oh well, who cares, I was free!

But when I woke up and thought about it, it hit me: Was that why I was having these nightmares? Because my subconscious was (is?) insecure about how I did in high school and college? My subconscious was disappointed in me, knew I could’ve focused more and could’ve earned better grades, so it kept revisiting those stressful times in a sort of effort to “conquer” them? To fantasize about doing better? To try to understand why I hated it so much, why I didn’t do better?

Obviously, I don’t know the answer, but it’s certainly an idea I didn’t even think to consider before. There’s the conscious me, which says of my memories of high school and college, “I don’t care about how I did, I’m just happy to be out of it!” But it certainly feels possible that below the surface, in that mysterious realm where emotions and fears and dreams and desires are manufactured according to their own strange and mysterious logic, the subconscious was unsatisfied and frustrated by the high school and college experience, and that the seeds of these nightmares are planted in unresolved tension. At the very least, it’s an interesting idea that I hadn’t considered and something worthy of pondering.

Guess I’ll have to wait and see if I have any more nightmares about school, and/or whether they are varied in any way.

What would Jung say about this?

PSVR

PSVR and games and movies!

As mentioned earlier, my big gift this year was a PSVR. One of the coolest things I can do with it is watch 3D blu-rays! I love 3D movies, though of course the home video market for 3D films never really became popular enough. It’ll be interesting to see if they stop producing 3D blu-rays altogether. Already it seems impossible to find certain titles like Rogue One on blu-ray 3D (in the USA at least). But now I can bask in the beauty of Jurassic Park and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo in 3D! I’ve collected about a dozen other 3D movies as well. I watched a bit yesterday, and it was great! Granted, the resolution wasn’t great, as PSVR doesn’t give you full HD resolution in both eyes, but it’s still completely watchable, around (or perhaps a bit better than) DVD resolution.

I also played a bit of Skyrim in VR. I’m used to playing this game with a keyboard, so mostly I was terrible at fighting as I tried to figure out how to control the character with a PlayStation controller. Can’t do keyboard shortcuts like I’m used to. I suppose I could try hooking up a keyboard to the PS and see if Skyrim VR is even compatible with that. Moving around in the Skyrim world did make me a bit VR motion sick, though the “FOV filters” help a lot.

With that limited gaming experience, here’s my comparison between PSVR and Oculus Rift:

PSVR

  • More comfortable to wear (VR unit hangs in front of your eyes from a ring on your head)
  • In-ear headphone are more comfortable and deliver great sound
  • Supports 3D blu-rays
  • Resolution is decent
  • Field of view seems smaller, but as greater FOV causes more VR motion sickness, this is a tradeoff

Oculus Rift

  • Less comfortable to wear (VR unit presses against your face like ski goggles and gets too warm)
  • Headphones (not in-ear) aren’t great
  • Blu-ray support depends on your PC and so would cost more (I’ve never tried it)
  • Resolution seems a bit better; your GPU can likely offer better graphics (at greater cost)
  • Greater field of view, helps with immersion but causes more VR sickness

Overall, I’d say the PSVR wins at the moment largely due to its greater comfort. I can only play my Oculus Rift for up to about an hour before it starts to annoy me; it’s constantly pressing against my face, gets too warm, and leaves me with ski-goggle marks. PSVR’s design is far superior.

That said, I still prefer PC gaming to console gaming, though I don’t like the whole “Oculus Home” or whatever it’s called that Facebook (owner of Oculus) has tried to shove down everyone’s throat. It’s clunky and unneeded. (I understand they want some control over the market, as any console manufacturer gets for free, but too bad; that’s not in my interest as a consumer.) Overall, I’m hoping for a 3rd party company to come in and conquer them both, but we’ll probably have to wait a while. As with any new technology, I think most companies and investors are more concerned about the business models of this tech; innovation’s not worth much if you can’t sell it. We’re probably lucky (Luckey! haha) to have any VR at all.

By S P Hannifin, ago
VR

First impressions with VR (via Oculus Dev Kit 2)

OculusDK2

A few days ago, I finally got my hands on the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2, and I’m already loving it. It did take a few hours to get it working; I had to change the lenses for my nearsightedness, calibrate the distance of my uneven eyes, and my PC needed new drivers that Nvidia’s auto-update wouldn’t download. Anyway, I haven’t actually done much with it yet besides try out a few demos. A lot of demos out there are unfortunately outdated now and won’t work with the Oculus’s latest software (Runtime 0.7). But I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and I’m very excited for the possibilities VR holds, in gaming and beyond. This thing is AWESOME.

First, the cons. The Dev Kit 2 is a bit clunky; it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear. The resolution is also pretty low; it’s a bit like looking at an old standard definition TV up close, where you can see all the pixels. They mesh nicely together, so it’s not like everything’s pixelated like an old DOS game or anything, but that “pixel grid” is still clearly visible. Small text is practically impossible to make out, for example. It’s like you’re looking at the world through an old TV screen.

Another annoying thing about DK2 is the smell. That new electronics smell isn’t bad in and of itself, but when it’s pressed to your face and you’re smelling it for a while, it can get annoying. And you know what they say: Neurons that fire together, conspire together. (Actually, they say “wire together”, but I think “conspire” is more poetic.) When you start associating the smell with VR sickness, it can be extra annoying.

And the biggest problem for me at the moment is VR sickness. I don’t usually get very motion sick, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem for me, but VR sickness, though related, is actually a bit different than motion sickness, as there’s really no motion involved. Rather your eyes tell you that you’re moving, yet you feel no forces acting upon you, and the result is nausea. Some movements in VR are completely unnatural as well. In the real world, unless you’ve been hit with a force strong enough to injure you, you cannot go from resting to moving forward at a constant velocity instantly. You’ll accelerate first, and your body naturally expects to feel that acceleration, even if you’re just walking. Some of the most sickening moments in VR for me happen when the acceleration, or lack thereof, just feels completely unnatural.

I also suspect the sickness may have something to do with the motion the eyes detect in their peripheral vision rather than what’s right in front of them. This would explain why we don’t get VR sickness with games on TV; the lack of motion around the TV “grounds” us. Also, I’ve found that VR experiences that put the player in a cockpit or something are much more comfortable; they keep the motion out in front while the walls on the side keep you feeling “grounded.”

Another thing that may help, but that I haven’t seen in a demo yet, is BLUR! Someone needs to try it. Blur the quick movement, especially on the edges of peripheral vision, like in Batman: Arkham Knight. In the real world, things moving quickly past our peripheral vision will blur. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen in a game unless it’s actually programmed to render. It could also help with quick head movements. I was very impressed with its implementation in the Batman game; I’d be interested to see how that sort of thing might look in a VR experience. I’ll have to search around; surely someone’s tried it somewhere…

I suppose this VR sickness issue is a testament to how convincing the 3D VR world can seem, but I think it will require: 1) developers to pay far more attention to movement control; what you can get away with on a TV screen or monitor you just can’t away with in VR. (I wonder if the mouse or the Oculus Touch controls might also be able to help with this? Maybe if the movement of the world could be linked to the motion of one’s hand, one might have an easier time with it?) And it will require: 2) consumers to ease into the VR experience with simple demos first, rather than jumping right into some fast-paced action game. I have read that VR sickness can be like sea-sickness. That is, one can adapt to it, just as one can adapt to the feel of a boat beneath one’s feet. I hope this is true. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Sitting in place in a virtual world still offers many possibilities, though; so far the best demos I’ve tried out kept the player in one position. Here are the demos I’ve tried so far:

SightLine: The Chair

SightLine

This demo just involves sitting in a chair and looking around. When you’re not looking at something, it’ll change, so the demo keeps you looking around, passing you through a variety of environments. It’s a neat intro to the VR experience, taking you from the claustrophobic feel that the walls are closing in, to the awe of floating in the vastness of space with the surface of a planet thousands of miles below.

Staring up at tall buildings or peering over vast heights are definitely some of the most awesome things to experience in VR. You really get a sense of size; it really feels like you’re staring up at something immense or down far below. The sense of scale is just amazing. You can’t get the feeling in any other way besides the real thing; it’s something pictures on a TV screen just can’t do. So I’m not worried too much about VR sickness; there are plenty of VR possibilities to explore with just a static viewpoint. I could easily play a shooter game or puzzle game or virtual board game, etc., all day long with a static viewpoint, and the VR would still be worth the cost.

Anyway, SightLine was a great demo!

I Expect You To Die

IEYTD

This mini-game also gives the player a static viewpoint. You play a sort of lighthearted James Bond-ish spy that’s trapped in a villain’s car and you need to escape. To do so, you must explore the small world around you, using the mouse to grab, move, and use items. It’s a very short game, but the controls are intuitive, further illustrating how a static viewpoint alone has plenty to offer. It would be awesome to see this expanded into a collection of puzzle scenarios; I could definitely play a game like this for many hours.

Mythos of the World Axis

Mythos

This is yet another static-viewpoint game, but this one’s in third person. You look down (or up or sideways or whatever) at a miniature world and control a small character in front of you. I suspect games like this will become very popular; indeed, this is the sort of game I think I’d like to develop myself. In a way, it’s a bit like playing with toys, only your action figures move and the world is alive. While I found it a bit annoying to have to keep resetting the view in this demo, the style of gameplay is very promising. This demo didn’t even involve much; you just move a character around a small level. And yet it’s addicting and fun. (The end of the demo also offered a brilliant little creative twist!) I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of games like this!

Darkfield Alpha: Sneak Peek

Darkfield

A sci-fi demo in which you shoot robots and stuff. It lacked a bit of polish, unfortunately, and the movement in the 3rd person perspective was a bit jarring, almost inducing some VR sickness, but the first-person shooter style and the spaceship flying definitely looked promising. Space battles in a spaceship cockpit will certainly be a popular VR gaming genre. Getting that sense of the immense size of the ships in front of you along with the vastness of outerspace… it really brings the simulation to life in an amazing way. A bit of VR sickness is possible, however, when you turn your ship too much, but I imagine this will subside with experience. I can’t wait for a fully-fleshed out space-battle game!

Windlands

Windlands

In Windlands, you explore an immense world and collect golden coins or whatever. I thought the movement control in this first-person game was pretty comfortable. You slow in and out of moving rather than just jolting ahead instantly, which definitely helps. And, again, it’s awesome to really see and feel the immense size of an immense world like this. Looking up at giant floating islands in the distance is just fantastic. Unfortunately the gameplay itself kinda bored me after a bit, but the smooth movement control definitely holds promise. If there were more to actually do in the world, perhaps solve Myst-like puzzles or talk to Monkey Island-like characters, this game would be easily enthralling, and I’m sure those sort of games are on their way!

Virtual Desktop

Not a game or a demo, but just an application, Virtual Desktop allows you to see your computer’s desktop in your VR, allowing you to blow it up to an insane size, as if you’re viewing your desktop on a grand movie screen. The resolution isn’t great though, so it’s still a bit impractical for web browsing, for instance. But streaming Netflix in your own personal VR theater is fantastic; one of my favorite VR experiences. It really feels like you’ve got a huge screen to watch a movie on. It’s less than DVD quality though, so I’m not going to stop watching blu-rays any time soon, but still, I love it. It may definitely become something I use regularly. (As if I’m not already unproductive enough.)

So there you have it; my first VR experiences. There’s plenty to explore, and I can’t wait to start my own VR projects this week.

Kickstarter

My Kickstarter is failing miserably at the moment, and now being excited about VR, I’m honestly not that inspired to continue advertising it at the moment, for better or worse. It’s also amazing how much spam you get when you start a Kickstarter. All these offers to help you market your Kickstarter. Sorry, but if I need to spend money on marketing to raise $9K, then I’m not sure my project really deserves $9K in the first place.

(I really hate that about marketing; it’s hard to learn about it objectively because there are so many making too much money off of telling others how to make money. It makes it hard to find the useful information because so many are in the business to take advantage of others. There’s a lot of money in it, I’m sure, but it’s such a vacuous, soulless market.)

Theme update

Finally, I hope you like the new blog theme! I was getting sick of looking at the other one, which I had kept for several years. Four or five years, I think. Maybe even six or seven? Anyway, I hope this one looks a bit more modern and polished.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer games

Hoping to build a computer this year…

Still waiting. You know, for 2016. Because you know what happens in 2016? Presidential election! But, more interestingly, the Oculus Rift will be released! (If everything goes as planned, I guess.)

(Sorry in advance for the materialistic nature of this post. Thinking too much about money and materialistic crap may be harmful to some readers’ souls. Reader discretion is advised.)

I spent some time researching the computer I’ll need to power the Rift, and honestly I’d like to have it ASAP so I can start fooling around with game programming with Unity 5. (As I said before, my current computer runs Unity 4 too slowly, and my OS (Vista) is not even officially supported, so trying to learn Unity on here is a bit torturous.) I’ve used this site as a sort of guide for what I’ll need, so I’m basically looking into building the computer myself, which, for all my interest in computers, will be my first time actually building one from individually purchased parts. Fingers crossed that it’ll go well. Anyway, my plans currently don’t deviate much from the parts listed on the aforementioned site. I’ll probably look into different cases as I’d prefer one with a bit more personality (such as a window), but that’s only if I can find one at a good price with some good space for future upgrades should I want them. Hard drive wise, I’d like to look into perhaps getting both a solid state drive to store the operating system and an old-fashioned mechanical hard drive with 1 or 2 TB’s for some good storage. (Composing music can take up a good amount of space when you’re storing some big audio files, plus games in general can take up some significant chunks themselves.) I’ll have to research how to set that up.

Altogether, my current estimate is that the computer will cost $1,200. Of course, when the time comes, I’ll search around for deals and save every bit I can. I’ll probably also search some nearby stores and see if I can pick up anything in person; having to wait for parts in the mail will be torture for my weak impatient soul (though that will probably be the cheaper option). Anyway, I won’t have to worry about it yet; still gotta save the actual money. (It’s tempting to just use my credit card and buy it all now, but I guess I’ll resist.) With the debts I’m still paying off, my phone bill, and my Netflix addiction, it’ll probably take around three months, give or take. I’m currently about 1/6th of the way there, $200 saved of $1,200. So only $1,000 short.

It’s aggravating having to wait; my mind’s been obsessed with dreaming about VR and a new rig all week. Everything I do feels like something to fill the time while waiting. And while that hasn’t really helped me be more productive in any way, it has actually been a bit cathartic; it’s helped relieve some of my overly-self-conscious “is this a good use of my time?” anxiety that just makes me angry when I feel like I wasted some time, which just makes me waste more time.

I’ve also been looking forward to YouTube’s upcoming game-streaming platform, their answer to Twitch. Maybe I’ll even try streaming some gameplay of my own, though that’ll have to wait until I build that new rig, because I doubt my current Vista-powered computer would stream very well.

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming game for PS4, The Last Guardian, showcased not long ago at E3. I’ve been waiting at least 6 years for this game; it was originally intended as a PS3 game, but it’s been in development for so long that PS4 is now their target console. Check it out:

I don’t have a PS4, but I guess I’ll need to buy one just for this game. Unless I get trapped in my Oculus Rift.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Technology

Waiting for the Oculus Rift

It was computer gaming that inspired me to self-learn GW-BASIC programming in elementary school. I wanted to make games. For the past decade, I’ve meandered from that interest, more towards music composition, writing fantasy, and even a couple years studying character animation. I’ve also been interested in 3D images since a young age, when ViewMasters and those Magic Eye books were popular. I’ve loved 3D movies at the theater since they’ve become feasible. I pity those who get motion sickness from the experience, but I’ve never understood any other sort of objections to them. (I, on the other hand, get motion sickness when trying to read in a car, which stinks. I usually have to look out the front window to avoid sickness. Of course, when driving, I have to do that anyway.)

So I’m super excited for the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality gear set to come out sometime near the beginning of 2016. That also gives me time to save up the money to buy it, along with the new computer I’ll need to power it. (And which I need anyway now that my 2009 Alienware laptop is practically useless outside of safe mode thanks to a failing hard drive, and my 2008 Vista-powered desktop is almost out of hard drive space and is outdated a quite a few other regards.) The Rift may get me obsessed with gaming again, and of course I’ll also want to explore developing my own projects with Unity 5. (My current desktop doesn’t even support Unity 5, and Unity 4 runs so slowly that it’s a bit agonizing to use.) The wait is a bit agonizing, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Beyond gaming, I can’t help but think about other possibilities the VR gear may make possible. Could I write a novel in a VR world, inspired by fantastical scenery and drowning out real-world distractions? Could I compose music by moving around blocks of notes or something instead of having to click notes into a scoring program? Could I watch a movie (perhaps a 3D one?) in a virtual movie theater so that it’s like watching the movie on a big screen in the distance?

How might VR gear transform websites themselves into virtual experiences? Could I browse books on Amazon as an enormous epic bookstore? Could I make a VR world for my blog?

What about chatting and VR hangouts in virtual worlds?

And then of course there’s Oculus’s Story Studio which I’ve already blogged about that is exploring fascinating possibilities.

I can’t wait to see what awesome new worlds VR technology may make possible!

By S P Hannifin, ago