Andy Kelly: Jurassic lark
Back to Dinosaur Island is a tech demo by Crytek designed for VR headsets. You can download it on Steam for free, but don’t bother if you don’t have an Oculus Rift. This week I’ve been catching up on the world of VR tech demos, and this is one of the most impressive I’ve tried yet. In it you sit motionless in a beautiful CryEngine-powered jungle scene as various dinosaur-related things happen, ending with a close encounter with a beautifully animated T-rex.
It doesn’t sound like much, but when that giant lizard bastard’s all up in your face, you can’t help but lean back in your chair. I gave my girlfriend a go on it, and she squealed when it roared at her. But you’ll need a decent computer to run the thing. They recommend a GTX 980, but it works fine—bar a few minor jitters—on my GTX 970. Here’s a video of it in action.
If you have access to a VR headset, give this a try. Even though all you’re doing is sitting in a cave among some dinosaur eggs watching stuff happen, it’s incredibly effective. VR games don’t need blisteringly realistic graphics to be effective—you can create a convincing experience with basic geometry and textures—but this is a taste of how amazing VR stuff can be with high production values and powerful tech like CryEngine doing the legwork.
James Davenport: Podcast the sun!
I know Dark Souls 3 doesn’t come out until April, but that hasn’t stopped my personal hype engine from firing up. And I’ve been shoveling coal into that steamy maw with reckless abandon in the form of another run through Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne. This time though, I’m not doing it alone. Sort of. My buddies from the Bonfireside Chat podcast are talking me and walking me through it. No, not in person, and no I don’t actually know them, but their podcast is simultaneously so personable and in-depth that it feels like we’re pals.
The show has Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross talking through small chunks of each Souls game, speaking to the games’ design and lore intricacies. Both hosts are knowledgeable, funny, and enthusiastic. Revisiting the games through the lens of true experts has stripped away some of the vestigial pain, prepped me for lore, taught me about how smart the Souls game design is, and yeah, fired me up for Dark Souls 3. Give ‘em a listen, why don’t you?
Chris Livingston: Deflated ego
I've had a pretty good week of gaming! I had an enjoyable if fairly aimless jaunt in the Early Access time-loop of Garbage Day and a mostly satisfying sleuth through exploration-based puzzler INFRA. I also tried out Metal Gear Online, and while I have plenty of problems with it, I found it especially fun in a very specific way.
Single-player games are great at making us into god-like anomalies. We have amazing weapons, skills, powers, and gear that no one else in the game has, and we visit great destruction and misery on hapless NPCs constantly and with little consequence. Metal Gear Online feels like karma in a lot of ways. After gleefully and wantonly attaching Fulton balloons to enemy soldiers, allies, bears, and goats in the campaign, I now know just how humiliating it is to be Fultoned myself. To have a stranger appear out of nowhere, crush my windpipe like an empty Solo Cup, dump me in the dirt, strap a balloon to my groin, and scamper off as I'm yanked skyward in full view of everyone. It doesn't feel good, but it feels justified. From time to time, we all need to be humbled.
Wes Fenlon: I started playing NetHack...
...and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. But hey, after Dwarf Fortress, maybe nothing is.
I expected the basics of interaction and control in NetHack to be impenetrable without hours of learning, but I picked it up pretty quickly. Unlike Dwarf Fortress’s absurdly obtuse menus, most of NetHack’s make sense. ‘w’ to equip weapons. ‘W’ to wear armor. ‘q’ to quaff a potion. Okay, that one’s pretty obscure. I’ve barely scratched the surface of NetHack—there are miles of complexity and features I don’t even know exist, waiting in the dungeons beneath my feet—but I’m not scared to play anymore. And I’m excited to make a video series of learning the basics, which hopefully a few people will learn from, too.
Samuel Roberts: Metal Gear? Metal Gear!
Of the cool things the internet threw out this week, I was most impressed by this Unreal Engine 4 recreation of Metal Gear Solid seemingly made by one person, Airam Hernandez. While I sort of wish these projects were completed in secret and then widely distributed so it wasn’t quite as easy to shut them down before anyone can play them, it’s just cool to see Shadow Moses recreated in so much detail.
It seems Konami hasn’t stepped in to close it down yet, so who knows? I’d love to give the early version a try in lieu of a Steam version of the original PC version, or The Twin Snakes remake for GameCube.
Chris Thursten: High tide
I’ve been playing the Torment: Tides of Numenera beta this week in advance of the RPG’s arrival on Steam Early Access. This is a raw, very early slice of the game—it’s buggy and incomplete and if you want to have the best possible experience then I advise you to wait for launch. But those caveats aside I’m really enjoying it. The game is based on the Numenera pen and paper setting by Monte Cook Games, which I’ve been playing on and off for almost two years. I’m way too young to have experienced the thrill of seeing Dungeons and Dragons adapted to the PC for the first time, but Torment has given me a sense of what that must have been like. This is a thoughtful implementation of a clever RPG system, one that emphasizes freedom and storytelling over combat (though combat’s in there too.)
If you’re unfamiliar with both Torment and Numenera, imagine the lovechild of Pillars of Eternity and Sunless Sea. Expect to be required to read a lot, to use your imagination, and to tangle with some complicated high-concept sci-fi. The reward is an RPG with real intellectual and imaginative clout that respects the decisions you make: you can fight, resolve conflict peaceably, deal only with the companions you wish to and carve out your own path in an organic way. It’s also extremely buggy at the moment, so consider that before you invest.