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Entries in video games (3)


Virtual Reality: Beyond Gaming

Virtual reality is coming. There are a number of excellent looking devices and while they are expensive now the price will come down just like every other consumer device. But they will become truly important when people begin to understand that they are far more than just a way to play games or watch TV.


To me the way to understand this is to think about what it is called. The reason it's called virtual reality and not surround gaming or something else is because at it's best it mimics reality. And while many of us play and enjoy games in reality that isn't all we do and it certainly isn't all we want to do.


For most of us work takes up a large amount of our time and while it hasn't been discussed yet virtual reality has an important place in business. First, the telecommuting has been growing in popularity over the last decade and with virtual reality it's going to become even easier for people to work at home because you could easily create a virtual office and have most of the advantages of an office without the costs.


For me that isn't really what excites me. As someone who spends a lot of time at a computer I like the idea of a virtual office space because it gives me a lot of options. As the quality of the screens improves I could work at a virtual screen while sitting on a virtual beach or being almost anywhere. Or I could have four different virtual monitors so I don't have to change tabs when doing research. And that's just be beginning.


But beyond work there are so many things. The most obvious to me is travel. In the next couple of years I imagine that something similar to Google Streetview will be made for virtual reality. You'll be able to explore the streets of almost any city in the world, explore museums and visit monuments. For someone who isn't wealthy enough to visit all the places he wants to go that is more interesting than playing a video game.


And in many places you'll be able to do more than just wander the streets. It places like New York, London that have been photographed a lot for quite a while you should be able to not only explore the cities but virtually time travel. This could of course be used in games but it doesn't need to be.


There are a thousand other ways to use virtual reality as well. Clearly since Facebook is involved there will be virtual chat rooms, but there is no reason they have to be as simple as that. Instead you'll have virtual movie theaters, concerts plays that you can visit with friends or explore real life places together. You could even sit around a table and play board games.


Finally there is education. The simple imagination is to have a virtual classroom. You could have huge numbers of students sit in on a virtual lecture with experts on the subject. But that is barely the beginning. Imagine a history class where you could watch the moon lander or visit a virtual battle site. You could watch the last supper being painted or sit in on great moments in history. An entire class could be at the million man march and that same day visit the events that led up to it. You could see Shakespeare’s plays in the globe theater, have a virtual conversation with Socrates. The chances to learn are endless.


If gaming is what takes to get virtual reality the jump start it needs then I am all for it, and I'm looking forward to the games. But I'm far more excited about the hundreds of other ways that I haven't even thought of yet that I can do all the things I've wanted to do but couldn't and I certainly don't wan to be limited by them having to be games.  


Video Game: FTL (Faster than Light)

I try a fair amount of video games and enjoy independent games, but with time far tighter than when I was a kid I don’t play them as long.  One of the recent exceptions to that is FTL (Faster than Light )a game which I have played through a couple of times and still enjoy.

FTL is a rougelike game in a spaceship. That was the sales pitch that got my attention and it’s reasonably accurate. You have a few different spaceship layouts available to unlock as well as things you can add to the ships, crew, energy, scrap to collect and a rebellion to stop.  

The story of FTL is basic, as any rougelike game has to be. You have news of a rebel fleet as well as knowledge of the weakness of their flagship which you have to get to your command.  In order to do this you make jumps from one star to another. At each of these you will find some type of battle or mission to attempt.  Completing these will allow you to get scrap, which acts as money, weapons, crew and equipment.  You can then upgrade your ship and move on.

At first glance this game felt a bit too random.  As if there was little or no chance of actually winning except through sheer luck, but after  a couple of games I discovered it was more strategic than many roguelike  games. You have an enemy fleet behind you, so time is important, but you also want to get to as many systems as possible (especially early on) to get scrap to build up your fleet. You also have to choose how best to upgrade. For example, do you want better shields or to save your money to buy something in the store you haven’t found yet.

Beyond random encounters which make every game unique the thing that makes this gave very replayable are the different ships. Each one has a completely different layout, crew and starting equipment. There are ships with cloaks, one with a ion cannon, missile launchers and one that has nothing more than a teleporter for a weapon.  These are unlocked through missions and generally not easy to do, but once you have you have a game which is very different forcing you to use aspects of the game you may have ignored and become a better player.

The game even builds to a great climax. Once you have reached the end you deliver your message and are sent out to fight the rebel command ship. This ship pushes you to the limit and doesn’t allow for some of the more basic tactics to work well. All that and you have to fight it three times each time facing a different set of tactics.  This makes beating the game really feel like an accomplishment especially when your ship is falling apart and most of your crew is dead when you finally get the last missile past their shields.

The final point in favor of this game is that as an independent game you won’t be paying all that much. The full price is 9.99 on steam and it is often on sale for at least half off so if you watch you can probably get it for 5 dollars. If you play through this even a couple of time’s you’ll get your five dollars worth and with 18 ships to unlock and almost unlimited combinations of weapons and equipment for those ships you’ll likely play through more than a couple of times.

There are a few weaknesses to this game. Unlocking the ships does require random events which can make unlocking them a bit frustrating. In addition the variety of enemies and missions could be improved, and finally it would be really good if they built in a mod tool, because there are a lot of fan made ships, but getting them to work with the game is more effort than it should be.

In the end if you’re a fan of the spaceship genre of science fiction and like video games at all you’re  probably going to enjoy Faster than Light because it understands both the spaceship genre and the rougelike games well enough to make for a good experience on both aspects.

This is one of the best valued games I have played in years and if you’re looking for something inexpensive that can run on almost any computer and will give you your science fiction fix then you really can’t go wrong with FTL. 


First Person Shooter Disease

Found this on Slice of Scifi and had to put it up.