Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sad news, writers and gamers... you might test positive for Storium. I'm so sorry.

Hello, I'm Doctor Perry, how are we feeling today?  Good good... let's have a look at your chart here.

Lets see here, vitals look good.  Uh oh.  Symptoms include a history of interest in pen and paper role playing games... that's not conclusive in and of itself, but we should run a few more tests.  Sit back on the table please.

OK, have you ever had an interest in writing, short stories, blogs?  Unfinished book perhaps?

Yes?  Fiction.  Noted.

What about reading, especially fiction?  More than, say, one book a year at least?

Yes?  Noted.

Ok, breathe in and out normally...

Would you say you're imaginative?  Looking for small creative outlets?

Yes, and yes...

Lastly... how are you for a sense of community?

Generally like that sort of thing... ok.

OK, I've got some good news and bad news.  From these answers it looks like you're a strong candidate to contract Storium.  Don't worry... there are lots of people out there living vital and normal lives while dealing with a Storium condition.  You'd probably not even notice, if it weren't for their propensity to talk to people about how awesome their Storium campaigns are.

But ultimately, all you can do is manage this condition... at present, there's no known cure for Storium or Storium addiction.  You may need to discuss this with your loved ones.

*The above is meant for the purposes of humor only.  For actual advice and to find out if Storium is right for you, seek professional help.  Not valid advice for residents of some states.


SO!  What the hell is Storium?  The best elevator pitch I seem to muster is that Storium is a bit like "Multiplayer story writing, with a dash of pen and paper role playing".

Basically you've got 3-5 people, one acting as Narrator.  The Narrator sets up a scene with a couple challenges in it, and the "players" all have a character who plays an action card from their hand, and then writes the next couple paragraphs of the story, describing what their character is doing exactly.

There are stories being ran for damn near anything you can imagine.  There's traditional D&D type things, sci-fi space opera out the wazoo... but there's also a HUGE array of game that are romance novel settings, humor, Napoleonic era war stories, all female pirate crews, a high school story with completely normal kids, anime, Lost fanfic, even some NSFW intrigue and espionage in a high fashion company like some kind of Ally McBeal meets Fifty Shades PR firm.

You can hit "browse games", then sort by "looking for players" and just flop around among the options available to you.

There are literally games happening in Storium that would be impossible to create in any other known gaming format, and that's tremendously exciting.

I really can't recommend it all enough.

Here's the bottom line... if you enjoy actual pen and paper role playing, the kind that really encourages talking to NPCs and imagining fun interactions beyond casting 'Magic Missile'... and yet you find that you're becoming a real adult with a life and obligations and can't seem to get the old gang together reliably enough to run a role playing game...

Storium is for you.

It's asych, you can take your moves when you want, games have different paces (set by the narrators as to how many scenes are expected to happen over weeks or months even), it's easy enough to be a player in a handful of games so you don't have to pick and choose like you're making huge investments in time.

For me, it's a fantastic little creative outlet and a way to get better at writing and improv, and have a blast doing it.



So, Storium had a great Kickstarter a while back, and they're in a Gamma state right now, and already have a really healthy population of players.  All the options to support it are on the site.

Right now, to view stories you need to sign up for an account and become a member, but I'm told that when the game fully launches you'll be able to read all these great stories people are coming up with even if you're not a member.  So, you can send out links to your works and such.

Right now the game is crazy robust, with internal messaging, forums, feedback, bios, etc... it's ridiculously posh.

The site is:


and here's a fantastic video about how it all works.

Storium is ran by Stephen Hood (@stilhood) and of course there's a Twitter addy at (@Storium)

There's even a swanky little blog called StoriumArc where guests discuss their games, styles, etc...

If you enjoy character work, writing, etc... get in there!!!

Good luck, fellow patients.

P.S. If you happen to join up, check out my user profile at MrLeePerry on the site, and you can see what games I'm playing in and running.  It's always awesome when people are reading your work!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Vive impressions Part 2 : What can we do in VR that we can't elsewhere?

My first post a moment ago was about the experience of setting up the Valve / HTC Vive dev kit, and in short how blown away I was.  This post I'd like to ramble a little about how it has affected some of my VR design instincts and assumptions.

First up, there's a lot of conversation out there about how to adapt various game genres to VR... and I get that.  I've been working on VR prototypes nearly exclusively since a bit after the DK1's became available.  I've tried loads of little "danger rooms" to feel out the concepts of "what if I took genre X and adapted it to VR".  There are some major wins to be found in that logic, as it truly does profoundly affect a game to have this sense of scale and immersion layered into the batter.  That, and generally speaking, it's important to have these comfortable foundations and languages as we try out new things.

But the positionally tracked hand held controllers... man.  I can't emphasize this enough... this changes a lot.  A LOT.

There are experiences here just begging to be made that are hard to even classify as video games, simply because they're so based in physicality and agility.  If I made a VR raquetball - Tron multiplayer head to head game, and you're swinging around a virtual racquet... is that a 'video game', or an actual 'sport'?  Is virtual dodge ball where you're actually moving out of the way of a projectile a 'video game'?

I think the world of VR design is on a pretty exciting crash course with learning a whole new set of skills.  We have expectations of "cyber athletes" based on their responsiveness and tactics with a controller and interfaces full of shortcuts and macros... but if you're physically standing there, and your opponent is flinging fireballs at you, this ain't the same old same old.  It can be the best of both worlds.

From the first moment you're in the Vive setup program, and a dialogue box menu materializes over the controller in your hand, and you wave it around, it's unavoidable.  At least in VR, no longer will you be pressing A,A,B,A to execute some combination of sword slashes.  In VR at least, there's not going to be an artificial gameplay construct like a golf power swing meter.  Say goodbye to 'adding 5 points to your accuracy stats'.

When technology allows you to literally play Table Tennis with another player across the country, that's incredible.  When that same technology allows you to make Table Tennis with multiballs, force fields, poison traps, slow motion, super bounce balls, moving obstacles, an AI backup wingman, or just Yoshi bouncing around on the table while you play... and yet you're still physically swinging around a paddle with the expected simplistic controls and muscle memory... that's something entirely more than incredible.

What can we design with these controls that you truly could not possibly have experienced before?  That's the question we can explore now.


I don't care to fire up some heated "VR will fail because blah blah and blah" debate.  Will enough people want to dedicate an 8 foot x 8 foot (or whatever it ends up as) space to a VR corner?  I don't know.  Will AAA publishers make $80 million dollar titles for VR?  Shrug...  Zero fucks given beyond ecosystem health.  Will they be manufactured cheap enough and run on enough hardware to make Sony and Valve and Oculus billions of dollars... time will tell... and I'm indie anyway so frankly all I want out of it is a thriving ecosystem of players looking for awesome inspired unforeseen games that they're willing to pay more than $1 for.

But I know this.  When I hear people talk about how limiting VR is to design for... when I hear that you "can't make real games in VR"... when I hear that it's only truly for real estate and architects because you can't easily port Call of Duty to it...  when I hear "lack of design possibility" as a specific reason for why VR can't be a real thing... I know I'm hearing the opinion of either the creatively bankrupt, or at least profoundly unadaptable.

After (important word there) you have stood in the center of this virtual space, waved around these unbelievably responsive "hands" that can literally resemble or summon anything you can think to create with modern development tools, after you have felt the possibilities of clever haptic feedback that the controllers offer... and you still honestly have NO ideas for what you'd like to try with this technology.  You need to be selling carpet or something.  If nothing else, send me a few grand and I'll give you some ideas :)

Before you've had that experience, I get it, I do.  It's really hard for some to visualize this, or try to cram their square peg into a round hole.  But *after* exploring what these can do... that's an entirely different story.

My enthusiasm is honestly tempered with sadness right now knowing that my bandwidth as a small developer means that the lists of possible gameplay scenarios I want to prototype right now can't possibly happen in time to beat others to market.  But holy crap is that exciting at the same time!


I'll wrap this up...

This industry *needs* new frontiers like this.  We need more actual design outlets, more platforms, more untested creative canvas on which to sketch, paint, experiment, and play.  Hoping for VR to fail wholesale is counterproductive... it's like hoping a great expedition (that costs you nothing personally) ends up producing nothing, merely because you chose not to support it.

VR was already promising, but these control possibilities bring it to an entirely new level.  It absolutely breeds creativity, possibility, and inspiration... and I'm endlessly grateful for the people pioneering this attempt.  Even if it fails spectacularly in financial terms for the big players, they put their money where their mouth is, as every member of this industry owes them a giant collective handshake for this effort.

One final note:

"Where's the killer app?"  I guarantee you, there will be one.  These tools are landing in the hands of many devs now, and I simply can not imagine a scenario where inspired and unconventional things don't result from this.

Let's not forget that the "killer app" for the Nintendo Wii was 'Bowling'.

Vive VR impressions, part 1 : Setup day!

Forgive me, I'm in a ridiculously heightened state right now after setting up the Valve-HTC Vive kit that arrived earlier.  Allow me a post to talk about that initial experience, then I'll post a 2nd time with some more important broad thoughts on what it means for VR IMO.



I spent most of my day setting up the kit.  Valve has made an insanely slick document detailing the process, and it has an amazingly Portal-esque vibe to it that just makes even the daunting task of setting this up actually a pretty cool and enjoyable process.

The "camera" positioning (not really cameras, I mean the two laser array lighthouses that give the VR parts their location tracking reference points), I found to be incredibly forgiving actually.  I had mine up on shelves I had around, and expected to have to fiddle with them and do some detailed alignment... but no, they just worked.  Valve was meticulous in including all necessary bittles for different mounting options.  When you're in the room-setup and calibration app you can walk around in your room and see the cones that represent the "view areas" the lighthouses provide, and honestly I think it would be pretty hard to screw those big cones up if they're at all semi-logically placed nearby.

I ended up making a quick Home Depot run for an extension cord to reach the top of the shelves, but other than that, it was very well packed with nearly anything you could need in order to set it up.

The lighthouse units themselves are truly just... cool.  The clear front means you see these high end looking electronics with spinning lasers and LEDs and displays... it's utterly sci-fi when you power them up and see them kick in.

Excellent visualization of how the lighthouses work

The actual head mounted display unit ("goggles") are excellent as expected.  I didn't weight anything, but it feels to me like it's maybe VERY slightly heavier than the DK2 maybe, but far from an issue.  I find it more comfortable than the DK2 personally for my face, but I imagine this is just something everyone will find based on their face geometry (and the DK2 isn't a shipping thing anyway, so, don't mean to start some comparative speculation).  I found the Vive seems to block out light really well, especially around the bottom.

The two hand held controllers are ridiculously light; I can't possibly imagine these things will cause you fatigue, at all.  Despite being significantly larger than something like the Wii controller, they actually feel even lighter to me.  They came with two complete sets of rechargeable batteries, and alternate hardware in case you want to run the controllers off USB cables... although I admit that sounds utterly insane to me (I'm sure someone has a compelling development reason).

The various bittles and adapters are all incredibly well laid out in packaging, and overall I have to say I kind of enjoyed the whole process so far.  Yeah, I know... freaky.



The Software so far has been pretty damn cool.  The step by step manual walks you right up to this point, where Steam comes in.

The basic calibration and room setup application is pretty posh.  There are some rough edges, but they took the time to add all kinds of excellent user feedback that immediately made me think "HOLY SHIT, THIS IS BANANAS!"

From the moment I fired up the room calibration program, things were pumping.  I hadn't in any way bothered to meticulously arrange my head unit to be in the view of the lighthouses or anything, and I wasn't really anywhere near what I thought to be my usable "VR area".... but, BAM, the goggles are totally oriented sitting on the desk next to me.

The screen says go to the middle of the VR room area.  I walk over there and put the goggles on.  MAN it's responsive!  Just, no discomfort at all.  In the setup VR space there are floating items that represent the lighthouse objects, and it's really cool lifting the visor and seeing these realspace objects in that same representative location.  Reality and VR space were really blending even in this simple little setup app... and that got even nuttier next.

It said to hit the button on one of the controllers.  I hadn't brought the controllers with me... but they were there floating in the distance on top of my desk, oriented haphazardly as they were really laying there.  Without giving it a second thought, *WITH MY HEADSET STILL ON* I casually walked across my office, reached for the controllers with my invisible hands, and picked them up with no real world vision at all.  It was the most utterly natural thing possible to my brain.

Only a second later did the impact of that even register, that there truly is this blurred line between this 3D model of the controller in my hand, and the corresponding real world controller in my hands.

I hit a button and this dialogue box / window popped up over the controller.  I waved it around and just busted out laughing like a maniac at how fucking cool such a goofy little interaction is when it has this much presence behind it.  There will literally be a hundred damn lightsaber games for this thing a month from now, mark my words.

The real thing that has stuck with me as I started to call it a night though was how excellent the subtle vibrations ("Haptic" feedback) coming through the controller was.  Valve has utterly *nailed* making things in the world feel truly physical.  As you wave the controller's floating pointer over buttons on your menu, there's a subtle bump on the controller, like it's embossed in floating space.

You start in a kind of dotted line box, and click and drag these little handles out to designate the room dimensions you're standing in, and where the floor is.  As I clicked the little handle sphere, and started pushing it down to the floor, the controller is providing this extremely well designed feedback as though I'm pushing this physical thing that has resistance to it.  It was definitely another moment of giggling maniacally.  Pushing the walls out to match my physical room was just... damn this is unbelievably cool... I can't say it more simply than that.

It's nearly pointless to even try and describe, it's operating on such subconscious levels...

But overall a great takeaway was simply how forgiving the whole setup was in terms of spatial requirements.  I had envisioned these distinct shadows and treacherous dead zones where controls blinked out of registration, or meticulously needing to arrange the lighthouses 'just so' to cover the play area.  Nope.  Looking around in the setup app, it's clear that the lighthouse fields of view can cover a very generous area, and my first impression at least is that it's just not that picky.  This bodes well IMO for people concerned about such complex hardware being used by general consumers... it's far more forgiving spatially than something like the Kinect was IMO.



It's not pure rainbows shooting from my rear though, it is still a prototype dev kit after all.  I spent a good deal of time working with an issue I still haven't tracked down.  The controllers would work like magic for about 10 seconds, then abruptly drift off across the room and freeze before coming back to me another random interval later.  I removed some glass covered posters in the room, thinking the reflections might be an issue, but that didn't appear to be the cause.

Online some people mentioned they switched off one of their lighthouses completely and it solved some tracking issues.  I tried that and it worked, although obviously it's suboptimal and affects the fidelity of how things are tracked as they're obscured from the single lighthouse box.  So, I worked with that for quite a while to no avail before deciding to sleep it off and see if I can sort it out with a clear head tomorrow.

I also have a fairly constant stream of "USB connection" messages, like there's a loose USB or power cable somewhere despite checking everything meticulously.  Tomorrow I'll buy a USB 3.0 hub and see if I have some better luck.

UPDATE: If you get to this point with a dev kit, it's entirely likely you simply need to plug the wireless controllers in via USB and update them.

Anyway, they're minor issues that I'm sure will be sorted out tomorrow, grabbing the latest firmware or so forth.  The Valve developers look to be extremely active on the forums as well, which is beyond awesome.  Overally, for a dev kit experience this has been a stunningly impressive ride so far.  While it's working... it's just... it's truly some science fiction moments.  You freaking need this in your life once the rough bumpies are polished off.

I'll talk more in my next post about what this all has done to my head :)

Now, I need to sleep and dream in room-space.