“Hatred” the game. Worth talking about?..

.. yes and no. Not especially. But I’m going to, so I guess the answer is “maybe”?… I’m talking about violence in video games through the lens of the latest ‘offender’ Hatred.

I normally start my blogs with a link to the site or something to get you grounded, but here I’m just going to link the trailer and warn you if you haven’t seen it, that it contains very disturbing imagery and themes. That goes for this blog post too.

 Click for Hatred's trailer. Viewer discretion VERY advised.
Click for Hatred’s trailer. Viewer discretion VERY advised.

So if you didn’t know, Hatred is a video game (isometric twin-stick style shooter) set to release this coming Tuesday (June 2nd, 2015) , developed by Polish developers ‘Destructive Creations’. It’s the latest game to court huge controversy. It’s doing it deliberately. To bait you (even the game and studio names were chosen for maximum effect). To get publicity. To make sales. Because Destructive Creations is a business. How are they doing this?

Hatred is a mass shootings simulator.

We can say it’s lots of other things but that’s the most controversial and accurate term. The game is rated AO (Adults Only) by the American ESRB. Games streaming service Twitch have just recently (since that rating) released rules stating that AO games cannot be streamed on their service. AO games also won’t be stocked by big chains like Walmart. Interestingly, the list of AO rated games is actually very short. Only one of the Grand Theft Auto games, one of the Manhunt games, and none of the Postal or Mortal Kombat games are on there. Mostly, AO games have sex themes, while extreme violence usually gets a Mature (M) rating. So something about this game is really getting peoples’ backs up.

At time of writing, Playstation and Xbox are also not carrying the game, and neither are Good Old Games (GOG) for the PC. All that works in the game’s favour because Steam are selling the game. Meaning everybody’s heard of it, and can still buy it.

Let me just get a few things out of the way because they’re not my focus here: 

  1. Private companies choosing not to carry/broadcast a game is not censorship. It’s a business decision by a private company, no matter how big they are.
  2. Video games do not cause people to be violent. Scientific research shows the opposite, in fact. Get over it. That fight was lost ten years ago when Marilyn Manson and Eminem failed to convince your children to commit mass suicide while playing Grand Theft Auto. It’s done.
  3. Violent games have always existed, just the graphics have gotten better.
  4. This is not even the first game about slaughtering civilian humans for the pure perverse sake of it. Postal, Carmageddon and Manhunt already exist with multiple games in each franchise. Hatred has been (not unfairly) described as a remake of Postal.
  5. Grand Theft Auto is a silly game which is not ABOUT killing civilians, even though you can. That’s very different.
  6. Games are art. Super-art, in fact, since they combine music, storytelling, digital sculpture, painting/drawing, language and physics. Artists in other media are generally allowed tackle whatever subject they want. Games being interactive is the difference between games and several (but not all) other art forms but this shouldn’t exclude it from being allowed to tackle the same subject matter because the interactive perspective can be used to great and valuable effect.
  7. The old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is bull! There is. Such an absolute statement can’t be true. Absolute statements are always incorrect. Always! Including this one!
 psst.. Obi-Wan! That's an absolute statement. You're a Jedi! Act like it!
psst.. Obi-Wan! That’s an absolute statement. You’re a Jedi! Act like it!

God I’m feeling pundit-y today. Okay let’s go with it.

With Hatred, the developers have deliberately set out to gain maximum exposure through controversy, and to weather the bad publicity by taking the good with it. They made a calculated risk, which to date has paid off. Before anybody knows if there’s a good GAME here, they at least know it exists as a product, and there is definitely a sick little niche audience, as well as support from entrenched “games as art” and “you can’t censor us” camps.

The move could have backfired, let’s be clear. When the game first went up for approval on Steam Greenlight, the backlash began and it was removed by Steam. Cries of foul play abounded and Steam chief executive Gabe Newell publicly returned the game to Greenlight and apologised for its removal. If Steam had refused to carry the title, it would basically have been game over, but the gamble paid off, with massive free publicity (some good, some bad, not all bad).

So those are facts. How about some opinions.

Firstly, on a tangent, the amount of fraudulent and scam stuff on Steam that they SHOULD be removing is too long for them to be picking on legit games from legit studios, if you ask me. No matter how controversial. The protagonist here is at least an equal-opportunities psychopath and the game uses original assets. But that’s a blog for another day.

I wouldn’t have made this tasteless a game, personally, but I think its greatest sin is that it actually looks a bit boring and repetitive. By way of disclaimer, it’s not out yet and I haven’t played it but I’ve watched gameplay videos from Gamespot and numerous other Youtubers with review copies. The controls look like they could have used work. Some people don’t like the art style, though I have to say that I do. The world is dark. Black and white. This reflects your character’s clouded and binary viewpoint quite artistically I think. The destruction physics also look quite tasty, so kudos there.

The most shocking part of the game is definitely its executions. The only way to get back your health is to walk up to an injured person and ‘Execute’ them, which will give you one of several extremely cold and violent, up-close-and-personal kills from a close-in camera view. Since this is how you get health, you have to do them to play the game. While there’s a large number of execution animations, they are still limited, and they quickly desensitise you, since you’re doing them mechanically as often as possible to boost your health, you’ve already seen most of them before after just a few minutes. Speaking objectively, I think it’s a bad gameplay move, as it makes their chief (and most visceral) mechanic lose its edge and get boring before the first level is even over. Then you’re just left with a twin-stick shooter. The targets may as well be zombies at this stage.. almost.

Not that the executions don’t shock. They absolutely do!! Head stomping, stabbing (in various ways), guns in the mouth, all while the victims moan or beg for their lives. It’s horrific, but there’s nothing here that you can’t see in movies, or haven’t seen worse of in other games. This game doesn’t even seem to have dismemberment either (see Soldier of Fortune series) but I’ll allow that I could just not have seen it. I think it’s just blood and bodies. So what’s so extra-chilling about it?

For me, and I guess anyone else who has an ounce of social awareness, it’s that the victims are total innocents, not soldiers, terrorists, aliens or zombies, and that cold-blooded killings and executions like these require a special brand of evil and have really happened to real people. And this time you’re the perpetrator. Consider Columbine, the Washington Sniper attacks, the shootings at the Dark Knight Rises showing in Colorado, or the 2011 Anders Behring Breivik attacks in Norway. I’ve linked them because I think it’s important to learn and remember these things. And here I’ve only looked back 16 years max, and only gone with non-politically and non-religiously motivated individuals (or pairs) using guns for their massacres. This means I’ve excluded the Boston marathon bombings, Charlie Hebdo, and Kenyan shopping mall attacks. And that’s without even having to think hard. Always pointed out is that non-political mass shootings seem more prevalent in the United States for whatever reason. Even in Norway, Breivik claimed he was targeting the Labor party. And forgetting about our Western orientation, we live in a world where ISIS do this sort of thing every day. We should get disgusted once in a while and think about the violence real people suffer.

 Columbine High School security cam footage.
Columbine High School security cam footage.

Should this subject be banned from video games, movies, art, music? Absolutely not! See my point 6 above. I think that war movies, for example, should be made and some of them should be made as violent and realistic as possible. We shouldn’t enjoy them as action movies. We should fear them as warnings and revere them as real-life horror stories. Fury and Saving Private Ryan stand out. Recently, on Memorial Day, Brenda Romero posted a video of her uncle John Bacon, who served in the US 101st Airborne on D-day, talking about his experiences and the movie Saving Private Ryan. Speaking about the violence of the movie (to paraphrase) he said it was good. That it’s important for people to know “what we did”. Which I took to mean, what they saw, suffered, and did themselves. I do think that it’s important that these movies and games are made.

I don’t play war games like action movies. I play them like war movies. I regret every German, Italian or Japanese soldier who comes on screen and has to die so that I can live and go home (odd how you never play the Axis in single-player shooters). Most of them weren’t bad people. Sure, there absolutely were war crimes (on ALL sides) but the great human tragedies were that individuals who never wanted to get caught up in a war for any reason, had to go and fight and/or die. Sure, some wanted to. They wanted to defend their loved ones. Or were brainwashed by what they were told the enemy were doing and would do! Or some just wanted to go and see what killing a foreigner was like (let’s not pretend there weren’t a few).

I know not everybody sees war games like I do, but they should really try to consider that perspective if they haven’t before. Playing the D-day landings in Medal of Honour: Allied Assault is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in gaming (and not just for the difficulty of the game itself). Just try make yourself get out from behind those tank traps!

I think my reasoning for war games and movies transfers logically onto murder simulators. They should be disgusting, violent, cruel, disturbing, and they should be made. Occasionally. Not for entertainment (though profit is fine, people have to eat) but for education. So we don’t forget. Not so that we get desensitised (see my point 2 above. Ripping somebody’s guts out in Mortal Kombat won’t make you any less likely to feel nauseated if you see somebody get a nasty cut chopping onions)  but so that we are aware and might try to prevent tragedies like this in the future. Think hard about what you want out of that 2nd Amendment, America.

As for Hatred. Do I think Destructive Creations had such noble goals? Not as such. Some team members may have. But below is a statement from the company’s website. Basically they say they’re trying to buck trends, offend people, make you think (okay, good) and that it’s “just a game” so don’t take it so seriously. That last one actually gets my own back up, as it trivialises every point that I’m trying to make, and damages the industry every time somebody says it. Like saying “I don’t believe in fairies”.

 Click to see this on company's website. PS I take things seriously. It seems the fairest way to take them to me.
Click to see this on company’s website. PS I take things seriously. It seems the fairest way to take them to me.

To tie this off, Hatred is deliberately controversial but not unique or ground-breaking. Hatred should make you think and disgust you and if not then you’re one sick ignorant puppy. Hatred is trying to get your back up and make you talk about it to anybody who’ll listen (and you’re probably falling for it). Hatred is a game I’m giving free publicity to because I wanted to discuss some ignored angles for the better-hood of the games industry and gamers. Hatred is self aware with a tiny tiny pinch of humour thrown in, but it’s not funny. Hatred as a game looks visually interesting, but a little boring otherwise. Hatred is releasing this week and price isn’t confirmed but conjecture puts it around €30.

Hatred should make you stop and think. But don’t hate or laud it because of what it is. Because what it ISN’T is unique, an incredible game, or deliberately making any particularly important statements. Buy it if you like. But please know all that. 

In a world where we see everything through a computer-screen-tinted glasses and think everything is entertainment, games like this are tapping on the glass and seeing are you still human. Think about it.

X-Wing’s spiritual successor is on Kickstarter?

STARFIGHTER INC. by Impeller Studios, is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter campaign, with over $150,000 raised of its $250,000 target with 13 days to go. It’s billed as the spiritual successor to Lucasarts’ X-Wing PC games from the 1990s. David Wessman, a designer on each of the 4 X-Wing games is lead designer of a quite meritorious team who want to bring back the flare of the series.

The nineties were a great time for Lucasarts and for Star Wars. See my previous blog on the May 4th Star Wars game sales. You’ll see that most of my top recommended games were from the last millennium. Rebellion, Dark Forces series, Rogue Squadron and the X-Wing series made me proud to be a sci-fi fan and a gamer. The Star Wars novels were expanding the universe in (sometimes) interesting new directions. Lucasarts were even doing well with their non-Star Wars games like Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle. Everyone was eagerly looking forward to the new prequels (Episode 1 didn’t come out until 1999 and until then it was generally a very positive time). So it’s safe to say that the nostalgia-factor is strong with this one, and Impeller Studios are banking on that nostalgia to make their Kickstarter campaign a success.

My first ever game with my first ever PC was X-Wing, which came on 5 floppy discs. I believe it was 1994, I was 7, and I played the shit out of it! One of my favourite ever games is still X-Wing Alliance, which was sadly the last entry in the series, all the way back in 1999. The fact that the series stopped there has always been a huge regret for me and other gamers. Admittedly it was a good high-note to end on, but still. I’ve always wanted another one, and nothing has satisfied. 

Things are definitely changing for Star Wars since Disney’s acquisition of the franchise in 2012, but I’m still not fully convinced that this will be good for Star Wars, or that it’ll produce the games we’ve all been craving. The entire Expanded Universe (books fiction) was the baby thrown out with the bathwater, the promising 1313 was cancelled, and so far we’ve seen 3 trailers for the new EA Battlefront game without 1 second of gameplay footage. I’m not passing judgement yet, just withholding it. I’ve been hurt before! At least the deal can’t turn out worse for Star Wars. Disney will either breathe new life into the horse, or just take over the flogging, but they can’t kill it again (1313 excluded).

What would sell me, personally, is if the movies are good and we get a new X-Wing (or Empire at War or Republic Commando) game. The free-to-play multiplayer-only Attack Squadrons was (thankfully) cancelled in Beta stage with the developers saying it was “so we can focus on other game experiences” (article here). There was hope that the other experiences mentioned might be an X-wing game, but one year later, and with Wessman working on Starfighter Inc. the chances of that are looking slimmer.

With Star Citizen’s success spurring on a rebirth for the space-sim genre, maybe we will still see an official Star Wars space game again, but for now it looks like X-Wing fans shouldn’t hold their breath. So, should they pin their hopes on Starfighter Inc?

 The Impeller Studios team.
The Impeller Studios team.

My problem is that while the later X-Wing games DID have multiplayer, the games were single player story experiences, with dramatic and varied missions through which you lived out your space hero fantasies. You didn’t get killed by better players every 30 seconds and respawn. That shatters the hero fantasy. X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter was the exception in the story-driven franchise but even its expansion pack had story content. Starfighter Inc. is just planned as a multiplayer game. I hate that! To me, that’ll be fun for a couple of hours, but be nowhere near the X-Wing experience that I’ve been craving, and I imagine many fans will agree with me. Impeller are banking on the good will and nostalgia of X-Wing fans to give this project its legs, but for me, one of the world’s largest X-Wing fans, they’re not successfully speaking to that nostalgia. They’re making just another space deathmatch game. I care little that Wessman is working on it if he’s not delivering the kind of game I know him for. I love Far Cry (kinda) and Crysis (1, only) but the fact that Jack Mamais is on the team doesn’t matter much to me either because this game isn’t a First Person Shooter!

I want the game that X-Wing should be 16 years on from X-Wing Alliance. That game had over 50 single player missions, ships with gun positions (like the Millennium Falcon), hyperspace trips in-mission, re-arming on capital ships in-mission, and boarding enemy ships. Kinda. You docked and then sat in the turret for x amount of time while you heard your commandos board the station and do the interesting stuff over the radio.

Starfighter Inc. has… well, all that, but except the missions. Its main selling points are the things X-Wing Alliance had 16 years ago, but without an interesting narrative context to put them in. Multiplayer matches and levelling up your ship can be great, but they’re a very different type of game. Wessman describes the game as “World of Tanks meets Counter-Strike in space”. Both of those games are multiplayer team games where you level up your stats, but they’re clearly trying to appeal to the nostalgia of X-Wing fans to carry them through, with Wessman also saying “this game is the next X-Wing”.

 X-Wing Alliance was the first game to let you fly the Millennium Falcon and fight the entire Battle of Endor, including the run inside the second Death Star!
X-Wing Alliance was the first game to let you fly the Millennium Falcon and fight the entire Battle of Endor, including the run inside the second Death Star!

Now, there is a single-player campaign stretch-goal to mention, but it’s the $10,500,000 goal. Right now it’s looking questionable whether they’ll reach their first goal of $250,000 so I doubt very much that this game will be “the next X-Wing”. It’s also using Newtonian physics. Popular nowadays, for sure, and more realistic, but X-Wing didn’t have this. In those games you flew like you were in an atmosphere and would get into turning battles with other craft. That was how the game felt to play. Newtonian physics completely changes the tactics of a dogfighting game in space because you can always turn to face your enemy, even if it means you’re suddenly flying relatively backwards. So it’s questionable if even the dogfighting part in the multiplayer will feel reminiscent of X-Wing at all.

To my eyes, this game is promising to deliver basically what the Arena Commander part of Star Citizen is already delivering, only much later. From their video, Starfighter Inc. looks to be extremely early in development. What I want from a spiritual X-Wing successor is a solid, dramatic, narrative-driven single player (or co-op) campaign game with big ships, little ships, and incredible set pieces. The first episode of Squadron 42 (Star Citizen’s single-player side) is supposedly going to be out late this year and will supposedly have about 20 hours of gameplay. I expect delays, but still, it’s much more likely to deliver the spiritual successor to X-Wing (well, Wing Commander if we’re going to get technical there) that I’ve wanted for 16 years than Starfighter Inc. is.

So, sorry Impeller Studios. I want to want this game. I really want it to be X-Wing’s spiritual successor. I also fully understand the decision to model your game on the hyper-successful World of Tanks and Counter-Strike, but I don’t think I want this. I’ll support for a small amount. I’d love to see you eventually put out single-player content, but I don’t feel that this game is X-Wing’s spiritual successor. I wish you luck with it. I’ll be sure to play it if it does succeed, and I hope it does. I think it’ll be fun and more quality space shooters are a good thing in a world that’s been starved of them, but without a single player campaign as the primary focus, I think you’re missing the mark with what X-Wing fans wanted. For me, at least, you are.

Talking MONEY: Advice from Music vs Games corners

I’ve come across something of a conundrum recently. It’s a confounding discrepancy  between advice given by professionals in the music and games industries on what’s essentially the same issue.

That advice is about talking and deciding upon money at the early stages of a project; forming your team.

I’m in games now but I was actively into music as a guitar player/songwriter before. In 2010 I did Hot Press magazine’s Music Industry Explained course of lectures. A number of industry experts, including Jackie Hayden, discussed areas of the music industry and a number of them said that when forming a band, you want to be clear about where the money (if and when there is any) is going to go. Especially if you’re forming with your friends, as is usually the case.
So many bands have broken up as soon as they start to make money because they never agreed how much they’d all get if money ever came up. The singer might assume he should get more because he writes the songs, even though he’s always late for practice, while the guitarist has effectively booked all gigs and handled the press (managing the band) and assumes he deserves a manager’s cut, while the loyal and punctual drummer (no pun intended) just assumed there were 5 of them taking a 5 way split.

It happens so much and the advice is to nip this in the bud. There’s no right way to do it. An even split is probably the safest thing to assume but the writer should get more as he’s producing the material, perhaps, and the guy managing is doing a double job, so what’s fair? You just have to agree first, and the advice is, agree in writing! Preferably with a solicitor/lawyer involved.

 U2 with manager Paul Mc Guinness. Click for Paul's Wikipedia page to learn more.
U2 with manager Paul Mc Guinness. Click for Paul’s Wikipedia page to learn more.

As a case study, it might interest people to know that Larry Mullen Jr. formed U2. Bono still acknowledges that it’s Larry’s band and doesn’t just make the decisions as front-man. But they all agreed early on to split any money evenly, and a very smart decision they made was to give manager Paul Mc Guinness an equal split too. So all of U2’s profits go evenly to 5 people, not 4, and look how successful they are. I should say “went” because Mc Guinness stepped down in 2013, but he managed U2 from the very beginning.

My good friend Sally Ó Dúnlaing, a fantastic singer who’s still neck-deep in the music scene was telling me about the “change a word, take a third” rule of thumb in the industry. This amounts to if you contribute anything to a song, you take a share of the song in the form of a co-producer credit. This is how big pop songs can wind up having 15 writers and 16 producers under a single artist’s name (Beyoncé, say). The point is that the music industry seems to have this figured out and they know how they’re going to get paid.

Conversely, the game industry, and especially the indie game industry is in its infancy relative to the music world and maybe haven’t seen as many legal battles over this stuff. Although forming a small indie team and working for a year or two on a game is directly comparable with (and even comes under a lot of the same entertainment-law areas as) forming a band and working on an EP for the same amount of time, I’ve been given advice by both amateurs and professionals in the game scene to “not talk about money until there’s money to talk about”. Why is this? I actually don’t have an answer. It’s more of an open question and maybe you’d be kind enough to post in the comments if you have an insight.

As a wider poll, I asked a Facebook group of indie developers for their advice on the topic. I got mixed advice. One or two did say it’s very important to agree early on. Others said to “form with your friends” (not that this is guaranteed to prevent disputes) and others to start working assuming an equal share and then see how much work people are putting in. Another said to talk when the game is 30-50% done.

Even researching other blogs and guides specifically on forming indie games teams didn’t net me a single answer. Advice ranged from “just pay them, you own the rest”, to “equal share” to “divide by hours worked”. There doesn’t seem to be a “right” answer, as with music, but the advice in music is at least consistent. “Sort it out early”.

Personally I come from a background where I studied a commerce degree (a couple of legal classes included), was involved in the music and burlesque scenes in Ireland as a musician, songwriter and producer, studied Irish tax (more law) and am now getting into the games industry. My education tells me to be super clear about this stuff early on. I acknowledge that you maybe are forming with friends and don’t want to alienate them so how you go about the discussion may need to be considered carefully. 

But when everyone knows where they stand, and if where they stand is acceptable to them, then you have a focussed and motivated team. Without that clarity, or at least an element of trust and respect keeping the team together and happy, you’re likely doomed. Even with a motivated and talented team, the odds of making a successful game or album are slim enough that you may never come to worrying about sharing profits, but at least you’ve got a fighting chance.

 This is supposed to be a picture of a happy and successful team. Don't read too much into it :)

That’s my opinion anyway, but I’d love to hear what you think, particularly if you’ve opinions on why the industries seem to differ so much in their opinions on this stuff, or if you don’t think that they do and my experience has been a statistical anomaly.

Oculus Rift: The Latest (get it?)

 Click for Oculus website

.. well, if you do get it, then maybe you know already, but Oculus VR have just put out a statement this week saying that the consumer version of their Oculus Rift virtual reality headset (final, ready one) will be available some time in the first three months of 2016, with pre-orders being taken at the end of this year. More info on pricing and features will likely be revealed at E3 in June.

My immediate reaction to this was “what’s taking them so long? They’re losing market share”. Oculus had its successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2012. Okay so inventing a new type of hardware that you blindfold yourself with and move around virtual worlds in without throwing up is something that hasn’t been done before and takes time. Nobody expected it to be fast, but it takes lots of time apparently, and nobody yet knows how much because the headsets aren’t finished yet. From a consumer perspective, I initially expected to have one some time in 2014, then they were going to be available in 2015, and now, supposedly, sometime in early 2016. To be fair, Oculus’ stance has always been that they’ll release it “when it’s ready” and fair play to them for their caution. They’ve stated that they don’t want to kill the potential VR market by releasing a bad product, which is basically why VR never took off in the 90s. 

So as to development, the things that have taken them so long basically come down to investigating every possible hardware and software avenue of reducing latency. Latency is the delay between you moving, and you seeing the world move around you on-screen. Real life has zero latency, so that’s what your inner ear expects. VR has several milliseconds worth at the best of times, and this is what causes motion sickness. One of the crucial things that Oculus did in their process was to partner with Samsung, so they could have the use of their proprietary OLED screen technology, used in Galaxy devices, which, without me getting technical, makes looking at VR easier/faster/less nauseating.

 VR isn't all about games. Check out this meditative VR experience, Deep, in which you control the relaxing experience with deep diaphragmatic breathing. Click the image to open in new window.
VR isn’t all about games. Check out this meditative VR experience, Deep, in which you control the relaxing experience with deep diaphragmatic breathing. Click the image to open in new window.

After doing that, though, it seems they diverted their attention partly towards getting the Samsung Gear VR headset developed. A prototype version (Innovator Edition) is currently available to consumers, with the full version set for a late 2015 release. Pricing is about £169, or around €200, but it only works with a Galaxy Note 4 or the S6 (different version of headset) which you slot into the devices. If you don’t have the phone, this makes the headset something like an €800 prospect though. Software for the device is somewhat limited but there’s enough to play with already with so much more on the way. We see with mobile apps and games how the mobile phone is king and PC and console experiences simply must take the back seat. The Oculus Rift product will undoubtedly lose some of its potential buyers to its mobile-arena sibling, but can cornering both sides of the market be called a bad strategy? Did this segue give other companies the time to get their own offerings up and running before Oculus?

Oculus undoubtedly spearheaded the new VR initiative. Their Kickstarter campaign in late 2012, asking for $250k, raised almost $2.5m, and the world took note. Facebook acquired Oculus for $2bn in 2014 and then the world really copped on. Since then there have been a slew of announcements of similar products, with most major tech brands having an offering (even if Google’s seems to be just a piece of cardboard for your phone). 

The real pity about Oculus’ 2016 release date is that Oculus, arguably the driving force that has made VR a virtual (pun intended) reality won’t even be the first to market in their tier.

Valve (have you heard of ‘Steam’? Yes you have) have partnered with HTC, one of Samsung’s top mobile competitors, to bring us the HTC (re)Vive, which is compatible with the Steam gaming platform. The Vive had a very strong reveal in March, with all reports being that the current prototype is blowing Oculus’ older Crystal Cove (Dev Kit 2) prototype out of the water. Not that that is any indication of the final quality, but it does put the Vive on the map.

Sony have revealed their Project Morpheus headset for Playstation 4 which will also release in early 2016, and Microsoft have their HoloLens offering, which you can see through. The HoloLens augments your view, instead of replacing it. Quite a different product but in a nearby field, without a release date as of yet.

Each set has their own particular input devices, not all of which have been seen yet. Prices for the headsets and controllers haven’t been announced but the Oculus is expected to be cheaper than the Vive at approx $300 vs $450. If this is the case, will the lower price and Facebook’s backing be enough for Oculus to keep market share waiting for them into 2016, while people are already playing with the Vive? Likely it will, but being beaten to market when they proved that there was a viable market in the first place has got to sting Oculus’ pride, as well as their bottom line.

I, for one, am very excited that the VR age has nearly arrived, but I’ll probably, like many, be adopting a wait-and-see approach before deciding which project to drop the big bucks into some time in the middle of next year.

What do you think? What games can you not wait to try in VR? Do you care at all? Do discuss in the comments.

Star Wars PC Game SALES: What to buy & Where

May the 4th is almost upon us, and that means Star Wars games are going on sale! What’s interesting this year is that a lot of older PC games have also just come available. Games from before the Playstation or Xbox even existed!! So I want to talk about what games to pick up in the sales this weekend and where to buy them for the best value.

DISCLAIMER: I’m just focusing on PC games and the deals between Steam and GOG (Good Old Games). Both companies’ sales last from now until May 7th, and there is no indication that there’ll be any better deals on the actual May 4th, but you may want to wait until the 4th to be sure. I’ll be talking about the best deals as they stand today; May 1st.

Easy stuff first. Star Wars Rebel Assault 1&2 have just become available for the first time ever in the last few days, and are only available on GOG. They’re not part of any other offer, so they’re a simple decision. Buy them or don’t. I used to be all about RA2 but never played the first. I’m definitely picking this up. These are rail shooter adventure games, with, following your character, Rookie One (yes, that’s his name)’s unique story in the Star Wars universe as told through hours of FMV cutscenes. I can’t say how well they hold up, but they’re definitely an item of interest that you don’t see a whole lot of on the PC any more.

The next two offers involve the Xwing games. Definitely worth picking up one of these deals. X-Wing was the first game I ever owned (along with Commander Keen IV) so for nostalgia alone, I must own it. But 1999’s X-Wing Alliance is my all time favourite space combat sim. Just a fantastic game all around. Look up reviews yourself if you want as I won’t attempt to review each game here. Also be aware that some of the games may require a joystick, some work with keyboard/mouse if desired, and gamepads may/may not be supported. Check it out on the individual pages if you’re concerned.

Steam’s offering (left) is the cheaper at €25.19, but GOG’s Blaster Bundle (right) offers 3 more games for an extra €11.74. These are Rogue Squadron (of N64 fame) in which you fly the Star Wars ships in atmospheric battles, Galactic Battlegrounds which is a decent RTS that came before the fantastic Empire At War, and Rebellion (known back then as Supremacy in the UK/Ireland for some reason) which is a massive strategy game where you command either the Rebels or Empire and build bases and fleets throughout the galaxy. This was nowhere near as popular as I think it deserves to have been and sadly the style hasn’t really been repeated to the same degree in any strategy game I’ve played since. Look it up.
For my money, the extra 3 games are well worth the extra €11.74, so I wholeheartedly recommend GOG’s Blaster Bundle. Some of my all-time favourite games in here.

The last one might be a little tricky if, like me, you already own many of the games from these collections, and/or don’t want some. You prefer to buy some of these individually but I’ll be analysing them as whole packages only. They’re both the biggest collections that either company are offering and they’re both 77% off the normal price, down to €21-odd euro.

For the same money, both packages offer you the all 5 Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games, both deals including Mysteries of the Sith  (these are the Star Wars first person shooter and lightsabre games, following Kyle Katarn – mostly), Empire At War & Forces of Corruption (my all time favourite RTS. Play the 2 player galactic conquest mode of a Sunday afternoon. Best fun you’ll ever have), Battlefront 2 (think Star Wars meets/steals Battlefield), Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2 (KOTOR 1 is one of the best rated RPGs of all time. 93% Metacritic), Republic Commando (best Star Wars shooter if you ask me, with great squad mechanics), and Star Fighter (like the aforementioned  Rogue Squadron but came later and was for Episode 1. I haven’t played it yet so I can’t say more).

However, Steam’s bundle (left), for €0.31 less, also gives you The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes and The Force Unleashed 1 & 2. Of them I could only really say that The Force Unleashed 1 is regarded as being worth a play, and even then it’s tedious, but they’re effectively for nothing, so why not. Apparently you can’t gift the extra copies to anybody, though. They simply disappear. The law needs to change on this, but that’s for another day.

The only reason not to choose Steam then is that GOG’s sales are DRM-free, if that matters to you. Sort of like buying free-trade coffee. You won’t deny it’s better, but it may or may not actually bother you personally when it comes down to it.

I hope this guide was helpful. The only hard part left is what to play first. Personally I’m going to start on the Rebel Assault games as a warm up. They’re shorter. Republic Commando is also short enough. If you get into the Xwing or KOTOR games, don’t expect to come out the other side for a few weeks!

May the 4th be with you, folks!