Monday, May 21, 2018

Reader Submitted: Game Review - Subnautica, Part Three


By Rita Mariner

(Continued from Part Two)

In the SUBNAUTICA storyline, you will get a series of radio messages from a starship Sunbeam.  They will finally determine that they need to come to Planet 4546B to rescue you.  They will send coordinates of where it is they want you to meet them. It's about 1.5 km from your Lifepod.  Hopefully by now you will have secured yourself a Seamoth, it makes the trip much faster and safer.  You will be a bit surprised when you reach the island and see what awaits you there.  You will be even more shocked when you see that it blasts the Sunbeam from the sky, right in front of you.  You will have to explore around the building, to locate, up to three new Purple Tablets.  You can then enter and explore the alien facility and learn the awful truth.  YOU'RE INFECTED!  You can't leave the planet because of that. Seems the entire planet is quarantined, due to a deadly bacteria, called Kharaa. So NO ONE is allowed on or off the planet, as long as they are infected!

What do you do? Follow the clues to a possible cure?  Your just one lone survivor and these precursors, with all this tech, were not able to solve this problem, over 1000 years ago. Plus they left these nasty enforcer units behind, called Warpers, to hunt and kill any infected individuals.  Your life just went from piss poor, to now it sucks bad.  Personally, I use the Subnautica wiki to help me locate wrecks and lifepods that have stuff I need or the coordinates don't popup on my PDA.  I put each wreck on a piece of paper and list the various fragments and or Databoxes they contain.  I then use the F1 key to show me the planet coordinates of where I am and move to the spot I need to go to collect the items I need.  Remember you will need a laser cutter for most of the stuff, to access it and also WATCH YOUR AIR,  unless your using the Rebreather, over 100m down you suck your O2 Tank dry fast.

That is one of the first things you will be prompted to do is go back onto the Aurora and repair the damaged drive core and stop the radiation leakage.  That will allow you then to dump the Radiation suit and wear the Rebreather and Reinforced Dive suit, once you find it.  You will need a Propulsion Cannon, Scanner, Laser Cutter, Repair Tool, Fire Extinguishers, Med Pacs. I take my Seamoth over, but be careful how you approach the Aurora wreck, a Reaper lurks there.  I have two storage modules on it, since there are some collectibles on the wreck, if you want them, Lab Gear, posters, Bags, batteries, med packs, model of the ship.  There is also a complete set of Prawn Suit fragments to scan. You will need 4 different access codes to the various doors, you get them off PDAs or the radio message you receive. Codes will be needed for Lab, Cargo, Cabin 1 and Captain's Cabin. I find the low entrance, clear it, killing nasties that try to eat you.  You will get to the Lab and a couple of terminals with data that need downloading.  Lots of collectibles in Lab.

After you clear the two areas on the lower space.  I return to the Seamoth, empty my inventory of collectibles and then swim over to the left a bit farther and walk up the wreck that leads to the upper entrance.  You will find storage lockers along the way, as well as more nasties.  Check them, many have batteries, you might need and med pacs, you will need.  You will walk around a curved piece of metal and onto a deck that leads to the airlock opening.  Pickup the fire extinguisher you find on the way.. Use them as you need them, but sparingly.  Only where you need to get through to where you need to be. Hit Administration first, get the data there and what items you can collect or scan.  Then move to Cargo Bay.  Check the Cargo Bay for anything you can use, or scan.  Next stop, Seamoth Bay, PDA there and a Depth Module, have your knife handy from here on out a very vicious nasty lurks the the wreck, called a Bleeder. Next stop the Locker Room, need Laser Cutter.  Search the room for PDAs you will get the needed access codes for the rooms upstairs, plus more batteries and med pacs.  The out the other door and up to Prawn Bay, here you need to put out the fire, so you can get close enough to repair the door control. and open it. 

Now you have hit payday, inside you will find all the Prawn Suit fragments you need, but you will need to put down enough of the fires to get to some of them. Also kill the fires enough to grab a Storage module.  You will then clear one of the stairs so you can proceed upstairs. Upstairs is crews quarters, first stop is cafe or storage room.  Cafe you need to kill the fires then scan anything in there you don't have, pickup another extinguisher, PDA and poster. the you can go right or left and search the rooms.  Some you will need to put out fires.  Search each room for anything you can scan or collect, PDA, battery, Med Pac, poster, bag, etc. Here you will find Cabin 1 and the Captain's Cabin. I find I need to make two trips, to the Seamoth,  if I want to grab and take all the collectibles from the crew's quarters.  The Captain's Cabin is where you get the detailed info for your escape rocket. 

Once I have cleaned out all the cabins, I will head back down to hallway outside the Locker Room and head towards the Drive Room.  Put out the fire blocking your way. Proceed to the station, grab the Cyclops Engine Efficiency Module.  You will know see the problem, large holes in the reactor walls.  You scan them and hit each one with your repair tool. Keep your knife handy as you try to repair the breaches, the Bleeders will be sucking you dry. So while you have you repair tool running, keep your finger ready to bring up your knife, to slice and dice, any Bleeder that attaches itself to you.  I think there are like 13 breaches you need to repair, so it will take some time. Once you have sealed up the Drive Core breaches your done with the Aurora, grab your loot, head back to base and party.  You can now dump you radiation Suit and wear the Rebreather.  Plus the Reinforced Dive suit, when you get the plans.

To be continued

Rita Mariner

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reader Submitted: Game Review - Subnautica, Part Two


By Rita Mariner

(Continued from Part One)

So what is SUBNAUTICA story, besides being stranded on an alien, water plant and having to fight to survive.  You will be collecting resources to make your first set of tools to survive. Once you get your Lifepod repaired.  You will start to receive radio distress messages from other Lifepods.  All of them have a PDA or two, look around outside for a second one.  Some will have Data Box, with a blueprint for a piece of gear you may not have. 

As the story progresses you will visit the first of three Degasi Bases.  It is on a floating island.  You will find you first clue that aliens are possibly involved, as you explore the base(s).  There are three buildings on the island you need to explore.  Watch out for some nasties, they BITE!  Keep your knife handy!  There will ba a lot of stuff to scan as well. Some additional habitat pieces.  Several PDAs are there, you need to find them all, since they will lead you to the next base.

In between running off to the various Lifepods, you need to investigate your local area for any and all fragments you can to build your data base.  You will need to get your Seaglide first. You will then need to find the Mobile Vehicle Bay, so you can build the Seamoth, once you find all the fragments.  The Mobile Vehicle Bay will also build your Cyclops and Neptune Launch Platform. So best to find the fragments as soon as possible, so you can start to collect the needed resources.

While most resources come from limestone, sandstone and later shale rock outcroppings.  Crystals are used to make glass and are found separate.  Lithium can be separate or in Shale. More exotic resources are found much deeper and you will need a fully upgraded Seamoth to even hope to get to them.  You want to start building your habitat as soon as possible, so you can house your resources as you collect them.  You also need to find the fragments and build a Moonpool to house, recharge and later upgrade your Seamoth and Prawn suit.

When I play, I spend a lot of time looking thru the Mushroom Tree Forest, since it has a bunch of fragments waiting to be scanned.  I can find Cyclops, Moonpool and Modification Station fragments.  There are also lots of lithium and shale rock, so you can score some diamonds.  It will take time to find them and you need to watch your depth, plus there is a nasty there, called a Rock Shark that will beat the heck out of your Seamoth, so keep your repair tool handy and charged up. Enough for now.

Rita Mariner

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reader Submitted: Game Review Subnautica


By Rita Mariner

  I have never been one who was much into video games, but I started to watch the You Tube channel of The Mighty Jingles, ex-British Navy guy.  I started playing World of Tanks, then World of Warships, but they they had issues, plus being multi-player games, you were at the tender mercies of your team mates, good or bad.  I then tried X-COM, but even though it was single player, I was having a hard time with it.  I guess my PC wasn't up to the task, or I wasn't.  I was getting frustrated.  Then I finally found a game I loved: SUBNAUTICA, a single -player, survival game.

  What is SUBNAUTICA?  It is a single player, game of survival.  Your spaceship,  the Aurora, has crash landed on an alien water world, Planet 4546B.  Your Lifepod is damaged and you have no tools and limited supplies. The PDA you have gives you information on how to build the first set of basic tools you will need to survive, but you need to get out and find the resources, on the ocean floor. 

You can play the game in one of 4 different modes.  One: Survival:  Here you have to watch your air, food and water, as well all the things around you trying to kill you. Freedom:  like survival only without having to worry about food, or water. Hardcore: like Survival, but only one life, you die, you start over from scratch.  Creative:  No limits, all blueprints at the start, can't die, just explore, build away..  I tried this one, got bored with it, no challenge.

   So what you have to do to survive is find resources to start building to stuff you need to advance the storyline.  Limestone you will find, Titanium and Copper.  Sandstone contains Lead, Silver or Gold. Later when you locate Shale they will contain Lithium and Diamonds.  Many other needed resources will just be out in the open waiting to be picked up.  Once you get your Scanner built, scan everything, it is your best friend. Next tool is Repair Tool, that one is tricky, since is requires Cave Sulphur.  This resource comes from the nest of a very cranky fish. You get close to them, they charge you and BLOWUP in a cloud of acid, which hurts!  If enough of them hit you at once, you can die! so pack lots of med packs and use them. 

   There are vehicles in Subnautica, but you need to find the fragments of them, in order to build them, Seaglide, Seamoth, Mobile Vehicle Bay, and Cyclops.  There are many other items you will need badly in the game, Laser Cutter, Battery Charger, and you will have to explore wrecks to find them as well as Data Boxes that have complete blueprints to other equipment.  There are also lots of PDA's laying around with data on them, try not to miss any.  They will in or around wrecked Lifepods, or wrecked pieces of the ship, abandoned bases. Enough for now.  Check out Mighty Jingles Subnautica to see more about the game.  Be warned though, Very addicting.  Game is available on Steam for $25.

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Continued in Part Two

Rita Mariner

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ark Survival Evolved Update: New Map, New Version, and Lots of Mods


By Bixyl Shuftan

My friends play some games for a short while, and it isn't long before they lose interest and move on to something else. Ark Survival Evolved isn't one of them. After over two and a half years and a number of changes, they still like returning to an island filled with prehistoric creatures, braving the dangers, and making things with the resources there.

Those whom haven't played the game before may want to check my previous articles in July, August, and September 2016 and February 2017. The basic premise of the game remains the same: that of a human waking up on the beach of an island populated by dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, with nothing but his wits and two bare hands. You won't be able to do much at first, and it's best to avoid even the smallest carnivores for the first few levels. So many creatures see you as a snack to chase down and bite and claw to death. But you'll soon get stronger, faster, and with learning new skills comes clothes, equipment, and the ability to make a home base. Complicating things is the kind of server you're on. Public PvE or Player versus Environment servers often have huge tracts of land claimed by others simply so no one else can use it, which can make finding a place to settle hard. Player versus Player servers, the people you'll run into can vary greatly. Some will help you. Others will wreck your place, steal your stuff, and skewer you just for giggles. Having no patience for the "PvP kiddies," many of my friends tend to stay in private servers, such as the one Nydia shares with her friends.

So much has changed since I last wrote about the game over a year ago in February 2017. For one, there's a new map: Ragnarok. This place is about two and a half times the size of the original map, also known as "The Island." Like The Island, there is a mix of terrains. But unlike the original area, there's a large desert area in the south, dominated by the "Deathsands" that can cause heatstroke and eventually death if you stay too long there. In the interior are some high mountain and plateau areas, with ice and snow, parts of it having super cold temperatures that can rapidly sink your health without cold climate clothes. Appropriately enough, the Ark Wiki calls  the areas "Murdersnow." On the northern part of the map is a barren, scorched area. One has to be careful in parts of this area as it's home to Fire Wyverns (first seen in the Scorched Earth map) that can set you, and any mount you may be riding, ablaze.

The recommended starting places are in the northwest and north-central areas, with temperate climates. In addition to the dilos that use blinding spitting attacks, players on the beach will have to contend with the thieving pegomastaxs and ichthyornis. Pegomastaxs are annoying, but as they're ground animals can be pursued and knocked out, though if they get away, the player will have lost an item, possibly a valuable on. I found ichthyornis to be more trouble as they swoop down on players from above, robbing them of food. While they don't steal items, they do knock tools and weapons onto the ground, and will attack players again and again, which is both irritating, and for a low level player dangerous as they have less HP to spare as it's attacks damage some.

A deadlier danger is the eurypterid that while usually on the sea floor occasionally comes onto the beach. Nicknamed "Larry the lobster" by my fellow players, this ancient aquatic arthropod can sting with a strong poison that will quickly knock out players, leaving them helpless as it eats them alive. Ranged weapons are recommended in taking these out, as it may get a lucky couple of hits on a player using a pike, which will be enough to knock out a medium to low-level player. Solo players with only melee weapons should avoid pairs. As dangerous as "Larry" is, one can find pearls on them, including black pearls. So some will brave the dangers, or use a lot of bullets. And then, there's the Giganotosaurus. These are rare, which is good as these monsters are several times larger than rexes and eats wyvrens for breakfast. Their size combined with their rage makes them a predator best avoided.

Fortunately, not everything new is necessarily out to rob, peck, and eat you. The cute jerboas from the Scorched Earth map are here. These critters do have a use besides being adorable fuzzballs. As Ragnorak gets hit by sandstorms, even in the north,their ability to detect weather can alert you to one. Appearing on The Island several months ago, and on Ragnarok is the otter, which makes a great and practical pet for both the warmth it provides and it's ability to get fish and pearls, including on occasion black pearls. There are other creatures from Scorched Earth here as well, Wyverns having a new variety: Ice. Like all wyverns, they are very dangerous opponents in a fight and valuable mounts that are tough to beat. They can only be tamed if raised from eggs. The mythological griffin has also been introduced. As one might expect, wild ones are best observed at a distance as they will attack. If one goes through the trouble to tame one, they do make a prize mount that can carry two people.

Resources are also easier to find. On The Island, metal was uncommon, as were oil spots, and I could find obsidian and crystal only in a few places. On Ragnarok, metal can be found all over, and obsidian and crystal can be found in more places. On the beach, one will find occasional loot crates that contain random items useful for beginning players, such as stone hatchets, bows, or if they're lucky an iron pike.

While The Island had a few occasional ruins that weren't always easy to find, Ragnarok has some large abandoned structures. One of the most prominent is the castle visible from Viking Bay that's located on a high plateau east of it. But as the place is filled with bats and spiders, it's highly recommended one bring armor, a gun with a lot of ammo, and plenty of friends. Safer but further inland is an abandoned bridge that's starting to crumble. Exactly who was using these structures is not yet known.

With Nydia and the "Furry Gamers" getting back in Ark, we got a private server with a Ragnarok map, or "Rag," as we sometimes call it for short. We set up a main base in a cave in the northwest with one of the three obelisks on the map just to the west. With over a dozen in the tribe working together, it wasn't long before the most active were strong enough to start taming some powerful beasties, such as some of the wyverns after grabbing some eggs. We made some notable structures, such as the "Hotel Bunnytickle" in Viking Bay which stood over a dozen stories high. We made a number of bases along the north coast and a few in the interior.

But there was more than a new island to explore and build on. Over the past year, Ark has encouraged the building of a number of mods. These can be mildly useful tweaks, to new maps, to new ways to build things, and more. The Ragnarok map got it's start as a mod. Structures-Plus, also called (S+) gives you more structure parts to build, as well as new versions of the old which you don't have to destroy to remove, but simply take down and either store it or place it elsewhere. S+ foundations are stackable, so one can make a really strong stone or metal fence. It can also allow you to build an underwater base, which is not exactly the easiest thing to raid in a PvP server.

The Eco Decorative and RP allows you to create plants, bushes, glowing crystals, and huge trees. The Castles, Keeps, and Forts Mod allows you to build medieval era-structures. As dinos are sort of like dragons, this allows you to make places out of fantasy novels, complete with jousting matches, on dinosaurs. The Steampunk mod allows you to use steam technology, which can allow you to build things out of a Jules Verne novel. Among which are huge skyships. Pimp My Home allows you to decorate your home base in new ways to make it feel more like a home. It can be a little surreal to have a dino in a kitchen with modern appliances, but here it is. Conquer the Seas allows you to build a number of boats, as well as a small airship. The dredger can get you resources from the ocean bottom, and fishing boats allow you to get both certain resources, and of course fish. The Crystal Isles Mod gives you a new map in an area filled with crystals. The area is beautiful, but Ark being Ark can still be quite deadly.

There's too many mods for me to mention, others including the useful Dino Tracker and the amusing Dodo Rider. Butthey've allowed Ark players in private servers a world of possibilities. One small problem: a lot of mods may lag some players. So they're not for everyone. You can find a list of the mods on the Wiki (here). Twinfinite also gave a list of thirty mods, ranging from very useful to mildly interesting.

Then there's the Tek technology. Appearing last year, these an a space-age/alien tech element to the game. The engrams and the material "element" needed to make them are available only by killing boss creatures. Tek armor can make you very difficult to defeat in a fight, with jets to make you fly, and energy weapons. You can also get Tek armor for tamed animals such as the T-Rex and sharks ("Dinobots" and sharks with frikin lasers anyone?). There's Tek equipment, such as a replicator which takes fewer materials to build things than in a fabricator or smithy. There's a cloning chamber, which you can clone a creature if you have enough element. Teleporters allow you to teleport yourself, and other people or creatures close by, to another teleporter, but unlike beds you can keep your clothes and inventory. And there's more, including tech windows and doors which open when you're nearby.

Needless to say, Tek technology does scare some who play public servers. Raiding parties with machine guns and explosives are bad enough, but rocket jets and energy weapons gives people the idea of raiders whom can smash up a well-defended base with impunity. So there are some PvP servers that are labeled Tek-free.

Scorched Earth has also been joined by a second alternative version of Ark: Aberration. Players find themselves in an "Ark gone wrong." Somehow the Ark has been damaged, and the surface is bombarded with harsh radiation during the day, driving all but the most resilient life forms underground, which live in lush biomes. There are a number of kinds of mushrooms, the larger which chopping can give you fungal wood, which can be used like regular wood. There are smaller kinds of mushrooms, some providing small benefits when eaten, but others can cause hallucinations and temporary inability to breathe. There are gas vents one can harvest congealed gas balls from, but be careful as you could suffocate by inhaling the gas. There are gems you can harvest. Earthquakes can rain down resources from above such as stone, regular wood, obsidian, and crystal, but can also damage your base or knock you down when climbing a wall.

The radiation has created new creatures that can help or hinder. The bulbdog is a friendly creature that can be a source of light as well as a pet. The goblin-like nameless are a constant threat in many areas, but can be held at bay by light sources. Ravagers are a kind of canine that can really hurt you as they're usually in packs, but a valuable ally if tamed. Rock drakes are large creatures that can climb walls, glide distances, and have a stealth ability that can allow them to sneak up on you, and possibly make short work of it's target. But like wyverns, they can be tamed if raised from an egg, making them a powerful mounts. Reapers are dangerous alpha predators that low and medium level players don't have a chance against, and queens can "impregnate" a player with their young, which if left untreated will eventually burst from the player like the creature in "Alien." It's *possible* to tame the young, but very difficult.

It is possible to transfer creatures from single player games to private servers. One of my friends brought over some rock drake eggs, of which I ended up with one resulting "rocky." With no hostile players around, there's no need to camouflage, but it's fun to glide around and climb walls. With this creature well over level 100, he makes lunch out of any T-Rex he encounters. He's the best fighter at the base I stay at.

There are more survivor notes to discover, the latest from a woman from Medieval Japan and a man from Ancient Greece. It seems the activity in the PvP servers was a factor in their stories as the woman describes most of her encounters with others as hostile, some trying to kill her on sight. The Greek man in one entry describes himself as waking up away from his house on the beach, without items, and finding his home broken into and robbed - he'd been raided and killed, and somehow came back to life.

There are also some tales going around of a developing plot. One youtube I came across, the narrator says he had heard stories that it was becoming clear that the Ark was a kind of alien experiment in which extraterrestrials had been preserving dinosaurs and other ancient creatures in hopes of improving them, and were recently abducting humans with the purpose of hoping to improve them as well. Right now, this should be taken only as an interesting rumor. There's also a rumor that eventually the game will have a way for players to return to Earth.Time will tell.

The Ark as an alien experiment? Who knows what they would think of those PvPers who kill for the sheer pleasure of it in contrast to those who give helping hands to neighbors in need. As always, this survival game seems to bring out the best and worst in those who play it. But unlike "Rust" which looks like it's set in the abandoned runs of some once populated area, Ark at least seems to have the potential for a better tomorrow with it's shiny technology.

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And finally, there's been a few songs done about the game. Among them, "Survivor Evolved."

That's all for now from Ark. Stay safe, watch your back, always know a line of retreat in case trouble shows up, and it never hurts to have friends.

Source: Ark Wiki , Twinfinite, Steam
Image credit: Nydia Tungsten

Bixyl Shuftan

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Toontown MMO Back: Toontown Rewritten


By Bixyl Shuftan


Some readers may remember when the Newser wrote about the Disney multiplayer online game "Toontown" in September 2013. The overall plot was the cartoon town's inhabitants fighting using jokes and gags against corporate robots trying to take over their home. The article was done as something of a farewell salute as the comany had decided to shut down the game that month. But as cartoon fans would tell you, the cancellation of a show isn't necessarily the end. Fans of the MMO have created private servers of the game. The most popular of which is "Toontown Rewritten."

The FAQ page of the game's website states that the development of the game was announced the day the original Toontown was closed, "for the past month, a band of players known as the 'Toontown Rewritten Team' had been working on the possibility to keep Toontown alive." By the end of October, the game was ready for a small number of alpha testers. At first, the game was just a shadow of the original. But over time, the development team worked on it.  In a few ways, it's gone beyond the original, notably the addition of two more species of cartoon animals, deer and gators.

So how can a game exist when someone else owns the copyright? The game is completely free to play, all expenses paid for by the development team, as well as their time contributed done so for free. This way they avoid cease-and-desist orders. The team says they won't even accept donations. They did say there are several ways to help them out, such as joining online Toontown communities, attending their real-life ToonFest convention, or just playing the game.

So what would happen to them if Disney changed it's mind and brought back the original Toontown? The Toontown Rewritten team states that's their ultimate goal, "Toontown deserves a team of full-time employees who can give the game the love it deserves, and we absolutely want that to happen!"

I've had no experience with the original game, but playing the fan made version, it ran smoothly. A few of the other players had rather generic names such as "Green Dog," but it was still fun clobbering the bots, and doing little games to earn jellybeans, the game currency, to buy more squirt flowers and pies as ammo, and within an hour had gotten a player-owned house and a crack at the fishing game.

Currently, the game boasts over 1,400,000 registered players. For those wanting to play, head to https://www.toontownrewritten.com , register an account, agree to the terms of service, download the launcher, create a character, then step into Toontown and join their deziens as they fight the cogs with a pie in the face and try to have a little fun.

Sources: Wikipedia, toontownrewritten.com

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Look at VR Chat


By Bixyl Shuftan

Several months ago, Linden Lab announced the release of it's "next generation virtual world" Sansar. Anticipated for two years, the reaction from most Second Life residents, who were presumably the far majority who explored it, was that it needed plenty of improvement and left it behind. There are other virtual worlds out there, such as InWorldz and High Fidelity. But these two have been around for some years and have yet to attract anywhere near the attention the largest virtual world has received. But are there any other new ones out there besides Linden Lab's new creation? The answer to that is yes. One other recent one is VR Chat.

VR Chat was created by Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudrey, and was released via the Steam distribution service on Feb 1, 2017. But it's been in recent weeks the virtual world has taken off, an article in PC Games News in mid-January saying the client software had been downloaded over a million times in two weeks to 1.7 million. The reason for the attention the game has received is due to players broadcasting experiences over Youtube and Twitch. This includes recordings of the "Ugandan Knuckles" meme (some profanity in videos in link) that caught on to the point players found themselves followed by bands of badly-made avatars of the red "Sonic" character asking in African accents if they know "de wey." While the meme is considered lame by many (including yours truly), the publicity has gotten VR Chat the kind of publicity that has escaped most other virtual worlds other than Second Life.

To download VR Chat, head to it's page on Steam. The software is free. Clicking it on, you'll need to register an account. After your email address is added, and you agree to the terms of service, you should be ready to go in. Your first place will be a tutorial area to help you learn how to get about. For me, the most challenging part was just getting started, not being able to move from where I appeared. Then I realized that unlike Second Life, the movement keys are not the arrow buttons on the keyboard, but the WASD ones. You move your mouse to look around.

Another important button is the "Esc" key, which brings up a menu with 11 buttons and a sliding bar. You can adjust the bar for how loud you want to sound to others when you're speaking on your microphone. The two buttons I was using the most were "Worlds" which brings up lists of places you can travel to, and "Avatar" which allows you to change your appearance from a selection. Most of the choices in the Avatar section were varieties of normal human or robots, with a few others such as an elf, an orc, and what looked like a greenish anthro deer.

Unlike Sansar, you can actually grasp things. Just get your hand close enough, and press the left mouse button. You can hold an object for a while, and even hold and fire a pistol. I found throwing balls to be tricky, though. The only way I could throw something with some reliability was to swing the mouse upward and then let go, and the object would go some distance in the air. Different objects seem to have different weights as one "frisbee" would keep going up while a solid block only went up a few feet before falling back. You can also grab a pen and draw something. Unlike Second Life, you can't really add objects to your avatar indefinitely. If you want to hold anything else, you'll have to drop what you're holding.

After the tutorial area, your next location, and the one you'll appear when logging on the game is "The Hub." The place is divided into several areas. At "Featured Worlds," there are portals to several places. "New Worlds" has a few more of recently made locations. The "Help Area" has a number of signs with hints on getting about. The "Social Sculpture" is basically a blue square with several blocks which anyone can try to make something. There's also an avatar area with hints on how to change yours and a mirror to show you what you look like.

To travel to another place, you can use a portal if where you're already at has one to where you want to go. Otherwise, press the "Esc" key and select "Worlds" on the menu. You'll see several lists, which you can move about on using the arrow buttons. Once you select a world, you have the option of teleporting over, or you can create a temporary portal that those nearby such as friends can follow you over. Places can sometimes be small, such as a "Sword Art Online" one that turned out to be just a single room.

But most VR Chat worlds I saw were much bigger. One was a representation of Times Square, filled with parody ads and ads for locations. There was also a place that looked like an European village. Another place was made of floating islands in the sky. I also saw some gaming areas. One was a "Wild West" game between outlaws and sheriffs in which the latter would try to stop the former from taking the gold bars in various places back to their hideout with both shooting at one another. There was also a space-themed capture-the-flag. I also saw two maze games, one with simple walls, the other an underground cavern passages maze. There was also a small island done in the style of "Minecraft." I saw a listing to, but never visited, a "My Little Pony" area.

But the most common types of locations I saw advertised themselves as places to get avatars. Despite the "Ugandan Knuckles" fad, I never saw any of the deformed red Sonic avatars. In the several places I looked, amine girl and various cartoon avatars seem the most popular. But these aren't the only ones. A friend was able to appear in a "Windows 95" avatar. One time in "The Hub," I saw a guy that looked like a fish in a TV screen. To chose a look in one of the avatar places, click on it. But the look is temporary. After you log off, you'll go back to your old look. So if you want something other than the starting avatars, you will have to go back to the place after logging in.

Both worlds and avatars take programs outside VR Chat to make. Unity SDK can be used to create avatars and worlds. Avatars can also be created with Maya and Blender. Created worlds are private, limited to the creator and any friends he wishes to bring in, until the creator contacts VR Chat's team and requests that it be made open to all.

So far, meeting people there has been much like meeting people in a Second Life welcome area. Only instead of chat, it's all voice as there is currently no chat function. If you have a working microphone, press and hold "V" to talk. Besides a couple friends from Second Life whom helped show me around, different people reacted in different ways. One was helpful. One just wanted to curse at everyone else he saw. Most just went about their business or chatted with someone willing to talk. So far the only one who pulled that "Show me da wey," line was in a mummy avatar, not the deformed Sonic character. But you won't always run into someone, particularly during late night and early morning SL time.

Like Sansar, VR Chat is new, having been around only for a year. It's not as versatile as Second Life. And there's no economy, no trading or virtual currency. On the other hand, it's my personal observation it's more lively than Sansar. I remember reading that someone else who was both in Sansar and VR Chat stated Sansar felt more "managed." Hamlet Au (Wagner Au) was quoted in Motherboard as saying the focus Sansar had for high-quality images wasn't necessarily what was wanted, "Many also seem to be putting the cart before the horse. Carefully laying down an economic infrastructure when there’s hardly anyone there to use the economy. ... Most gamers don’t care about all that. They just want to jump in immediately, start playing around with the system, cause and enjoy chaos, and have fun with each other.”

Although VR Chat got plenty of attention due to a silly meme, it also made news when something serious happened. In one crowded room in which someone was recording, one player was witnessed having a seizure. Most stood around, not sure what to do, with one person telling others to back away to give the person room to recover and asking no flashing lights be used, and with one or two people clowning around like they didn't notice what was going on. Eventually the person recovered and logged off.

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Personally, VR Chat seems to be better than Sansar, but it's no Second Life. It lacks the versatility of the more established virtual world. Right now, thanks to youtubers and a meme, it's riding a wave of popularity that has enabled to give it numbers that Sansar and others like High Fidelity wish for. But will the people stay once the novelty wears off? Second Life gained a community of dedicated users that stuck around once the media all but stopped talking about it. How VR Chat develops over time will help determine wether not people stay. Perhaps some of those there who start to tire of the memes but still have a taste for virtual worlds will head to the one that still has a sizeable following after almost fifteen years.

Wikipedia, PC Game News, Polygon, Motherboard, Rogue Shadow

Image Credit (bottom): Rakucia

Hat Tip: Skylark Lefavre, Rakucia

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, December 8, 2017

EA's Star Wars Battlefront II's "Lootboxes" Stir Controversy, Calls For Government Regulation


By Bixyl Shuftan

One would think most anything with the name "Star Wars" connected to it would be a moneymaker. But with EA's recent release of "Star Wars Battlefront II," the result has been controversy and trouble, with the company loosing billions in stock value, and talk of the government getting more involved in the computer game industry.

The controversy revolves around the issue of microtransactions. Microtransactions in games are nothing new. Those familiar with free games online, such as "Forge of Empires," "World of Tanks," and others offer players the chance to buy in-game credits of some kind which can be used to purchase ways to advance the player. Gamers can be accepting of this in free games, such as the "wallet warrior" jokes in "World of Tanks." But with games the player had to buy up front to play, not so much. In 2011, the makers of "Eve Online" were faced with a revolt of angry veteran players when reports came that they would soon offer microtransactions that could affect gameplay. More recently, Blizzard introduced the ability to buy "loot crates" for it's recent hit "Overwatch." This raised some eyebrows, but as the items were just cosmetic and didn't affect gameplay, there was some controversy, but less than what would come later.

Then came EA's Star Wars Battlefront II. Although it has a story mode, the game seems to be primarily around it's multiplayer mode and PvP combat. The games "Star Card" system is a requred part for player advancement  In October, it was revealed that the loot boxes in the game were a key part of the Star Card system. Since they could be purchased, this quickly led to criticism of the game being "pay to win." As the contents of the boxes were random, and they could contain either common items or rare ones, there were charges that they were a form of legal gambling, one accessible to teenagers. Gamespot game the game a 6/10 review, saying "the biggest hurdle that Battlefront II will need to overcome--for its simultaneous attempts to balance microtransactions with genuine feeling of accomplishments--is deciding on what type of game it wants to be." Shacknews also gave it 6/10, "The loot crates diminish its value greatly, and it's a shame EA forces them down your throat as part of the core gameplay."

With the Battlefront controversy on top of the earlier Overwatch loot boxes, there were comparisons to online gambling, a form that could exploit young teenagers. Then government officials began making their moves. Belgium's Gaming Commission began an official investigation of both Battlefront II and Overwatch to see if the loot boxes were a form of gambling, which could mean the removal of the games from play from the country and the makers given huge fines. One politician from Hawaii openly criticized Battleftont II, "This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It's a trap." It's unclear if the second sentence was a deliberate quoting of a "Return of the Jedi" line.

Financially, the controversy has not been good for EA's bottom line. The price of the company's stocks has dropped, causing their total to drop by 4 billion dollars, with some estimates going higher. Although the price was already dropping before the loot crate fiasco, this latest mess shook the confidence of investors further. It is ironic that a company's attempt to get even more money out of a game players already put a good amount of money down for, the deluxe edition costing 79.99, and the regular version 59.99, at one store, ended up causing it to lose money.

In response to the criticism, EA removed microtransactions from the game, saying they would be gone until further notice. "We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right. We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases." A new system for the Star Cards is being developed, though whether or not microtransactions will appear in any way is unclear. In response to the threats of government intervention, some from various gaming companies formed an organization with the purpose of the industry self-regulating itself on issues such as loot boxes. Whether or not these moves to steer governments away from starting to regulate the microtransactions of online games remains to be seen.

Sources:  Polygon, Venturebeat, Gamespot, Gamesindustry, CNBC, The Verge, Forbes  

Bixyl Shuftan