How a year changes everything

by on Sep.10, 2016, under games design


For every covertcreations post, the apology is implicit. The time between updates flies by. I guess that’s what one gets for having a child, buying a house, and filling the idle moments with gaming goodness (Dark Souls 3, absolute best of the bunch recently). With the time gaps comes an avalanche of topics to write about. Often I don’t even know where to start! That aside, I’ll pick a random topic and see where that takes us.

It’s 2016! Almost a whole year since the last update where I lavished praise upon the Penny Arcade Expo. Honestly, if you have the chance do make a point of going. Go! The hot topic then, and still, is the release of Generation One for Virtual Reality. In the intervening time I bit the bullet (a rather costly one) and acquired an HTC Vive VR headset for my wife, the darth bunny herself. Have we enjoyed it? Of course! Are there issues with it? Of course! I can’t help but feel like I’m still in a tech demo when I use it. To me (and one may disagree) there is no killer app for VR. I’ve read claims that “Star Trek Bridge Crew” is “it”. But I’ve heard that about a few other titles as well (e.g. Cliffy B most recently. To me, if someone needs to proclaim “THIS IS IT!!”, then it’s instantly not true. A real killer hit will just happen without anyone making any bold proclamations about it. It’ll just be so good on its own without needing to point it out. I’ll cite the original arcade Space Invaders or Pacman. Half-Life 2. Quake. World of Warcraft. I will assure you that there is no Quake-level amazing equivalent for VR today (I’m talking about Quake as a total experience, not just a simple videogame).

VR isn’t in a rut, per se. It’s got a lot of pressure on it to take over and be totally amazing for everyone. That day has not arrived, but I’m sure it will come. The market promises indicate that VR as an industry will soar to being worth something like 150 Billion by 2020. That’s a lot of sauce for a still nascent tech. But here we are in the latter half of 2016, and the predicted timeframe gets far closer than an influx of killer titles and experiences.

Don’t get me wrong. The technical demos and various experiences are really quite something. I”ll point out that thedarthbunny claims Recroom, La Peri, theBlu and Portal Stories VR lead the pack. Yet, as I’ve said now, there’s nothing that is going to blow the world away with sheer awesomeness right now. I am happy to be corrected on this if you have recommendations. Bunny also warns that the rollercoaster sims should be avoided.

Let me explore what’s missing.

There is lot of developers, even triple-A companies, using their vast experience, resources and skills to create a videogame in VR. Of course they are! That’s not an issue, but what I have found is that the “world” of VR is simply not the same as a making a typical computer game. There is less crossover between the two ideas when you really think about it. Even Palmer Lucky in his early days (before he sold to Facebook and became an industry pillar for the word, “sell-out”) said something very poignant about input schemes in VR. I’ll paraphrase him out of sheer laziness : “People have to remember that VR has different requiremnts in terms of input technology. Superhuman input schemes don’t work very well. They’re very jarring and non-immersive. Remember, the mouse is a superhuman input device. And it just doesn’t work very well in VR at all.” OK fine, here is a link to one of many instances where he said something approximating this. This applies to a lot of concepts that stem from thinking “videogame” and then applying it to VR. And to me, this is wrong. They are not the same. I think that the missing element is the acceptance that VR is an entirely new medium unto itself.

If history tells us anything, a new medium requires a whole new way of thinking.

Is there a solution? Well if I knew that, would I be sitting here writing this article? OK probably. But seriously, I believe that we are on the right track with the Vive and the Rift. Roomscale is a winner. Embracing other input modes (the fancy Vive controllers and Touch), very good. I’ve not seen the Touch yet but if it delivers on allowing one to reach out and grab things with just your hands then it’s got my vote. What else?

  • The resolution needs to go up and up, and not stop being increased. Yes, I know this is hard with the OLEDS within the headset but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
  • No more “screen doors”. Even the Vive has this and it’s a problem.
  • Stop making games. Make experiences that have games in them. When you think of them in terms of games, there is an implicit agreement between the player and the title they are loading. “I am about to start a game that I will play and then stop.” WIth the immersiveness of VR, it needs to drop you into the world and wrap you up in it immediately. No title screen, no HUD, all context, theme, story and interaction must take place within the confines of the virtual. And no pause button.
  • Roomscale-to-playscale calibration needs to be totally fluid. The Vive needs recalibration periodically and it’s an immersion breaker.
  • Binaural audio. I predict that when a true 3-dimensional sense of sound becomes a standard part of VR gaming, this will help immensely. I’ll even go further than that and say that accomplishing the same sense of “3D sound” in VR (where your physical head turns and the virtual sounds have to adjust where they’re coming from) would likely be helped by a dedicated sound processor, just like a graphics processer (GPU). Lets return to the days of the Soundblaster Pro! (Wow, they’re still around!)
  • Safety and environment. These headsets need cameras and they need to warn you when you’re going to bump into something or when the real world needs your attention. I’ll cue my story of getting smacked in the head by my wife with her controller as she’d completely forgotten that I was there. It was OK, but it sums up the problem nicely.

Clearly not an exhaustive list, and not earth-shattering either. I appreciate the technology and innovation that’s been brought to bear thus far, but it still has a way to go to gain wider acceptance. Yet I believe that solving, no nailing, is an absolute must for this to happen.

Fast forward a mere four years and we’ll see where we’ve gone. If the mere one year since my last post has anything to say, we’ll definitely get there.

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Postfacto Ruminations on [P]enny [A]rcade E[x]po

by on Nov.16, 2015, under games industry, geek culture, indy

Postfacto Ruminations on [P]enny [A]rcade E[x]po


PAX! PAX! PAX! Oh my goodness, since when did I become a convention go’er?

Actually, only now realising that I’ve been to a couple. The first being a Star Trek convention in Vancouver circa 2000? Earned my nerd cred right there. And Quakecon in 2002? Smack during summer in Mesquite, Texas. Ergggh.

Fast forward circa 2014 and I popped my PAX cherry. That sounds worse than it is. I do have to say, it’s great for gamers and non-gamers because it embraces all platforms, all media, both digital and non-digital. From the exhibition displaying Australian indie games (and their devs), big name releases, demos and of course tabletop.

I’ve always enjoyed the Penny Arcade guys. We’d share their comics between us right after WoW was released (2004?). Longtime fan, so I guess it makes sense that I’m up for their conference.
Now that I’ve bored you with a little backstory, here are my highlights and impressions.

Personal Highlights

  • Warren Specter’s Keynote. Great to hear him speak, and his perspective was interesting. One theme was the notion that videogames will supplant movies and TV into the 21st century. “Seeing such a shift only happens once every hundred years. We are privileged to be living through such a rare event.”
  • The Witcher 3 story producer’s talk on quest design in The Witcher 3. Yeah, I’m fanboy but it was still interesting!

The Great

  • Star Wars Battlefront. Twas a treat to see new maps and modes. This looks like a great Star Wars game, thanks Dice!
  • Dark Souls III
  • The Freeplay Console Gaming Lounge
  • The Australian Indie zone
  • Cosplayers, Cosplayers Everywhere

The Not-so-great

  • Really loud gaming events, particularly on terrible (terrible!) small PA rigs.
  • Reports of widely available content being shown in limited access booths. Fallout 4, lookin’ at ya.
  • All but one Vive demo system was broken by the last day. Does not bode well for a consumer release!

The Ugly

  • The timing. I like Melbourne for certain things, but having PAX on the same weekend as Melbourne Cup horserace? Talk about jacked up hotel prices and the worst culture clash one could imagine. Also my ability to build costumes is limited since I have a yearly work conference in the U.S. a mere two weeks prior.
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    The Unfortunately Named Horizon Zero Dawn looks great!

    by on Nov.02, 2015, under consoles, playstation, rpg

    OK if you’ve not seen the E3 trailer for the Horizon Zero Dawn PS4 game, do yourself the small favour and check it out. Yes, the trailer is dated 2015, yes the name of it is dumb, and yes the game comes out “some time in 2016”. Hoping for updated info but that’s the best anyone has at the moment. Why am I saying all this? I don’t really know other than I just re-watched the trailer and realised I was excited enough about it that it’s worth posting about.

    In other news, I’m back from PAX Melbourne today. I’ll probably write something up about that soon as there was some great stuff that I’m still buzzing about. I promise to share. =)

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    Why The Witcher 3 is Awesome and Why You Should Play It

    by on Sep.20, 2015, under game reviews, games design, pc, playstation, rpg


    Sure, you’ve loaded up the Witcher and the rather shaky beginning doesn’t grab you. You hit Quit and move on with your life, wondering what the hype is all about. What I’ll say to you then is, seriously, give it a chance. Once you finish the intro area (White Orchard) and get through Vizima’s plot hook, you’ll be set free. And that’s really where the game starts. Look, I’ll just come out and say it. The Witcher 3 is a master class in doing a RPG. CD Projekt Red, where were they hiding all of this creativity and talent in the previous two Witchers? I found those games incredibly frustrating, and never finished them. But right now I’ll tell you, I’m on my second play-through after doddling and ferreting my way through to story completion.

    Here’s what I liked :

    • The density of the visuals
    • How your choices have significant impact on the fate of characters and the world
    • The combat
    • The visual style
    • The variety of quests, many of them hooked me that I’d forgotten the original thing I was intent on doing

    And here’s what I loved :

    • The details – environmental, visual and character
    • The voice acting (well, most of it)
    • The story
    • The sprawling world
    • The hybrid narrative-meets-openworld approach

    And the best part of all, the sense of continuous discovery. No matter what I was doing, I knew that within the vastness of this sprawling epic I’d happen upon something interesting. A fellow traveller being ambushed that I had to save. A derisive NPC needs something done before she’d help you. A deep cavern hidden in the hillside, housing an elite monster. And loots! Loots everywhere!

    It isn’t like this game is without foibles. Yet those little nigglies are navigable and easily forgiven as they’re swept aside from the relentless tide of story, crafting, exploring and of course… GWENT. Gwent is a card game in the style of your typical Magic TG or Hearthstone. You build your deck, deploy your powers and hope your strategy pays off (literally). It’s one of the most polished minigames within a game that I’ve yet to encounter (and I usually ignore them).

    Do yourself a favour. Get outta Vizima. And into the best game you’ve played in your life.

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    A Few Covert Creations

    by on Jun.22, 2015, under games design

    One of my latest loves has nothing to do with videogames. Actually, one may argue that videogames, RPGs in particular, owe homage to the age old practice of tabletop gaming. In my case, the tabletop game of choice has always been Dungeons and Dragons.

    I’ve been running various campaigns over the last couple of years, and one of the things that I’ve tried to do is make the big setpiece battles more interesting. Not only from a mechanical perspective in terms of the game’s mechanics, but also from a visual perspective. Either some work in Photoshop, or physical objects that include actual puzzles, carts, elaborate dioramas and other odds/ends.

    Once I started doing that, there was no stopping. I’ll pay my respects to someone called “DM Scotty” whose DMCraft Youtube channel inspired me to go out and get my first glue gun. So here are a few creations that I’ve done in the last while. (click on the images to view full or use HoverZoom).







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    Blog, Interrupted

    by on Apr.15, 2015, under games design


    We will be moving providers away from the stale and horrendous Yahoo to a far zippier one. Not that I have a large following on this blog but if you do visit and things look strangely broken that is why.

    Hopefully the transfer is smooth and good ol’ covertcreations comes back unscathed.

    See you on the other side.

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    It’s 2015! Time for a random post

    by on Feb.18, 2015, under consoles, game reviews, gaming, pc, playstation

    Yup it's NYC

    Yup it’s NYC

    Ah, another day (and year) in the gaming world. SOE gone! An actual VR platform is imminent (and will be so for a long, long time even post-release). Mobile gaming turned either experimental or cutesy.

    What more is there? Well for me, I’m about to download Evolve. Other games on my 2015 horizon, in no particular order :

    • The Division : MMORPG meets cover-shooter meets post-apocalyptic New York. At PAX Australia, this was my personal highlight, absolutely.
    • The Witness : Jonathon Blow’s return to the Myst-style puzzler, whatever, it looks great.
    • Star Citizen : I played Elite Dangerous and was sorely disappointed after the VR novelty wore off. Worried SC might be similar but I’ll give it a shot.
    • Ghost of a Tale : A little adventure game as a dungeon-delving mouse, looks cute and fun.
    • Eve : Valkyrie : Will the VR novelty wear thin on this one? I’m willing to risk it…
    • The Witcher 3 : I kind of liked the Witcher 2, but after playing Dragon Age Inquisition, I wonder if my taste for openworld RPGs has faded (if it even really existed).
    • Battleborn : Jury is out on Gearbox’s upcoming MOBA but the trailer looked cool enough.
    • No Man’s Sky : Super-duper universe-scale exploration MMO, which sounds quite boring if my experience in Elite is anything to compare against.

    And that’s about it. My next post will be a review of Evolve. If you’re excited about a game this year, leave a comment! I’d like to learn if I’ve missed anything awesome.

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    Elder Scrolls Online We Love You Long Time

    by on Apr.30, 2014, under game reviews, games design, mmo, mmorpg, rpg


    Oh look, a covertcreations post! Yes, it’s true we are back after an epoch. Or two, however much an epoch is.

    Gaming has moved on in the last few years, that’s not news. VR is here (almost), sequels come and played and gone again, mobile games come and not played and gone again, and so on, on and on.

    In keeping to the spirit of shorter, pointed posts I shall say this : I FREAKING LOVE Elder Scrolls Online!


    Oh look, we’re goblins! No, that’s not a selling feature (unless you like goblins). Aside from this random bit of information, I shall provide another. If you like exploration-puzzling-social-crafty-questing-gorgeous-interesting-zomgepicbattles type of MMORPGs, then I will implore you to give ESO a try. We did, and if you didn’t pick up on the subtext here, I’ll just say it again : I FREAKING LOVE Elder Scrolls Online!

    Detailed review to follow, hopefully before epoch#3. In the meantime, check out my lovely gamerwifeunit’s Geek Girl Review blog. Peace out.

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    Report from Auraxis : The New Planetside

    by on Nov.06, 2012, under FPS, game reviews, mmo, pc

    Planetside 2 has been beckoning me, as daily rants and ideas trickle in from the community of /r/Planetside , a subreddit where the Sony developers have opened the gates and talk openly about their game.

    Finally, after a many months of looking over the shoulder of early beta testers, I got my chance to play the new game. I also note that this thing is definitely beta – it goes through a bi-weekly cycle of updates.

    So what do I think so far? Planetside 2 rocks. As long as you don’t compare it to the original.

    You see, once you start the comparisons, you open up a severe critique. Planetside original (or vanilla, or ‘one’) was a cutting edge game that pushed the boundaries of the technology of the time. They innovated and shaped it into something awesome, carving out a new genre in the process : the MMO FPS. Before the inevitable decline, brought about by a couple of noted expansions and balance issues, we enjoyed massive campaigns in an endless struggle of epic proportions. Tanks, aircraft, troops, transports, resources, bases, hacking… it was endless. And it was fun. There was a place for everyone in the original Planetside, whatever the skill level or latency. The key to PS1 was the scale : your tiny struggle could easily map into larger macroscopic objectives within the game. And this quality is important to remember.

    Now, here we are in 2012. The new Planetside is a game that attempts to merge the nostalgia into a modern shooter engine, copying elements from popular squad shooters like Battlefield 3. What I really enjoy is its solid shooter qualities, along with a strong base defense/offense mechanic. The game rewards you for playing the objective. It rewards you further for playing in a squad or a platoon. I enjoy the deep certification trees, reminding me that this is indeed a MMO that we’re playing. I can follow my whims in where to spend my points, and the promise of a vast amount of choice in future is what’s going to keep me coming back. A word to the wise : when you join up, join a squad as quickly as possible. If you luck out like I have, you’ll find a decent amount of teamwork and coordination, and enjoy the experience so much more.

    The bad : I know that this is beta, so I expect a fair amount of bugs and issues. What I’ve found most wrong with Planetside 2, ironically, is in the places where it tries to be like Planetside 1. What they’ve cut, and what they’ve added, doesn’t make a lot of sense from a holistic standpoint. For example, the presence of the Galaxy as an airborne troop transport, is not justified in how the game plays out. I can instant spawn all over the place, without requiring me to wait (and wait, and wait) for a Galaxy to land in my area to take me to the next objective. And these things are so weak in the face of deeply certted players in their anti-air capabilities that they inevitably get shot down before they become useful. And the only reason the GAL exists is because it was there in PS1. This is just one example of many. And another riff I can go off on is the wider, macro-field gameplay. PS2 base and territory mechanics leave a LOT TO BE DESIRED. Capping territory has very, very little benefit at all. So you could log in and play for an hour, capture a vast swathe of territory (if you’re good) and when you leave and return again? Lo! You’re back to square one. There is very little inter-connectedness between the bases, no player sanctuary, no holistic benefits to gaining territory, and most importantly : no opportunity to win in the ‘greater game’. PS1 had this stuff, so it makes me want it. And therein lies the issue : PS2 is not PS1. It’s an epic shooter, no mistake, but if it’s going to enjoy any longevity it’s got to improve the meta-game.

    Enjoyment without a greater goal is not how epic memories are forged. It’s just a distraction. PS2, for now, is a great distraction.

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    Will I return to Auraxis? Planetside 2…

    by on Jul.08, 2011, under games design

    Planetside 2 trailer from out of nowhere. Unreal! Tell me what you think!

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