Monthly Archives: November 2016

Reflections From the Animus: The Truth is Written in Memories

My God Assassin’s Creed 2 was a good game. Am I right? Who’s with me? This game was, by far one of the best titles in the Assassin’s Creed series and it holds a very prominent place in my heart, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. Sure, it had a great story, fantastic music, engaging gameplay and introduced us to Ezio, one of the coolest heroes in the series. But, on a personal note, it ended up being so much more than just a great game. It became a personal conduit through which memories can flow. It became a catalyst to enable me to reach far back into my mind and remember a very special and happy time in my life. It became so cemented and intertwined with my thoughts and feelings, that even now, upon hearing a few lines of music or seeing an image of the game, I am immediately transported back to 2009. For that split second, I am taken back to my little apartment on Bayport Street, sitting on my comfy couch, PS3 controller in hand and living in a moment that is now gone forever.

In these memories, I am still happily married. My wife (now ex wife) is in the other room watching a DVD and working on her laptop. The light from a nearby lamp bathes the room in the most exquisite, pale, golden glow. It’s early December, probably around 8 p.m. or so and the sun has gone down, allowing the evening chill to settle in.  I’ve cooked a big pot of hearty Lentil soup, so both of us are well feed and snug in our humble home. I am content, warm and cozy, just lounging after a long day at work. If I truly focus hard enough, I can even hear the *click *click *click *click of my wife’s keyboard, as she furiously types away on one of her many projects, her faint laughter sounding in the background, as she watches King of Queen’s on DVD.

In the game, I’m running across the rooftops of Venice, exploring crowded marketplaces, looking for flags and feathers, and causing general mayhem in a bustling, virtual city.  It is the perfect cacophony of sight and sound and I am transfixed by it all. The game stirs something deep down inside of me; feelings of freedom and independence, tempered with a nervous excitement at the thought of unknown exploration. It is one of those pristine moments in time that remains so vivid and powerful, even after so many years, games and friends have come and gone. I can see all of this in my mind’s eye, like it was yesterday. A flip-book of memories, a cascade of moving pictures, flashing before my eyes, all linked to this one particular game and this one particular moment in time.

As I remember these things, I can’t help but feel a sadness rise within me. Some days, I move through it, relatively untouched by the sorrow these memories hold. Other days, I still shed a tear or two, but I never cry for the game or for the characters, even though the game does tug a bit at the old heartstrings. No, I cry for entirely different reasons: I cry for all the friends and family I have lost in my life, I cry for those moments and memories that have long passed, I cry for the loss of personal innocence, I cry for the end of my marriage and the death of a dream that was never fully realized. All of this triggered by one simple game, one brief moment in time. What a strange and peculiar set of circumstances.

As the years have trudged on, these memories and emotions have formed a symbiotic relationship with Assassin’s Creed 2 and in my brain it would seem that one cannot exist without the other. I am forever caught in an emotional limbo; not able to go back and relive those lost years, but also not being able to recreate those special moments. They are uniquely and unequivocally locked away forever, doomed to remain in the past.

You would think that I would hate AC2, seeing as it brings up such powerfully charged emotions but, strangely, I harbor no ill will towards this game or the memories it conjures. It still stands as one of my favorite of PS3 titles. The hours that I spent playing this game, were some of my most fondest gaming moments and I wouldn’t trade those for the world.

Assassin’s Creed 2 reminds me that in the blink of an eye, life can change, dreams can die, families can splinter, love can be lost, but life goes on. Happy memories can still linger, even within our darkest days. Yes, AC2 may have come and gone and the days of Ezio pushed far back into the past, but as silly as it might sound, this game is still very important to me and remains prominent in my mind. It is an anchor that binds me to some very beautiful memories and it helps to reconnect me to those long lost nights. With all of the uneasiness that consumes our world, it is nice to remember a simpler time and it’s even better to feel connected to those beautiful moments. Assassin’s Creed 2 preforms that necessity extremely well. Sure, some of my memories will fade and drift into hushed obscurity and newer and more pressing matters will take their place. But, I am positive that these few moments, these warm memories will forever be linked to this unassuming, simple, little game and as long as I can listen to the soundtrack or walk the streets of Venice once again, these memories will always burn brightly. They will continue to give comfort, respite and some much needed warmth in a cold, uncaring and tumultuous world. This, I am sure of. Long live Assassin’s Creed 2 and long live all our warm and happy memories. Happy gaming!

~GB

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My thoughts on VR

We are VR!

vrRecently, we gamers have been hearing a lot about Virtual Reality. From PC gaming to the world of home consoles, these fancy headsets are promising to be the next evolution in how we play games. VR is finally here to immerse players into the world of their onscreen characters and revolutionize the gaming industry. We will finally be able to see what the character sees, go where the character goes and be surrounded by the game itself. Can we say Tron, anyone?

As long as there were no REAL world issues….64406974…who wouldn’t want to jump into their favorite games! Enter the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the PlaystationVR. Within this last month, we have seen three heavy hitting, Virtual Reality gaming headsets each promising a more immersive gaming experience. Gamers are in for a wild ride.  But, is it worth all of this hype? Is VR really a longstanding format or is it merely a passing fancy? I’m not 100% sure either way, but this is an interesting experiment.

A Bit of History

The idea of virtual reality is nothing new. This idea of VR has been around since the 1960s. What is VR, you ask? Well, Google defines Virtual Reality as “a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.” Sounds pretty tech! During the 80s and 90s, companies, inventors, scientists and developers began to create consoles and arcade machines that attempted to do just that; to bridge the gap between reality and the virtual world.

Today, these early attempts at VR can be regarded as pure novelties, but back then, gamers were excited by the possibilities of what might come next. Unfortunately, limited by the technology of the day, what we ended up with was not really what we had bargained for. Instead, we received gimmicky headsets and 3rd party add-ons that did little more then make us incredibly nauseous. Units like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy promised to be the next big thing in VR, but only gave us horrible eye fatigue and a fear of the color red. It all seemed a little hopeless and the VR concept fell out of the lime-light.

Now-a-days, we are starting to see a resurgence in the concept of VR.The gaming industry has seen significant strides in development and implementation of this interesting technology and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk a little about Virtual Reality. How do I feel about this burgeoning industry? Let’s find out.

The Contenders

While each entry has their pros and cons, the idea of bringing VR to the home console is an impressive venture.  While we don’t yet have Tron-like capabilities, we do have some very good alternatives that will provide us with that next step in total player immersion. Of course there are some hefty price tags that go along with this concept, but if you are a diehard gamer, price might not be as much of a deterrent. w_500

As I mentioned before, there are three major entries into this VR race, the HTC Vive, the PlaystationVR, and the Oculus Rift. I am sure that there are other 3rd party companies out there, but these are the heavy hitters. Just so there is no confusion, I am not here to tell you which one is best. I am not going to go into the pros and cons of each individual unit, since there are a ton of excellent reviews and studies out there that will do that for you. All I will say is that each entry has their advantages and disadvantages, but it all depends on what system you play and what type of games you really enjoy. Read up on the specs, compare entries and make your own decision. If you have friends who own some of these, go give them a try. Don’t just jump in and believe all the hype. Take time to really make sure VR is right for you, because it won’t be right for everyone.

Concerns

Anyway, what do I think of VR? Well, I like the concept. It is a neat idea that packs a lot of promise, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit gimmicky. I tend to see VR like I saw 3D, a cool concept, but ultimately more trouble then it’s worth. I am just not that excited about wearing accessories, every time I want to watch a movie or play a game. Heck, I even have trouble just wanting to wear my audio headset when I game! Now Sony expects me to wear an entire viewscreen on my face?! I really don’t want to do that. Plus, I know from experience that 3D makes me absolutely ill, I can’t help but wonder if VR will do the same? I won’t know until I really try it out, but I have my doubts.

Also, I wear glasses and even though some say you can wear glasses with these headsets on, that can’t be very comfortable. Let’s face it, those of us with glasses know, it is always trouble trying to wear two sets of “eyes” at any one time. Either they dig into your nose, press on your ears, pinch your face or just shift around and never stay where you want them. It is such an annoyance and that is a HUGE deterrent for me. Of course, with the screen being so close to my face, would I even need to wear my glasses? I don’t know. More testing will be needed.

Speaking about screens being so close to my face, what about eye strain or eye fatigue?  What will the repercussions be for our vision? Those screens are SO close to our eyes, somehow it doesn’t seem very healthy. Will there be some long term effects on our sight? The manufactures will probably say no, but how can they be sure? This technology is relatively new and I know testing has not been as extensive as it could have been. This might be their next phase of testing, you never know. It wouldn’t be the first time that consumers were used as real-world tests.

Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but when I used to game, I would play for at least 5 or 6 hours. Even with a large tv and at optimal distance from the screen, my eyes would be dry and tried by the end of a gaming session. I can’t imagine having a set of VR screens that sit so close to my eyes, for such a prolonged stretch time. I have my doubts and reservations about all of this VR technology.

Now, I guess if I was going to jump on this band wagon and buy into VR, I should mention that I would go with the PSVR. It is the cheapest entry in this list, which comes in at $400. I already have a PS4 so I’m halfway there. Keep in mind that the basic PSVR lacks all of the necessary equipment that you might need to get this thing up and running. You will also need a Playstation camera and some Playstation Move controllers. If I did want to buy one, it would cost roughly about $530 in total. Pretty pricey for an accessory that I haven’t tested. Plus, I have read about some technical issues that seem to have cropped up, so we will have to see how it all plays out.

Final Thoughts

The majority of us live in a society that is surrounded by technology. It is so integrated into our daily lives, that I can understand our almost blind acceptance towards fun, new innovations. With VR taking so much of center stage these days, many gamers are excited to witness this growth of our hobby. Our world of gaming is developing so rapidly and in so many interesting directions, many of us older gamers just sit back and stare in awe.

But, is VR really such a game changer? Well, yes and no. While I personally think that VR is a bit gimmicky and is really only here to entice gamers to fork over some of their hard earned cash, I do admit that VR seems to be the natural progression of gaming as a whole. Where else could gaming really go? Without anything groundbreaking, we might see small incremental improvements in hardware and visuals, but that’s probably it. Maybe, the gaming industry feels like it has to do something new, to keep players interested and to potentially bring in a new demographic of player. If so, VR might just be that technology that breathes new energy into the industry.

Even with this potential, my concerns are still there. I’ve seen gaming peripherals come and go and I’ve even fallen for a few of them, myself. I don’t think that you can ever really change the basic way we play games. In gaming, nothing is as efficient as a controller in the hand (or mouse and keyboard for you PC gamers) and nothing is as freeing as NOT having a headset strapped to your face.

In terms of my issues with the potential eye fatigue, studies say that anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of computer users show eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms. That is a substantial amount. Will having VR headsets exacerbate some of these issues? It definitely isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Even though VR sounds awesome, I think this 1st generation of VR might be better skipped. Save your money, wait for some of these bugs to be worked out and THEN take the plunge. Let us see how it is supported by developers and how they intend to utilize this technology in games. Otherwise, you might be spending even money on a much newer, better, more capable VR headset relatively soon.

~GB